Notes and Comment Blog


Differences

Feb 23rd, 2014 12:04 pm | By

A fascinating article with many implications to explore: We Aren’t the World.

In 1995 a young anthropologist tried to do a popular social science experiment with the Machiguenga, an indigenous people who live north of Machu Picchu in the Amazon basin.

When he began to run the game it became immediately clear that Machiguengan behavior was dramatically different from that of the average North American.

The potential implications of the unexpected results were quickly apparent to Henrich. He knew that a vast amount of scholarly literature in the social sciences—particularly in economics and psychology—relied on the ultimatum game and similar experiments. At the heart of most of that research was the implicit assumption that the results revealed evolved psychological traits common to all humans, never mind that the test subjects were nearly always from the industrialized West. Henrich realized that if the Machiguenga results stood up, and if similar differences could be measured across other populations, this assumption of universality would have to be challenged.

And so it came about, and that’s what’s fascinating and implication-full.

Economists and psychologists, for their part, did an end run around the issue with the convenient assumption that their job was to study the human mind stripped of culture. The human brain is genetically comparable around the globe, it was agreed, so human hardwiring for much behavior, perception, and cognition should be similarly universal. No need, in that case, to look beyond the convenient population of undergraduates for test subjects. A 2008 survey of the top six psychology journals dramatically shows how common that assumption was: more than 96 percent of the subjects tested in psychological studies from 2003 to 2007 were Westerners—with nearly 70 percent from the United States alone. Put another way: 96 percent of human subjects in these studies came from countries that represent only 12 percent of the world’s population.

Hmmyes but what if what you think is hardwiring is actually culture but culture so buried that it looks like hardwiring? That seems to be the issue here, if I’ve understood it correctly.

As Heine, Norenzayan, and Henrich furthered their search, they began to find research suggesting wide cultural differences almost everywhere they looked: in spatial reasoning, the way we infer the motivations of others, categorization, moral reasoning, the boundaries between the self and others, and other arenas. These differences, they believed, were not genetic. The distinct ways Americans and Machiguengans played the ultimatum game, for instance, wasn’t because they had differently evolved brains. Rather, Americans, without fully realizing it, were manifesting a psychological tendency shared with people in other industrialized countries that had been refined and handed down through thousands of generations in ever more complex market economies. When people are constantly doing business with strangers, it helps when they have the desire to go out of their way (with a lawsuit, a call to the Better Business Bureau, or a bad Yelp review) when they feel cheated. Because Machiguengan culture had a different history, their gut feeling about what was fair was distinctly their own.

That’s the part I’m not sure I understand. Maybe they’re not sure they do either; maybe it’s a process. I’m not sure how psychological tendencies can be handed down (i.e. taught) such that they are universal in a particular culture (and not in others). Also thousands of generations isn’t right; market economies haven’t existed for thousands of generations.

Ethan Watters, the author, meets Heine, Norenzayan, and Henrich for dinner to talk about their work.

I had to wonder whether describing the Western mind, and the American mind in particular, as weird suggested that our cognition is not just different but somehow malformed or twisted. In their paper the trio pointed out cross-cultural studies that suggest that the “weird” Western mind is the most self-aggrandizing and egotistical on the planet: we are more likely to promote ourselves as individuals versus advancing as a group.

That’s the part that makes me wonder too. The next thought is always the familiar worry about human rights – “Western” innovation, individualist, groups are happy, all that. Is it just my weird (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic) Americanness that makes me think human rights matter and everyone should have them? Many people outside the “West” also think that but then maybe they’ve been contaminated by the “West.”

I don’t know. But psychology or no psychology, it is a fact that systems that don’t take a human rights approach allow some groups to flourish at the expense of others.

But if those others are fine with that, because of their non-weird psychology, maybe it doesn’t matter that they get the shaft?

Is it only my weirdness that makes me say no, it does matter?

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



What’s a little “not” between friends?

Feb 23rd, 2014 10:51 am | By

Jacques Rousseau points out how far Ugandan MPs will go in their efforts to persecute gay people.

the ministerial task team advising the President on the bill “falsified the information contained in the report given by medical and psychological experts, twisting it to show that homosexuality should indeed be further criminalised“.

Let’s follow that link, to Shaun De Waal’s article in the Mail & Guardian.

Under international pressure, President Yoweri Museveni delayed signing the controversial Bill into law, asking for a panel of experts to be convened to advise on whether homosexuality was “learned” behaviour or an inborn condition.

The experts – including academics from Marekere University and officials in the Ugandan ministry of health – said that, in their view and in terms of the best current medical knowledge, “homosexuality has no clear-cut cause”, though they adduce some limited genetic evidence, and that “several factors are involved which differ from individual to individual. It is not a disease that has a treatment.”

