Notes and Comment Blog

The Salvation Army gives in

Mar 22nd, 2014 12:32 pm | By

Ok this is big. The Salvation Army caved on a religious discrimination case it had been fighting for years. I first read about it in Michelle Goldberg’s great book Kingdom Coming. Dan Arel reports at the Huffington Post:

In 2004 a group of 19 plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the Salvation Army. The group claimed that the organization, which is a registered evangelical church and charity organization in the United States, was using public taxpayer money to proselytize their evangelical religious beliefs, discriminate, and terminate employees based on religious beliefs.

Anne Lown, a former employee of the organization, felt that this alleged practice was wrong and complained to her management and was subsequently terminated. Lown, who is Jewish, along with the other plaintiffs, contacted the New York branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), alleging that their religious beliefs were often brought into question and that they were threatened with termination or simply fired.

Note the date – four years into the reign of George 2 and his “faith-based” backdoor theocracy (which Obama has unpardonably continued).

In 2010 a settlement was reached that barred the organization from proselytizing when working under a public contract, but the settlement denied any workplace discrimination and dismissed other “lesser” charges. The NYCLU appealed and continued to fight to address all the charges of violations of the U.S. Constitution.

This week the Salvation Army caved, and a new settlement has been reached, a settlement that upholds the separation of church and state and will no longer allow the organization to hold those they serve or those they employee to any religious standards while receiving taxpayer dollars. The organization will also pay $450,000 to two of the plaintiffs who were wrongfully terminated.

George W. Bush’s administration and their “faith-based initiative,” a program that has been continued under the Obama administration, made it very easy for organizations like the Salvation Army to receive taxpayer money for their services. Both administrations have consistently dodged questions about workplace-discrimination procedures at such organizations.

Well hoofuckingray about the new settlement and boooooooo Obama for dodging the questions.

For decades it’s been charged that the Salvation Army has hidden behind its religious charitable status to get away with such actions, but this new settlement finally says that regardless of their religious status, they can no longer use public funding for proselytizing and discrimination.

This is a major victory for groups like the ALCU, NYCLU, Americans United, and other secular groups fighting for the continued separation of church and state. In a statement on this week’s ruling, Americans United showed their continued support for religious freedom and secular values, saying:

Americans United has consistently opposed this type of taxpayer-funded religious discrimination. We’ve pointed out that sectarian groups are free to discriminate when they use privately raised funds for programs that are wholly church sponsored. But government money changed the equation.

We’ve also opposed proselytism in tax-supported programs. People in need should never be required to sit through a sermon in order to get fed.

Damn right.


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

The infinite table

Mar 22nd, 2014 12:13 pm | By

The Huffington Post reports that some creationists are demanding “equal time.”

Sure. Let’s do that with everything. There’s a documentary about the Holocaust? Give equal time to David Irving. PBS broadcasts Eyes on the Prize again? Give equal time to someone from the KKK. A documentary about the millions killed by Stalin? Give equal time to a Stalinist – if you can find one.

There’s a show about epidemics? Give equal time to people who think bacteria and viruses are a myth. A show about antibiotic resistance? Another opportunity for creationists!

Appearing on “The Janet Mefferd Show” on Thursday, Danny Faulkner of Answers In Genesis voiced his complaints about “Cosmos” and how the 13-episode series has described scientific theories, such as evolution, but has failed to shed light on dissenting creationist viewpoints. He said:

I was struck in the first episode where [Tyson] talked about science and how, you know, all ideas are discussed, you know, everything is up for discussion –- it’s all on the table — and I thought to myself, ‘No, consideration of special creation is definitely not open for discussion, it would seem.’

He meant the big table, the overall table, the table through time – during which “special creation” was discussed. A lot. Very much. For all the time until very recently. It’s generally off the table now because it’s been shown to be so thoroughly useless.


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

But by rhetoric and emotion

Mar 22nd, 2014 12:01 pm | By

Science deniers don’t like the new Cosmos series, Chris Mooney reports in Mother Jones.

Well of course they don’t. That’s because it doesn’t go

God made this.

Then God made this.

Then God made this.

[Repeat until it's time for the commercials]

Mooney gives somewhat thicker detail, such as the reaction to the second episode’s account of natural selection.

