Notes and Comment Blog

Good start

Jun 16th, 2014 5:11 pm | By

The Ex-Hijabi Fashion Photo Journal is a success already, it was a success before Marwa had even posted anything. Now that’s an idea with legs.

Heina has a post.

I usually answer, with a smile, that I was happy. In fact, it was one of the happiest days of my life. It was the day I took my first permanent, documented, public step as an ex-Muslim ex-hijabi. 

Sidra M has a post.

I think we do ourselves a disservice when we culturally homogenize ourselves when we’re such incredibly interesting people on the inside. My current appearance has everything to do with what makes me feel beautiful and empowered, exactly what the hijab was a representation for me then (but would not be now). My sense of morality comes from a mix of what I was raised with, the values I appreciate in others, and the love and awe I feel when I consider the scientific, reproducible model of the known universe.

There’s a story about the brand-new blog on Medialite.

Not a bad first day!

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

What it’s like to cough so violently that you can’t inhale

Jun 16th, 2014 4:40 pm | By

Collected from your comments on the several pertussis posts I did over the weekend. There are also a couple about asthma, because the terrifying inability to draw a breath is common to both. There are also a few about watching loved others suffer through the horrible illness.


The loss of herd immunity can kick you in the ass even if you’ve done everything you can. My husband got pertussis last year – even though he was vaccinated, it can apparently wear off as you age. Usually not a huge problem, unless there’s suddenly a surge of cases of it from assholes who don’t vaccinate. He was sick for months. Didn’t break any ribs, but the coughing did such a number on his muscles that it was almost as bad. We’re also in a weird transitional time now in that it’s not supposed to be around, so isn’t necessarily treated seriously enough. It took two visits to his doctor to get it properly diagnosed, and then when he ended up in urgent care later because he was sure he had broken a rib (it was that painful), they refused to believe that he had pertussis until they got his actual records.


You bet it’s within living memory! When I was a young kid living in WW2 England, my younger sister, two years old, got whooping cough. I’ll never, ever forget it. She coughed and gasped for weeks. Of course what with wartime shortages and priorities there wasn’t a vaccine available then so it was a question of luck whether or not you got this horrible disease. She was unlucky. But anyone who voluntarily puts children, and not just his own but others too, at this kind of risk deserves some serious sanction. It’s nothing but reckless child endangerment which is a crime.

nonlinear feedback:

I had a mild case of whooping cough when I was a kid. That was before there was any kind of anti-vax movement, and I was vaccinated, so it was the usual low background rate thanks to vaccinations not being 100% effective for 100% of the population. I attribute the fact that it lasted maybe a week to partial vaccine effectiveness; even when they fail to prevent infection, they often reduce severity and duration.

It was still terrifying. I remember my parents taking me into the bathroom, closing the door, and turning the shower to max heat to generate a ton of humidity. That helped ease my coughing fits enough that I could breathe.

Amy Clare:

Horrible. I had whooping cough at age three and it’s one of my earliest memories, waking up in the middle of the night coughing so much that I vomited, night after night for I don’t know how long. After I recovered I was left with weak lungs and usually had a handful of chest infections each year, until the age of 18 ish. All because my family GP (!!!) told my parents that the whooping cough vaccine could cause dementia in some children, so I didn’t get vaccinated. Details of the late 70s/early 80s scare in the link below, turns out that it was rubbish obviously but damage done (I was one of the lucky ones all things considered). The thought of people doing this again to their kids makes me speechless – in fact a close friend is anti-vax, hasn’t protected her son from this, and I have no idea what to say to her.


I can relate; I get asthma attacks like that. Really hard coughing, airways close up, and suddenly I’m frantically gasping from a rescue inhaler — and coughing it out before it can do much good. The longest continuous run of this I’ve endured was about an hour, and every muscle between my shoulders and my hips hurt the next day. I’ve had the airways completely close up for several seconds at a time, seconds that seem like hours. I’ve had total strangers watch me go through this in public and offer to call 911. It sucks, but most of the time meds keep it under control.

To see that misery visited on a child, and for weeks or months? It just makes me want to cry in frustration. It makes me want to beat parents who don’t vaccinate about the head and ears. Hard. Lots. And I’m not normally a violent person.


My fully-vaccinated child got a mild case of it last summer at a sleepover camp (thanks, parents who sent their sick child to camp! Words just can’t describe my feelings for you!). The child came home sicker than I’ve ever seen a child get, and coughed for three months.

Crimson Clupeidae:

I had an awful case around 2000. I had my ribs x-rayed because the docs thought I had cracked or broken at least one, the pain was so bad. They couldn’t find anything on the x-rays, though. Even after the cough was gone (it lasted about 6 weeks), my ribs were sore for another month.

I was actually up to date on my shots at the time, so according to my doc (and she specialized in immunology and ‘travel medicine’) I had a mild case…..

That sucked. I get the booster every ten years now, for sure.

Nathaniel Frein:

I’ve never had pertussis, but I’ve made those “whooping” noises before when I’ve been really sick, because any time I get a respiratory infection it plays hell with my asthma. I’ve found there’s no way of communicating the awful fear and panic you feel when you’re literally unable to breathe but your body keeps trying to cough.

