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.

Friends in Ottawa

Dec 5th, 2012 5:26 pm | By

I mentioned meeting Mark Fournier at Eschaton. (There are surprisingly many B&W readers-and-commenters in Ottawa.) Step in the time machine and go back to 2006, and Richard Swinburne…

Remember this of Swinburne’s? The interjection is mine.

Theodicy provides good explanations of why God sometimes — for some or all of the short period of our earthly lives — allows us to suffer pain and disability.

Good? Good explanations? Good in what sense?

Although intrinsically bad states, these difficult times often serve good purposes for the sufferers and for others. My suffering provides me with the opportunity to show courage and patience. It provides you with the opportunity to show sympathy and to help alleviate my suffering. And it provides society with the opportunity to choose whether or not to invest a lot of money in trying to find a cure for this or that particular kind of suffering.

Uh huh. Because everything, if you look at it like that, can be warped into something that is actually good. We should all go out and cause suffering then, right?

Mark a few months earlier was considering Swinburne’s take on causality and why God.

And now we come to another of Swinburne’s arguments: that assuming an intelligent creator is a simpler premise than the naturalistic alternatives. Given that it took all of this infrastructure just to get a few billion moderately intelligent and generally benign humans to appear on one planet, how is it simpler to assume the existence of an infinitely intelligent and good entity? Where did God come from? The answer is usually that God has always existed, but since Swinburne finds it highly suspicious that particles all follow the same rules across most of space and time, how likely is it that an entity as complex as God would never change? It’s no good to say that God is above time, because apparently he intervenes occasionally, which situates Him as an actor in time. It is precisely this temporal existence of the divine that believers crave–a God above time is not interactive. Indeed, an entity above time and space would be so utterly alien as to be completely orthogonal to all human hopes and wishes, ruling the universe by an incomprehensible aesthetic more conducive to blind terror than comfort and hope.

I always think it’s odd that many people think they know not only that god exists but also what god is like and that god is good in a sense that is meaningful to humans. That’s a lot to know. It’s a lot to know and there’s no real source for any of it. How can they possibly be so sure that god is not “so utterly alien as to be completely orthogonal to all human hopes and wishes”? It always makes me wonder how they know god isn’t raising us for food. That’s why when we got to this point in the conversation on Friday evening, I said “it’s a cookbook” and everyone laughed. They all knew the reference.

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

No skeptics on the jury, thanks

Dec 5th, 2012 4:20 pm | By

Neil deGrasse Tyson did a couple of alarming and disheartening tweets just now -

Neil deGrasse Tyson@neiltyson

Done with Jury Duty. I said I could not convict a person solely on eyewitness testimony. They sent me home. I’m now 0 for 4.

After hearing my skepticism of eyewitness testimony, six other jury candidates promptly agreed. And they got sent home too.


Eyewitness testimony is so crappy – so very unreliable and yet so trusted.

TV trains everyone to think it’s infallible, as if there were a video camera in our brains and all we have to do is roll the tape. We’re bad at noticing stuff even when it’s right in front of us, and then we’re bad all over again at remembering. Put the two together and you get a big “Huh? I dunno. I wasn’t watching.” But noooooo, cop shows always present it as Hidden Photography Inside The Head. The cops ask for detailed descriptions of the suspect, they get impatient when people don’t know, they take the lineup very seriously – as if all this were totally reliable.


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

Review the arrangements

Dec 5th, 2012 3:13 pm | By

Catching up on the news about Savita Halappanavar…

They’ve noticed that what happened to her probably happens to other women. (Ya think?)

The Health Information and Quality Authority may have to establish a further investigation into how pregnant women who are getting increasingly ill are cared for in Irish hospitals, following its inquiry into the death of Savita Halappanavar.

The authority, which this afternoon published the terms of reference for its investigation into the death of the 31 year-old pregnant woman at Galway University Hospital last month, said if it emerged that there may be “serious risks” to any other woman in a similar situation in the future, it may recommend “further investigation or ..a new [one] “.

Quite. It would be very odd if Savita Halappanavar were the only woman this had ever happened to in all of Irish history. Why would she be singled out? She can’t even be the only non-Irish or non-Catholic woman this has ever happened to.

I’m detecting a pattern here. Is that because I evolved to shop, or something? It seems to me I’ve heard something about that lately.

The HSE asked Hiqa to begin an investigation into the death in addition to its own inquiry.

