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.

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.)

Why it’s a bad idea to snip your infant’s penis at home

Nov 26th, 2012 3:55 pm | By

Because if you botch it he could bleed to death, that’s why.

A four-week-old boy “bled to death” after a home circumcision carried out by a nurse, a court has heard.

Goodluck Caubergs died the day after nurse Grace Adeleye carried out the procedure without anaesthetic, Manchester Crown Court was told.

Mrs Adeleye, of Sarnia Court, Salford, was paid £100 to do the operation as Goodluck’s parents did not know the procedure was available on the NHS.

It is alleged the defendant, who is also a midwife, left a “ragged” wound that bled and her post-operative care was inadequate.

All that for a procedure that isn’t medically necessary in the first place.

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

That’s an order?

Nov 26th, 2012 12:50 pm | By

Speaking of the…oddities of the Catholic church, there’s one order in Australia in which 70% of the bros are suspected of child abuse. Seventy percent.

Up to 200 victims have sought compensation from the St John of God order  after alleging they had been abused in special schools and homes run by the  brothers in NSW, Victoria and New Zealand.

Last week a Melbourne inquiry into child abuse heard allegations that  Brothers had drugged and pack-raped boys at their operations in Victoria.

Claims were also made that two boys had allegedly been beaten so badly they  were thought to have died but their deaths had not been reported to  authorities.

And Fairfax Media has obtained documents revealing that in the 1960s and  1970s dozens of boys were brutally assaulted at Kendall Grange, the order’s school for mentally and physically impaired boys at Morisset on the NSW central  coast.

Michelle Mulvihill is a psychologist who was employed by the order to meet victims.

Dr Mulvihill, who is based in Sydney, worked with the order for nine years  from 1998, sitting in on meetings involving negotiators from the order and 150  victims in NSW, Victoria and New Zealand.

But she says she quit the job in 2007, fearing that suspected paedophile  Brothers still wielded too much power in the order and were interfering with  victims’ compensation and treatment.

On Sunday she described the order as hosting Brothers who were responsible  for “the worst examples of child abuse I have ever heard of” and said of the 40  to 50 Brothers who had been in the order around the time she was involved, about  75 per cent had been the subject of allegations.

Another scene out of nightmares.

H/t Ian MacDougall.



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

Religion v health

Nov 26th, 2012 11:46 am | By

Tomorrow in Oxford – a panel discussion on circumcision. The event is organised by Oxford Atheists, Secularists and Humanists.


John Dalton: John Dalton is the lead researcher at NORM-UK, whose mission statement is, “To advance the education of the public in all matters relating to circumcision and other forms of surgical alteration of the genitals, including alternative treatments and offering information and advice on such matters.” The organisation has a very informative website at . Mr Dalton will speak about Principles of Consent and Autonomy in Relation to Circumcision.

Dr Antony Lempert: Dr Lempert is chair of the Secular Medical Forum, “Our main objective is to limit the harm done to patients by the imposition of other people’s religious views on them. We seek to present a secular opinion on present-day medical and health care practices throughout the UK.” Dr Lempert will present the medical case against circumcision, “The Secular Medical Forum believes that genital surgery (such as male circumcision) should only ever be performed on children where there are compelling medical indications.”

Rabbi Eli Brackman: Rabbi Eli Brackman is Oxford University’s Rabbi. Rabbi Eli’s blog at his frequent speakers, events and discussion groups, and his (unusual amongst non students in Oxford) ability to use Facebook, have very much made him a recognisable feature of the wider Oxford scene. Though the majority of Oxford’s circumcisions are carried out by Muslim practitioners, Judaism is the faith most closely associated with circumcision and is also most likely to suffer persecution and stigma.

Brian Earp: Brian Earp is an Oxford Philosopher, Psychologist and Ethicist, who writes for the Practical Ethics blog, including posts about circumcision.  Brian Earp can also be found on YouTube, challenging Sam Harris and US Ethics Professors, as well as impressive musical theatre performances.

I would go to that if I could.

Update: more information on the event’s Facebook page.

Tuesday 27th November, at 7.30pm. Exeter College, Saskatchewan Room

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

How the Catholic church understands transparency

Nov 25th, 2012 3:54 pm | By

The jaw drops.

