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.

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.

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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.

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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.)

Every time

Nov 28th, 2012 3:15 pm | By

Travel anxiety. I always. I always think I’ll forget everything, and miss the bus, and miss the plane, and miss the other plane, and leave all my stuff on the plane, and get sucked into the engines.

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

Sorrowing bishops

Nov 28th, 2012 11:13 am | By

The Irish bishops have spoken up. Just as they spoke up when all that terrible stuff about child rape by priests and the moving of child-raping priests from job to job instead of reporting them to the law was coming to light despite decades of effort to keep it hidden. They say the same thing now as they said then. They’re very very very sad.

The death of Mrs. Savita Halappanavar and her unborn child in University Hospital Galway on the 28 October last was a devastating personal tragedy for her husband and family. It has stunned our country. We share the anguish and sorrow expressed by so many at the tragic loss of a mother and her baby in these circumstances and we express our sympathy to the family of Mrs. Halappanavar and all those affected by these events.

See? They’re saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad. Now will everybody please shut up and leave them alone?

But first let them explain. It wasn’t their fault. They have it right and the people who think University Hospital Galway should have evacuated Savita Halappanavar’s uterus at once instead of waiting three days until the fetal heart stopped – those people have it wrong.

In light of the widespread discussion following the tragic death of Mrs Halappanavar and her unborn baby, we wish to reaffirm some aspects of Catholic moral teaching. These were set out in our recently published Day for Life message on 7 October last, available on

- The Catholic Church has never taught that the life of a child in the womb should be preferred to that of a mother. By virtue of their common humanity, a mother and her unborn baby are both sacred with an equal right to life.

And if the “baby” happens through some strange accident to be inside the mother and in the process of dying because the mother is miscarrying – then that “equal right to life” means the doctors just have to fold their hands and do nothing while infection rages, until the “baby” no longer has a heartbeat.

- Whereas abortion is the direct and intentional destruction of an unborn baby and is gravely immoral in all circumstances, this is different from medical treatments which do not directly and intentionally seek to end the life of the unborn baby. Current law and medical guidelines in Ireland allow nurses and doctors in Irish hospitals to apply this vital distinction in practice while upholding the equal right to life of both a mother and her unborn baby.

Right. That’s what they did. So Savita Halappanavar is dead. She’s another sacrifice on the altar of Catholic “moral” conceit and presumption and interference.

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

When Carrie met Rocket

Nov 27th, 2012 3:19 pm | By

Amy did an interview of Carrie Poppy about Women in Secularism. There are a lot of pictures taken by Amy so you can see with your own eyes how horribly bullied Carrie is being by the dreaded FTBullies who of course include the Skepchicks and also Rocket. Rocket is being super mean and Carrie is just crushed.

Have you been influenced by any women in the secular or skeptic communities? If so, who and why were they influential?

I don’t agree with everything anyone says (you know, because I’m a human with a unique brain that’s not exactly like anyone else’s brain), but I’ve at various times been moved by Eugenie Scott’s courageous and exhausting work fighting anti-science in the classroom, Sharon Hill’s tireless skeptical gumshoe work, Sadie Crabtree’s amazing talk at TAM9 wherein she spoke on effective skeptical outreach, Rebecca Watson’s humor and insight, Claire Knowlton’s disarmingly honest and challenging work on Selfish Blogger (where she calls on people to give up as much money and time as they can to those in need, on humanist grounds) and you, Amy Davis Roth, who once said to me “the only reason to get into skepticism is to help people.” Hear hear.

There are also countless women involved locally who work, often thanklessly, out of the spotlight, and are always inspirations. Some examples I see every day are Stacy Kennedy, Wendy Hughes, Taylor Proctor, Alice Pine, Louise Monaco, and on and on.

Stacy and Alice! I have been influenced by them too likewise.

Read it all and check out Rocket being a bully.

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

Exploding gifts from god

Nov 27th, 2012 2:51 pm | By

Dr Jen Gunter tells us about ectopic pregnancies and Catholic medical “ethics.”

