Notes and Comment Blog

In the shelves

Aug 18th, 2014 5:04 pm | By

The BHA posted this photo on Facebook a few minutes ago:

Photo: See our Flickr album for high-res versions and Creative Commons licensing information:

They posted it along with a link to their Flickr album from the GHC. So I’m looking at the album to see if I can spot friends, and I’m spotting friends.

Leo and Andrew are standing in front of the Dawkins-Grayling shelf. Those two dudes have produced a lot of books just on their own.

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

If you listen

Aug 18th, 2014 4:13 pm | By

Look, what you see is not all there is, aka the availability heuristic, comes up again, this time at Alex’s, in a post about the fact that some people have every reason to be passionately angry at and about religion, and the related fact that others shouldn’t be telling such people to tone down their anger.

People like us are infamous for words like ‘privilege’, ‘splaining’, ‘problematic’; part of the power of concepts like these is that when transferred between activist contexts they expose parallels. I’m deeply aware there can be only limited analogy between atheism and the concerns of more marginalised groups, and would hate to devalue their language. But I’m convinced of the following:

It is a form of privilege to be an atheist who’s never experienced religious abuse, as many of us have who are antagonistic.

It is privilege blindness to expect — without a clue what we’ve experienced or what it means to us — that we give up our self-expression so that you can form alliances with faith communities that deeply injured us.

It is tone-policing if when you’re not telling us to shut up about it, you’re telling us how to talk about it. How dare you tell us to be more respectful.

It is splaining if your answer when we detail histories of religious abuse is ‘Yes, but’ — or if you tell us we can’t blame religion for it since not all believers do the same. We know the details. You don’t.

Commenter smhll made a very apposite comparison:

I agree very strongly. I’m truly fortunate that my parents barely even bothered to fake any religious faith (even decades ago; I’m oldish). My sibling and I got taken to a liberal church maybe twice a year. My parents were even fairly sex positive.

There’s a parallel to be drawn between people who’ve only had mild, okay experiences with police and people who’ve only had mild, okay experiences with clergy and churchgoers. (But I don’t want to oversell the similarity since police brutality is extra painful this week.) Just because some people get acceptable treatment from police (when they rarely are confronted) doesn’t mean that that behavior is a constant.

See? That’s what you see is not all there is. I haven’t had bad experiences with the police; I don’t get to conclude from that fact that there are no bad experiences with the police to be had. I don’t get to generalize from my experience in cases where I have good reason to know that my experience is not typical. Some kinds of experience it’s ok to extrapolate from, and it’s part of empathy to do so. Other kinds, it really isn’t.

HjHornbeck also made the analogy.

I’ve been finding myself gradually slipping towards the “faitheist” side. Liberal believers seem gloriously liberal, a refreshing break from the angry fights I’ve gotten into with semi-liberal or conservative atheists.

But as Benson recently pointed out, what you see is not all there is. Just because I’ve had no experience with religion, let alone been effected by it, doesn’t mean others have experienced the same nor that they are unjustified in being angry about their experiences. To each their area of expertise, and thanks to your history yours is the subtle corrosion of liberal belief.

I’d be wise to listen, rather than argue over tone or strategic alliances.

If you listen, you might learn more about what there is.



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

Summer school with sprinkles

Aug 18th, 2014 1:08 pm | By

The summer school where Sue Blackmore gave that talk is called Oxford Royale Academy. Yes really – with the e on the end of Royal. Maybe you’re not allowed to call your consumer item “royal” unless you have permission from a royal? So you call it Royale instead? But the trouble is then it sounds like ice cream.

You probably shouldn’t be allowed to call it Oxford either, because it’s misleading, but there you go. My uncle put the Gallup Poll in Princeton to get the appearance of academic credibility. It’s what people do. He called it The American Institute for Public Opinion for the same reason. Templeton puts “Institutes” and “Academies” in Oxford and Cambridge for the same reason. It’s a widespread wheeze. It’s a wonder Oxford and Cambridge aren’t so full of shady “Institutes” there’s no room left for the universities.

Anyway, here’s its blurb about itself. I find it rather…icky.