Over at the pro-”intelligent design” Discovery Institute, they’re not happy. Senior fellow David Klinghoffer writes that the latest Cosmos episode “[extrapolated] shamelessly, promiscuously from artificial selection (dogs from wolves) to minor stuff like the color of a polar bear’s fur to the development of the human eye.” In a much more elaborate attempted takedown, meanwhile, the institute’s Casey Luskin accuses Tyson and Cosmos of engaging in “attempts to persuade people of both evolutionary scientific views and larger materialistic evolutionary beliefs, not just by the force of the evidence, but by rhetoric and emotion, and especially by leaving out important contrary arguments and evidence.”

Like the ones that carried the day at the Kitzmiller trial??

Oh wait…

Thus far, Cosmos has referred to climate change in each of its two opening episodes, but has not gone into any depth on the matter. Perhaps that’s for a later episode. But in the meantime, it seems some conservatives are already bashing Tyson as a global warming proponent. Writing at the Media Research Center’s Newsbusters blog, Jeffrey Meyer critiques a recent Tyson appearance on Late Night With Seth Myers. “Meyers and deGrasse Tyson chose to take a cheap shot at religious people and claim they don’t believe in science i.e. liberal causes like global warming,” writes Meyer.

Yes, global warming is a liberal cause – we’re all out there with our heat lamps and torches, trying to warm the damn thing up. In our Birkenstocks.

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


Mar 22nd, 2014 10:26 am | By

One more for the files, via Iram Ramzan by way of Chris Moos on Facebook.

Embedded image permalink

Why the fuck not?

Why the fuck would I want to cover my whole body while I’m still alive?

I wouldn’t, nor should I.

Brothers! Why is it only sisters you tell this bullshit to?

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

We have strict laws

Mar 21st, 2014 4:54 pm | By

Uh oh, did somebody somewhere disturb the conventional wisdom? Quick! Hurry! Get someone to repeat the consoling fictions, before there’s a tear in the space-time continuum and everything falls off.

To the rescue: Caroline Kitchens in Time, with all the clichés piled up next to her keyboard ready to go.

There is no rape culture, there is only rape culture hysteria.

There we go; everyone can go home now.

Recently, rape culture theory has migrated from the lonely corners of the feminist blogosphere into the mainstream. In January, the White House asserted that we need to combat campus rape by “[changing] a culture of passivity and tolerance in this country, which too often allows this type of violence to persist.”

Tolerance for rape? Rape is a horrific crime and rapists are despised. We have strict laws that Americans want to see enforced. Though rape is certainly a serious problem, there’s no evidence that it’s considered a cultural norm. Twenty-first century America does not have a rape culture; what we have is an out-of-control lobby leading the public and our educational and political leaders down the wrong path.

Really? So the Steubenville case never happened? All rape cases are prosecuted? High school and college athletes never get away with sexual assault defined away as consensual sex regretted the next day? There’s never any questioning what the woman was wearing, where she was, how much she’d had to drink?

But now, rape culturalists are confronting a formidable critic that even they will find hard to dismiss.

RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) is America’s largest and most influential anti-sexual violence organization. It’s the leading voice for sexual assault victim advocacy. Indeed, rape culture activists routinely cite the authority of RAINN to make their case. But in RAINN’s recent recommendations to the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, it repudiates the rhetoric of the anti “rape culture” movement…

We know it does.

Good job, RAINN. Thanks a lot.

H/t Courtney

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

No, actually, it doesn’t

Mar 21st, 2014 4:26 pm | By

Dang…this is something I wouldn’t want to see if I were in the hospital, or visiting someone I liked who was in the hospital.

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

Trained in the Vatican

Mar 21st, 2014 4:00 pm | By

Isis reports on a colleague including sexist graphical abstracts with his papers.

The last one looks like this:

Graphical Abstract 4

Haha. So funny. So science.

A woman who is a scientist – Professor and Graduate Program Director at Johns Hopkins type woman who is a scientist – tweeted a criticism and he replied with “I wonder if you have been trained in the Vatican.”