Richard Gorman:

I had whooping cough in 1962. I was 21 years old. The feeling of not being able to inhale is terrible. For 4 months after I was “over” the infection, I would be subject to paroxysmic coughing when I stepped out of my warm car into the winter air. Half the time I would throw up my lunch in the street. I lost 40 lb in those 4 months from whoopng cough. I also cracked my ribs coughing.
In 2013 I had to get the pertussis vaccine again to visit my grandchildren in San Francisco because of the epidemic of pertussis there. I think people who decide not to vaccinate their children are murdering other peoples children.


Had an (adult) friend down with the whooping cough, and in adults, it can present as a persistent cough… One that comes in doubling-over, near-fainting bouts, though, regularly, over several months. Now that’s persistent.

Ben Wright:

I had whooping cough when I was at secondary school, past the usual age to get it. It started as a normal cough that kept me off school.

I coughed myself out, then when I tried to breathe in, my throat had somehow closed. My lungs were empty, and I couldn’t breathe in even a gasp. I ran downstairs, flailed at my mum. She tried the Heimlich, although of course I hadn’t swallowed anything, then rang 999. I threw up a little onto the carpet, just a panic reaction. Still couldn’t breathe in. Just when I thought I was going to pass out, whatever weird muscular spasm had caused it relaxed. I still got taken to hospital. They never really found out what was behind it – but presumably is was some combination of whooping cough, asthma and other allergies.

After that initial scare, and I was back home, it would recur, although never as badly as the first time. Steam helped avoid having my throat close. I would cough so much that I coughed up spots of blood. I developed a sort of instinctual technique for breathing again after that initial attempted in-draw would fail. In hindsight, it’s pretty terrifying.

But that first time my throat closed, over two decades ago, when I was leaning over on the old black chair in front of what I was drawing in Duluxe Paint on the Amiga, on that desk next to the window in the back bedroom (after we’d got the better TV for it), I remember that incredibly vividly. It’s the most terrifying moment of my entire life.

I’m not sure whether I’d been vaccinated for it as a child or not – I think even if so I might have been past the age where it would have worn off.

So, to all parents who choose not to vaccinate for whooping cough:

Fuck you.


I never had pertussis. I was vaccinated. My sister did and wasn’t. I’d have been about four, she about six. It’s not something an uncomprehending four year old wants to see happen to their big sister. I can barely imagine how she felt about it.

There must have been a good reason why she wasn’t vaccinated. Maybe she had a bad reaction, maybe there was some sort of mistake. My mother had been a nurse and seen children die from whooping cough. Growing up, I certainly felt like I was constantly having needles stuck in me (although to be fair, I was all the time doing things like falling in rusty barbed wire, being bitten by foxes etc. so they were mostly tetanus shots (plus a rabies near-miss)). They couldn’t have been more pro-vaccine. And of course, this was long before celebrity trumped medical degrees.

So for one reason or another she slipped through the net and the results were terrifying for everyone if fortunately not tragic. It might have been a mistake by my parents, by doctors or health administrators or a betrayal of my sister by her own body, I don’t know. But those parents who fucking invite that kind of terror upon a child because of their own, easily curable ignorance (and/or perhaps incurable ego)? Ben is right: Fuck You.

Tigger the Wing:

My worst bout of whooping cough was in 1966, when I was nearly nine.

I agree with everyone here – that moment when the coughing has almost completely depleted one’s lungs of air, and yet one’s body insists on more coughing and won’t let one inhale is the most terrifying feeling, exactly like drowning whilst surrounded by air. I have incomplete immunity to whooping cough, and have suffered from bouts of it (though not quite so badly as the first one) every time an epidemic happens.

But the most terrifying moments of my life were watching my daughter trying to survive pertussis at the age of two. She had not been vaccinated (despite my wishes*) because one of her brothers had absence seizures after his vaccinations and the doctors said that it was contra-indicated (this was the mid-eighties).

I had to nurse her myself, despite being sick with it and nursing another child ill with it (my eldest, who also has incomplete immunity despite being fully vaccinated) because the hospitals were full. Her fever was so high that cold flannels became hot flannels after half a minute in contact with her skin. Those frantic seconds every half an hour or so, when she had a coughing fit and couldn’t inhale – I wouldn’t wish those on my worst enemy; even as a witness, let alone a sufferer. Day in, day out, for over a week – I lost track of time.

Anyone who would voluntarily risk that for themselves is astonishingly short-sighted; that they would risk inflicting it on their children is mind-bogglingly cruel.


*I begged them “If the vaccination caused the petit mal (as it was then called) what the hell could the full-blown disease do?” By the time I had the twins, medical opinion had done an about-turn, and they are fully vaccinated – and without my having to fight with them, as I was quite prepared to do!

Added June 17

Crip Dyke

A year ago, January-February, I had **something** though it wasn’t pertussis. There’s another bacterium, I think it’s actually called parapertussis, though maybe that’s the disease name and not the genus. in any case, it causes all the symptoms of whooping cough, but for 6-12 weeks instead of months on end, and the most serious symptoms are limited to about a week or so, and even then are generally not as serious as actual whooping cough. It’s whooping cough very, very light.