About our Oxford Summer School

Welcome to ORA, the award-winning Oxford Summer School! A recipient of the Queen’s Award for Enterprise, fully accredited by the British Council, every year ORA welcomes students from 90+ nations to its world-class summer enrichment programs, which offer unparalleled opportunities to learn, make friends and get ahead in life. The exciting coach excursions, exceptional teaching faculty and access to Oxford University colleges have made it one of the most sought-after teen summer camps in the world. Spaces are filling up fast – browse our 2015 summer courses and secure your place today!

With ORA you can: Learn English in Oxford | Gain an academic edge over your peers | Enjoy the summer in Oxford’s idyllic surroundings | Make friends from all over the world.

Notice that at the top it’s an academy but in the blurb it’s a summer camp?

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

Another bunch left, then another

Aug 18th, 2014 12:11 pm | By

Sue Blackmore gave a lecture at a summer school yesterday and was left shaken and depressed by how it went.

I was told they were of 45 nationalities and I assumed many different religions. So I prepared my lecture carefully. I tried it out the day before on my husband’s grandson, a bright mixed-race 16 year-old from Paris, and added pictures of the latest craze for ‘Fatkiniposts’ and more videos, including my favourite Gangnam Style parody (Python style), but I wasn’t going to avoid the topic of religious memes – religions are an example, par excellence, of memeplexes that use wicked tricks to ensure their own survival. I simply made sure that my slides included many religions and didn’t single one out.

We can see the clouds gathering already.

I pointed out that religions demand lots of resources (I showed them pictures of a church, a Hindu temple, a Jewish menorah and Muslim pilgrims on Hajj); they pose threats to health (I showed people ‘purifying their souls’ by wading in the stinking germ-laden Ganges) and make people do strange things (I showed rows of Muslims bent over with their heads on the floor). I hadn’t gone far with this before five or six young men got up and began to walk out. They had a good distance to go across the large hall, so I said ‘Excuse me, would you mind telling me why you are leaving?’ There was a long silence until one said, ‘You are offending us. We will not listen,’ and they left. Soon after that another bunch left, and then another.

Thus illustrating how memes work, and/or how groupthink works, how conformity and solidarity work, how safety in numbers works. Once one batch left, all the others felt 1. empowered and entitled to leave and 2. righteous about leaving.

I explained the idea of religions as memeplexes: they package up a set of doctrines, tell believers to learn them, to pass them on, to have faith and not doubt, and they ensure obedience with fearsome threats and ridiculous promises. This I illustrated with images of Christian heaven and hell. Then I read from the Koran “those that have faith and do good works, Allah will admit them to gardens watered by running streams … pearls and bracelets of gold.” “Garments of fire have been prepared for the unbelievers. They shall be lashed with rods of iron.” More walked out. By the time I arrived at a slide calling religions (Richard’s fault!) ‘Viruses of the mind’, the lecture hall was looking rather empty.

The cartoon was worse. As I have often done before, I suggested that one final trick of a desperate religion (I didn’t say quite that this time) is to forbid laughter. I warned any devout Muslims in the audience to look away as I showed one of the Danish cartoons. It’s so simple – just a bunch of terrorists arriving in heaven to be told, “Stop, stop, we ran out of virgins’. That normally gets a good laugh – along with sympathy for the cartoonists threatened with death for something so innocuous. Not this time. More walked out.

She encountered some of the leavers outside, and had an unproductive conversation with them.

Walking miserably up the High Street I felt profoundly depressed at the state of the world. I could cheer myself with the thought that I’d learned something. I learned that Islam has yet another nasty meme-trick to offer – when you are offended put your hands over your ears and run away. This would be funny if it weren’t so serious. These bright, but ignorant, young people must be among the more enlightened of their contemporaries since their parents have been able and willing to send them on this course to learn something new. If even they cannot face dissent, or think for themselves, what hope is there for the rest? And what can I do?

Maybe remember that climate change will make it all tragically irrelevant much sooner than anyone would like?


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

Meet Pro-life Waco

Aug 18th, 2014 11:45 am | By

So, thanks to artymorty, here is Pro-Life Waco and its campaign against Planned Parenthood complete with STOP Planned Promiscuity sign.

