Notes and Comment Blog

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


Theocracy in Scotland

Nov 29th, 2010 10:47 am | By

Jeezis, these people are scary. They’re getting their way.

Peter Kearney, the director of the Scottish Catholic Media Office, made his comments after the sacking of SFA referees’ chief Hugh Dallas over allegations he sent an offensive e-mail about the Pope during his recent visit to Scotland.

Mr Kearney warned: “Let no-one be in any doubt, with this shameful episode, Catholics in Scotland have drawn a line in the sand.

Yes, they have! They’ve drawn a line that says “you may not send an ‘offensive’ email about the pope, and if you do, we will get you pushed out of your job.”

That’s quite a line. Hugh Dallas didn’t work for the church, or even for a “faith” school. He had a fully secular job – yet Catholic rage about a failure to respect their horrible pope got him forced out of that job. I find that simply terrifying. What business can it possibly be of theirs what some guy says in an email, and where do they get the power to force him out of his job?!

Peter Kearney certainly thinks he has every right to tell all of Scotland what to do and how quickly.

“The bigotry, the bile, the sectarian undercurrents and innuendos must end. Such hateful attitudes have had their day. They poison the well of community life. They must be excised and cast out once and for all.”

Mr Kearney sent a letter to the SFA last week demanding Mr Dallas’s dismissal if the accusations over the e-mail were true.

He said yesterday that “tasteless” e-mails may simply be “the tip of a disturbing iceberg of anti-Catholicism in Scottish society”.

And that people should lose their jobs for writing “tasteless” emails about a guy who tells Africans not to use condoms and who thinks ordination of women is a desperate crime while raping children is a regrettable accident.

As Craig Ferguson likes to say, I look forward to your letters.



Promise-breakers

Nov 29th, 2010 9:48 am | By

Really.

The people who do the New International Version (translation) of the bible have taken out the pesky “too liberal” gender-neutral language they wickedly and liberally stuck into the 2005 edition, because the knuckle-draggers were pissed off at them.

They’ve retained some of the language of the 2005 edition. But they also made changes — like going back to using words like “mankind” and “man” instead of “human beings” and “people” — in order to appease critics.

And the critics were pissed off by that because…what? Because they want everyone to think that human beings and people are in fact men and that women don’t count because they’re some kind of weird abberration? Or what? What other possible reason is there to object to language that is actually more precise and accurate and explanatory than the alternative?

Today, the Committee on Bible Translation, which translated the NIV, admits Today’s New International Version, the revision released in 2002, was a mistake. They substituted “brothers and sisters” where the New Testament writers used “brothers.” 

They also broke a promise they’d made to James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, John Piper, pastor of Minneapolis megachurch Bethlehem Baptist, and other conservative pastors, not to produce a gender-inclusive NIV.

 Thus reminding us that, in the words of the old proverb, yes God does hate women.



The Marquess of Queensbury

Nov 28th, 2010 11:40 am | By

The Guardian apparently disapproves of Hitchens’s still-unapologetic atheism; at least it allows its reporter to misrepresent what he said.

If it had been a boxing match Hitchens would have been described as landing blow after blow, many of them decidedly low – especially those about circumcision or women’s rights. He described the aid work done by religious missions as “conscience money” to make up for the harm they have done. After all, why bother treating HIV-infected people in Africa while working against the use of condoms?

That’s not what he said, to put it mildly. This is what he said:

Furthermore, if you are going to grant this to Catholic charities, I would say, which I hope are doing a lot of work in Africa, if I was a member of a church that had preached that AIDS was not as bad as condoms, I would be putting some conscience money into Africa too, I must say. I’m not trying to be funny. If I was trying to be funny, you mistook me. It won’t bring back the millions of people who have died wretched deaths because of that teaching, that still goes on.

Absolutely nothing to do with “why bother,” you see? A million miles from “why bother.” Talk about a “low blow.”

And while we’re on the subject, why is it a low blow for Hitchens to cite genital mutilation (not circumcision – he mentioned a sharp rock and genitals, not circumcision) and women’s rights? I think it’s a much lower blow for Tony Blair to join a woman-hating church in late adulthood.