The Hiqa investigation will be into “the safety, quality and standards of services provided by the HSE to patients, including pregnant women at risk of clinical deterioration and as reflected in the care and treatment provided to Savita Halappanavar”.

It will review the safety and quality of care provided at the Galway hospital to deteriorating patients, including pregnant women and including the diagnosis and management of sepsis.

The authority will also review the arrangements in place to ensure safe services including promptly identifying, reporting and managing clinically deteriorating patients.

Parveen Halappanavar is not interested. He’s going to the European Court of Human Rights to get a better inquiry set up.

He had set close of business yesterday as the deadline for the Government to institute a sworn, public inquiry into his 31-year-old wife’s death at Galway University Hospital on October 28th.

Not a furtive, private inquiry, but a sworn, public one.

He had had an acknowledgment from the office of the Minister for Health, James Reilly, to his letter sent on Monday calling for a public inquiry. “They said they were ‘looking at’ the request.”

Mr Halappanavar has said the two inquiries established into his wife’s death did not satisfy him or her family.

The first was established by the HSE while a second has been established by the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa). Both will be held in private.

Fox 1 and Fox 2.




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

No husband no speak

Dec 5th, 2012 11:13 am | By

Jesus and Mo and Moses are on the story.


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

Hank pictures Eschaton

Dec 4th, 2012 5:37 pm | By

Hank Fox took a bunch of nice photos at Eschaton. There’s Genie Scott, PZ, Larry Moran – and there’s Eric.

Another of the Eschaton speakers, Eric MacDonald

Eric and I had the opportunity for several long talks. He’s a compadre.

There is Dorothy Grasett. Dorothy gave me a beautiful wooden box her brother made, as a present. It’s here on the desk beside me.

Another attendee, Dorothy, a lady well worth talking to

That’s Saturday evening, before or after PZ’s talk.

And there’s one of me squirming.

Author Ophelia Benson relaxes during Gender Issues Panel

Hank calls it relaxing, but it’s squirming. I always squirm. That’s Heina up in the right corner.

Thanks to Hank for letting me re-post a few. Go over there to see them all.

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

Daughters and fathers

Dec 4th, 2012 2:23 pm | By

It’s a literary trope, the father who disowns or betrays a daughter. I don’t say that to make light of it, but on the contrary, to point out the way it has haunted the human imagination, which underlines how horrible it is. (This applies to all combinations of parents and children, but fathers and daughters gets noticed less than fathers and sons.)

Agamemnon, you know. He sacrificed Iphigenia – which is to say, he killed her on an “altar” – to get a wind when the attack on Troy was becalmed. Not very fatherly, as one of the Mitfords might have put it. Lucretius used it as the occasion for his famous comment, tantum religio potuit suadere malorum – religion can persuade [people to perform] such evils.

And then there’s Shakespeare, who repeatedly portrayed fathers disowning daughters. In other Elizabethan plays, fathers who do that are defending “honor” (does it sound familiar? Of course it does, because it’s the same) and the daughters either deserve it or are betrayed by fate or bad luck or some such thing, not by their fathers. In Shakespeare’s many plays on the subject, the father is always dead wrong.

Juliet’s father tried to force her into a marriage and when she refused he disowned her. Hero’s father believed lying tricksters who said she’d been letting men in her bedroom window so they could fuck like weasels. Desdemona’s father disowned her because she married a Moor – a man of Another Race. Cordelia’s father not only disowned her, but cursed her – meaning not he swore at her but he called down curses on her, curses that were meant to be efficacious – for declining to flatter him in the way he expected. Imogen’s father was another who accepted a trickster’s claim that she was a Secret Slut. Perdita’s father disowned his wife because he got it in his head (for no reason) that she was humping his best friend, and he tried to have the infant Perdita killed.

Juliet dies disowned, as does Desdemona. Cordelia and Lear, and Perdita and Leontes, however, get the chance for reconciliation at the end. It’s interesting how thoroughly Shakespeare puts the fathers in the wrong.

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

Lear in South Carolina

Dec 4th, 2012 11:54 am | By

And speaking of horribly unenlightened views, there is also Ashley Miller’s father, who has decided to stop talking to her, to disown her, to cut her off, to make her an undaughter, because her boyfriend is unwhite.

I can’t get my head around it. Imagine caring more about your racism than you care about your daughter! Imagine giving up a daughter for the sake of racism. What an incredibly bad bargain. What a pathetic, wrong-way-around exchange.