The Scientist Consensus Statement concludes that homosexuality is not a disease or an “abnormality”, but that it “can be influenced by environmental factors” such as “culture, religion, information, permissiveness”. Homosexual behaviour, the statement says, “needs regulation like any other human behaviour, especially to protect the vulnerable”, and concludes: “There is need for studies to address sexualities in the African context.”

By contrast, in the report to the president in the name of the caucus of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM), this is glossed as: “Homosexuality is not a disease but merely an abnormal behaviour which may be learned through experiences in life.” It quotes the experts saying that the “practice should be regulated”, following that with the statement: “Presidential Advisor on Science Dr Richard Tushemereirwe stated that homosexuality has serious Public Health consequences and should therefore not be tolerated.”

The statement concludes that homosexuality is not an abnormality, and the report to the president glosses that as ”Homosexuality is not a disease but merely an abnormal behaviour.” The statement says it’s not, the report says it is.

Thou shalt not bear false witness.

 

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



What is even more bone-chilling

Feb 22nd, 2014 6:04 pm | By

Kausik Datta wrote a post on the Philadelphia parents who let not one but two of their children die while they prayed over them instead of seeking medical care.

Not one, but two, of the sons (aged 2 years and 8 months at death) of this über-religious Pennsylvania couple died, in 2009 and in 2013 respectively, of entirely preventable and treatable bacterial pneumonia, because they would not vaccinate or seek medical help when required, instead choosing to pray over the sick child. After the first child’s death, they were convicted of involuntary manslaughter, receiving probation and a mandate to seek proper professional medical help in case of illness of their children. They did not.

I find it hard to comprehend this level of intellectual blindness. They are adults by age, but they are not responsible parents; despite all their beliefs, they haven’t a clue about sanctity of life. I fault their fundamentalist church for brainwashing them into mindless, unthinking myrmidons, robbing them of empathy, rationality, and human values. I sure as hell am glad that their six surviving children have been placed in foster care and are receiving necessary medical, dental and vision care.

What is even more bone-chilling in this context is the fact that several US states allow religious exemptions from healthcare of children, including preventive, diagnostic, and therapeutic measures. Do read the link for the whole list.

It’s appalling. See what I mean about the Free Exercise clause?

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



You get two tries

Feb 22nd, 2014 5:42 pm | By

There are these parents, Catherine and Herbert Schaible. Their two-year-old son died of treatable pneumonia in 2009 after they “treated” him with prayer instead of medical care. They were under a court order not to do that again (which seems a good deal too generous, frankly). They did do it again, and another child died of pneumonia.

The Schaibles are third-generation members of an insular Pentecostal community, the First Century Gospel Church in northeast Philadelphia, where they also taught at the church school. They have seven surviving children.

Judge Benjamin Lerner rejected defense claims that their religious beliefs “clashed” with the 2011 court order to get annual checkups and call a doctor if a child became ill. The order came after a jury convicted them of involuntary manslaughter in Kent’s death, and they were sentenced to 10 years of probation.

“April of 2013 wasn’t Brandon’s time to die,” Lerner said, noting the violence committed throughout human history in the name of religion. “You’ve killed two of your children. … Not God. Not your church. Not religious devotion. You.”

And that court order that didn’t work, and the decision to let them go on being parents to those eight children, who are now seven.

“It was so foreseeable to me that this was going to happen,” said Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore, who prosecuted both cases. “Everybody in the system failed these children.”

After the first death, she and public defender Mythri Jayaraman agreed that the couple’s beliefs were so ingrained that their children remained at risk. They asked the earlier judge to have the family supervised by a Department of Human Services caseworker. Instead, the judge assigned them to probation officers, who are not trained to monitor children’s welfare.

Jeez. The prosecutor and the defender agreed that the children were at risk, and on what should be done about it? Yet the judge didn’t take their advice. Well that’s a pity.

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



Her intention is bad

Feb 22nd, 2014 11:41 am | By

For more insight into the horrible mind of Dinanath Batra, president of Shiksha Bachao Andola and the plaintiff in the ridiculous yet successful lawsuit against Penguin and Wendy Doniger, there’s a little interview he did for Time.

TIME: What are your objections to Wendy Doniger’s book, The Hindus?

Batra: Her intention is bad, the content is anti-national and the language is abusive. Her agenda is to malign Hinduism and hurt the feelings of Hindus.

He doesn’t know that. He’s not a mind-reader. Also, it’s not true – Doniger admires Hinduism.

Why does it matter so much to you about what someone writes about Hinduism?