I decided I wanted to see the beautiful colors of life

Nov 27th, 2010 5:01 pm | By

Ever pondered what it’s actually like to wear a niqab?

“I had to wear the full niqab when I was 8 years old,” she says of the face veil worn by women here. “I couldn’t breathe. I saw the world in dark colors. I fell down because I couldn’t see when I walked. Men should put this on for one day. They would change their thinking. They don’t know how horrible it is under sun, heat and sweat. It’s a kind of torture. I decided I wanted to see the beautiful colors of life — red, blue, green. Not black.”

It’s like what you think it’s like. It’s horribly hot and uncomfortable. It impedes your vision and makes you fall (and presumably get bumped by pedestrians and hit by cars). You can’t breathe, or move freely. And most hideous of all, you can’t even look at the world. Imagine it – your whole life – apart from your own house and if you’re lucky a courtyard or garden, you can’t ever see anything clearly. You can’t see the streets, people, trees, buildings, anything – you’re shrouded. For life. Because you’re female.



The most sacred thing

Nov 27th, 2010 1:41 pm | By

In other news, a teenage girl was arrested for burning a booklet. The booklet was a translation of the Koran, so she was arrested “on suspicion of inciting religious hatred.” She wasn’t sent to have a talk with the head teacher, she was arrested. She is currently out on bail.

Catherine Heseltine, chief executive officer of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee, said burning the Koran was one of the most offensive acts to Muslims that she could imagine.

She said: “The Koran is the most sacred thing to over a billion Muslims worldwide.”

“You can see that in the way Muslims treat the Koran, washing before touching it and in many Muslim homes you will find it on the top shelf above all other books and we will never destroy the Koranic texts.”

“We believe it is the word of God. God’s guidance for us in this life,” she added.

Therefore, everyone in the world is required to treat the Koran the same way. Because over a billion people make a fetish of a particular book, including all editions and all translations of said book, however flimsy the edition or bad the translation, failure to treat all editions and translations with deference is criminal, whether particular jurisdictions agree or not. Happily the UK apparently does agree.



Officers would be likely to be alarmed

Nov 27th, 2010 12:47 pm | By

Apparently in the UK it’s illegal to make “offensive” comments about Allah. I wonder if that law applies to “offensive” comments about God too – they are supposed to be the same man, after all, even if Malaysians are forbidden to use the first word to mean the second unless they are Muslims.

A man has been fined for making offensive comments about Allah during the English Defence League protest in Leicester.Lee Whitby was found guilty of using racially aggravated abusive words during the protest in the city centre on Saturday, October 9.

Alexandra Blossom, prosecuting, said the comments made were bound to cause harassment, alarm or distress because of Leicester’s multicultural society and the fact the words were said in the city centre.

She said: “A number of people present that day were likely to be offended.

“It was a high-profile event and members of the public would have been in the city on a Saturday.

“The remarks are even offensive to police.

“A clear message needs to be sent out about using such behaviour in a multicultural city.”

Notice all the conditionals and subjunctives. Bound to cause; were likely to be; would have been. There’s nothing about anyone who actually was “offended,” except for the police. The police were offended, and other people could would were likely to be, but in fact as far as anyone knows were not, no doubt because they didn’t hear anything. It was only the police who heard the “offensive” comments and the police were obligingly “offended” so Lee Whitby (who is no doubt a repellent unpleasant bully) gets done for saying something that could have offended people if only the people had been in earshot.

Mr Moore said: “It is a fact you were with others chanting and police were within hearing distance but there is no evidence of non-police officers within hearing distance.

“It is likely that a police officer or officers hearing the words would be likely to be alarmed and for that reason we find you guilty of this offence.”

Whitby was fined £200 and ordered to pay a further £200 in costs, as well as a £15 victim surcharge.

A victim surcharge, despite the admitted lack of any actual victim. £415 because police officers would be likely to be alarmed.

 You know what? I should send a copy of Does God Hate Women? to the Leicester police department. Surely the Leicester cops would be likely to be alarmed by the last three pages of that little book. If that’s a criminal offense, surely I am guilty.



See those abs? Buy these cigarettes.