And yet, I still had the coughing-out-air-when-there’s-no-air-and-I-feel-like-I’m-dying-to-take-a-breath experience. For me, it was a serious coughing attack once an hour to 4 or 5 times an hour at the worst. And yet, I think I only had multiple attacks in one hour for a single day, or maybe two.

And it just kills your energy. And this isn’t whooping cough. This made me exhausted and behind in law school work and completely miserable for about 5 weeks (it was around and annoying me for a week before and maybe 3 weeks after the period of actual, full-scale misery). I was seriously panicked for the one weekend where I was having multiple attacks per hour. I got bruises just from coughing. It really was horrid.

And this isn’t whooping cough.

Not vaccinating against whooping cough? Pure idiocy.

Added June 18


A few years ago, the Skepchick’s posted my Whooping Cough story, including a picture of my eyes after the coughing had burst every blood vessel in them.

Source: Skepchick

It was awful. I coughed until I threw up and/or passed out multiple times a day. I didn’t sleep for days. While I had it I got a call from a friend who was at her doctor’s and had just been diagnosed with it. The reason she called me was because her doctor was young enough he’d never seen it and didn’t know how to treat it. He wanted to know what my doctor had prescribed.

A friend of mine in the health department here asked if I shopped at Whole Foods. When I said I did, he nodded his head and told me that most of the outbreaks of diseases that can be immunized against happen with Whole Foods as a nexus point because of all the parents who won’t vaccinate.

Adding: do read that post at Skepchick for the full details, which are horrifying.


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

Testimony sought

Jun 16th, 2014 3:34 pm | By

You know CFI’s Keep Health Care Safe and Secular campaign? You can help.

If you have a story of health care being interfered with or messed up or both by religious meddling or pseudoscientific bumbling, you can write it up and send it to me and I’ll publish it here. It will be one post which I’ll update if and when a new story comes in, so it can be just a paragraph if that’s all you need. (If a lot comes in I’ll do more than one post if the first gets too long.) CFI is collecting such stories, so the more the better.

Let’s do this.


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

The rapist’s pursuit of sexual freedom

Jun 16th, 2014 2:56 pm | By

This is from last March, but it’s so special it deserves resurrection. It’s about a Republican Maine state legislator, one Lawrence Lockman. He has said things. A muckraker called Mike Tipping, an activist with Maine People’s Alliance, found some of the things.

Perhaps the most inflammatory was a press statement from 1995 in which Lockman says “If a woman has (the right to an abortion), why shouldn’t a man be free to use his superior strength to force himself on a woman? At least the rapist’s pursuit of sexual freedom doesn’t (in most cases) result in anyone’s death.”

Where to begin, eh? I guess just skip over the obvious brutality and contempt, to zoom in on the idea that rape is the “pursuit of sexual freedom.” That strikes me as a stunted and also perverse understanding of freedom.


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

Based on divine religious texts

Jun 16th, 2014 12:27 pm | By

The Saudi Justice Minister Mohammed Al-Eissa was in DC last week and he took the opportunity to set everyone straight about human rights in the Kingdom.

Justice Minister Mohammed Al-Eissa has denounced international rights groups for attacking the Kingdom’s judiciary, saying laws in this country are based on divine precepts contained in the Holy Qur’an.

“Any attack on the judiciary will be considered an attack on the Kingdom’s sovereignty,” he said recently.

Speaking to American lawyers, legal consultants and academics in Washington, Al-Eissa said many people have misunderstood Islamic laws because they follow biased information and ignore cultural differences. “This is the reason for rights organizations making big mistakes in their reports,” he said.

The minister tried to counter misconceptions about various Shariah punishments such as beheading, cutting off hands and lashing. “These punishments are based on divine religious texts and we cannot change them,” he said.

Oh, that kind of misconception. Except of course it’s not a misconception: everyone knows the horrible punishments mandated by sharia are based on religious texts, and that the people on top think they can’t change them. That’s not in dispute, and there is no misconception.

Al-Eissa emphasized the progress of the Kingdom’s criminal justice system. “At Saudi courts criminal proceedings are undertaken publicly to ensure transparency and fair justice.” He said the application of Islamic laws has reduced crime in the Kingdom.

“Islam is a religion of wisdom that calls for dialogue with other religious faiths and peaceful coexistence with other communities,” the minister said. “If it was not a good religion, it would not have lasted for more than 1,400 years and won millions of followers around the world.”

If only that were true.

Referring to capital punishment, he said many other countries have this form of penalty enshrined in their legislation.

Yes, such as the US for instance, to our shame.

Many other countries used to have slavery, too; they were all wrong.

“The punishment of cutting off hands has been instructed by religions other than Islam.” He said the punishment of lashing is only meted out to those convicted of serious crimes related to honor. The Shariah does not approve of cutting off the hands of suspected thieves, he said.

None of that justifies cutting off of hands or lashing. Al-Eissa is trying to justify the unjustifiable.