I suppose I am thankful that he waited until the day after Thanksgiving to do it.  Not that he told me, he made my stepmother his proxy as he was too angry to speak to me directly.  I have been disowned for loving someone my father does not approve of.

“Too angry” – as if there were an important principle involved.

I don’t know how one goes about coping with these things.  I have a very supportive family, friends, and boyfriend.  And Dad and I were never super close.  And, perhaps there were things I could have done better, but none of them change the fact that my dad is the kind of person who would disown their only child for dating “out of race”.

Just what I’m trying to get my head around. That kind of person. What kind of person would do that?

It’s heartbreaking.


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

Wull, if the bishops can, we can

Dec 4th, 2012 10:33 am | By

Get ready to catch your jaw when it drops. It’s about Bristol University’s Christian Union.

A university’s Christian society has banned women from speaking at events and teaching at meetings, unless they are accompanied by their husband, it has been revealed.

Oh come on. That’s a joke or a poe or a trick. Isn’t it?

The Huffington Post UK has seen the email sent out by president Matt Oliver to all BUCU members which said: “It is ok for women to teach in any CU setting… However we understand that this is a difficult issue for some and so decided that women would not teach on their own at our weekly CU meetings, as the main speaker on our Bristol CU weekend away, or as our main speaker for mission weeks.

“But a husband and wife can teach together in these.”

So, not a joke.

But…what? It’s a difficult issue for some? What is? Women teaching and speaking?

And because it is, for some, the thing to do is forbid it?

Uh huh. What next, BUCU? Other races? Foreigners?

Oliver’s email announced the departure of the international secretary James Howlett, who, according to Oliver, felt he “cannot support the decision on women teaching”.

“After a lot of time exploring this issue, seeking God’s wisdom on it and discussing it together as a committee, we made a decision about women teaching in a CU setting,” Oliver continues. “We all hold individual convictions on secondary issues such a women speakers, which are often reflected in the churches we choose to attend.

“It is good and right that we hold strong beliefs on the Bible’s teaching about secondary issues but they are not what we centre around as a CU and therefore are not always reflected in the CU’s practice.”

Hey, fuck you, dude – women are not secondary. Nobody is secondary. You don’t get to exclude people from the important work and call that “secondary.” You don’t get to treat people as inferior and subordinate and Not Allowed, and then treat your doing that as “secondary.”

The Christian Union’s announcement follows the controversial vote by the majority of Church of England worshippers not to allow women bishops, despite many church leaders voting in favour of the move.

Oliver told The Huffington Post UK the society had now released a statement saying: “Bristol University Christian Union has no formal position on the role of men and women in the church. We respect those of our members who hold strong Biblical convictions in this area and seek to find the most practical way of expressing this inclusivity.”

This what??! 

“Inclusivity” – right, they’re being “inclusive” of those of their members who hold strong Biblical convictions that women are inferior and subordinate and have to stfu unless they’re in the custody of a man. They are not, however, being “inclusive” of half the population.

How’s your jaw doing?

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

Stop faith-based bigotry

Dec 4th, 2012 9:05 am | By

I’m back. I didn’t get sucked into the engines even once.

Yesterday morning CFI demonstrated in front of the Ugandan High Commission in Ottawa to protest the Kill the Gays bill. Vyckie and I went too. Kevin Smith, the director of CFI Canada, used Twitter to summon media attention, and took pictures. He gave me permission to post them.

 Embedded image permalink

That’s Seanna in the purple coat. She’s the Director of CFI Ottawa, which is an unpaid position – a volunteer position, but that word suggests to me a not quite real job, and that certainly doesn’t fit. The guy tweeting on her right is Michael Payton, and I’m hiding behind him.

Embedded image permalink

Kill the bill, kill the bill, kill the bill.

Kevin told me that one of the cops at the demo is on the LGBT panel of the RCMP. Yesss!

Support CFI Canada. They’re doing good work.

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

I do like a good canal

Dec 2nd, 2012 6:03 pm | By

Ahh that was fun. Went out for a nice refreshing walk – to Parliament Hill then east on Laurier and along the canal and then back here. Pitch dark but all the nicer for that.

Last night we went to the Museum of Nature for nibbles and PZ’s talk on chance in evolution and then we got to wander around in the bird and dinosaur galleries. After hours! Cool or what?