If someone makes a cartoon of the prophet Mohammad,  Muslims are outraged around the world. So why should anyone write anything against Hinduism and get away with it? It matters because this book is hurting the sentiments of Hindus all over the world. I am a Hindu. When I read the book, I felt hurt. It hurt my sentiments.

No comment necessary.

Will you protest against every book that doesn’t fit your idea of Hinduism?

We are against anything that hurts people’s religious sentiments. Our movement is aimed at cleansing distortions from education in India. We have also taken on the Indian educational boards for wrong facts in their textbooks. We will protest against any book that portrays a negative image of our society.

Don’t you worry that your objections might seem outdated in today’s modern world?

We are not against modernity, but we are against westernization. Max Mueller once said that they conquered India once and that they will do it again but through education. Through westernization, there’s a renewed effort to enslave our country. Hindus all over the world should stand up against this. In the tiny world we live, we have to try and create heaven out of hell.

There. Now you have more insight into the horrible mind of Dinanath Batra.

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



YOU NOTICEE

Feb 22nd, 2014 10:58 am | By

So about that lawsuit – check it out.

It starts with “Yo, my client is an educationist, and he happened on your book, and he knows you’ve written other books, yo.”

4.       That my client has read the book authored by you namely the Hindus: An Alternative History. That after reading the book my client found it to be a shallow, distorted and non serious presentation of Hinduism. That it is a haphazard presentation riddled with heresies and factual inaccuracies.

AND THAT IS AGAINST THE LAW HOW DARE YOU.

5.       That after reading the said book my client is of the opinion my client states that the aforesaid book is written with a Christian Missionary Zeal and hidden agenda to denigrate Hindus and show their religion in poor light.

6.       That the entire list of the books authored by YOU NOTICEE shows that YOU NOTICEE concentrate, focus and write on the negative aspects and evil practices prevalent in Hinduism. That the words used by YOU NOTICEE for referring to various Hindu Gods are highly objectionable.

7.       That on the book jacket of the book Lord Krishna is shown sitting on buttocks of a naked woman surrounded by other naked women. That YOU NOTICEE have depicted Lord Krishna in such a vulgar, base perverse manner to outrage religious feelings of Hindus. That YOU NOTICEE and the publisher have done this with the full knowledge that Sri Krishna is revered as a divinity and there are many temples for Sri Krishna where Hindus worship the divinity. The intent is clearly to ridicule, humiliate & defame the Hindus and denigrate the Hindu traditions.

CLEARLY. CLEARLY. BECAUSE MY CLIENT CAN SEE INTO YOUR BRAIN.

8.       That YOU NOTICEE has herself stated that the said book is based on pick & choose method and has selective quotes. That you further state:

“Such a luxurious jungle of cultural phenomena, truly an embarrassment of riches, necessitates a drastic selectivity. I have therefore provided not detailed histories of specific moments but one or two significant episodes.”

9.       That YOU NOTICEE has yourself stated at page 15 that your focus in approaching Hindu scriptures has been sexual.

“The Sanskrit texts [cited in my lecture] were written at a time of glorious sexual openness and insight, and I have focused precisely those parts of the texts.” So the approach of YOU NOTICEE has been jaundiced, your approach is that of a woman hungry of sex.

Also, getting a fact wrong ACCORDING TO MY CLIENT is also a matter for a lawsuit.

11.     That YOU NOTICEE at page 25, incorrectly state that “there is no Hindu canon”. That YOU NOTICEE should know the basic fundamentals of Hindu Religion which hold Vedas to be the Hindu canon as these are revered & respected by all Hindus as divine revelations.

That’s part of a law suit. Item # 11 is part of a law suit. It maketh the mind to totter.

12.     That YOU NOTICEE at page 40 has written:

“If the motto of Watergate was ‘Follow the money’, the motto of the history of Hinduism could well be ‘Follow the monkey’ or, more often ‘Follow the horse’.” This shows the malice and contempt YOU NOTICEE have for Hinduism.

And on and on it goes. It’s basically a very bad crude stupid copy edit, done not by anyone authorized or invited to do a copy edit but by a bystander who dislikes the book. Put another way, it’s a fisking, or a blog post.

Yet somehow it got taken to court, as a lawsuit. And it won! That is, Penguin decided to settle.

Baaaaaaaaaaad precedent, Penguin.

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



Someone somewhere is sure to feel insulted

Feb 22nd, 2014 10:34 am | By

Martha Nussbaum has written a piece for the Indian Express on the suppression of Wendy Doniger’s book, Penguin’s collapse and capitulation, Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code, hate speech, group defamation, threats and more.