Nov 25th, 2010 2:53 pm | By

And since I’m revisiting things, I’ll revisit another one: the make science look cool by putting random guys in photos with rappers thing.

(Disclaimer: I don’t object to the thing itself; it probably doesn’t actually hurt anything; I object to treating it as a serious way to improve Murkans’ attitude to science.)

Here’s what I hate about the whole idea: it is about manipulation instead of argument or persuasion. It has, by design, no substance at all. It’s openly and proudly just a stupid advertsingy “look at this and feel like this so buy this” type of item. I hate that kind of crap, and I especially hate it when it infiltrates areas that are or should be all about substance. I hate how calculatedly mindless it is. Maybe that’s why dislike of it is supposed to be “elitist” – because it’s politically suspect to think that calculated mindlessness is a bad harmful thing.

Well I don’t care; if that’s elitism I’m an elitist; I do think calculated mindlessness is a bad harmful thing.



Bonding and meaning revisited

Nov 25th, 2010 2:36 pm | By

To expand on that post about feelings and meaning and science can’t from a few days ago. Another counter-example occurred to me – one that was touched on by people who mentioned postpartum depression, but not (that I saw, or at least recall) in detail.

Suppose the perinatal hormones hadn’t worked, or had worked the opposite way. Suppose Scott had felt a surge of not love and protectiveness but disgust and loathing. I think it’s fair to say we know what she would have done; she would have 1) done something to ensure her infant’s safety and well-being and 2) tried to fix her own response, via drugs or counseling. Why? Because of scientific knowledge about infancy. Because of Harry Harlow, for one thing. She would have second-guessed the apparent meaning of what she felt, and tried hard not to act on it. She would have used what she knew to counteract a felt “meaning.”

And if that’s right, then it’s also the case that scientific knowledge was part of the “meaning” of the bonding. She knew it was a good healthy useful emotion, so she knew to embrace it and go with it and act on it as opposed to the opposite.



Coyne’s cat contest

Nov 25th, 2010 1:50 pm | By

Jerry Coyne is doing a cat contest, and I’m one of the judges, chiz chiz, so bring out your felids as long as they’re domestic.

It’s going to be agony, though, the judging. First of all, I don’t have the Latin.* Second, they’re all beautiful and winsome and hilarious, so how can I choose?! Third, there is a kind of knowing that is needed for judging betwixt cats, and I haven’t been trained in it. Fourth, despite solicitation, no one has bothered to bribe me. Fifth, I am warm and kind and compassionate and I can’t bear to hurt the feelings of any cat or human by not giving the prize to her/him/it/them. Sixth, I have some kind of bite (spider? louse? puff adder?) on my left forearm, and it interferes with my concentration.

But never mind all that. Send in your fish-breathed quadrupeds.

*Spot the reference for bonus points.



How to be kool

Nov 24th, 2010 12:53 pm | By

Martin Robbins alerts us to a new exciting red-hot totally hip yeeha thing where scientists get their pitchas taken with rappers and everybody suddenly understands how rad science is.

So here we are again, witnessing the isochronal cavalcade of embarrassment that is GQ’s annual ‘Rock Stars of Science‘ feature. Like a puppy trying to hump a leg, the idea is simple, and probably a bit wrong.

The concept arises from the tedious modern worship of even the most minor celebrities, paired with the idea that standing next to somebody cool can make you cool – a hypothesis comprehensively debunked by Tony Blair in 1997. From that, GQ extrapolate that making scientists pose awkwardly in the background of photos of rock stars, like morons in the background of a news report, is a great way to promote science and scientists.

You have to click on it and look at his pictures, which I can’t be bothered to steal and put here, but you need to see them to get the full hilarity.

His real point though is that it’s bullshit. Science really is exciting, and it’s not because scientists can stand in the same frame as a rapper.

I still can’t help but feel that if you have to resort to rockstars make science cool, you’re really not very good at communicating science. Because science is way cooler than rock stars. And if you still don’t believe me, here’s a picture of the Sun. Taken at night. Through the Earth.

I do believe him.



