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.

A poem for Gabby Douglas

Aug 13th, 2012 5:07 pm | By

“So I find it repugnant to sit here and talk about her pony tail.”

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

For whom?

Aug 13th, 2012 4:38 pm | By

Another point about James Fitzjames Stephen on gender equality.

He’s claiming that Mill is being insufficiently utilitarian (echoes of Bentham and “nonsense upon stilts” here).

First, as to the proposition that justice requires that all people should live in society as equals. I have already shown that this is equivalent to the proposition that it is expedient that all people should live in society as equals. Can this be proved? for it is certainly not a self-evident proposition.

Expedient – but expedient for whom?

Stephen doesn’t say, and what he does go on to say has what ought to be a very obvious problem, but he apparently never noticed it. The problem is that he’s not going to be one of the people who are declared not equal. If there’s anything we’ve learned over the past century or so it’s that people who are in no danger of being declared unequal have a conflict of interest when they declare other people unequal.

The shorthand for this issue is “privilege,” but that word causes some people to go into frothing rages, so maybe it’s better to avoid it. But it’s a terrible idea to avoid the issue, because the issue is important. If gentiles are declaring Jews unequal, there’s an issue. If white people are declaring brown people unequal, there’s an issue. If men are declaring women unequal, there’s an issue. Straight/gay; native/foreign; Brahmin/dalit; European/aboriginal; theist/atheist; Protestant/Catholic or vice versa; you get the idea. That’s why the Original Position is needed.

The main distinguishing feature of the original position is “the veil of ignorance”: to insure impartiality of judgment, the parties are deprived of all knowledge of their personal characteristics and social and historical circumstances.

And without that – the judgment isn’t impartial.

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

Half full or half empty? Lemonade or dishwater?

Aug 13th, 2012 3:00 pm | By

Crommunist on the other hand is optimistic.

Three years ago, when I first entered the atheist blogosphere, basic 101-level social justice was well outside the mainstream. There was a small number of voices articulating positions that did not fall into the bread-and-butter topics of evolution, cosmology, and theology. Now, mainstream atheist forums like Reddit’s r/atheism is often (half-jokingly) derided for being synonymous with r/LGBT insofar as the fight for recognition of gay rights dovetails the fight against religious domination of public life, and the popularly-shared links reflect that. The community at large is (always too slowly) realizing that atheism is a social justice issue, and that our struggle is a similar struggle to that of gay people, people of colour, women, trans persons, people with disabilities, people with mental health issues… the list goes on.

I guess. I suppose I’d assumed the community at large knew that all along, and have been shocked to learn otherwise. It still creeps me out to see what apparently educated and in some sense thoughtful people will allow themselves (provided, usually, that they’re pseudonymous) to say, but that doesn’t mean we’re not winning.

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

Vocal and unabashed

Aug 13th, 2012 11:49 am | By

PZ also did a post on Liberal Will, which has a squillion comments which include a sub-theme that Rebecca and I are not/are “radical feminists” and what is a radical feminist anyway.

The sub-theme starts with

although someone did allege Rebecca Watson and Ophelia Benson were “radical feminists” — they’re really not —

They may not be, but they sure give off that impression.

and continues with several people saying “under what definition?” Ibis gives the right answer.

When people call Ophelia or Rebecca “radical feminists” they are using the term as a slur* for “vocal, unabashed feminists”. Just like when people use the term “militant atheists” they are not using it for atheists who are running around with assault rifles and a plan to take over the government, but rather as a slur for “vocal, unabashed atheists”.

*mostly because they misunderstand the term entirely and think it refers to women who hate men and want to oppress them as some kind of revenge fantasy payback

Quite. It’s just clueless. “Radical feminist” has a meaning, and I don’t fit it at all. (Neither does Rebecca.) I’m a boringly normal liberal feminist.

Obviously the underlying assumption is that any kind of feminism that goes beyond suffrage and equal pay is “radical” and crazy.

The thing is, it’s possible to be boringly normal liberal feminist and still be the kind of feminist who really does think that feminism matters and that it hasn’t “won” yet, and that there still is a lot of stupid sexist shit embedded in the culture, in habits, in ways of talking and behaving, in the media, in sport – you name it. I’m absolutely that kind of feminist…and I do self-identify as a radical, broadly speaking. But “radical feminist” has a specific and rather narrow meaning, and I’m not one. But vocal and unabashed? Hell yes.

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

Should eating a peach be legal?

Aug 13th, 2012 11:11 am | By

Should going for a walk be legal?