Isis comments:

Why is this a problem? Because Professor Righetti is continuing to publish his hilarious graphical abstracts (see this month’s issue)  and I suspect it is but a matter of time before we get more titties. He is also on the editorial board of several journals (Electrophoresis, J. Chromatography, J. Capillary Electrophoresis, BioTechniques, Proteomics, Journal of Proteomics, and Proteomics Clinical Applications, according to his faculty page), including the journal with his hilarious graphical abstracts. He’s essentially using his leadership to be a huge creeper.  Worse, the leadership of the journal is letting it happen. It is impossible to consider submitting a paper to that journal without thinking that the associate editor (and perhaps his affiliates) see me as nothing more than a holder of coconuts. Nothing more than an object.

Have a helpful flow chart.

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

and i am not killing u

Mar 21st, 2014 2:11 pm | By

Update: Facebook finally took it down. Good. Now for all the rest of them.

Thanks to Udo for alerting us to this page.


Just to be clear.

And trigger warning again, because this is a horrifying photo.

I reported this photo with the text to Facebook.

ugand2Facebook looked at it; I know this because the response wasn’t instantaneous, as it was when I reported the whole page. Facebook looked at it, and sent the usual reply:

Thank you for taking the time to report something that you feel may violate our Community Standards. Reports like yours are an important part of making Facebook a safe and welcoming environment. We reviewed the photo you reported for containing graphic violence and found it doesn’t violate our Community Standards.

Yes, I “feel,” with all my squishy subjectivity, that that photo may violate Facebook’s Community Standards, and anyone else’s, apart from Nazis and members of WBC and the like. Yes, I do feel that that photo may violate Facebook’s Community Standards. But Facebook says it doesn’t. I would like to know why. I would like to know what the fuck is wrong with them.

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

Not all the fatalities are on construction sites

Mar 21st, 2014 11:43 am | By

Remember last fall Nick Cohen wrote about the appalling conditions for migrant workers in Qatar in the run-up to the World Cup? Like, How many more must die for Qatar’s World Cup?

Not all the fatalities are on construction sites. The combination of back-breaking work, nonexistent legal protections, intense heat and labour camps without air conditioning allows death to come in many guises. To give you a taste of its variety, the friends of Chirari Mahato went online to describe how he would work from 6am to 7pm. He would return to a hot, unventilated room he shared with 12 others. Because he died in his sleep, rather than on site, his employers would not accept that they had worked him to death. There are millions of workers like him around the Gulf.

And, Will Qatar’s World Cup be built on a graveyard?

Since I wrote about the rising piles of corpses in Qatar two weeks ago, Robert Booth of the Guardian published a fine investigation, which claimed that the World Cup could cost 4,000 lives if nothing is done.

And guess what; nothing has been done. This time it’s Business Insider reporting.

A report from the International Trade Union Confederation says 1,200 migrant workers from India and Nepal have died in Qatar since the country was awarded the 2022 World Cup.

The ITUC estimates that 4,000 migrant workers will die by the time the first game is played in 2022.

The report is in line with recent death numbers from the embassies of the two countries.

The Nepalese embassy in Qatar reported last month that 400 Nepalese workers had died working on World Cup projects since 2010. The Indian embassy reported that 500 Indian workers had died in Qatar since 2012.

But on the other side you have…the World Cup. What’s a few thousand foreign lives compared to that?

There are 1.4 million migrant workers in Qatar, the ITUC reports, many of whom are now tasked with building the infrastructure necessary to host a World Cup from scratch.

From the ITUC report:

“Whether the cause of death is labelled a work accidents, heart attack (brought on by the life threatening effects of heat stress) or diseases from squalid living conditions, the root cause is the same – working conditions.”

Workers at the Lusail City construction site told the Guardian that their bosses have withheld pay, forced them to work in 122-degree heat with no rest for food, and confiscated their passports to make sure they don’t leave the country.

Combine those complaints with squalid living conditions, and some are calling the situation in Qatar “modern day slavery.”

Hello, FIFA? People are watching.

there’s a new report from the Telegraph that says ex-FIFA vice president Jack Warner is being investigated by the FBI for taking a $2 million payment from a Qatari company shortly after the 2022 World Cup vote. The company in question is owned by a man who was given a lifetime ban from FIFA after being found guilty of bribery charges.

FIFA’s decision to hold the World Cup in Qatar was criticized from the beginning. In the three years since they won the right to host the event, Qatar has done little to change that widespread skepticism.