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

It’s a wrap

Dec 2nd, 2012 3:22 pm | By

Eschaton is over. I just had a long conversation with Eric in the doorway of the larger of the two rooms where it was held, until he had to leave for the airport. It’s been wonderful to meet him and talk to him.

Udo Schuklenk gave a great talk on secular ethics this morning. I kept wishing some of the sciencey types who think philosophy is useless could have been present. He based it on three of the myths in his forthcoming book with Russell Blackford on 50 myths about atheism. He used three Jesus and Mo toons to illustrate his analysis of three of the myths – no morality without god; no-god robs life of purpose and meaning; denial of the sanctity of human life.

One of the observations I liked – the validity of laws ultimately depends on their acceptability to a given population. The same applies to god. Goddy types think you have to choose between nihilism or goddy absolutes, but really god too depends on acceptability.

Ian Cromwell also gave a great talk. Zombies. Racism. Then we had a panel discussion on godless ethics. Eric and Udo and I had lunch together last thing before Udo left.

Heina Dadabhoy told me she tweeted the last line of my talk yesterday, that along with separation of church and state we need separation of church and health care, and it got 42 (or was it 46?) RTs. All right! We can do this, people. And we need to.

CFI is protesting at the Ugandan embassy (or consulate?) tomorrow, and I get to go.

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

Morning note

Dec 1st, 2012 5:20 am | By

So I’ve met Eric MacDonald at last. Also Mark Fournier. Conversation about Job, and Steiner schools and anthroposophy, and people who think they know things, and the quiet revolution in Quebec.

My talk is this afternoon; Vyckie is after me; Eric is after Vyckie.

Note to hotels: don’t have tv on in the breakfast room. Ugh.


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

An afternoon well spent

Nov 30th, 2012 2:12 pm | By

All riiiiight – I got to see inside the Parliament library. That makes up a little for the crushing fact that I didn’t get to see the second floor of Manchester Town Hall (with the murals by Ford Madox Ford) because it was off-limits that afternoon.

I had to take the tour, because you can’t go as many places if you just wander around on your own, such as the library for one. The tour it is then, I exclaimed, and accepted my orange pass with 2:50 stamped on it. It was 2:30, so I nipped up to the Peace Tower to look at the view. It was very like the time I nipped up to the Old Post Office tower in DC – same line to wait for the small elevator, same easier time getting down, same general kind of architecture – and both in national capitals. How about that.

The library is gorgeous.

I like gorgeous. I don’t like coldly minimal. I know someone who spent two million dollars on a reno – yes really – and it’s coldly minimal, just the same very boring tan wood everywhere. The hell with that. I want gorgeous.

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

Domestic architecture

Nov 30th, 2012 10:44 am | By

Second trip, to walk by the canal.

First I went around the corner from the hotel to get a look at that park I can see from my window, where I saw dogs being walked in the frozen sunrise. I found that it’s not a park at all, it’s the grounds of the Science Museum (where PZ is doing a talk tomorrow evening) – so now I see that I can see the museum from here! It’s right over my left shoulder as I speak. It’s one of those massive castle type museums – the bit I can see looks like Caernarvon Castle or something. There’s also a new glass part, which I can also see from here.

Also, Ottawa (at least this downtown part of it) is packed with very appealing 19th century brick houses, that are like the brick semis you see all over London and yet also not like them, and not like anything else I know either. They’re familiar yet oddly distinctive.

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

Incident in Las Vegas

Nov 30th, 2012 8:35 am | By

Hey if you’re a magician, be careful about what tv talk shows you grace with your presence. Go on the wrong one and you might be set on fire.

Wayne Houchin, a Las Vegas-based magician, was.

Shocking footage has emerged on YouTube of a magician being attacked and badly injured by the host of a TV show on which he was a guest.  In an apparently spontaneous gesture, the man (who has been named as Franklin Barazarte) who is both host and producer of a talk-show in the Dominican Republic, doused 29-year old Wayne Houchin with a flammable liquid and set it on fire.

Well at least Bill O’Reilly doesn’t do that.

We shouldn’t jump to any conclusions about this one incident, although it if *was* an attempted exorcism, it would not be unique in involving violent and dangerous practices.  To take two examples from different parts of the world, in 2007 a Romanian priest was jailed for 14 years for conducting an exorcism that led to the death of a nun,  while in Japan last year a 13-year-old girl suffocated after being strapped down and doused with water by her father and a Buddhist monk who were trying to expel an “evil spirit”.