Should listening to music be legal?

Should reading poetry be legal?

Should non-marital sex be legal?

It’s not currently legal in Morocco, and as it turns out it’s not even safe to say it should be.

The editor of Morocco’s Al-Ahdath Al-Maghribia daily newspaper, Moktar el-Ghzioui, is living in fear for his life after he expressed support for pre-marital sex during a local television debate.

“The next thing there was a cleric from Oujda releasing a fatwa that I should die,” he says.

“I am very scared for myself and my family. It’s a real blow to all the modernists who thought Morocco was moving forward.”

According to article 490 of the penal code, Moroccans can be jailed for having sexual relations outside marriage.

This is based on Islamic law, which bans unmarried people from engaging in sexual activity.

And it doesn’t look likely to change any time soon.

Morocco’s Justice Minister Mustapha Ramid, from the newly elected Islamist government, has made it clear that he will not change the law.

“Legalising sex outside marriage is an initiative to promote debauchery,” he said recently.

Define “debauchery.” Then explain what’s wrong with it.


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

We get the good ones

Aug 12th, 2012 5:11 pm | By

Here’s another comrade – Liberal Will. He’s over there, where Maureen and Alex and Rhys and Hayley and Amy and Melanie and many other swell people are. There are a lot of comrades. Don’t let the blowhards fool you about that. The anti-feminists aren’t taking over.

Even if you’re in the friendliest safe space ever, you need to have a harassment policy. The world does not work on SimCity rules, where you don’t build a fire department until the first fire breaks out. It needs to be there. Harassment at any type of convention is common, and the skeptic community should know pretty damn well it’s a problem, especially after “Elevatorgate“. And women, sadly, are the target of most harassment. How many men have personal attack alarms? And how many women do? How many straight people, cis people, white people fear harassment, compared to queer people, trans people, people of colour?

This is privilege, guys. Check it once in a while.

And to claim that people are being feminiazis or FTBullies over this? Really? Oh, those oppressive feminists! Fighting for their right to be respected! For a movement that is mostly liberal or libertarian, it runs the risk of creating unholy alliances with conservatives to push and keep these historically oppressed minorities down. And without any sense of irony and despair at their arguments being appropriated.

Never mind the Olympics. This is the kind of internationalism that doesn’t melt away after a couple of weeks.


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

Olympic fervour

Aug 12th, 2012 3:23 pm | By

Update: Monday: Once again I made the mistake of forgetting that not everyone reading would know what prompted this post. What prompted it was this comment on my post about a dopy BBC film clip about natural selection and slavery and fast runners.


Oh, so it’s a thing. I didn’t know it was a thing – this “you have to be all ecstatic about the Olympics” bollix. Joan Smith says about it.

Some things matter more than sport. But I’ve come back to my own country to discover Olympic fervour encouraging a species of emotional correctness, where anyone who doesn’t care for competitive games is regarded as a killjoy. It’s like being transported to a Victorian public school, where anything less than a passionate interest in muscular athleticism is regarded with peevish suspicion. You aren’t interested in hockey or diving? You don’t care about medal tables? Shame on you!

The funny thing about that is that I’ve actually paid more attention this year than I usually do, but I still haven’t escaped the emotional correctness patrol.

I know plenty of people who’ve watched one or two Olympic events but could do without the wall-to-wall coverage, let alone shrill demands that successful athletes should be given knighthoods. Athletes are competitive people who care desperately about personal success, and I’m not convinced they deserve public honours as well as medals.

I’m there. It can be beautiful and/or impressive to watch, but it’s still just sport, it’s not heroism. It’s not geeks landing a one-ton mobile science laboratory on Mars. On Mars. There you get the incredible accomplishment and you get the mobile science laboratory on Mars. It’s not MSF or those people who repair fistulas in Ethiopia or people who teach school in Afghanistan. It’s sport. Nobody is required to take it seriously.


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

Chris Rodda has accepted the challenge

Aug 12th, 2012 2:43 pm | By

Chris Rodda wants it known far and wide that she accepted a challenge from David Barton’s radio co-host to show specifics of where David Barton tells untruths in his book The Jefferson Lies. You have your mission.

Chris knows what she’s talking about. She does the time-consuming work of following up Barton’s references.

Get the word out!

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

Greater vigor of character

Aug 12th, 2012 11:31 am | By

James Fitzjames Stephen was a forthright kind of guy. Blunt, even. As such he offers a useful window into the most forthright kind of imperturbable contempt for women.