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

Community standards

Mar 21st, 2014 11:15 am | By

Another vile Facebook page that gets reported only for Facebook to reply that the page doesn’t violate community standards. Oh really? Despite the graphic photographs of mob violence?

Trigger warning, because of the graphic photographs.

The page is Uganda Youth Coalition Against Homosexuality.

It may be just one twisted person, spewing frothing worked-up hatred by the truckload, but it still doesn’t belong on Facebook.

ugandugand2That’s Facebook’s community standards?

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

You cheated, you lied

Mar 21st, 2014 10:20 am | By

One reason (one that most people are probably already aware of, at least intuitively) for adults not to model lying to children.

A new experiment is the first to show a connection between adult dishonesty and children’s behavior, with kids who have been lied to more likely to cheat and then to lie to cover up the transgression.

Not a big surprise, is it. Children take their cues from adults. Where else are they going to take them? Goldfish? They learn what to do from people who are older than they are.

So there’s one of those lab experiments, which seems fine as far as it goes but not necessarily all that relevant to more natural kinds of relationships.

The study was not designed to get at the reasons that children are more likely to lie when they have been lied to, but to demonstrate that the phenomenon can occur, Carver said.

What happens when trusted care-givers do the lying also remains an open research question. But Carver and Hays are still urging restraint. Even if it’s expedient for an adult to lie — to get cooperation through deception, for example, or to get children to control their emotions — it’s probably a bad idea in the long run.

That would include religion. Of course hardly anyone will take it that way, but it would. It would include all kinds of claims framed as certain when they’re not even close to certain.

H/t Dan Fincke.

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

Students singing

Mar 21st, 2014 9:29 am | By

NPR has a great story about an inspirational music teacher and what students get from her teaching. I’m not going to lie, I’m a sucker for stories like that.

Debra Kay Robinson Lindsay rehearses one more time with her Honors Chorus group before a concert for Music in Our Schools month, a national event to celebrate music and emphasize its importance in school curriculum.

(Students singing)

Parents beam and students eagerly share what they’ve learned from Mrs. Lindsay, an award-winning music educator, author and composer who has taught in Fairfax County public schools for 39 years.

Students: I’ve learned that the people who you see on television who are really good singers, you need to really work hard and you really need to want this if you want to end up like them . . . She’s taught us a lot of things, especially looking at her and also inhaling and exhaling at the right moment of a song . . . Mrs. Lindsay has taught me numerous things but the one I remember the most is just to believe in yourself, not to be afraid just because of what other people think of you, just go for it, go for your dream.

It’s the obverse of what I’ve been saying about modeling, in a way. There is some overlap – public performance, being looked at – but there is also difference. There’s more than just being looked at.

Although the arts are often targeted in school budget cuts, advocates like Lindsay point out that music instruction helps brain development and overall student achievement.

Debra Lindsay: We teach them experience, we work with them on writing, about what music is, understanding terminology, learning how to write about music, comparing and contrasting, learning how science and sound are related. It’s just not music, it is learning all around.

Lindsay invited her students to help give a training session at the Teaching and Learning 2014 conference in Washington, DC. It’s the first time most of them are performing publicly and while some admit they’re nervous, the performance is a hit and helps demonstrate Debra Lindsay’s teaching techniques.

So that will be a big thing in their lives, which is great.

And then…

Musician Bobby McFerrin is headlining the closing plenary at the Teaching and Learning conference.

McFerrin: And he’d march the whole class out to the front lawn and we’d sit under a tree and have a jam session.

(McFerrin singing)

Mixing his improvisational songs with stories about learning music, it doesn’t take long for McFarrin to ask the audience to get a bit closer.

McFerrin: Come sit on the stage if you want to, we can probably pull up some of these chairs and you can sit up here if you want to …

A couple dozen people move toward the stage; Some bravely join him in song, others ask questions. About 40 minutes in, he hands the mic to the youngest on stage – one of Debra Lindsay’s students:

Nelsa Tiemtore: My name is Nelsa, I’m from Lyles Crouch Traditional Academy, Virginia Public Schools.

McFerrin encourages Nelsa to sing. After some hesitation, she chooses her song.

(Nelsa, McFerrin singing)

How cool is that?!

I saw this story via a tweet by Ron Lindsay. He knows Debra Lindsay.