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

Scalia taunts the unbelievers

Jun 16th, 2014 12:09 pm | By

Via Ron Lindsay on Twitter, I’m reading Scalia’s dissent (joined by Thomas) in a case decided today, ELMBROOK SCHOOL DISTRICT v. JOHN DOE. It starts on page 10.

Some there are—many, perhaps—who are offended by public displays of religion. Religion, they believe, is a personal matter; if it must be given external manifestation, that should not occur in public places where others may be offended. I can understand that attitude: It parallels my own toward the playing in public of rock music or Stravinsky.

He sounds like a Twitter harasser. That’s the kind of person who trivializes objections to sexist or racist taunting into merely being “offended.” That’s childish. It’s not that we’re merely “offended” by public displays of religion and it’s not comparable to disliking a brand of music. Music doesn’t try to tell us all what to do! If it did try it would fail. Scalia’s wording is an insulting trivialization.

My own aversion cannot be imposed by law because of the First Amendment. See Ward v. Rock Against Racism, 491 U. S. 781, 790 (1989); Erznoznik v. Jacksonville, 422 U. S. 205, 210–211 (1975). Certain of this Court’s cases, however, have allowed the aversion to religious displays tobe enforced directly through the First Amendment, at least in public facilities and with respect to public ceremonies—this despite the fact that the First Amendment explicitly favors religion and is, so to speak, agnostic about music.

The First Amendment explicitly favors religion? He must mean the free exercise clause, which protects religion as opposed to favoring it, and also follows upon an explicit banning of the establishment of religion – so it doesn’t really “favor” it does it.

Moving ahead to page 14 -

It is perhaps the job of school officials to prevent hurt feelings at school events. But that is decidedly not the job of the Constitution. It may well be, as then-Chief JudgeEasterbrook suggested, that the decision of the Elmbrook School District to hold graduations under a Latin crossin a Christian church was “unwise” and “offensive.” 687 F. 3d, at 869 (dissenting opinion). But Town of Greece makes manifest that an establishment of religion it was not.

So we get to force religion on you from now on whether you like it or not so ha!

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


Jun 16th, 2014 11:31 am | By

Here’s a piece of good news to counter the dead fish taste of the bad news we’ve been seeing lately – Michael De Dora has just been elected President of the United Nations NGO Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief.

That’s terrific.

Here’s me talking to Michael about freedom of religion or belief at Women in Secularism last year.

mdandmeThe right person for the job! Makes a nice change.

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

Marwa says: Join the Ex-Hijabi Fashion Photo Journal!

Jun 16th, 2014 7:33 am | By

You know Marwa Berro of Between a Veil and a Dark Place? (Did I tell you she was at Women in Secularism? I think I did.) She has a brilliant project: an ex-hijabi photo blog.

Featuring ex-hijabis with awesome hairstyles and tattoos and piercings. Ex-hijabis in bikinis and little black dresses and cargo pants and hiking boots. Ex-hijabis who are femme and ex-hijabis who are butch. Ex-hijabis who are women and ex-hijabis who are men. Ex-hijabis topless and legsome and all decked out and minimalistic and with long hair and buzzcuts and everything. EVERYTHING.

Basically ex-hijabis choosing how THEY want their bodies to look, because bodies are a joy and not a shame.


I’m thinking each post will feature a new  ex-hijabi with a small story on their background and feelings about the shift from a life of obscurity to one where they can model and fashion their own bodies as they please.

Read the post for more details, and spread the word.

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

Pope yells at Europe for not cranking out enough babies

Jun 15th, 2014 6:09 pm | By

Dude, look in the mirror. You didn’t have any children (that we know of), so why are you shouting at Europe for having too few of them?

Pope Francis on Sunday criticized Europe for becoming what he called “tired” because of low birth rates and the increasing numbers of young people who neither work nor study.

Mirror. Mirror.


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

Whether “social justice warrior” is supposed to be an insult

Jun 15th, 2014 6:03 pm | By

Dissident Scrapbook gives a nice clear account of the Sarah Kendzior/Jacobin magazine controversy for those who didn’t get all the details. (I’m one of those.)

It starts with an opinion piece on the Jacobin site by Amber A’Lee Frost called “Bro Bash”. The commentary is pretty simple. It says men on the Left who aren’t particularly feminist in their approach to thought, presentation, or behavior — often called “bros” or “brocialists” — should not be dismissed outright, and should also not be lumped in with outright misogyinists just for being, you know, men’s men. Frost basically argues that “bros” aren’t as bad as they’re reputed to be.

That article contains the following sentence:

And I just don’t think the diminutive label of ‘bro’ should be [used] to describe more insidious sexism, let alone violent aggression like rape threats.

Meh. I think “brocialist” is pretty apt, actually.

The controversy is over the fact that this sentence, when the piece originally appeared, contained a link to a tweet by Sarah Kendzior in which she referred to a “brocialist” who once leveled a rape threat against her. (I believe but cannot confirm that the words rape threats were hyperlinked to the tweet.) I won’t link to the original tweet, because that really upsets Kendzior, and I want to respect her wishes. But I will quote it in its entirety, something I’ve decided to do because Kendzior has personally definitely drawn far more attention to this tweet than I’ll ever be able to:

I first heard it from a brocialist sending me emails hoping for my rape. So I’m guessing yes.