Start early

Nov 24th, 2010 12:40 pm | By

Baher Ibrahim notes that making little girls bandage their heads is creepy and stupid.

In general, the age at which Muslim girls in Egypt begin to wear the scarf has dropped. Back when I was in high school, very few female students wore headscarves. Today, my younger brother (who is 15) tells me that almost all the girls in his middle school wear a scarf. It hasn’t stopped there either, having caught on in primary schools.

Which of course means that it’s almost impossible for female students in middle school not to wear the bandages. (That thing is not a scarf.) Primary schools will end up in the same place.

Some suggest that I am overanalysing, and that the reason parents like their little girls to don the scarf is simply so they can “get used to doing the right thing from a young age”. They compare it to how Muslim parents teach their children to fast until noon during Ramadan so that when they are older it won’t be so hard to fast until sunset, or how fathers take their kids to the mosque on Fridays to get them used to it. We all know how hard it is to kick habits we were taught in early childhood. Getting a little girl “used to” the hijab effectively obliterates the “free choice” element by the time the girl is old enough to think.

They’re being trained and conditioned, in short. They’re being trained to Submit.

To make matters worse, what about the brothers of these girls? Will they not grow up with the same mentality? If they see that their sisters have to be covered up from a very early age to avoid being exposed in front of men, it is only natural that they grow up with the concept that women have to be covered, controlled and restricted.

And that men don’t. Exactly.



Get us, we are the more devout

Nov 24th, 2010 12:19 pm | By

You know…if you’re going to use massive power over the minds of people, you ought to do so carefully and thoughtfully. You ought not to use that power to wreck people’s lives for the sake of your power and celebrity. Wouldn’t you agree?

You would, but the Catholic church wouldn’t.

Papal comments on birth control began in the early 20th century, spurred partly by the emergence of new methods and also by the decision of the Anglican Church to allow exceptions to its no-contraception rule and the subsequent acceptance of contraception by other Protestant denominations.

Apparently the Catholic church wanted to show off by making a display of being more abjectly obedient to an imaginary god and its imaginary rules than other churches. It did so by forbidding people to prevent conception – it did so by interfering in people’s lives in the most basic way possible, for no sensible reason of any kind. A trivial reason and an enormous set of consequences. The Catholic church is morally frivolous to a shocking degree.



It is good to deplore, but you can do more

Nov 23rd, 2010 4:07 pm | By

I was thinking today about the famous split at CFI (it came up in my dispute with Nathan at Facebook), and I looked again at the Affirmations of Humanism. At the first two of them, actually, because I stopped there. Check out the second one.

  • We deplore efforts to denigrate human intelligence, to seek to explain the world in supernatural terms, and to look outside nature for salvation.
  • Well exactly. This is what I take gnu atheists to be doing! But exactly. Deploring efforts to seek to explain the world in supernatural terms is what we’re doing. So what’s the problem?

    I asked Nathan that, but more civilly this time, and got a very civil reply. We have different starting points of emphasis, is what it comes down to. It’s good to clear away dead wood, but there’s more to do than that. Indeed; I couldn’t agree more – but then so could the other gnu atheists I know.

    There is a lot of dead wood though. It does still need clearing out. But perhaps eventually it will be cleared out, or if not cleared out, at least tucked away where it won’t keep clogging up the works. That would be great.



    When O’Hair smiles

    Nov 22nd, 2010 12:26 pm | By

    Ho hum. The “help help those god damn pesky atheists are ruining everything” campaign keeps rumbling along. Christopher Stedman covers the “interfaith” outreach branch, and we already know who covers the “how is this helping?” branch; now we have a new branch, the “skepticism isn’t atheism” one, courtesy of Jeff Wagg.

    I can see how Vic Stenger’s talk could be appropriate for a skeptics conference, but this really looks like an atheist conference to me…In fact, it looks like an anti-Christian conference.

    Aha – the ever-popular move from atheist to “anti-Christian” – the ever-popular insinuation that disagreement with religion and religions is actually hatred of and aggression against religious people. The ever-popular pretense of superior niceness while in fact making a quite filthy accusation against perceived enemies.

    to conflate atheism with skepticism dilutes atheism and destroys skepticism.And I fear the damage has already been done. I see a lot of good people leaving the skeptical community because they’re uncomfortable with the tone and disappointed with, frankly, the lack of skepticism presented by many people.