Right at the top you get its ideal, which is a pretty and dainty white lady lying down flat with a baby pasted to her front. That’s how we like our ladies: white, and pretty and dainty, and recumbent, and pasted to a baby.


They had a campaign against a sex education program by Planned Parenthood, with its own website that looks a lot like the original website, complete with recumbent white lady pasted to baby.


Planned Parenthood Promiscuity

corrupting your community, America, and the world.

John Pisciotta, Director of Pro-Life Waco

Using Planned Parenthood’s own words and deeds, this page unmasks their agenda for children as the Celebration of Fornication.”

Pisciotta presents his deep thinking on the subject.

What follows is almost unbelievable material that unmasks Planned Parenthood schemes to capture our children and grandchildren. When I think I have understood how bad this organization is, they always surprise me and reveal they are even worse. In deceptive statements, Planned Parenthood may claim to promote abstinence. In reality thiswolf in sheep skin promotes promiscuity and its own profit and power.

I have come to believe that promotion of promiscuity is more central to the “DNA” of Planned Parenthood than abortion. Going back to its founder, Margaret Sanger, Planned Parenthood has always promoted free sex and attempted to melt away the roles of parents and religion. Abortion can be seen as a pernicious outgrowth of the corrupted belief that promiscuity can be lived without difficult consequences. Moreover, to the extent that Christians can turn themselves and others from promiscuity to chastity, abortion fades away. As self-giving love, commitment, and marriage strengthen, the holocaust recedes.

So now we know where those signs came from.

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

Planned what?

Aug 18th, 2014 10:22 am | By

Talking Points Memo has a piece about anti-abortion protesters collecting the license plate numbers of people entering clinics.

What interests me about that story is the photo they used to illustrate it. It’s an AP photo credited to Duane A Laverty, and it shows people wearing huge red stop sign-shaped signs that read

STOP Planned Promiscuity


What?? That’s a thing? I’d never heard of that before.

But I still haven’t, apart from that photo. I can’t find it via Google, including via News or Images.

I’m very curious about it, as well as very disgusted by it. Does anybody know anything? Who uses this slogan? Is it an anti-abortion slogan or an anti-contraception slogan?

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

What you see is not all there is

Aug 17th, 2014 4:26 pm | By

Just because you don’t see something, doesn’t mean it’s not there.*

You don’t see everything there is to see. I don’t, we don’t, everybody don’t.

By the same token, just because you do see something, doesn’t mean it’s all there is to see. (That’s the same thing really.)

Jeffrey Saltzman cites Daniel Kahneman on the subject.

Daniel Kahneman coined the acronym WYSIATI which is an abbreviation for “What you see is all there is”. It is one of the human biases that he explores when he describes how human decision-making is not entirely based on rational thought.

Traditionally, economists believed in the human being as a rational thinker, that decisions and judgments would be carefully weighed before being taken. And much of traditional economic theory is based on that notion. Dr. Kahneman’s life’s work (along with his co-author Dr. Amos Tversky) explodes that notion and describes many of the short-comings of human decision-making. He found that many human decisions rely on automatic or knee-jerk reactions, rather than deliberative thought. And that these automatic reactions (he calls them System 1 thinking) are based on heuristics or rules of thumb that we develop or have hard-wired into our brains. System 1 thinking is very useful in that it can help the individual deal with the onslaught of information that impinges on us each and every day, but the risk is when a decision that one is faced with should be thought through rather than based on a knee-jerk reaction.

System 1 decisions are easy, they are comfortable, and unfortunately they can also be wrong. But wrong in the sense that if one learned how to take a step back and allow for more deliberative thought prior to the decision, some of these wrong decisions or judgments could be avoided.

One of those would be items like thinking about whether there is a lot of sexism or racism or homophobia or classism or xenophobia etc in your society. You think about it – nope, not much comes to mind – you conclude that there isn’t much. Now imagine that the you doing the thinking is male and white and straight and securely middle-class and native-born. Do you see the problem? What comes up on the screen when you think about whether there is a lot of sexism or racism etc is going to be what you see, and what you see is going to be a product of what you’ve been in a position to see, which will be different from what women and people of color etc are in a position to see. See what I’m getting at? You can’t tell, just be flicking quickly through your experience, how prevalent sexism and racism and the rest are. You can’t. Your experience isn’t universal; it isn’t all there is.