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

A spin on the Easter story

Mar 21st, 2014 9:16 am | By

Why did nobody think of it before? Get a homicide detective to investigate the Jesus story. Of course! Then even the small minority of people who are atheists will throw in the towel.

A New Jersey church will put a spin on the Easter story by bringing in a professional detective to examine Christ’s death and resurrection.

Homicide investigator J. Warner Wallace will utilize his “cold case investigation skills” to examine the historical circumstances surrounding Christianity’s sacred weekend in a four-week series that starts on Sunday at Liquid Church’s four locations.

“Cold case investigation skills” can investigate stories from 2000 years ago to determine the truth of elements of the story? I did not know that! Right then; let’s start with Euripides. Did Medea really kill her children?

“We know people’s faith rests on understanding if the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was real or not. What better way than to bring in a CSI detective and have him examine the biblical evidence available for a homicide investigation?” Tim Lucas, lead pastor of Liquid Church said in a statement.

The biblical evidence? Words in a book count as evidence of more than the fact that this story has been told?

A self-proclaimed “angry atheist” for 35 years, Wallace shares on his website that he enjoyed frequently debating his Christian friends, and admits that he was “hostile to Christianity and largely dismissive of Christians.”

But once Wallace began to use the same tools he used in the field to examine Christianity, he “found the evidence for Christianity to be as convincing as any cold case I’d ever investigated.”

Uh oh. Maybe some of his cases should be re-opened.

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

Interview with Rebecca Goldstein on Plato at the Googleplex, philosophy for the public, and everything

Mar 20th, 2014 5:20 pm | By

OB: As a fan of philosophy I’ve been delighted to see the rave reviews for Plato at the Googleplex in major media – the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, Slate, NPR, The Atlantic. This has to be a good thing: a sign that philosophy can be made interesting to the reading public, and itself a step to getting more people interested in philosophy. It’s all the more gratifying because part of your point, as I understand it, is to show readers that philosophy has value and has not been rendered superfluous by science. Can you tell us a little about why philosophy does indeed have value?

RG: I’ve been delighted to see the rave reviews, too.

Okay, why is philosophy of value?  The short answer is that it addresses, in a systematic and progress-making way, questions of deep concern to everyone.  There are of course, technical, narrow philosophical questions of concern to only professional philosophers, and I don’t mean to disparage them, since I’ve spent a good part of my life on them. But what I’m speaking about here are problems that just about all of us confront in virtue of our being thinking humans: What—if anything— are our lives about?  Even if they’re not really about anything—goodbye to the old monotheistic usurpation of this question—can we find answers that will allow us to maximize our own flourishing and—of equal if not greater importance—reasons to care about the flourishing of others?  (Caring about ourselves comes kind of naturally to us.) Philosophy has been addressing such questions and making significant, if invisible, progress with them almost ever since there’s been philosophy.

Elaboration on short answer: Philosophy emerged in the ancient Greek world contemporaneously (800-200 BCE) with the emergence of the major religious and spiritual traditions that have survived into our day: Confucianism, Daoism, Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, and the Abrahamic religion.  Confucius, the Buddha, Ezekiel, and Pythagoras were all contemporaries of each other. Obviously there was some profound existential self-questioning going on during this period, in all the parts of the world that had attained a certain degree of political organization and stability (all the areas involved in this normative ferment minted coins, as the anarchist anthropologist David Graeber points out in his Debt: The First 5,000 Years) and thus met basic survival needs (all the areas involved had a high energy-consumption).  So it seems that once basic survival wasn’t continuously occupying the mind, questions about putting our survival to some kind of meaningful purpose began to emerge. I like to put these questions in terms of “mattering.”  Do we matter? Is there something we have to do or be in order to achieve mattering, or is mattering something that we’re born into?

Greek philosophy didn’t address these questions in religious/spiritual terms, but rather in human, secular terms, applying reason to problems of mattering.  And systematically applying reason as opposed to appealing to dogma, so-called revelation, and authority, it’s the only one of the normative systems that emerged during that ancient age to have actually made progress.  I have, in the imaginary dialogues I scatter throughout the book,, Plato being amazed by how far he’s been left behind—not just scientifically and technologically, but philosophically, ethically and politically—by the field that he helped create.