…now, with the withdrawal and pulping of Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History, the bullies have scored a major victory. Penguin, after fighting the legal case against Doniger for four years, suddenly folded, saying that it would be difficult to continue defending Doniger without “deliberately placing themselves outside the law” — the law in question being Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code, which forbids “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class of citizens”.

Penguin’s claim is ridiculous. The lawsuit is extremely weak. It is poorly written and argued, contains absurd errors (even the purported quotes from the book are inaccurate), and its attempt to satisfy the law’s demand for malicious intent is childish —  accusing Doniger, a secular Jew, of “Christian missionary zeal” and suggesting that her historically accurate references to sexual elements in the tradition were motivated by her being “a woman hungry of sex”.

I had a look at the lawsuit, and dang, she’s not kidding. That’s for another post.

Part of what’s so absurd, Nussbaum goes on to point out, is that Doniger admires Hinduism, she considers it better than rival religions.

The case, then, was eminently winnable, and Penguin’s attempt to hide behind the law is a transparent excuse for cowardly capitulation. The real story is told in Penguin’s statement that they “have a moral responsibility to protect our employees against threats and harassment where we can”. Fear of violence has won; the conglomerate caves before a vague (or perhaps not-so-vague) threat. Such things have, deplorably, happened before. This time, however, there is the prospect (on which the lawsuit’s primary plaintiff, Dina Nath Batra, waxes ecstatic in an interview to The New York Times) that the RSS will soon have the power to suppress all the books it doesn’t like.

And maybe some day all the religions in all the countries will have that power, and everything except religion will be gone.

So what about the law, Nussbaum asks. It doesn’t do everything, but it can help the bullies. (This is basically the argument in Does God Hate Women? Religion doesn’t cause all the bad things, but it sure does help to make them respectable.)

Group defamation is a trendy topic in the law. Particularly in Europe, where incivility to minorities is distressingly common and well-meaning people want to protect their dignity, it has become fashionable to defend such laws or urge their adoption where (as in the US) they are not yet present. A particularly influential argument for group defamation laws was recently made by the eminent British legal scholar Jeremy Waldron, in The Harm in Hate Speech. Waldron’s concerns are admirable: equal respect and full inclusion. How, he asks, can Muslim immigrants ever feel themselves fully equal citizens when a sign can be put up on a New Jersey street saying, “Muslims and 9/11! Don’t serve them, don’t speak to them and don’t let them in.” (The example is apparently fictional.) Waldron argues that the usual ways of dealing with such insults (non-discrimination laws, social norms) are insufficient: the law must intervene, ensuring that minorities have confidence that their dignity will not be assailed by public utterances.

Nussbaum discusses some problems with that idea.

A third problem is that when the topic is either sex or religion, almost anything anyone says will offend someone. Pluralistic societies contain puritans who feel sexual references demean their dignity and others who think that the suppression of sex removes a vital part of their dignity; they contain religions, and strands within religions, which harbour mutual suspicion and animosity. Group libel laws, according to Waldron, make society safe for all groups. What they really do is prevent all serious public debate or research on these touchy topics, since someone somewhere is sure to feel insulted.

As we keep seeing, over and over again.

The suppression of Doniger’s book was not caused by Section 295A. It was caused by bullying, power politics and cowardice. But law has given public sanctity to bad behaviour, allowing Penguin to portray itself as law-abiding rather than egregious, and allowing the plaintiffs to represent themselves as wounded citizens seeking justice, rather than the ominous thugs they are.

Exactly. That’s just what religion can also do. That’s why bad laws and bad religions are bad.

In the US, without such laws, scholars of Hinduism have been threatened with violence. But the thugs who threaten them put themselves outside the law and are investigated by legal authorities: scholar Paul Courtright’s house was staked out by the FBI after Hindu rightwing threats apropos of his book on Ganesha. Policemen pay attention to law, and so do law professors. At the time, the head of the HSS (the RSS’s American wing) was a law professor. So far was Ved Nanda from hauling Courtright into court that he issued a public apology to him for the harassment, in my hearing, at a conference sponsored by Doniger and me at the University of Chicago (about democracy and the Hindu right, shortly to appear as an edited book, whether anyone in India will be able to read it or not). After all, Nanda, as a law professor, had to be manifestly on the side of law. Tough laws protecting free speech create social norms which make it impossible for a respectable law professor to defend such intimidation tactics. Later, when threats were directed toward employees of the Harvard University Press before the publication of my own 2007 book, The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence and India’s Future, I called Nanda and asked him to stop the people who were doing this — and the pressure stopped. After all, the bullies were on the wrong side of the law. To my knowledge, no work of scholarship on Hinduism has been suppressed in the US, though many have been amply insulted.