WYSIATI is the notion that we form impressions and judgments based on the information that is available to us. For instance we form impressions about people within a few seconds of meeting them. In fact, it has been documented that without careful training interviewers who are screening job applicants will come to a conclusion about the applicant within about 30 seconds of beginning the interview. And when tested these initial notions are often wrong. Interviewers who are trained to withhold judgment about someone do a better job at applicant screening, and the longer that judgment is delayed the better the decision.

Relying on what you have yourself seen for your view of how much sexism and racism there is in your society is not a good way to figure that out. You need to delay judgment and gather more information.

*Ever noticed what a…grammar-free construction that is? Yet it works anyway? I use it all the time; I’d be lost without it; but it’s grammatically…eccentric.

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

Why don’t any animals have wheels?

Aug 17th, 2014 12:30 pm | By

Here again is the video Dawkins linked to, in case you missed it. It’s very cool.


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

Twitter question time

Aug 17th, 2014 12:28 pm | By

Yes! There is a possible happy combination of Dawkins and Twitter, and earlier today he found it. This is what the two of them were always supposed to be doing. This is how to use Twitter if you’re a great science communicator.

Richard Dawkins @RichardDawkins · 11h
If our planet had been shrouded in perpetual fog, would eyes have evolved? In the sea, why not? But on land, what other sense organs?

Does evolution rely upon digital genetics? Could there be an analogue genetics? What features of life have to be true all over the universe?

Stuart Kauffman’s thought experiment: If evolution could be re-run 1000 times, would certain patterns predictably recur? Humanoids?

Why hasn’t biological (as opposed to technological) evolution given rise to sense organs and transmitters in radio frequencies?

Why do nervous systems use slow, chemically mediated pulses of voltage change rather than fast electric currents along wires?

My questions today about possible life forms are all questions that excite my sincere curiosity. Hope physicists might join in.

Why no biological wheels? Because no paved surfaces? Or because nerves & blood vessels would get twisted around axles?

“Why don’t animals have wheels?” Good little (anonymous) lecture here:

Why do cells have the complete genome instead of just the part that’s needed for their function? Liver cells have muscle-making genes etc.

Why do cave-dwellers lose their eyes? They’re useless, but are they harmful? Costly to make? Or eroded by rain of uncorrected mutations?

The questions are interesting in themselves and as questions that an experienced scientist asks. They’re notations, and notations are interesting.

I keep saying Twitter isn’t as worthless as many people say; once you get the hang of it it can be very good for certain things. This is one of them.

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

Spreading the blood around the neighborhood

Aug 17th, 2014 10:42 am | By

Dear god. An Ebola quarantine center in Monrovia has been attacked by “protesters”; bloodstained bedding and mattresses were removed and at least 20 people who were being monitored have left the center.

The centre was set up to observe suspected Ebola patients and then transfer them to a main treatment centre if they prove positive, assistant health minister Tolbert Nyenswah told the BBC.

It is not known if those at the centre were infected with the virus, though one report suggested they had proved positive.

A senior police officer said blood-stained mattresses, beddings and medical equipment were taken from the centre.

“This is one of the stupidest things I have ever seen in my life”, he said.

Lordy lordy lordy; what not to do during an Ebola outbreak.

The Ebola epidemic began in Guinea in February and has since spread to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.

On Friday, the death toll rose to 1,145 after the WHO said 76 new deaths had been reported in the two days to 13 August. There have been 2,127 cases reported in total.

The attack at the Monrovia centre is seen as a major setback in the struggle to halt the outbreak, says the BBC’s Will Ross, reporting from Lagos.

Health experts say that the key to ending the Ebola outbreak is to stop it spreading in Liberia, where ignorance about the virus is high and many people are reluctant to cooperate with medical staff.

So this is completely horrifying.

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

She was not a human being with rights

Aug 17th, 2014 9:32 am | By

Carol Hunt expresses her outrage in the Independent.

It is with horror and not a little fear that I try to understand what happened to a young woman in our country recently. Faced with a crisis pregnancy and for reasons which we are not able to disclose, this young woman was not in a position (as so many thousands of Irish women have done, and continue to do, before her) to head to the UK or further afield to get the medical attention she wanted.