Because of the failure of religion to offer satisfying answers to an increasing number of people, it’s time for philosophy to address forcefully these questions that everybody is wondering about.  Our society is falling back increasingly on rampant consumerism and self-promoting social media as a way for people to feel that their lives matter—self-centered means of numbing the questions of mattering. And given the self-centeredness of the kind of conclusions we’re gravitating toward, it’s no wonder that issues of social justice are not at the center of our attention. Our culture has relapsed back into the kind of self-aggrandizing, self-glorifying answers that the Athenians had presumed, which had Socrates railing against them until he got so annoying that they killed him.

OB: It’s a truism of sorts that people do philosophy all the time, it’s just that they do it badly. Would you say that’s one of the themes of Plato at the Googleplex? Are Roy McCoy and Dr. David Shoket and the rest doing philosophy but doing it badly? Or are they doing something entirely different, which they would do better if they had some education in philosophy?

RG: If forced to choose, I’d say they’re not even doing philosophy badly, but rather seeking to foreclose the very possibility of doing philosophy.  Of course, they put forth arguments—bad arguments—for this foreclosing, and one might want to count these bad arguments against the very possibility of philosophy as engaging in philosophy—really bad philosophy, because internally incoherent: using philosophical arguments to argue for the futility of all philosophical arguments.  My character Roy McCoy would foreclose philosophy by appealing to religion as answering all the questions, while my character Dr. Shoket, would foreclose philosophy by appealing to science as answering all the questions. Both are tone-deaf to the (bad) philosophy they’re putting forth.

OB: It’s a good moment for public education via mass media, with Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s remake of Cosmos airing. I think it’s quite apt that your book is making a stir at the same time. But Carl Sagan was frowned on and even sneered at for doing so much public outreach. It’s well known that academics tend to think popularization is infra dig. Is that still true? Do you ever get the hairy eyeball for writing novels and accessible books about philosophy?

RG: How do I even begin to tell that sad story? I think it’s particularly egregious when it’s philosophers who are doing the sneering.  Almost everybody thinks about philosophy, even if they don’t realize it’s philosophy and even if they have no sense of the difficulty of the problems, the array of possible answers.  If philosophers have special expertise here, if through their natural talents and their training, they can shed some light on the questions that perplex people not trained as they are, then they damn well ought to do it.   Yes, we analytic philosophers love precision, and yes the best philosophical thinking demands a precision that lost on—that loses—most non-philosophers.  But I think that a certain compromise can and should be struck between absolute precision and general accessibility.  Scientists who write for popular audiences have brilliantly struck such compromises..  Why can’t philosophers? Well, I think one reason is that philosophers are more insecure to speak accessibly because non-philosophers are skeptical that philosophers have any special expertise.  After all, all people—not just philosophers—have attitudes and points of view on various philosophical questions, and they rather resent being told that there are professionals who can think about these things better.  So philosophers feel a little more cautious about letting down their technical guard lest the general public doesn’t recognize their special credentials.  It’s the fact that philosophy is of general interest that, paradoxically, keeps philosophers from wanting to speak in a way that’s accessible to the general public.

OB: I must say, I see the MacArthur grant as a glorious vindication of doing the kind of thing you do; of doing academic philosophy and literary writing. Has it made it easier for you to combine things any old way you want to?

RG: The MacArthur grant came to me when I was in career-despair, feeling both spurned by the community of philosophers for being a novelist and cold-shouldered by the literary community for being a philosopher. I was actively considering a third career, one which would have involved educating young children.  The MacArthur gave me encouragement to continue with my experiments in writing about philosophy in non-academic ways. I’ve  always felt that playfulness is essential to good thinking, and so that’s always been involved in my experiments, the non-fiction and the fiction.  I have my Plato talk a great deal about the importance of play in thinking.

OB: What about Plato himself? Would he be pleased to see A C Grayling on the Colbert Report? Or would he think it was far too vulgar to mix up philosophy and television. In the Protagoras, Socrates seems down on the very idea of trying to teach arête, and perhaps anything else that’s not purely how-to. Do you think Plato loaded the dice against the sophists? Or was he making a good point about the marketing of canned wisdom?