The Catholic-school teacher had a pre-teen student pinned to the ground in his Baltimore classroom, the girl’s blouse open and her chest exposed when the doorknob suddenly turned and the school principal — a nun — burst in.

The screaming girl thought she was about to be rescued, according to court records that describe the scene at the Catholic Community Middle School in Locust Point. But Sister Eileen Weisman, who had a key to the room, merely chastised the teacher, John Joseph Merzbacher, for locking the door.

“[Weisman] looked down and her exact words were ‘John, oh John, I told you never to lock the classroom door,’” Linda Tiburzi, who described the incident in a civil court deposition in the mid-1990s, said in a recent interview. “And then she looked at me and said ‘I never want you staying after school again.’ … That’s all she said, that’s all she did, there was nothing, there was no investigation, there were no questions.”

That’s the school principal.

That incident is one of several outlined in court documents, analyzed in a Baltimore Sun investigation, indicating that Weisman and other Catholic officials were aware of the lay teacher’s sexual abuse of students in the 1970s but did not report it until Merzbacher was criminally investigated in the 1990s.

Recent accounts from more than two dozen former pupils and a review of hundreds of pages of documents describe several situations in which critics claim the church had opportunities to protect schoolchildren from Merzbacher, but did not notify police of the allegations against the teacher.

John, oh John, never lock the classroom door.

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

Shunning among the atheists

Nov 25th, 2012 11:43 am | By

Ron Lindsay has an interesting post about the fad for shunning fellow atheists and skeptics.

I am motivated to write about this topic for a couple of reasons. First, Russell Blackford has recently announced via Twitter that he will not attend any conference at which Rebecca Watson or PZ Myers is speaking.  Second, in the last few months, a number of individuals have advised me that CFI and its affiliates should never invite certain persons as speakers.  This advice has often been accompanied with a statement such as “If X speaks, I will not attend the conference.”  There was a flurry of such advice around CSICon, the Nashville conference of our affiliate CSI, presumably because our speaker list reminded people of objections they had to this or that individual.

In any event, the list of individuals that CFI has been advised not to have any dealings with is long.  In no particular order it includes: Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, Ophelia Benson, Harriet Hall, Russell Blackford, Edwina Rogers, Rebecca Watson, PZ Myers, and Sharon Hill.  I am sure I am forgetting several more.

I’m so proud.

Of course, there are persons who combine controversial opinions with outrageous, intolerable behavior or express their opinions in such a fashion that they do not allow for a meaningful exchange of views (e.g., their “views” consist largely of a string of racist epithets).  Similarly, there are persons who repeatedly make demonstrably false claims, whose every word out of their mouths, including “and” and “the” (to paraphrase Mary McCarthy), are lies.  Such persons would not be invited to speak at CFI events.

Without scrutinizing every statement that has ever been made by the individuals listed above, I am confident that none of these individuals falls into the “unacceptable” category.  We will continue to invite them to CFI events when warranted.

Actually I do combine my controversial opinions with outrageous, intolerable behavior, but I keep the behavior secret. Only the members of the Outrageous Intolerable Club know about it, and they would never spill.

Let me also respectfully suggest to my long-distance friend Russell that his position that he will not attend conferences where Watson or Myers is speaking does not rest on a sound argument. One has to be very charitable when trying to interpret a tweet, but Russell appears to believe his position is justified, in part, because an organization “supports” an individual by having them speak at a conference.  Not so.

And as Russell knows from his own experience of speaking for us, “support” cannot mean financial support because typically we do no more than cover expenses. Occasionally we offer honoraria, but the amounts involved are so small as to constitute mere tokens of appreciation.

I think the “support” idea comes from the – what to call them – the organized haters of the composite monster that haunts their dreams, made up of a few Freethought bloggers and Skepchicks, and now something they call AtheismPlus. They started ranting early about not “supporting” Rebecca (or, rather, Twatson or Becky, because that’s how they roll) by paying to go to conferences. They have a delusion that she gets paid big bucks for speaking, and that we all do. We get paid ZILCH, just as Ron says. That idea gets recycled a lot, and I suspect that’s why Russell echoed it. That’s odd, in a way, since he would know, as the organized haters don’t, that speakers don’t get paid.