From chapter 5 of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, in which he disagrees with John Stuart Mill’s views on gender equality.

Now, if society and government ought to recognize the inequality of age as the foundation of an inequality of rights of this importance, it appears to me at least equally clear that they ought to recognize the inequality of sex for the same purpose, if it is a real inequality. Is it one? There are some propositions which it is difficult to prove, because they are so plain, and this is one of them. The physical differences between the two sexes affect every part of the human body, from the hair of the head to the sole of the feet, from the size and density of the bones to the texture of the brain and the character of the nervous system. Ingenious people may argue about any thing, and Mr. Mill does say a great number of things about women which, as I have already observed, I will not discuss; but all the talk in the world will never shake the proposition that men are stronger than women in every shape. They have greater muscular and nervous force, greater intellectual force, greater vigor of character.

See what he did there? It’s not just that women are physically smaller and less muscular and strong, it’s also that they’re stupid and  generally feeble. They’re just less in every way.

This general truth, which has been observed under all sorts of circumstances and in every age and country, has also in every age and country led to a division of labor between men and women, the general outline of which is as familiar and as universal as the general outline of the differences between them. These are the facts, and the question is, whether the law and public opinion ought to recognize this difference. How it ought to recognize it, what difference it ought to make between men and women as such, is quite another question. The first point to consider is, whether it ought to treat them as equals, although, as I have shown, they are not equals, because men are the stronger.

See what he did there? He hadn’t “shown” anything, he’d simply announced it.

 I will take one or two illustrations. Men, no one denies, may, and in some cases ought to, be liable to compulsory military service. No one, I suppose, would hesitate to admit that, if we were engaged in a great war, it might become necessary, or that if necessary it would be right, to have a conscription both for the land and for the sea service. Ought men and women to be subject to it indiscriminately? If any one says that they ought, I have no more to say, except that he has got into the region at which argument is useless.

See what he did there? Of course you do.

But if it is admitted that this ought not to be done, an inequality of treatment founded on a radical inequality between the two sexes is admitted, and, if this admission is once made, where are you to draw the line?

Where it seems best to draw it, which will probably change over time. It’s not some tragic permanent imponderable, it’s a practical question that can be discussed and figured out, and subject to improvement with experience and changing ideas. That’s been happening.

Turn from the case of liability to military service to that of education, which in Germany is rightly regarded as the other great branch of state activity, and the same question presents itself in another shape. Are boys and girls to be educated indiscriminately, and to be instructed in the same things? Are boys to learn to sew, to keep house, and to cook, as girls unquestionably ought to be, and are girls to play at cricket, to row, and be drilled like boys? I cannot argue with a person who says Yes.

See what he did there? Again?

 A person who says No admits an inequality between the sexes on which education must be founded, and which it must therefore perpetuate and perhaps increase.

But I didn’t say No, I said Yes, and you refused to argue with me. I call that feeble.


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

Au pied du chameau

Aug 12th, 2012 10:13 am | By

I know a new thing now, a thing I didn’t know before. I know that there’s something – something bad – called “camel toe.” I know what it is. I know it via the tweets of Another Angry Woman @stavvers and this post that she linked to, The Miracle Bajingo Shoehorn.

A staggering 55% of women, irrespective of age, size or weight,  experience camel toe at some point.

Many women have even gone to extreme lengths to rectify the camel toe  problem, resorting to expensive and risky surgery.

Now thanks to the Smooth Groove camel toe remedy, all women can get on with  their lives without having to worry about how they look.

After all, being a woman is hard enough and having a Smooth  Groove in your underwear drawer will make it just that little bit  easier!

Well thank God, is all I can say. Thank God someone is looking out for women  in a positive, empowering, Occupy My Walls kind of way. Because being a  woman is some seriously tough shit.

There’s the threat of sexual violence, the fashion industry imposing an  impossible standard of beauty, fighting for equal compensation and opportunity  in the workplace and trying to keep your giant, sloppy vagina from unravelling  in your pants like a loose bragioli.

See the original post; there’s a video and graphics and all. It’s hilarious.

I suspect the background is Olympics commentary. The enraged tweets of stavvers are also hilarious.

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

And who shall ‘scape whipping?

Aug 11th, 2012 4:50 pm | By

A great post by Alyson Miers (whom I met at WiS in May) on bullying and imperfect victims.

There’s this meme -

 See Alyson’s response to that.

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

Next year in Austin

Aug 11th, 2012 4:17 pm | By

This is good. American Atheists announces that Anthony Grayling is the keynote speaker for their 2013 national convention.