She only discovered that she was actually pregnant during her second trimester and consequently became suicidal. Under our new, much touted compassionate legislation – so hard fought for, so grudgingly given – this young woman should have been allowed to have a termination within this State if three expert professionals on a panel agreed that there was indeed a risk to her life if she proceeded with her pregnancy.

She presented herself to the three expert professionals – but that still didn’t work.

That should have been the end to the girl’s trauma, but then, seemingly, the consultant obstetrician on the panel ruled against the two psychiatrists That’s correct. The person who is not at all qualified to comment on the mental health or suicidal risk of a patient got to call the shots. This person decided that the pregnancy was probably far enough for the baby to survive outside the womb. The law provides that once a baby can survive outside the womb then its right to life must also be taken into consideration.

So she stopped drinking and eating, so the state forced fluids on her, and she gave up and agreed to the C-section.

In the eyes, once again, of this State, she was not a human being with rights, devastating problems and a condition that could kill her – she was just a vessel who would be forced to give birth. During the debate to legislate for the X-Case I asked, A) as a woman who has been pregnant and B) as a women who has experienced mental illness, why I should not be given the right to life under the constitution?

Am I somehow a lesser person, with fewer rights under Irish law because my life-threatening illness is mental and not physical? I recall asking, if I became pregnant and suffered from suicidal ideation, would I be kept in a “pregnancy mill” until I could be delivered of a live baby?

I thought that the new legislation would mean women who were genuinely found to be in danger of death by suicide would be treated as people and not just baby-carriers.



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

Her abdomen belongs to the state

Aug 17th, 2014 8:52 am | By

You know that tweak to the Irish abortion law last summer, that was supposed to prevent another Savita Halappanavar case from happening?

Never mind.

The BBC reports the bare outline:

A “suicidal” woman has given birth by caesarean section in the Republic of Ireland after requesting a termination under the country’s new abortion law.

It is understood she requested an abortion late in her second trimester.

An expert panel assessed her as having suicidal thoughts but it was decided she should have a caesarean section.

She began a hunger strike and health authorities went to court to force her to end the fast. She later agreed to a caesarean and gave birth to a child.

So, in short, it turned out that she had no rights of her own at all. Her pregnancy had rights that canceled all of her rights.

The Irish Independent has important details:

The young woman at the centre of the first known test of the country’s new abortion laws feared her life was in danger, the Sunday Independent has learned.

The woman, who is not an Irish national, believed there was a serious threat to her safety and well-being, though not on medical grounds, as a result of her pregnancy.

Earlier this summer, the woman sought an abortion under Section 9 of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, 2013 as she claimed to be suicidal. Her case was assessed by a panel of three experts, as set out under the legislation passed last summer. The panel was made up a consultant obstetrician and two psychiatrists.

The psychiatrists on the panel determined her life was at risk as she had suicidal thoughts.

But the consultant obstetrician said the baby could be delivered as it was far enough into the pregnancy.

A week after the young woman first presented she was informed she was to be refused an abortion.

No rights for her, rights only for her pregnancy, the pregnancy she did not want.

The young woman was in the second trimester of the pregnancy when she discovered she was pregnant and requested the abortion. For reasons that cannot be disclosed, she was not in a position to travel to the UK for the termination.

In what is believed to be one of the first cases under the new abortion laws, the woman sought a termination as she claimed to be suicidal.

The woman’s suicidal thoughts are understood to have been underpinned by fear of her family’s reaction. She is also understood to have been deeply concerned about the reaction of one individual.

According to two sources familiar with the case, there is a suggestion that the young woman may have become pregnant as a result of a rape, although this has not been confirmed. According to the new abortion laws, there is a duty on doctors to preserve the life of the unborn as far as practicable.

So the state forced her to have major abdominal surgery, against her will.

I don’t suppose her worries about “the reaction of one individual” have been much alleviated by this outcome.

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

The bible is mandatory

Aug 16th, 2014 4:58 pm | By

Another win for forced religion by the state.

In June, the U.S. Navy ordered housekeepers at thousands of Navy-owned guest lodges near U.S. and international bases to remove the Bibles and any other “religious materials” from their rooms. Scriptures would remain available on request.