(It doesn’t really matter, but the “it” in this tweet is the term social justice warrior, and the “yes” refers to whether social justice warrior is supposed to be an insult.)

Ah now that last is one of the details I didn’t get. Interesting. I had thought the feeding frenzy over that word was local to “the atheist community” and its brocialist hatred of feminism and feminists, but clearly that’s quite wrong. Interesting interesting. So it’s not just atheist assholes aka brocialists, it’s also asshole progressives and lefties aka brocialists. Good to know.

Anti-feminists hate me. I hate anti-feminists. No I’m not going to put all that aside for the sake of “the community.” Stalemate.


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

Other parents chose not to vaccinate

Jun 15th, 2014 5:50 pm | By

A San Francisco station does a better job of taking pertussis seriously in its report; it says it can be deadly for infants and children.

But then it talks to a citizen.

“Hopefully people will catch it when their kids are showing symptoms and they’ll get treated right away and keep them away from other people,” said Katie Kresnak, [whose three children attend school in the district.

All of Kresnak’s three children have current Tdap shots, but she says other parents chose not to vaccinate.

“It’s frustrating to me, but of course people have their own reasons for doing things like that and I have to respect that, but its times like this that put other people at risk so that is a little frustrating,” said Kresnak.

No. No you really don’t have to respect that, and you shouldn’t. There is no such imperative, and in fact you shouldn’t because people have bad reasons and they are endangering their own children and other people’s.

(Ok one possible not-unreasonable motivation for not vaccinating or for delaying it is if one child had a bad reaction. We were told about one such case yesterday and that’s understandable. It’s ok to respect that, while still urging vaccination. But that’s it.)


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

It’s not just “a persistent cough”

Jun 15th, 2014 5:00 pm | By

Well, here’s a terrible bit of reporting on the whooping cough epidemic in California from local CBS News.

Infants and young children are most vulnerable to whooping cough.

Symptoms vary by age but include a cough and runny nose for one or two weeks. The cough then worsens and children may experience rapid coughing spells that end with a “whooping” sound.

In infants, symptoms may not include an apparent cough, but could include episodes in which the child’s face turns red or purple.

In adults, symptoms may include a persistent cough for several weeks.

And that’s it. Sounds pretty harmless, doesn’t it – the cough gets worse and makes a funny sound, and/or the child might turn red or purple in the face. What CBS doesn’t say is that the rapid coughing means the child can’t inhale. The cough pushes the breath out and it keeps going and it’s rapid, so the person coughing can’t breathe in. That’s bad! It’s like drowning; it’s like being suffocated or strangled; it’s terrible and can be lethal. That “whooping” sound that seems so amusing is the desperate noise the cougher makes as she finally drags in a breath with the little strength she has left. It doesn’t sound anything like a whoop to me, it’s a roughly voiced gasp rather than a whoop.

Why would they describe the disease so incompletely and misleadingly?

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

Edwina doesn’t know the total number of rooms in Surry Hill

Jun 15th, 2014 3:44 pm | By

The New Republic published an article about Surry Hill in 2006. I’m reading it. I’m reading it and wondering what the HELL anyone was thinking suggesting Edwina Rogers to head the SCA – let alone actually approving her.

The piece of land it’s on was originally zoned for nine houses.

Edwina doesn’t know the total number of rooms in Surry Hill, but an elevator services the house’s three floors. Upstairs, Edwina’s bathroom (one of eight) features a small fireplace by the tub. But she is proudest of her home’s dazzling—and eclectic—art collection. “We do a lot of lobbying for foreign governments. I just can’t imagine any country we haven’t gotten a piece from,” she explains. Sashaying from room to room like a docent, she points out the eight-foot steel-plated pantry door from Rajasthan, the light fixtures from Venice, and the four Taiwanese stone statues, each weighing 300 pounds, embedded in her dining room wall. (The floor had to be reinforced with steel to support them.) Her most delicate pieces are housed in their own “art gallery”—a white-walled room where ancient figurines, pottery, and pieces of jewelry lay on cream-colored stands under Plexiglas. “We hired the company that does the Smithsonian’s display cases,” Edwina explains.

Let me put this crudely. She’s too god damn rich to run an organization such as the Secular Coalition for America. I realize it’s not a left-wing organization or an anti-poverty organization or a socialist organization, but all the same, it is an organization that intends to improve things, that is progressive, that wants and needs to appeal to large numbers of ordinary people as opposed to the richest .01%. It’s not intelligent to put someone that grotesquely over-moneyed in the job of running an organization of that kind. It’s alienating. It’s alienating before you even get to how the Rogerses got so fucking rich.