That is a fascinating pair of anecdotes.

Law, in short, is not everything, but it is not nothing either. Group defamation laws issue an invitation to thugs to suppress speech that they don’t like, while representing themselves as the righteous ones. Unfortunately, in today’s political climate in India, there are all too many people ready to take up this ugly invitation.

Still, it’s interesting that Penguin fought the David Irving case despite Britain’s horrendous libel law, but ended up giving in to India’s horrendous law.

 

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



How much dog poop stirred into your cookie batter

Feb 22nd, 2014 9:40 am | By

Uh oh. A state-funded religious education program in Australia has been telling girls they’re sluts.

Parents and teachers have called for an urgent overhaul of religious education in schools after year 6 children were given material claiming girls who wear revealing clothes are inviting sexual assault, and homosexuality, masturbation and sex before marriage are sinful.

Students at Torquay College were presented with “Biblezines” as a graduation present at the end of their Christian education program, run by Access Ministries – the government accredited provider of religious instruction in Victorian schools.

The magazines, Refuel 2 and Revolve 2 – which intersperse the text of the New Testament with dating advice, beauty tips and music reviews – warn girls not to go bra-less because “your nipples are much more noticeable and a distraction and temptation for men”, and not to wear tube tops and low-rise jeans because men are “sexually stimulated by what they see”.

“The Bible says not to cause anyone else to sin. Are you putting sexual thoughts about your body into guys’ heads? If you are showing a lot of skin you probably are,” it states.

Yes, that’s what you want the state telling teenagers in schools, for sure.

The material, produced by the News Corp-owned Nelson Bibles, America’s largest Christian publishing house, also “exposes the lie of safe sex”, claiming that condoms condone promiscuity, and urges those who think they are gay never to act on it.

In response to an agony aunt-style question about, “How far can you go before you are no longer pure?”, the document reads: “Let’s put it this way: How much dog poop stirred into your cookie batter does it take to ruin the whole batter.”

Nice! Sex is dog shit! And by the way, you there with the nipples, you’re a slut.

Joe Kelly, principal of Cranbourne South Primary School – who last week spoke about how he was so concerned about religious indoctrination he has not allowed Access Ministries into his classrooms since 2012 – said the latest revelations reaffirmed his decision.

“This kind of material is disgraceful and this is why I strongly call upon the Education Department to instigate an immediate review of the practices of special religious instruction [SRI] providers with a view to having SRI taken out of our great public schools,” he said.

Quite right. I hope the Education Department listens.

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



Indecent acts

Feb 22nd, 2014 9:11 am | By

An Ethiopian woman says she was gang-raped in Sudan, so naturally she was arrested. There is video of her being sexually assaulted, so naturally she’s been convicted of “indecent acts.”

The woman of 18 was three months’ pregnant at the time of the alleged attack.

She was arrested after video of her allegedly being sexually abused was circulated on social media.

Three men who admitted having sex with the woman and two who distributed the video were reportedly sentenced to being whipped.

The three were each sentenced to 100 lashes for adultery, while two got 40 lashes for distributing indecent material, according to women’s rights group Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA).

Nothing about the rape.

The woman was sentenced to a one-month jail term but this was suspended because she is pregnant, her lawyer, Samia al-Hashmi, told the AFP news agency.

She was also fined 5,000 Sudanese pounds ($880; £530).

She had also faced charges of adultery and prostitution, which could have led to a penalty of death by stoning, but these were dropped after she convinced the court she was divorced, reports SIHA.

The campaign group says the woman was house-hunting when she was lured to an empty property and attacked in Omdurman, just across the River Nile from Khartoum.

Obviously all her fault.

 

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



Ben Baz speaks

Feb 22nd, 2014 8:27 am | By

I asked Ben Baz a few questions.

What was your year in prison like? Were you able to read? Could you get books and other reading materials you wanted? Were other prisoners hostile to you?

Ben Baz: It was like hell, I was too much discriminated against by prisoners, that’s because I committed an unforgivable crime as they think. Islam says that apostasy is an unforgivable sin and deserves beheading.
How can you live a full year with people full of hatred towards you?
I was not able to read because they are afraid to bring undesirable books. Once I pushed them hard to bring any book and the officer persuaded me to read the Quran for a whole month to allow me to bring in one book.
I was forced at times to pretend that I am a Muslim again in order not to get killed or sued again inside prison from those criminals. This was a big hardship.
They want to destroy your mind, your spirit, your world-view. Being jailed for a long time will destroy your life.

What are your plans now? Speaking out still isn’t safe for you. It must be very frustrating?