Yay! I’m going to be there too, and Anthony’s a friend.


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

What you think it means

Aug 11th, 2012 3:49 pm | By

Ok this is a good one. From a comment on Jen’s post on blunderfoot.

“Freethought” means you use reason and logic to come to a conclusion, and not believing everything anyone says — even a close friend — at face value.

Hahahahahahahahaha yes right that’s what freethought means. A close friend tells you she has a headache and you interrogate her for an hour trying to get her to demonstrate that fact beyond a reasonable doubt.

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

The BBC explains

Aug 11th, 2012 12:42 pm | By

Wow. Have some BBC pseudohistory and pseudogenetics about Y blak guize can runn fast.

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

David Rakoff

Aug 11th, 2012 12:25 pm | By

I’m kind of crushed that David Rakoff went and died. Fresh Air played a couple of interviews with him yesterday. They’re good.

On whether or not he had a happy childhood.

I had a beautiful childhood and a lovely childhood. I just didn’t like being a child. I didn’t like the rank injustice of not being listened to. I didn’t like the lack of autonomy. I didn’t like my chubby little hands that couldn’t manipulate the world of objects in the way that I wanted them to. Being a child, for me, was an exercise in impotent powerlessness.

Oh yes. That’s why youth is wasted on the young, as Shaw pointed out. (Was it Shaw? I think so.) I hated the lack of autonomy. I hated that and loved every new little increment of it that I got. I think that’s why I always missed living in the country during the five years that we lived in town (when I was between 3 and 8) – a small child can’t just wander around in town. Mind you, I overestimated how much of that I could do in the country, and wandered away at age 3 to be picked up and returned by some adult in a car. I also tried to make a break for it in town, but I got caught pretty quickly. I was a wandering child – I loved wandering more than most things.

This plays into my adult feminism: one of the oppressions of women I hate most is the array of obstacles to women wandering freely and unmolested. I don’t want to be locked up in a house or a burqa, and I don’t want people telling me what to do with my face when I’m wandering. I want my freedom.

I just wasn’t — and I was never terribly good at that kind of no-holds-barred fun. … I’ve essentially made a career on not being good at no-holds-barred fun. But, you know, I [was] just never sort of like, hey, yes, let’s go play. I was always more sort of like, does everybody know where the fire exit is? And let’s make sure there’s enough oxygen in this elevator. … As a grownup it’s much easier to work — to navigate the world with that, because then you can just go home to your own apartment.

Hahahahaha yes exactly. That was another bad thing about being a child: not having your own apartment.

And I was never like, hey, yes, let’s go play either. I had four boy cousins and I would play roughly with them but then I would be all wiped out and crabby. It didn’t suit me. My way of “playing” was to pretend to be someone else – usually someone who was wandering around the countryside, or else building versions of “my own apartment” in the barn or the bushes or under a tree.

This was supposed to be about David Rakoff and it’s turned out to be about my childhood. Ah well.

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

Bullies, is it?

Aug 10th, 2012 5:38 pm | By

What about this then? From “Coffee Loving Skeptic” on Facebook.

Photo: Freethoughtblogs isn't a religion.<br />
It's a personal relationship with PeeZus.

Via Alex Gabriel.

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

Collateral damage

Aug 10th, 2012 5:10 pm | By

Lots of crazed reactions to Thunderf00t’s misuse of the FTB mailing list, although they’re a minority. There are frank falsehoods saying we tried to get Michael Payton fired, and there is shock-horror that we reacted to his tweets dismissing all of FTB.

That’s just nuts. To repeat – there are about 40 people blogging at FTB. Not all of them are polemicists or controversialists, not all of them are irritable, not all of them agree about everything – in fact none of them agree about everything.

It’s not fair to shit on the innocent just because one dislikes a few of the Freethought bloggers. It’s not even fair to shit on the innocent just because one hates a few of the Freethought bloggers with feverish passion and undying tenacity. It’s not some noble campaign against bullying, it’s just stupid narrow-focus spite. (I mean really. Is Freethought blogs seriously such a major source of evil that it merits hours of monitoring and tweeting and exclaiming every single day?)

It’s unfair to the innocent, it’s clumsy, it’s illiberal, it’s dirty.

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

It’s OK, we’re on the 10th floor

Aug 10th, 2012 3:25 pm | By

Alom Shaha notices an excess of timidity about discussing Islam.