Within Republican circles, Surry Hill is an iconic placea Shangri-la for those who toil on Capitol Hill and along K Street. (“Have you seen Surry Hill?” Republicans are apt to say. “You’ve got to go.”) It’s also a testament to the rewards awaiting ambitious conservatives in modern Washington, where unprecedented wealth is being made from the business of politics. Just ask the Rogerses, who have ridden a boom in Washington lobbying during the last decade. Edwina, a former Republican Hill staffer and Bush White House aide, worked at the Washington Group, chaired by former GOP Representative Susan Molinari, whose clients have included Boeing and the government of Bangladesh. Ed, a former aide in the Reagan and first Bush White Houses and a regular on shows like MSNBC’S “Hardball,” co-founded the powerhouse lobbying firm of Barbour Griffith & Rogers in 1991. Last year, the firmwhose clients include Eli Lilly, Verizon, Lorillard Tobacco Company, and the governments of India and Qatarreported revenue of $19 million. Built from these lobbying riches in 2002, Surry Hill is the psychic center of McLean. And McLean, in turn, has become the psychic center of the Washington Republican establishment.

You know what? It shouldn’t be possible for unprecedented wealth to be made from the business of politics. Politics shouldn’t be a fucking business – it shouldn’t be for sale. It shouldn’t be corrupt.

McLean covers just 18 square miles and has a population of 40,000. But it is packed with the people who impeached Bill Clinton, elected George W. Bush, launched the Iraq war, and have now learned to make millions from their association with government. Some are famouspeople like Bill Kristol and Colin Powell, Scooter Libby and Newt Gingrich, several current and former Republican senators, and Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia. Dick Cheney once owned a McLean townhouseuntil he sold it to Bush’s 2000 campaign manager, Joe Allbaugh. Less well-known are the countless lobbyists, lawyers, and businessmen whose names rarely turn up in The Washington Post and who like it that waypeople like super-lobbyist Ken Duberstein, Ronald Reagan’s former chief of staff; Frank Carlucci, former chair of the Carlyle Group, the notorious global private equity firm with close ties to the Bush family; and Dwight Schar, a construction mogul who is currently finance chairman of the Republican National Committee.

These are people who get rich by screwing over the population.

…it’s not merely political power that has accumulated in GOP circles over the last decade-plus. It’s also money. The modern Republican brand of corporate conservatism, embodied in the capital by Tom DeLay’s K Street Project, cultivated a climate of unprecedented accessand therefore profitfor lobbyists. If the Jack Abramoff and Duke Cunningham scandals didn’t tell you everything you need to know, consider some statistics: Between 2000 and 2005, the number of registered Washington lobbyists doubled to about 35,000and overall spending on lobbying grew by 30 percent, to $2.1 billion. A well-connected congressional aide can easily win a $300,000 starting salary on K Street.When John Boehner became House majority leader last winter, watchdog groups pointed out that a whopping 14 of his former aides had gone on to K Street lobbying jobs. Meanwhile, where it was once considered tacky for former members of Congress to lobby, they now routinely cash in their access and know-how for seven-figure earnings. In Washington, the spirit of public service has been overtaken by the profit motive.

And that’s where the people who chose the next Executive Director of the SCA found Edwina Rogers – not just a Republican lobbyist, but a grotesquely rich Republican lobbyist who got rich via Republican lobbying.


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

Look at the fabulous ponyskin toilet cover

Jun 15th, 2014 11:57 am | By

Here’s a thrilling item from 2008 – somebody called Mario Correa pays a visit to Surry* Hill, the 18,000 square foot house of DC “Superlobbyists” Edwina and Ed Rogers. Inside the palatial residence with hot and cold running champagne, Edwina Rogers shows the host how she wraps speaker gifts for a conference she’s having: she wraps them in money. Isn’t that fun and exciting? Oh yes it’s very fun and exciting.

*No, I don’t know why they misspell Surrey.

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

Scalia in the wilderness

Jun 15th, 2014 11:39 am | By

Dahlia Lithwick considers the question of why it’s taboo to discuss whether or not Supreme Court Justices’ rulings and views are shaped by their religions.

In a country historically averse to political debates about competing faiths, nowhere is frank discussion of religion more taboo than at the U.S. Supreme Court. “Religion is the third rail of Supreme Court politics. It’s not something that’s talked about in polite company,” as Jeff Shesol, the author of a book about the New Deal Court, put it. He was speaking with NPR’s Nina Totenberg in 2010, when John Paul Stevens was looking at retirement and, for the first time in American history, there was the prospect of six Catholics, three Jews, and no Protestants on the highest court in the land—a watershed almost too “radioactive,” Totenberg remarked, even to note. And beware of venturing any further than that, as the University of Chicago Law School’s Geoffrey Stone did in a controversial 2007 blog post suggesting that the Supreme Court’s five conservatives likely derived their abortion views from Catholic doctrine: Scalia—a devout Catholic, and the current Court’s longest-serving conservative—announced a boycott of the school until Stone leaves the faculty.

That is both totally unreasonable, and dangerous. Scalia is a dogmatic Catholic, so why would that fact not influence his views on abortion? What is he, magic? If we can’t even discuss the issue, how can justices be confirmed or rejected on reasonable grounds?

The problem of engaging religion openly at the high court extends beyond the unspoken agreement not to talk about the justices’ religions. The Court itself has opted not to probe the intensity or validity of a plaintiff’s religious conviction, in part thanks to Scalia’s reasoning. Get too deep into second-guessing matters of spiritual belief, he noted in his landmark 1990 opinion denying peyote-using Native Americans an exemption from everyday drug laws, and there’s no getting out: “What principle of law or logic can be brought to bear to contradict a believer’s assertion that a particular act is ‘central’ to his personal faith?” Neutral laws must hold sway, or every religious objector becomes, in Scalia’s words, “a law unto himself.”