RG: I’m going to answer your question first for Socrates and then for Plato. Socrates plied his trade in the agora, the Athenian marketplace, and he was a sly old fox, willing to use all kinds of tricks to try and wake his fellow Athenians out of their habitual ways of thinking and acting.  Now Plato went and created the Academy, separating himself from the non-philosophical populace.   Perhaps, after the trial and execution of Socrates, carried out by the restored Athenian democracy, he just threw up his hands at trying to figure out ways of speaking to the general population. But maybe not.  After all, he created the dialogues, which were read by the general population. The dialogues are great art and they’re often extremely entertaining, even hilarious—to us, who live 2400 years later. How much more  entertaining they must have been to his contemporaries, who got all the in-jokes, and knew about the real-life characters he peoples his dialogues with.  And it was Plato who gives us, in the dialogues, that sly old fox Socrates.

OB: I encounter a lot of people who have an annoyingly philistine attitude to philosophy, claiming that it’s just a lot of useless pretentious verbiage. I urge various titles on them in hopes they will learn better. Do you have any favorites for this purpose?

RG: Ah, Ophelia, you and I probably encounter many of the same people.  I would say Spinoza’s Ethics, though the book is almost impenetrable without a good background or teacher.  But that book probably did more to bring about the European Enlightenment than any other single work, as beautifully demonstrated by Jonathan Israel’s Radical Enlightenment, which I also enthusiastically recommend to those who think philosophy does nothing.

Here is the thing about philosophical progress: it changes what we take to be “intuitively” obvious, and this change covers up the tracks of the laborious arguments that preceded the changes.  We don’t see these changes, because we see with them.

OB: Even worse than that, I think, are the people who think Sam Harris wrote a revolutionary book on moral philosophy, and one that has made all other books on moral philosophy pointless. Do you ever encounter such people, and if so, what do you say to show them their error?

RG: No, I’ve never encountered such people. But I would say to anybody who thinks that all the problems in philosophy can be translated into empirically verifiable answers—whether it be a Lawrence Krauss thinking that physics is rendering philosophy obsolete or a Sam Harris thinking that neuroscience is rendering moral philosophy obsolete—that it takes an awful lot of philosophy—philosophy of science in the first case, moral philosophy in the second—even to demonstrate the relevance of these empirical sciences.

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

El salvador

Mar 20th, 2014 4:49 pm | By

Hey who knew, god has a Facebook page – or rather, God, since if there’s a Facebook page, the person behind it must be a person, i.e. God.

So God has a Facebook page.

It’s pretty funny.

Here’s another one.

Riley Robertson's photo.

Let me save you

From what I’m going to do to you if you don’t worship me.

It’s having some innocent fun with Fred Phelps, naturally.

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

A big hand for god

Mar 20th, 2014 4:44 pm | By

Just this onnnnnnnnnnnne more thing.

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

No significant workplace protections

Mar 20th, 2014 4:41 pm | By

Last year New York state did a little regulating of the modeling industry. Good.

The New York State Legislature approved a measure Wednesday night that would recognize fashion models under the age of 18 as child performers for print and runway work, a step that has the potential, if signed into law, to alter not only hiring practices in the fashion industry, but also the overall look of models appearing at Fashion Week.

As it stands, the majority of models start their careers well under 18, with some young women appearing in runway shows when they are 13 or 14. Reacting to concerns about the health and well-being of such young models, the Council of Fashion Designers of America has repeatedly urged its members to set a minimum age of 16 for runway models. Though most designers have complied, there are still examples of extremely young models on New York runways, and no significant workplace protections for those under 18.

Never mind health and well-being; they get glamour!

“There is tremendous pressure on girls who are still in high school,” said Sara Ziff, a former model who started an advocacy group called the Model Alliance, which worked with legislators on the proposed changes to child labor laws. “I know firsthand how models can be pressured to forgo their education and sometimes are put on the spot to take photos that may be age inappropriate.”

But it’s such a dream job. If they can be models, who cares about their education?

“This is the day that modeling moved from being a girls’ profession to a women’s profession,” said Susan Scafidi, the academic director of the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham University. “There is no doubt models who have started at 14 have gone on to great careers, but it’s just too young to be subjected to this industry.”

Wait; stop right there. That thing she said is one reason so many girls see this as a career plan. It implies that it’s common for models to have great careers, but that’s like implying it’s common for aspiring actors to have great careers. Most don’t. The glamour industries get way more aspirants than there are great careers for them. People should be cluing these girls in.