    He says, in the process of doing his best to turn lots more “good people” against atheism.

    PZ is not much impressed.

    Skepticon does have a strong anti-religion emphasis. So? This is a subject open to criticism, and it’s perfectly fair to apply skepticism to religion as much as we would to dowsing or Bigfoot. If someone had organized a skeptics’ conference with an emphasis on, for instance, quack medicine, I doubt that anyone would have squawked that “it’s harming the cause!”, “it’ll make skeptics who believe in homeopathy uncomfortable”, or “it’s diluting medicine and destroying skepticism”.

    Nathan Bupp, on the other hand, is impressed. Nathan used to work for the Center for Inquiry; lately he’s been posting a lot of “new atheists are horrible” commentary on his Facebook page. He posted one on PZ’s response today. I find it noticeably…tendentious.

    Well lets see PZ, you and your gang have already hijacked the humanist movement, why not the skeptics movement as well. Let’s just turn everything into a crusade for atheism. What movement to subsume next? Madalyn Murray O’hair must surely be smiling…..*somewhere*

    What gang? What hijacked? What movements? Since when is PZ a humanist anyway? Since when is disputing religious truth claims “a crusade”?

    But the jibe about the famous hate-figure O’Hair is the real clincher. Gnu atheists are endlessly shouted at for triggering a “culture war” but what is the invocation of O’Hair but a really nasty (and unsubtly misogynist) dog whistle?



    Nothing more than feelings

    Nov 21st, 2010 6:04 pm | By

    I watched a bit of Eugenie Scott’s talk at the Secular Humanism party again, via a post on it by Jerry. I watched the bit where she talked about The Feeling of bonding with her infant daughter, and the fact that “it is the meaning of the experience that is important.” Science can’t – you know the rest.

    A commenter made a very good point about this idea.

    Tell you what; if accomodationalists feel (heh) that they must use emotions to show that science doesn’t know everything, and there is room for the supernatural, how about accomodationalists only use descriptions of other feelings such as post-natal depression, racism, bigotry etc. and point out that their benevolent, all-loving god gave them those sensations.

    Quite. Scott totally stacked the deck by selecting bonding with an infant as an example of Meaningful Feeling that science can’t add anything important to.

    What is important is how I feel about that bond, which is distinct from any additional scientific understanding of the process.

    Very nice, but what if you change the variables? Scott’s story is a peripeteia, a reversal of fortune. Just before the birth she was full of dread; then perinatal hormones kicked in, and she bonded. Imagine a different peripeteia. There’s the one in Christopher Browning’s book Ordinary Men, for instance. At first the men didn’t want to walk their assigned Jews into the forest and shoot them to death; then the demands of group loyalty kicked in, and they gritted their teeth and did their job, and it got easier and easier. Does it sound quite the same to say that ”what is important is how I feel about that job, which is distinct from any additional scientific understanding of the process”?

    No, it doesn’t, because the feeling is not one we want to valorize, and it’s one we do want to know how to interrupt or prevent, so additional scientific understanding is seen as quite germane and useful.

    Not all Feelings are to be embraced rather than analyzed or understood.



    There will be happiness, though muted

    Nov 20th, 2010 5:02 pm | By

    So a lawyer (male) writes to a judge (female) about possibly needing a brief recess in an upcoming trial because his “beautiful daughter, married and with a doctorate no less” was about to produce a baby.

    Should the child be a girl, not much will happen in the way of public celebration. Some may even be disappointed, but will do their best to conceal this by saying, “as long as it’s a healthy baby.” My wife will run to Philly immediately, but I will probably be able to wait until the next weekend. There will be happiness, though muted, and this application will be mooted as well.

    However, should the baby be a boy, then hoo hah! Hordes of friends and  family will arrive from around the globe and descend on Philadelphia for the joyous celebration.