A pregnancy has trophoblastic tissue, which is aggressive, like cancer, because the walls of the uterus are thick. The walls of the fallopian tube, on the other hand, are thin. Alert readers can tell where this is going.

These mini Ms. Pacman-like trophoblasts chew up the relatively flimsy fallopian tube tissue, damage blood vessels, and catastrophic bleeding ensues. The pregnancy can literally blow a hole in the side of the fallopian tube.

This is how women die from ectopic pregnancies, they bleed to death. Although thankfully this is very uncommon as we have ultrasounds that identifies these pregnancies very early on, surgery or medication to treat them, and blood transfusions just in case.

The recommended treatment for an ectopic pregnancy is surgical removal or systemic methotrexate (a cancer drug that kills the rapidly dividing trophoblasts, which are in many ways like cancer cells). According to the latest Cochrane review (Interventions for tubal ectopic pregnancy, 2009) there is insufficient data to support expectant management, i.e. watch and wait is not standard of care.

But the Catholic church doesn’t care what is standard of care. It cares about the sacred trophoblasts.

Yes, some Catholic ethicists argue that the catholic “Directives” preclude physicians at Catholic hospitals from managing ectopic pregnancies in a  way that involves direct action on the embryo. So a woman can have her whole tube removed (an unnecessary procedure that could reduce her future fertility), but she can not have the pregnancy plucked out (as is done with the standard therapy, a salpingostomy, where a small incision is made in the tube and the pregnancy removed) and she most certainly could not have the methotrexate.

How common is this practice? Well, it is pretty sad that someone had to study it. According to a study from 2011 by Foster e. al., (Womens Health Issues, 2011) some Catholic hospitals refuse to offer methotrexate (three in this study of 16 hospitals). The lack of methotrexate resulted in changes in therapy, transferring patients to other facilities, and even administering it surreptitiously. All of these expose women to unnecessary risks, expense and are, quite frankly, wrong.

I’m glad to hear it’s only 3 out of 16. I hope that number is representative. It ought, however to be zero.

It amazes me that with ectopic pregnancy, such a clear-cut case of life of the mother with therapies well supported in the literature, that any physician or hospital could have any other moral or ethical agenda than delivering the right medical care.

Putting religious beliefs ahead of urgent/emergent medical care in never right and I shudder to think how the management of ectopic pregnancies would change should a national personhood amendment pass.

It’s a stinking outrage, and I’m doing what I can to get it on the agenda of secular and atheist and humanist organizations.





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


Nov 27th, 2012 11:21 am | By

Hey, those Florida Humanists feeding the homeless? There are parts of Florida that frown on that kind of thing. And by “frown on” I mean “criminalize.” Orlando for example.

Over the past week, twelve members of food activist group Food Not Bombs have been arrested in Orlando for giving free food to groups of homeless people in a downtown park. They were acting in defiance of a controversial city ordinance that mandates permits for groups distributing food to large groups in parks within two miles of City Hall. Each group is allowed only two permits per park per year; Food Not Bombs has already exceeded their limit. They set up their meatless buffet in Lake Eola knowing that they would likely be arrested as a result.

Goddam class warriors.

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

Florida Humanists help the hungry

Nov 27th, 2012 9:36 am | By

From the Humanists of Florida:

Lakeland, Florida

Humanists Help the Hungry

Today, on Giving Tuesday, the Humanists of Florida Association (HFA) is proud to announce its new initiative: Humanists Helping the Hungry. The HFA is seeking donations to support Secular Humanists throughout Florida who are in financial need. This fund will go towards providing the basics, especially food, to those who need it most.Donations are tax deductible.   We will be providing gift cards from local supermarkets for those that qualify for the program.  Applications are available in the link below.

Please consider giving $100, or about the cost of what your family would spend on a nice dinner. It is a most humanistic way to say “thank you” for your own well-being.

Stand by your fellow Secular Humanists in Florida and donate to make a difference in their lives.