Ms. Ziff also said she suspected that designers will be less inclined to hire young models. “I don’t think that would be such a bad thing,” she said. “Designers are marketing their clothes to adults, so I think that would be appropriate.”

Modeling agencies, which have for decades resisted attempts to regulate ages, are likely to disagree to some extent. But complaints about the standards of beauty being set by their industries in regard to weight, race and age have prompted many prominent agents and designers to advocate some form of protection for models.

How about a union?

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

Guest post: It’s really not a great job

Mar 20th, 2014 1:50 pm | By

Originally a comment by Jen B Phillips on You oughta be in pictures, you oughta be a star.

Suppose she’s bubbling over with excitement about her future educational plans, and one of the guests tells her, “You’re so pretty – you should go into modeling!”

Something very close to that scenario happened to me more than once. It’s vexing.

I thought the main point of Ophelia’s original post was that gendered limitations (through marketing) on toy choices fail to present girls with the full range of career possibilities that is more readily available to boys. I think this is dead on.

I have tried to get caught up on this in the other comment threads, but I’m probably still missing a lot. I think it’s safe to say that most of the 30% of girls who aspire to become models when they grow up are basing that opinion on how fun it is to play dress-up, and are not fully informed about the life of a professional model. I think it’s also true that for *some* girls or women with this particular career goal, it is a way to gain validation through the marketability of conventional beauty and thinness.

I had some minuscule amount of success as a model as a young woman, on the runway here and there and in regional department store flyers, greeting cards, etc. I earned enough to pay rent and buy my (used) textbooks for a few years of college. It was occasionally fun, but rarely something I found rewarding–that is, I don’t recall thinking ‘hey, that was a good day’s work, standing on that fake boat deck for 4 hours’ or ‘Boy, I’m really proud of the way I wore that Anne Klein outfit!’. Rather than being affirming or validating, having agents, stylists, photographers and clothing vendors fussing over my face, body, or posture and treating me like a living wax work was quite dehumanizing. The agency representing me indicated that I needed a lot of ‘work’ (boobs, nose, lips) if I wanted to take it to the next level. I didn’t.

It’s really not a great job. The parameters defining its existence are pretty crappy ones, and the reasons for wanting to get into and stay in it can be unhealthy. I don’t think it maligns the integrity or intelligence of models to point that out.

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

You oughta be in pictures, you oughta be a star

Mar 20th, 2014 12:18 pm | By

Look at it this way. Suppose you have a young daughter, or niece, or friend’s daughter whom you’re close to. Suppose you’re at a gathering with her and a bunch of people. Suppose she just won a math prize, or a scholarship, or a literary prize. Suppose she’s bubbling over with excitement about her future educational plans, and one of the guests tells her, “You’re so pretty – you should go into modeling!”

Would you find that insulting? I certainly would. Why? Well first of all it’s a diversion from what she’s talking about and planning – but it’s more than that. Why?

But maybe you wouldn’t find it insulting. Maybe you would suggest it yourself. If so, why?

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

Depraved heart

Mar 20th, 2014 11:29 am | By

ProPublica reports on a terrifying prosecution in Mississippi.

Rennie Gibbs’s daughter, Samiya, was a month premature when she simultaneously entered the world and left it, never taking a breath. To experts who later examined the medical record, the stillborn infant’s most likely cause of death was also the most obvious: the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck.

But within days of Samiya’s delivery in November 2006, Steven Hayne, Mississippi’s de facto medical examiner at the time, came to a different conclusion. Autopsy tests had turned up traces of a cocaine byproduct in Samiya’s blood, and Hayne declared her death a homicide, caused by “cocaine toxicity.”

In early 2007, a Lowndes County grand jury indicted Gibbs, a 16-year-old black teen, for “depraved heart murder” — defined under Mississippi law as an act “eminently dangerous to others…regardless of human life.” By smoking crack during her pregnancy, the indictment said, Gibbs had “unlawfully, willfully, and feloniously” caused the death of her baby. The maximum sentence: life in prison.

Seven years and much legal wrangling later, Gibbs could finally go on trial this spring — part of a wave of “fetal harm” cases across the country in recent years that pit the rights of the mother against what lawmakers, health care workers, prosecutors, judges, jurors, and others view as the rights of the unborn child.

Sometimes the level of hatred for women just scares me into silence.



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