    Is this just normal? Am I too sheltered? Is it just normal for a guy to announce (to a woman judge, no less) that when a baby turns out to be a female, happiness is muted? Is it normal for a guy to announce implicitly that his daughter, his wife, and the woman he’s addressing are all inherently disappointing and worth less? Is it normal to be so cheerful about the (putative) fact that people will zoom in from around the world for a boy but not for a girl?

    His tone is facetious, but he really is asking for a provisional recess, depending on whether or not it’s a boy. Mind you, the reason for zooming to Philly is to watch the boy baby get whacked in the penis, but that’s not much compensation.



    Algerian victims of armed fundamentalism

    Nov 20th, 2010 11:57 am | By

    The Letter to the Center for Constitutional Rights makes some compelling points.

    The Center for Constitutional Rights was the only human rights organization to support the victims of fundamentalist armed groups as it did in the case brought by Rhonda Copelon against Anouar Haddam [spokesman of the Islamic Salvation Front],while other human rights organisations ignored these victims and abandoned them, on the ground that they were not victims of the state but of non state actors.

    That state of affairs would seem to risk creating an impression that victimization by non state actors is somehow less bad than the other kind. Non state actors can still be highly organized and effective, as everyone knows.

    Today, CCR is betraying these same victims by representing the interests of Anwar al-Awlaki, an important promoter and organizer of crimes against humanity and a leader of Al Qaida in the Arabic Peninsula, without even saying who he is and what positions he has taken. Awlaki is currently at liberty and continues to organize attacks and crimes, and to incite hatred and massacres.

    It’s true. Check out CCR Legal Director Bill Quigley’s account at the Huffington Post.

    Anwar al-Awlaki is a US citizen and Muslim cleric living somewhere in Yemen. The US has put him on our terrorist list and is trying to assassinate him.

    That description is incomplete, and by being incomplete, it says something. If there is room to say Awlaki is a Muslim cleric, then there is room to say more. As it would be misleading to call Al Capone a Chicago liquor retailer, so it is misleading to call Awlaqi a Muslim cleric. Quigley later manages to say that Awlaqi is “controversial” and accused of being a terrorist, but that too is incomplete.

    Perhaps he’s just playing the role of a defense lawyer in an adversarial process, but that’s his job in the courtroom, not in journalism.

    The letter asks a piercing question.

    We cannot believe that you are not familiar with the writings of al-Awlaki that condemn innocent people – often Muslims – to death. Do you only defend Muslims when it is the American government that threatens them, and not when Muslim fanatics do?

    Maybe that simply is their brief: holding the US government to the constitution, which is binding on the government in a way that it isn’t on citizens. But if that’s the case, their advocacy becomes very limited, and possibly even harmful.

    This is complicated. The assassination policy is obviously fraught with dangers, but those dangers aren’t the only dangers there are. The letter gives a needed other perspective.



    Tragic end of a sock puppet

    Nov 19th, 2010 5:43 pm | By

    A sock puppet goes to jail.

    A lawyer was sentenced Thursday to six months in jail after being convicted of an ultramodern crime that was all about antiquity: using online aliases to harass people in an academic debate about the Dead Sea Scrolls.

    Oh gosh, who would use online aliases to harass people in an academic debate? I never heard of such a thing.

    Prosecutors said Golb crossed the line between discourse and crime by using fake e-mail accounts and writing blog posts under assumed names to discredit detractors of his father, a scholar. Golb said the writings amounted to pointed parody and academic whistle-blowing that he felt were protected by free-speech rights.

    Oh yes? There’s a free speech right to use assumed names to discredit people?

    Well, the jury didn’t think so, at any rate.

    Schiffman [a scholar at NYU] went to authorities after some of his students and colleagues received e-mails from an address that used his name. The e-mails appeared to have him admitting that he plagiarized Norman Golb’s work and asking the recipients to keep quiet about it. Schiffman denies copying the historian’s work.

    Raphael Golb, a literature scholar and real estate lawyer with a Harvard Ph.D. and an NYU law degree, acknowledged during his trial that he wrote the messages. But he said he never intended for anyone to believe Schiffman actually sent them and portrayed them as “satire, irony, parody.”

    Riiiight.

    I shouldn’t laugh. But I am anyway.