Ben Baz: Well too many plans. But I need a safer place actually to accomplish some of them. Basically I want to talk more freely without fears of arrest and jail. I want bigger channels that will accept what I say. I love to work in this field as a writer and translator. I hope I can study law one day to put theory into practice.

Is there anything allies in the rest of the world can do to help you?

Ben Baz: Anyone can contact me on twitter: @benbazaziz or Facebook to know the whole story. All I need really is making people aware of how those laws are used to shut our mouths up. I need to deliver many messages which I cant say now.

I can say now that I was arrested for talking about secularism and making some sarcasm about fundamentalists. is this a crime? Please check the papers of my trial to know.

Is there anything you would like to tell people about life in a repressive theocracy?

Ben Baz: It’s like you are not living if you have a different opinion. and you are not welcome to the majority of people. You feel so limited: afraid of jail or being killed or at least discriminated against. People around you lose their humanity. Those regimes usually are full of corruption. They have unlimited powers and people should obey them as Islam says.

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



The clash

Feb 22nd, 2014 7:30 am | By

Oh the boredom of it. The pointless, stultifying, door-closing boredom of it.

boretaslima nasreen @taslimanasreen

New study: Ants can lift up to 5,000 times their own body weight.

Defender of Islam @doi1999

@taslimanasreen All praise to Allah. He made them that way.

Don’t think, don’t marvel, don’t wonder. Just praise a cipher, and let it go at that.

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



A little-known rule for arguing

Feb 21st, 2014 5:39 pm | By

When you disagree with something, don’t ever say “I happen to believe that…[the opposite of whatever it is you're disagreeing with].” Just say “I think” instead. Saying you “happen to” doesn’t add anything (what would it add?) and it sounds pompous. It sounds pompous because it doesn’t add anything. We know you “happen to” believe whatever it is; how else would you believe it, destiny? We all “happen to” believe what we believe; there’s no need to announce it.

It’s just affectation. Avoid affectation. By the same token avoid affectations like “well played, sir” as if you were Samuel Johnson at a game of rounders. (And speaking of Johnson, don’t call him “Doctor” Johnson.) (And speaking of not calling people “Doctor” for no good reason, don’t call Martin Luther King “Doctor” either.) Avoid pseudo-archaic epithets and courtesies, avoid labored jokes, avoid strained metaphors. Unless you’re really good at them, which is unlikely. Don’t try to sound like Christopher Hitchens, or P G Wodehouse, or Lord Chesterfield, or (above all) Julian Fellowes. Don’t try to sound as if you got a gentleman’s C at Harvard in 1922. Just skip all that; leave it right out.

You’re welcome.

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



Guest post: It says right here that you can’t do that

Feb 21st, 2014 4:59 pm | By

Guest post by Your name’s not Bruce? originally a comment on Mandatory prayer.

Aren’t US state legislators required to take an oath to uphold the Constitution rather than subvert it? Aren’t there people who are familiar with how laws work (you know LAWYERS) who can sit these people down and say “No, you’re not allowed to do that. It says so right here. In this document you’ve sworn to uphold, in this document which is one of the foundations upon which all our laws are built and against which all our laws are tested. It says right here that you can’t do that. We won’t even put it into the legislature for a vote. Because it says RIGHT HERE that you MAY NOT DO THIS”?

Do these people live in a vacuum wherein no news of all the other failed attempts to do exactly the same thing ever intrudes? Isn’t one definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over again in expectation of a different outcome? Maybe they hope to succeed through sheer bloody persistence, that at some point all the courts will just surrender and say “Screw it, go ahead?” These same would-be subverters would be the first to man the barricades if the state was enforcing mandatory prayers that were not Christian.

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



Mandatory prayer

Feb 21st, 2014 11:49 am | By

Americans United reports on two – not one but two – bills under discussion in the Alabama legislature proposing a government establishment of religion.

One egregious bill, HB 318, would require public school teachers to recite prayers each morning at the beginning of school. Proponents of this bill have tried to create the illusion of constitutionality by specifying that the prayers must be the same ones recited by the United States Congress.

That’s quite a massive step up – from allowing to requiring.

HB 281 claims to allow religious student expression in public school classrooms, but actually is unnecessary and potentially harmful. Students can already observe their religion as long as it isn’t coercive or disrupt the school’s educational mission and activities.

HB 281 crosses that line. If passed, it would allow students to use the classroom to proselytize to fellow students. The bill doesn’t differentiate between personal observance, which is allowable, and outward promotion and proselytization of religion, which is blatantly unconstitutional.

Again, students are a captive audience required to be in school by law.