So then there was the Hobby Lobby case, when nobody questioned the religious beliefs that were in play.

Certainly the justices on the left wing of the Court and the Obama administration didn’t: whatever science, medical consensus, or neutral law may say on the subject of abortion-causing drugs and devices, the government wasn’t about to challenge Hobby Lobby’s belief that particular forms of birth control cause abortions (or to note that the business, even if inadvertently, once covered the same contraceptive methods its owners abhor). Nor was Scalia, who this time—in a dramatic about-face from his 1990 position—clearly supported the religious objectors. In fact, in the course of grilling the lawyers, he blurted out what sounded like agreement with the plaintiffs’ claims that these items were abortifacients. The spectacle was enough to make one wonder, quietly: Peyote didn’t sway him, but what about his own brand of piety?

So a new biography of Scalia by Bruce Allen Murphy is helpful because Murphy doesn’t shrink from probing that issue.

Murphy does not shrink from adjudicating Scalia’s dueling public claims: that separating faith from public life is impossible and, at the same time, that he himself has done just that on the Court. Murphy’s conclusion—at once obvious and subversive—is that Justice Scalia is very much the product of his deeply held Catholic faith. The pristine border between faith and jurisprudence is largely myth and aspiration.

Or just plain self-serving bullshit? That’s my suspicion anyway.

Scalia claims that his originalist methodology insulates him from letting his religion influence his rulings. It’s just the words on the page, folks. Murphy doesn’t buy it.

Murphy carefully lays out the flaws in Scalia’s claim that simply channeling history is a neutral enterprise. Scalia vaunts his departures from Church doctrine, as evidenced, for instance, in a 2002 vote in favor of capital punishment—a stand at odds with Pope John Paul II’s opposition to the death penalty in “Evangelium Vitae.” Writing in the journal First Things, Scalia cited that position as proof that legal rules alone guide him. Yet what really goaded him, Murphy persuasively argues, was that the pope shifted his position on capital punishment, just as proponents of living constitutionalism have done at the Supreme Court. This is not, in Murphy’s view, a value-neutral position. Whether Scalia acknowledges it publicly or not, he is channeling a fundamentalist reading of the Bible—Leviticus in particular.

He’s isolated himself on the Court as a result, becoming a Jeremiah “hollering alone in the wilderness.”

Yet perhaps Murphy misses the moral of his own story. Scalia is in fact leaving a very powerful mark, as precisely the lone, uncompromising figure his latest biographer portrays so astutely. The Hobby Lobby case serves as a reminder of a profound shift on the Court over the 24 years since Scalia evoked the specter of the religious objector as “a law unto himself.” That may have been his nightmare in 1990, but in so many ways it is Scalia’s legacy in 2014. Scalia represents the living embodiment of the besieged religious dissenter, the “Christian as cretin,” in his parlance, the man who believes that the only remaining front in the American war for civil rights is the battle to defend religion. Two decades ago, nobody could have imagined that five members of the Court would align themselves with that posture.

But in the years since Samuel Alito joined the Court in 2006, replacing the centrist Sandra Day O’Connor, the five conservatives on the bench have shown less and less solicitude for the rights of women, workers, voters, minorities, the elderly, the environment, the poor, and most criminal defendants—and they have shown growing and seemingly boundless patience for religious objectors. The Court is currently hearing, and will continue to hear, passionate challenges to a secular society from religious dissenters seeking not just the right to deny contraception to their workers, but the right to pray at town-council meetings and—somewhere down the line, it seems likely—the right to deny services to same-sex couples. Murphy may be correct that Scalia is a court of one. But in the religious-rights revival now in progress in America, one is perhaps all that is needed.

Gruseome, isn’t it.

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

Guest post by Bruce Everett: Ideology is not just for other people

Jun 15th, 2014 11:09 am | By

Dear “non political” people, entering into the lobbying arena to advocate for “non-ideological” policies,

When complaining that people only disagree with you because of their own “political ideology”; it’d be good if you could at least grasp the existence of the horizon of your spectacularly large bias blind spots. (Also, if you could ditch the vanity, which you also seem to have a problem with, that’d be great, thanks).

Just because you can’t spot a number of the inferred values, unspoken assumptions, knowledge gaps, political preferences and statistical biases presented by your lobbying actions, doesn’t mean they aren’t out there in the open for everyone else to see and/or discuss.

And pretending that your interlocutors are trying to put their “sacred cows” out of range of criticism, when they shift the focus to parts of your arguments that you aren’t addressing; please cut that shit out. Your interlocutors don’t want to talk about those “sacred cows” because they aren’t relevant in the context of the discussion they want to have, nor in the context of any discussion they may ever be interested in. We’re not dealing with “sacred cows”, we’re dealing with red herrings; your red herrings.

What is relevant, is dependent upon what it is exactly that is being discussed, and raises the question of who in a democracy, decides upon what is being discussed.