“We can’t publish this, we’ll get firebombed.” Apparently this was the response from one of the staff at Biteback Publishing, the UK publishers of my book, The Young Atheist’s Handbook, when it was first presented to them. Thankfully, Iain Dale, the managing director, laughed at the idea, saying, “it’s OK, we’re on the 10th floor” and went on to publish the book anyway.

It’s not just staff at Biteback who may have been concerned about publishing my book — according to a senior editor at one of the largest international publishers, who claimed to be personally keen to give me a deal, she was unable to convince her colleagues to agree because a “number of people” in the company would be “uncomfortable” about it. She then went on to explain that by “uncomfortable” she really meant “afraid”.

Yes, I’ve been there. Remember that? More than three years ago? The sudden delay in the imminent publication of Does God Hate Women?

About this non-ecumenical book that Jeremy and I wrote, that is due out at the end of this week. Yes, what about it, you’re thinking, all agog. For reasons which I will explain another day, the publisher became nervous about it last Friday. The publisher phoned us on Friday, and talked of changes, or delays, or would we like to drop a chapters. We would not like to drop a chapter, and if we had liked to drop a chapter, the time to discuss that would have been several months ago, not now, a week before the book is supposed to appear. The publisher sent the can-we-drop-it chapter to an ecumenicist to get his opinion.

There was a reason for the publisher’s sudden nervousness.

An academic book about religious attitudes to women is to be published this week despite concerns it could cause a backlash among Muslims because it criticises the prophet Muhammad for taking a nine-year-old girl as his third wife…This weekend, the publisher, Continuum, said it had received “outside opinion” on the book’s cultural and religious content following suggestions that it might cause offence.

Suggestions that came from the reporter who wrote the article reporting the suggestions. Really: that’s what happened.

And there was pretty much no outrage about the book once it was published. There was an irritated little Facebook group for awhile, but that’s it. Alom hasn’t had even that.

I’ve encountered the idea that Muslims will be offended by my book from numerous people — from the publishers who looked at my proposal to the people who have interviewed me since publication and even from some friends. The only people who have not suggested that the book might be offensive to Muslims are Muslims themselves. Not a single Muslim has come forward to say that he or she has been offended by my book. The most strongly worded email I’ve received is one that expressed pity that I had “lost the one truth path” and the hope that “Allah would guide [me] back to it”.

Publishers should ease off on the nerves, it seems to me.

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

Putting the knife in

Aug 10th, 2012 12:19 pm | By

We all know that Twitter is a gift to people who enjoy saying horrible things to people they dislike or disagree with. Think Jessica Ahlquist; think #mencallmethings. Even Olympic athletes get the treatment.

A 17-year-old boy arrested as part of an investigation into Twitter messages sent to the diver Tom Daley after he and team-mate Pete Waterfield missed out on a medal on Monday has been issued with a harassment warning….

The teenager was held at a guesthouse in Weymouth, Dorset, hours after Daley retweeted messages he had been sent soon after finishing fourth in the 10m men’s synchronised platform diving event. Daley, 18, retweeted a message that said: “You let your dad down i hope you know that.” The diver added: “After giving it my all … you get idiots sending me this …”

Daley’s father, Rob, died from cancer last year…

Speaking before the Olympics, Daley told the BBC: “Winning a medal would make all the struggles that I’ve had worthwhile. It’s been my dream since a very young age to compete at an Olympics. I’m doing it for myself and my dad. It was both our dreams from a very young age. I always wanted to do it and Dad was so supportive of everything. It would make it extra special to do it for him.”

Ugly, isn’t it.

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

Take one for the team

Aug 10th, 2012 12:05 pm | By

A runner broke his leg during an Olympic relay race and went on running to the end.

“As soon as I took the first step past the 200m mark, I felt it break.” Manteo told the USA Track and Field website.

“I didn’t want to let the three guys or the team down, so I just ran on it.”

Mitchell still managed to finish the opening lap in 46.1 seconds as the US team, also featuring Joshua Mance, Tony McQuay and Bryshon Nellum, went on to set a qualifying time of two minutes, 58.87 seconds.

“It hurt so bad,” the 25-year-old added. “I’m pretty amazed that I still split [close to] 45 seconds on a broken leg.”

USA Track and Field chief executive Max Siegel said: “Manteo has become an inspiration and a hero for his team-mates.”

That’s horribly irresponsible.

Update: I meant that what Siegel said is irresponsible, not what the runner did. I suppose once the runner had done it, onlookers kind of had to acknowledge the heroics…but still, I think it was irresponsible. You know all those kids who go back in the game after being hit on the head? Really bad idea.

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