But public outcry, prompted this week by a social media alert from the American Family Association and protests by the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, led the brass to reverse course Friday (Aug. 15).

Now, the Navy’s “religious accommodation policies with regard to the placement of religious materials are under review,” Navy spokesman Cmdr. Ryan Perry wrote in an email to Stars and Stripes, the daily military newspaper. Meanwhile, the Bibles (New Testament and Psalms but no Hebrew Bible) will be tucked back into nightstand drawers.

Public outcry about what? About not forcing religious books on people who don’t ask for them? Even though all that people who do want them have to do is ask for them? Why is it so important for the government to thrust them on people rather than providing them if asked?

Why stop there then? Why not have the cops come to everyone’s door and shove a bible in? Why not arrest people who aren’t in church on Sunday morning? Why not order people to pray at gunpoint?


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

What we talk about outside the library

Aug 16th, 2014 4:45 pm | By

This actually happened. Earlier this afternoon.

I was walking past one side of the library – the local branch of the library, which is a nice old Carnegie one -

and I went around that corner you see there and approached a middle-aged couple hanging out at that brick wall you see, which around the corner is at the right height to sit on. The man was lighting a cigarette just as I got near them, which made me do my internal grumpy protest at the universe, but then I was distracted from that by what he was saying, in a loud brook-no-denial voice. “That’s the problem with women here in Washington.” Pause. I had just passed them so I turned to look, at that, then turned back. “They think they have so many god damn rights.” Pause. “They’re not responsible.” Then I was out of earshot.

I’m not making it up.

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

After all, the rapist is also someone’s son

Aug 16th, 2014 3:44 pm | By

I never thought I would have anything good to say about Narendra Modi, but I guess I have to. In his first major address he spoke out about rape and violence against women.

In speaking out, Modi challenged citizens and government alike to change the way that rape is thought about. “Today as we hear about the incidents of rapes, our head hangs in shame,” he said in his wide-ranging address. “I want to ask parents when your daughter turns 10 or 12 years old, you ask, ‘Where are you going? When will you return?’ Do the parents dare to ask their sons, ‘Where are you going? Why are you going? Who are your friends?’ After all, the rapist is also someone’s son. If only parents decide to put as many restrictions on their sons as they do on their own daughters.”

Wow. That’s the kind of thing that gets a person branded a “radical feminist” (and not in a good way) around here.

Though only time will tell whether the Modi government acts on the rhetoric seen in his speech, Tanvi Mandan, head of the Brookings Institution’s India Project told ThinkProgress in an email, the fact that they are even being talked about in this way is significant. “This is the first time that a prime minister has spoken about violence against women in this fashion, especially using such a prominent platform – the closest American equivalent of the Indian PM’s independence day speech would be the president’s State of the Union speech,” she wrote.

“Moreover, Mr. Modi spoke of an aspect of this that Indian civil society has helped highlight publicly over the last couple of years – that this is not just a legal issue, but a societal one; not just about having the right laws in place, but also about changing culture,” Madan continued.

That kind of thing. You can’t talk about “culture” over here in the US without getting a hail of obloquy and epithets and assorted insults.

Modi also used his speech to speak out against the practice of Indian family’s selectively aborting females in the woman or abandoning female babies once they’re born. Earlier this week, the Indian government announced that the sex ration among children 0-6 — standing at 927 girl children per 1,000 boys — is the lowest it’s been since India’s independence in 1947.

“Have we seen our sex ratio? Who is creating this imbalance?” Modi asked. “Not God. I appeal to the doctors not to kill the girl child in the mother’s womb. I request the parents not to kill daughters because they want a son. Don’t kill daughters in the womb, it is a blot on 21st century India. I have seen families where one daughter serves parents more than five sons.”

Modi of all people. It’s disorienting.

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

Onward Christian socialjusticewarriors

Aug 16th, 2014 2:58 pm | By

The nuns are still fighting back. Heidi Hall at RNS reports:

Sister Elizabeth Johnson, a theology professor at Fordham University, accepted the Leadership Conference of Women Religious’ top award and then lambasted bishops for criticism of her book “Quest for the Living God,” saying it appears they’ve never read it.