    How Ronald Numbers reports an incident

    Nov 18th, 2010 4:49 pm | By

    I’ve learned a bit about Ronald Numbers now, and what I’ve learned does not make me inclined to respect him.

    I’m reading a little book from Yale University Press, The Religion and Science Debate: Why Does it Continue? (2009). Essays by Kenneth Miller and Alvin Plantinga among others – and by Ronald Numbers. His essay is called “Aggressors, Victims, and Peacemakers.” One of the peacemakers is, of all people, Michael Ruse. Michael Ruse! Ruse is notoriously belligerent and rude; he prides himself on it, he boasts of it, he preens himself on it. Numbers illustrates Ruse’s peacemaker qualities by telling us about an email exchange he had with Daniel Dennett – but he does so in a totally misleading way.

    The exhange was initiated by Ruse, but Numbers doesn’t say that. What he does say implies the opposite.

    Ruse fretted that Dawkins and Dennett were “making it very difficult for those of us who care about evolution to put forward a reasonable face to the reasonable portion [of the public] in the middle.” In an e-mail exchange subsequently made public, Dennett offered his fellow philosopher some pseudo-friendly advice…[pp 48-9]

    That’s worse than misleading. There is no footnote for the Ruse quote, so one can’t tell when he said it or to whom. The email exchange was “subsequently made public” by Ruse, without Dennett’s permission, and his way of making it public was to send it to William Dembski. Most damning of all, Numbers makes it sound as if Dennett initiated the email exchange, but it was Ruse who did, and it was Ruse who was pseudo-friendly, not Dennett. Ruse wrote a pseudo-innocent little message to Dennett on a Sunday afternoon, a Sunday when the New York Times Book Review had just published a startlingly savage review of Breaking the Spell by Leon Wieseltier. Ruse’s “innocent” message was transparently a taunt. Dennett’s reply was not at all a bit of pseudo-friendly advice, it was a mild rebuke in reply to a typical Rusean provocation. But nobody reading Numbers’s account would have any idea of that. Numbers is a historian – and this is how careful he is.

    In case there’s any doubt about Ruse’s sending the exchange to Dembski without permission: I asked both Ruse and Dennett, and both confirmed. Ruse wasn’t at all contrite; on the contrary, he was pleased with himself.

    That’s a peacmaker?



    Four legs good two legs bad

    Nov 18th, 2010 12:30 pm | By

    Karima Bennoune thinks human rights groups shouldn’t portray Anwar al-Awlaki as a nice liberal guy.

    Bennoune pointed out that Awlaki published an article in al-Qaida’s English language magazine, Inspire, in July openly calling for assassinations of several people, including a young woman cartoonist in Seattle and Salman Rushdie. This was at around the time the CCR was offering to represent Awlaki’s father, she said.

    Bennoune, who is of Algerian descent, also expressed fears that the CCR and the ACLU were in danger of “sanitising” Awlaki to western audiences.

    “Since the inception of the case,” she said, “there has been increased mystification of who Anwar al-Awlaki is in liberal and human rights circles in the United States. This may in part have resulted from the fact that a highly reputable organisation like CCR was willing to represent his interests, and described him only as ‘a Muslim cleric’ or ‘an American citizen’, and repeatedly suggested that the government did not possess evidence against Awlaki.”

    Gita Sahgal also thinks this is a problem.

    Karima Bennoune’s public criticism of the Center for Constitutional Rights and the ACLU’s case in defence of Anwar al-Awlaki is a welcome stand for a universal vision of human rights that has largely gone missing from western human rights organisations.

    Many Asian, African and Middle Eastern groups and organisations who are struggling against both state and non-state violence feel utterly betrayed by the deliberately ignorant and partial stands taken by organisations in the US and Britain which are supposed to represent human rights. Their outrage was ignored or attacked by the left in Britain. The three founders of Amnesty International in Algeria were allegedly expelled from the organisation for raising an internal complaint about Amnesty’s failure, in their view, to criticise atrocities committed by Islamist rebels, as opposed to government repression, as Algerian feminist Marieme Helie Lucas made public for the first time earlier this year.

    A familiar and depressing pattern.