And there are all the children in places like Akwa Ibom state in Nigeria, and London, and all the women in places like India and Kenya, who get tortured to death for being “witches.”

Bullshit is not always harmless.

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

Women are persons

Nov 30th, 2012 8:17 am | By

Yow – it really is cold. I got out there though. Walked around Parliament Hill and admired the stunning views of the river and Gatineau and the Gatineau hills and the distance. Saw three of the Cats of Parliament Hill sunning themselves on their front porches. I also admired the ugly-beautiful crazily grandiose architecture, just as I admired that of Manchester Town Hall. Saw the mouth of the Rideau canal. Also the Women are Persons! monument. Yes, Virginia, it really had to be argued that women are persons, and there really were people (men, that is) who said no they aren’t.

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

Hello from Ottawa

Nov 29th, 2012 8:04 pm | By

I am here. Seanna and Eamon picked me up at the airport and took me out for a lovely hamburger at Hamburgers on Main (which is not on Main but Somerset).

Whoo, it’s cold here. I’m used to Seattle winters.

What’s new with you?

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

Crossing Lake Michigan

Nov 29th, 2012 1:59 pm | By

I am in Toronto. Ok not really in, except literally – I’m at the airport. Anyway I’m where I’m supposed to be for the purpose of taking a short flight to Ottawa and showing up at Eschaton. I did not forget everything, I did not lose everything, I did not miss the bus or the plane, I did not leave everything on the plane, I did not get sucked into the engine. Success! Am I competent or what.

Did you see Dave Silverman on O’Reilly last night?I never watch O’Reilly except when Dave is on. You know what BillO’s new thing is? It’s to say that Christianity is not a religion, it’s a philosophy – and not just say it, but say it in that impatient, contemptuous, everybody-knows-that way that is so irritating even when it’s true, let alone when it’s complete bullshit.

Dave is the perfect guy to go on O’Reilly because he can be just as shouty and inyerface as O’Reilly is, if need be. It’s a treat to watch, because usually BillO just shouts people down.

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

Spared again

Nov 29th, 2012 7:19 am | By

At the early morning airport.

It’s surprising how many people take the first #2 bus in the morning, which sets off at 5:03.

I will see some of you quite soon.

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

The bishops really do mean it

Nov 28th, 2012 3:51 pm | By

Jen Gunter is also disturbed by what the Irish bishops said.

Terminating a pregnancy is “gravely immoral in all circumstances.” All circumstances includes 17 weeks and ruptured membranes. Unless I misunderstand the meaning of “all,” then Irish Catholic Bishops also view ending a pregnancy at 17 weeks with ruptured membranes and sepsis, either by induction of labor or the surgical dilation and evacuation (D & E), to be “gravely immoral.” They must also view ending a pregnancy for a woman who previously had postpartum cardiomyopathy and a 50% risk of death in her pregnancy as “gravely immoral.” So if you have a medical condition that is rapidly deteriorating because of your pregnancy, too bad for you if you live in Ireland. Because the mother and unborn baby have equal rights to life, Irish law spares women the anguish of choosing their own life. Neither can be first, so both must die.

Yes. That is also the position – the considered position, the insisted on, mandated, shoutingly ordered position – of all US bishops, because it is the position of their union, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. That is the position the bishop of Phoenix tried to force St Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix to promise in writing never to disobey again*.

posted about it last March.

Yes, Catholic bishops really do take the position that ending a pregnancy at 17 weeks with ruptured membranes and sepsis, either by induction of labor or the surgical dilation and evacuation (D & E), is gravely immoral. In Ireland they do and in the US they do.

They are scarier than almost anyone realizes. They really do try to compel Catholic hospitals to refuse to save women’s lives if they’re in situations like the one that Savita Halappanavar was in. It seems impossible but it’s true.

The statement from the Irish Catholic Bishops is medically nonsensical, contradictory, and immoral and as it represents a group of men who have never practiced medicine opining on an aspect of medical care that they clearly can’t understand.

The only thing this statement clarifies is how Irish physicians could easily be confused by an Irish abortion law steeped in religion, and thus reinforces the claim that Catholicism contributed to Dr. Halappanavar’s death.

Indeed. We desperately need separation of church and medicine.

*The hospital administration refused to obey the bishop

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