“To this day, no one, not myself or the theological community, the media or the general public knows what doctrinal issue is at stake,” she told the Nashville assembly of about about 900 sisters representing 80 percent of the nation’s nuns.

Omigod a room full of radical feminist nuns listening to a radical feminist nun. Be afraid.

In her 20-minute acceptance speech, followed by a standing ovation, Johnson suggested the conference’s support of her work prompted the investigation by the church’s top enforcer of orthodoxy, the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith.

Johnson’s book includes chapters on black and feminist theology and interfaith engagement. She said book sales skyrocketed after the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops criticized it.

Yeah. Anything the USCCB doesn’t like is bound to be good.

The LCWR has been undergoing a Vatican-ordered doctrinal investigation since 2009. In 2012, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith ordered nun’s group to reform its statutes and appointed Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain to oversee changes, including a rewrite of the group’s charter and approval of all speakers at future assemblies.

In April, a top Vatican official warned the LCWR that in recognizing Johnson it would provoke the Holy See.

This from the band of brothers that has been covering up and protecting child-rape for decades, in fact probably centuries. What on earth gives them the idea that they have moral (or “spiritual”) authority over anyone?

It’s unlikely the sides can come to a solution, said Bruce Morrill, a Vanderbilt University professor of theological studies and a Jesuit priest.

At the conflict’s heart is a difference in approach to hierarchical chain of command: the top-down, morals-emphasizing Vatican versus the collegial, social-justice oriented nuns.

“As far as the U.S. bishops and Vatican officials are concerned, this is not a debate,” Morrill said. “The hierarchy expects the women religious to obey their directives.”

The nuns are social justice warriors!


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

An Australian feminist

Aug 16th, 2014 11:27 am | By

Have a tv interview with Lt. General David Morrison, the head of the Australian army who last year made heads snap upright with an uncompromising talk on sexual harassment. “The standard you walk past is the standard you accept”; remember that guy?

In this interview he talks to Annette Young of France 24. He starts off by talking about the necessity of empathy, which is not something I usually expect from military brass. Young asks him if he calls himself a feminist and he says, with speed and emphasis, “Yes. Proudly.”

I wish we had generals like him in the US military.

H/t Stewart

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


Aug 16th, 2014 8:19 am | By

Christie Aschwanden in the NY Times a few days ago on sexual harassment in science.

She and some colleagues sent an online questionnaire to science writers.

We received responses from 502 writers, mostly women, and presented our results at M.I.T. in June during Solutions Summit 2014: Women in Science Writing, a conference funded by the National Association of Science Writers.

More than half of the female respondents said they weren’t taken seriously because of their gender, one in three had experienced delayed career advancement, and nearly half said they had not received credit for their ideas. Almost half said they had encountered flirtatious or sexual remarks, and one in five had experienced uninvited physical contact.

Obstacles, handicaps, impediments.

…our survey of writers grew out of well-publicized harassment accusations against a prominent male editor who was a mentor to many female writers. Those incidents led women to come forward with their stories of discrimination throughout the profession.

In academia, accusations of sexual harassment or assault are usually handled internally, Dr. Clancy says, and this can create powerful incentives to cover up bad behavior, especially among perpetrators with tenure and power. “I’ve heard too many stories about the professor who isn’t allowed to be in a room with X, Y and Z anymore,” she said. Sometimes perpetrators even benefit by getting out of dreaded teaching assignments while keeping their jobs.

Harassment among science writers spawned a hashtag, #ripplesofdoubt, to describe how harassment undermines women. Some women who had been passed over for jobs wondered if they had been rejected for their looks rather than their work. Others worried that they might not have attained their positions on merit.

You see that’s not the way to achieve equality. Creating extra obstacles for one kind of person doesn’t promote equality.

Whether harassment or discrimination takes place at a field site in Costa Rica or in a conference room, the problem will not be solved with new rules archived on unread websites. The responsibility for pushing back should not rest solely with the victims. Solutions require a change of culture that can happen only from within.

It will take chief executives, department heads, laboratory directors, professors, publishers and editors in chief to take a stand and say: Not on my watch. I don’t care if you’re my friend or my favorite colleague; we don’t treat women like that.