Well yes but that’s why. It’s such a golden opportunity to force religion on people whether they want it or not.

 

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



Chekhov’s preferences

Feb 21st, 2014 10:46 am | By

James Lasdun wrote a tribute to Chekhov in the Guardian in 2010.

Have a striking passage from it:

His father, Paul, ran a grocery-cum-general store where Taganrog society congregated to purchase rice, coffee, paraffin, mousetraps, ammonia, penknives and vodka, and were duly cheated by the proprietor. Family lore records an occasion where a drowned rat was found in a cask of cooking oil. Instead of throwing out the oil, Paul had it “sanctified” by a priest, and continued selling it – an ur-Chekhovian episode, complete with a climax that is at once a non-event (business going on as usual), and a pitiless illumination of the father’s character. A bullying, fanatically religious man as well as a total failure (he went bankrupt in 1876 and fled to Moscow with the rest of the family, leaving the 16-year-old Anton to fend for himself in Taganrog), the father too becomes a major generative element in his son’s imagination. His presence can be felt in Chekhov’s stories in the tyrannical father figures of “My Life” and “Three Years” as well as Jacob, the benighted zealot in “The Murder”. In a more general sense, his spirit becomes absorbed into what might be called the negative pole in Chekhov’s vision of reality: the force of oppression, petty-mindedness and outright cruelty that periodically discharges itself into the stories, sweeping over the characters as a sudden mood of melancholy or pure blackness (like the hallucinated Black Monk in the story of that title), or an impulse of vicious brutality, as in the notorious baby-killing episode of “In the Hollow”.

As a human being – a doctor who went out of his way to help the poor and needy – Chekhov was unambiguously repelled by this aspect of life, and many of his better known remarks are either denunciations of it or defences of its opposite, which he identified chiefly as culture, rationality and scientific progress. There is the famous retort to Tolstoy, whom he revered as a novelist but rejected as a teacher: “Reason and justice tell me there’s more love for humanity in electricity and steam than in chastity or vegetarianism,” while the much-quoted lines from his letter to the poet Alexey Plescheyev are perhaps the clearest articulation of his “beliefs” such as they were: “My holy of holies is the human body, health, intelligence, talent, inspiration, love and absolute freedom – freedom from violence and falsehood, no matter how the last two manifest themselves.”

Yes to all that.

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



The right kind of child rape

Feb 21st, 2014 10:04 am | By

A good thing from last May – Stephen Fry chatting with Craig Ferguson about homophobia. In particular, he reports meeting with the Ugandan Minister for Ethics and Integrity. Progressive Secular Humanist has a transcript.

I actually got a Ugandan Minister to say on camera- he’s the Minister for Ethics and Integrity, it’s the only such ministry in the world. I said to him… there’s so much more to worry about in your country than the odd gay person going to bed with the other gay person. For example, you have almost an epidemic of child rape in this country, which is just frightening.

And he said “Ah, but it is the right kind of child rape.”

[Ferguson reacts.]

I said “That was on camera. Do you know that was on camera?”

He said “Yes.”

I said “Can you just explain what you meant?”

“Well, it is men raping girls. Which is natural.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YSDU0qz24YM

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



Veto that bill

Feb 21st, 2014 9:07 am | By

So, yeah, the Arizona House passed that bill last night. The New Civil Rights Movement reports.

The full Arizona House just passed a religious freedom license to discriminate bill that will allow anyone, for any reason, refuse to provide services to anyone if they claim it violates their religious beliefs. The Arizona Senate passed their version of the bill, SB 1062, just yesterday.

The legislation is now headed to Republican Governor Jan Brewer for her signature or veto.

After several hours of debate, the Republican-led Arizona House in an unrecorded voice vote sent HB 2153, an Act Relating To The Free Exercise Of Religion to the full House for a vote. That vote happened only minutes later. The final vote was 33-27.

The free exercise clause – I hate that clause. It shores up a lot of the worst kind of American exceptionalism. Exceptions that allow parents to refuse to vaccinate their children for religious reasons; that allow parents to refuse medical treatment for their children for religious reasons; that allow parents to yank their children out of school at 14 for religious reasons; that allow parents to “home school” with zero oversight or criteria for religious reasons; that allow religious institutions to refuse to employ women for religious reasons; that grant conscientious objector status for religious reasons and not philosophical reasons; and so on.

Rep. Chad Campbell, the Democratic Minority Leader, delivered a very passionate speech, telling his fellow House members, “this is state sanctioned discrimination.”

“If you are gay, don’t come to Arizona. That’s what we’re saying to the nation,” Rep. Campbell said. “This is a direct attack on a certain group of people — the LGBT community,” he noted.