To donate to the fund on-line:

To donate to the fund by check:
Make it out to the Humanists of Florida and designate it for “HHH”
Send to the HFA at PO Box 5072, Lakeland, FL 33807.

To make an inquiry about receiving a grant for yourself or another:

For more information, please contact
EllenBeth Wachs, President
at or 321-300-6545.


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

Anyone else reckon?

Nov 26th, 2012 5:13 pm | By

Now that’s really funny. The things people dream up!

Anyone else reckon @CarriePoppyYES resigned from #JREF because of the abuse from #FTBullies?


What abuse? And if there were any abuse, why would it prompt Carrie to resign from JREF? It would be like resigning from your job at NASA because someone tailgated you on the Evergreen Point bridge. It would be like quitting a job at The Mayo Clinic because the counter person got your order mixed up at an Albuquerque McDonalds. It would be random, dude.

It’s like the #FTBullies hijacking all over again. Let’s just blame #FTBullies for everything – the weather, food we don’t like, bad movies, traffic, Rush Limbaugh, everything.

Also – seriously – Carrie hasn’t had any “abuse” from Freethought bloggers. Really.


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

Petrified to go to school

Nov 26th, 2012 4:57 pm | By

In October Archbishop William Lori explained how good the church had been about the whole thing and how nicely it co-operated with the police and how all right everything was really so everybody please dig deep and put a lot of money in the plate.

The archdiocese conducted its own investigation to identify other possible victims and was in regular contact with the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s office, sharing information that it learned during the course of its investigation. Merzbacher was convicted in June 1995 and sentenced to four life terms plus 10 years. Plaintiffs filed civil claims against Merzbacher, the Catholic Community School, and the archdiocese in 1994. Those claims were dismissed by the courts.

Because of course the archdiocese was above reproach, always, no matter howmuch.

Surprisingly, readers are allowed to comment there. The comments are blistering.

JeanOctober 20, 2012 at 14:00 PM

The A of B did not work with the Baltimore Police Department on this case. Information was given to the AofB from a victim and was kept, never shown to the police and when the victim requested the info back…all of a sudden it can’t be found? Coincidence? I think not.

Christina Kovacs Stalnaker October 20, 2012 at 14:19 PM

Once again, these articles attempt to rewrite the history of terror at the Catholic Community Middle School of South Baltimore. The fact remains that the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Sister Eileen Weisman, as well as Father Herbert Derwart knew of the abuse during Merzbacher’s employment. We know that they were informed by a teacher during my three years in that torture chamber from 1972 to 1975. The teacher resigned after being told to remain silent. As well, Sister Eileen, herself, witnessed instances of rape and abuse with her own eyes. Students were threatened with sexual abuse, beatings, guns, and knives, along with being put into Shepherd Pratt for uttering one word. Also, why did it take eight years after the Merzbacher’s case to remove Sister Eileen as principal from the Cathedral School?

Katrina ArmstrongOctober 20, 2012 at 18:19 PM

The mere thought of the possibility of John Merzbacher being released from prison is outrageous. The notion that he would even deserve to be offered a plea bargain after the lives he has destroyed is ridiculous. We unfortunately seem to be living in a society where the perpetrators of such heinous crimes are obviously protected more than the victims. While I was not a sexually abused by him, John Merzbacher abused everyone he came in contact with…in one way or another. His demeaning daily comments to those who turned out to be his victims left me horrified and I was petrified to go to school.

Mary LewandowskiOctober 20, 2012 at 22:31 PM

It never ceases to amaze me how the Archdiocese of Baltimore continues to trivialize the trauma and abuse that occurred under their unGodly watch in the 1970′s. Children were tortured, raped, molested and verbally and emotionally abused every day while they allowed John Merzbacher to run the Catholic Community Middle School. They allowed the devil’s son to run their Catholic school and chose to turn their heads to the countless complaints, suspicions and even their own eye witness to his numerous criminal acts against children.

And more. It’s horrifying.

H/t AnneMarie



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