I would like to see that happen more, and then more again.

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

What has no name cannot be acknowledged or shared

Aug 16th, 2014 7:55 am | By

Jessica Valenti talked to Rebecca Solnit a few weeks ago. She asked Solnit how she felt about being seen as the coiner of “mansplaining.”

A really smart young woman changed my mind about it. I used to be ambivalent, worrying primarily about typecasting men with the term. (I have spent most of my life tiptoeing around the delicate sensibilities of men, though of course the book Men Explain Things to Me is what happens when I set that exhausting, doomed project aside.) Then in March a PhD candidate said to me, No, you need to look at how much we needed this word, how this word let us describe an experience every woman has but we didn’t have language for.

And that’s something I’m really interested in: naming experience and how what has no name cannot be acknowledged or shared. Words are power. So if this word allowed us to talk about something that goes on all the time, then I’m really glad it exists and slightly amazed that not only have I contributed about a million published words to the conversation but maybe, indirectly, one new word.

(Note that the fact that every woman has the experience does not mean that every man provides the experience. Yesallwomen but notallmen.) (That’s me tiptoeing around the delicate sensibilities of men, because there is already some notallmenning in the comments on an earlier post about Solnit.)

So does it still go on? Why yes, yes it does.

Social media are to mansplainers what dogs are to fleas, and this recent feminist conversation has brought them out in droves. I mean, guys explain ridiculous things to me like that the Louisiana Purchase gave the United States a Pacific Coast. But more than anything since I wrote Men Explain Things to Me, they’ve explained women’s experience to me and other women. With this explosive new conversation since the Isla Vista murders, there’s been a dramatic uptick in guys mansplaining feminism and women’s experience or just denying that we need feminism and we actually had those experiences.

If there were awards to be handed out, one might go to the man who told me and a woman friend that 1) women actually like all those catcalls 2) as a man who’s spent time in men’s-only locker rooms, he knows men don’t actually speak to women that way. So we like street harassment, but that doesn’t actually exist, because we’re just crazy that way, us subjective, imaginative, unreliable ladies. Just ask an expert. Who is not a lady.

Isla Vista, yes…and there were so many people, including some women, saying that was nothing to do with misogyny no nothing at all. Solnit is optimistic though.

Right now I think that a lot of people get it and a lot of people are getting more engaged with the ideas, with the issues, and with the urgency of the situation. I feel like I’ve been waiting all my life for women to be talking the way we are right now, and that many men have joined in the conversation or support from the sidelines or get it is magnificent and inspiriting. (And then, yeah, those other guys. “Not all men”.)

Yes but…I could have sworn women had already been talking the way we are right now, and that many men had joined in. So I don’t really find it magnificent and inspiriting, because we seem to keep having to talk this way over and over and over again forever. We don’t seem to get to move on to a new, better stage.

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

Even male experts couldn’t penetrate the fortress of their smugness

Aug 15th, 2014 6:14 pm | By

From Rebecca Solnit’s essay (which later became a book) “Men Explain Things to Me”:

Every woman knows what I’m talking about. It’s the presumption that makes it hard, at times, for any woman in any field; that keeps women from speaking up and from being heard when they dare; that crushes young women into silence by indicating, the way harassment on the street does, that this is not their world. It trains us in self-doubt and self-limitation just as it exercises men’s unsupported overconfidence.

I wouldn’t be surprised if part of the trajectory of American politics since 2001 was shaped by, say, the inability to hear Coleen Rowley, the FBI woman who issued those early warnings about al-Qaeda, and it was certainly shaped by a Bush administration to which you couldn’t tell anything, including that Iraq had no links to al-Qaeda and no WMDs, or that the war was not going to be a “cakewalk.” (Even male experts couldn’t penetrate the fortress of their smugness.)

Arrogance might have had something to do with the war, but this syndrome is a war that nearly every woman faces every day, a war within herself too, a belief in her superfluity, an invitation to silence, one from which a fairly nice career as a writer (with a lot of research and facts correctly deployed) has not entirely freed me. After all, there was a moment there when I was willing to let Mr. Important and his overweening confidence bowl over my more shaky certainty.

Never be a person you can’t tell anything. Never be that person.

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