Later, he noted, “there’s only one type of equality, and that’s equal.”

But of course that’s not how the other side sees it.

“I’m sick and tired of the majority being trampled on by the minority,” Rep. Steve Smith said. “I won’t stand for it. We’re the bad people. Why? Because I dare to wear my religion on my sleeve?”

No, actually. The answer to that question is No. That’s not why. It’s because you demand the “right” to deprive other people of their genuine rights for reasons of your own gut-level unreasonable ew-ick feelings, which you disguise as sleeve-religion.

 

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



Nicely done, Rocco’s

Feb 21st, 2014 8:36 am | By

Hats off to Rocco’s Little Chicago Pizzeria in Tucson, Arizona – yes that’s ARIZONA, where the Senate and then last night the House passed a bill allowing people to refuse service to anyone provided they could claim it’s an expression of their sincerely-held religious beliefs. Hats off to Rocco’s for its reply on its Facebook page.

Photo: Funny how just being decent is starting to seem radical these says.

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



Selective secularism

Feb 20th, 2014 6:09 pm | By

An Indian site reports on an interview with Taslima in which she says Indian secularism is too selective. It has video of that part of the interview (which is in English) and a transcript.

Sagarika Ghose:Do you believe secularists in India are selective?

Taslima Nasrin: I think secularists in India are selective. I don’t think they are true secularists. I criticise Muslim fundamentalism as well as Hindu fundamentalism. Indian secularists defend those people who are attacked by Hindu fundamentalists but they do not defend writers and authors, filmmakers and people who are attacked by Muslim fundamentalists. This is very alarming.

Taslima has a much more extended version of her thoughts on her blog, which is right next door here.

Writers should have the right to write whatever they like. Everyone should have the right to offend people. Without the right to offend, freedom of expression does not exist. Nobody should have the right to spend his or her entire life without being offended. Don’t we all know that if “Free Speech” means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not like to hear! Without hurting the sentiments of misogynists, obscurantists, ignorant irrationalists — you will not be able to bring change in society. Throughout history always some people’s sentiments were hurt – had to be hurt – especially when society was about to change. In this country when sati was abolished, or girls’ education started, many misogynist sentiments were hurt. But should we care about their so called sentiments or should we help society to evolve, to make the world a better place?

Yes but sincere religious beliefs.

It is dangerous if the government tries to deny people’s freedom of expression in order to protect the sentiments of those who don’t believe in democracy. Many of my books are banned in Bangladesh. My book was banned in West Bengal too. The government of West Bengal not only banned my book, it forced me to leave the state too. The new government banned the release of my book Nirbasan in 2012 and a few months ago forced a TV channel called Akash Ath to stop telecast of a mega serial written by me. The serial was about women’s struggle and how three sisters living in Kolkata fight against patriarchal oppression to live their lives with dignity and honour. She (Mamata Banerjee) banned me in order to appease some misogynist mullahs.

And it’s a god damn outrage.

 

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



All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment

Feb 20th, 2014 5:34 pm | By

Now that you mention it, let’s just take a look at the 1964 Civil Rights Act, shall we? Let’s take a look at the law that says no, actually, you may not discriminate or segregate on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin. It does not say “sexual orientation” in that short list, nor does it say “gender.” Both should be added. But the fundamental point is clear: you don’t get to discriminate or segregate for bad reasons.

Title II is INJUNCTIVE RELIEF AGAINST DISCRIMINATION IN PLACES OF .PUBLIC ACCOMMODATION.

SEC. 201. (a) All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, and privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, as defined in this section, without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.

(b) Each of the following establishments which serves the public is a place of public accommodation within the meaning of this title if its operations affect commerce, or if discrimination or segregation by it is supported by State action:

(1) any inn, hotel, motel, or other establishment which provides lodging to transient guests, other than an establishment located within a building which contains not more than five rooms for rent or hire and which is actually occupied by the proprietor of such establishment as his residence;

(2) any restaurant, cafeteria, lunchroom, lunch counter, soda fountain, or other facility principally engaged in selling food for consumption on the premises, including, but not limited to, any such facility located on the premises of any retail establishment; or any gasoline station;

(3) any motion picture house, theater, concert hall, sports arena, stadium or other place of exhibition or entertainment;

And so on into the fine print. It’s not an exhaustive list, certainly, but perhaps it didn’t need to be, or perhaps that was all they could do in 1964. At any rate we can see what the basic principle is. You can’t just make people get out because you dislike their race or ethnicity. You would think in 50 years that principle could have sunk in, even into religious bigots in Arizona and Idaho and Indiana.

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