Here’s the kicker. When you get involved in lobbying government, your campaign and your organisation, and anything anyone can find out about it, are all topics of discussion for the public. The people you’re whining about, those with the “sacred cows” who are “silencing” you with mere criticism; they often don’t have the platform that you do – they don’t place their interests out there for the public the way that lobbyists do, because they can’t.

Instead, their interests are usually expressed in the smaller, more personal spaces that rightfully, they hold greater sway over, either by way of rights to privacy, or editorial control, or other equivalents. They decide in their personal space, what gets discussed, and hence ultimately, what is relevant in that setting.

You aren’t the editor of their blogs. You don’t get to demand what gets discussed in their personal, non-lobbyist space; it is their right to set the context of their own discussions, and it’s not your entitlement to expect otherwise.

They aren’t loyal foot-soldiers for self-appointed “thought leaders”; they are citizens.

Conversely, when you lobby governments, the public gets to take their interests, and their contexts, to the table, to discuss your “non-politics” accordingly – all without ceding control to you if they’re not using your political organs. That’s part and parcel of the business of lobbying in a democracy, irrespective of whether or not you are in fact, “non political”.

Yes, discursively this is one sided. You know what else is one-sided? The disparity in resources behind lobbyists and bloggers. Suck it up, lobbyists.

There are only a few ways, generally, that a lobbyist can act in this situation, and each carries its own set of implications.

Being a professor does not make you an elitist, and it never has. Lobbying without accountability, while expecting bloggers, journalists and private citizens to be just as, if not more open to being persuaded about what’s up for debate, does.

You can go down this road, but people rightly get to call you an elitist for doing so, and your complaints about this can be reasonably laughed at. In this case, you’re comedy material. Learn to live with it.

Alternatively, if you don’t like the realities of lobbying in a democracy (and I’ve noticed that you like calling yourself democratic), you can always go back to the academy where you rightly have a captive audience; your students. The electorate should value insight and intelligence, but the electorate is not, nor are its journalists, bloggers or activists, a captive audience.

Nor is the electorate your classroom, nor is it something that should remain passive when you use substantial lobbying influence to seek something from government.

If you don’t understand how your lobbying fits into a democracy, irrespective of what tack you take, you’re incompetent as a lobbyist, and quite possibly as a public intellectual as well. This in addition to potentially being an elitist jerk.

With all due respect,


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


Jun 14th, 2014 5:07 pm | By

This one is even worse. Again: warning. The cough goes on and on and on and on and she cannot get her breath.

I’ve done that gasp a few times as an adult, just from a regular cough with a cold – that dragging thing where you desperately try to haul in the air by force, and you make that sound. It’s awful. A tiny child doing it all day every day for months…deargod.

Updating to add: she’s fine now. She’d had all her shots, but got it anyway – but probably a milder dose. (That’s a milder dose? Oy.)

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

What whooping cough looks like

Jun 14th, 2014 4:46 pm | By

Warning: hard to take.

Nevertheless should be widely shown so that people will know THEY NEED TO GET THEIR CHILDREN  VACCINATED.

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

No minors or pregnant women

Jun 14th, 2014 3:41 pm | By

Wait wait, before you buy tickets for Braco in New York, I missed something I should have warned you about.


Please note for ALL GAZING EVENTS: Must be 18 years of age or over to attend and pregnant women are not allowed to attend after their third month of pregnancy due to the intensity of the experience for some. People with illnesses are advised to follow the recommendation of their doctor before and after attending a gazing session.

It is recommended to bring a photo of your child or a person needing help who cannot attend, as this method has been proven to be equally effective and the most balanced way for some to receive help who cannot attend.

Pregnant women might find themselves giving birth to an angel, or Gandhi, or a wreath of flowers, or some other terribly embarrassing and inconvenient thing.

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

Amazing transformations happen

Jun 14th, 2014 3:05 pm | By

Thanks to Josh, who was invited to partake and will not be taking up the invitation, I have learned about a person called Braco, who gazes. Braco’s gaze is said to do magical things.

Braco’s gaze touches his visitors with peace, silence and hope. Amazing transformations happen, and many find new power, vitality and a zest for life resulting from their experience. Braco does not teach, talk or diagnose to give treatments—he simply gazes in silence and offers his gift to visitors—independent from religion, ideology, race, color and culture.

Cool gig, don’t you think? He does nothing – he teaches not, neither does he talk, and he doesn’t diagnose either. I conclude he also doesn’t dance, or turn somersaults, or pivot on his thumb, or do contortionist moves like lifting his feet over his head and then walking on them. I deduce he doesn’t whistle, or sing, or read poetry, or whip up a nice poulet basquaise, or ice skate, or watch tv while you watch him watching tv. He just gazes.

And apparently people give him money to do that!

Watch out though. Be careful. There’s a warning on his website.

Warning: Fraud by Braco Impersonators

It has recently come to our attention that somebody created a Braco Facebook Page, pretending to be Braco himself and contacted people. Please know that Braco never personally contacts people or communicates with people directly. He does not give any interviews and he does not speak in public.

Omigod someone is fraudulently pretending to be Braco and perhaps fraudulently gazing at people!

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