If Russell believes that Myers and Watson trade in bad arguments, or perhaps no arguments at all, but just unsupported assertions and accusations, then the best remedy for that is the time-honored one of pointing out the flaws in their claims. Or, if one thinks enough effort has been spent on rebuttal, simply ignoring them. Shunning and boycotting are extreme responses best reserved for truly exceptional cases.  I would hate to see the atheist and skeptic communities dissolve into a snarl of dueling fatwas.

Quite so. And not just shunning; not just public shunning; but addressing the public shunning directly to one of the organizers of the Australian Skeptic event. That’s a great deal too fatwa-like.

Don’t worry though; I’m not feeling smug. Ron linked to a post of Jerry Coyne’s from two years ago -

A couple of years ago Jerry Coyne claimed that CFI had declared war on atheists. No, really. Moreover, he specifically mentioned me as someone who had gone out of his way to criticize CFI’s atheist supporters. No statement by me was provided as evidence. And I assure you this this declaration of war on atheists was news both to me and Tom Flynn, who never suspected we might declare war on ourselves.

- and I had a look and oh what do you know, there I am being very obnoxious to…Melody. That’ll larn me. (Or not, because I’m a brat.) As Ron says -

(Remember when accommodationism and not sexism was the big issue in the atheist community? Ah, the good old days.)

Yes. Lots of allegiances shifted between those two days.


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

Back in Tahrir Square

Nov 25th, 2012 10:53 am | By

The Islamists in Egypt aren’t just taking all this nonsense about separation of powers lying down. Of course they’re not. They’re out on the street in a show of support for Morsi’s decision to declare himself above the law.

Egypt’s powerful Muslim Brotherhood called nationwide demonstrations Sunday in support of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in his showdown with the judges over the path to a new constitution.

A new Islamist constitution, in which no rights will be allowed that are not compatible with Sharia.

The show of strength on the streets by the president’s supporters had the potential for triggering clashes with opponents of the sweeping new powers he assumed on Thursday who remained camped out in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

Before dawn, the hardcore of liberal activists who spent the night in the iconic protest hub fought off an attempt by Morsi supporters to burn down the 30 or so tents they had erected in the square, witnesses said.

Ah. Not so much out in the street as burning down the enemy’s tents. A taste of what’s to come.

The protesters have the backing of all of Egypt’s leading secular politicians.

Former UN nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei, and former presidential candidates Hamdeen Sabbahi, Amr Mussa and Abdelmoneim Abul Futuh, said in a joint statement on Saturday that they would have no dialogue with Morsi until he rescinded his decree.

But they’re the minority. And secular. Their rights are not compatible with Sharia.


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

Uganda is still pushing that bill

Nov 25th, 2012 10:24 am | By

Jeff Sharlet said on Twitter a couple of hours ago that the New Yorker did bad, lazy journalism in reporting that Uganda had dropped the death penalty from its anti-gay bill. He said The Family had spoon-fed Peter Boyer that information and that he hadn’t checked it. He said they had another “prayer breakfast” just today and that Inhofe sent them a friendly message. I don’t have any other source for this, so I’m just telling you what Sharlet said. He’s been on this story for years, though, so I figure he has sources and knows what he’s talking about.

At any rate, the Huffington Post did report yesterday that the bill is going ahead and that it’s still bad and scary.

A bill proposing that gay and lesbian Ugandans be executed is coming back to Uganda’s Parliament – it could pass at any moment. Worse yet, rumours are suggesting that the bill has been changed in committee and we may not have a chance to see it before it is rushed through.

President Museveni once promised that he would not sign this bill into law. With pressure mounting on him to support the bill, only a massive global outcry – along with our friends in Uganda – will make him keep his promise.

So sign this. And share it.

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

Mushraks have no concept of cleanliness

Nov 24th, 2012 5:15 pm | By

You thought Rush Limbaugh was unpleasant – check out Rubina Nasir, a presenter on Leeds based Radio Asian Fever.

She said that homosexuals should be ‘beaten up’ and that a Muslim marrying a non-Mulslim was on ‘the straight path to hellfire’.

The presenter, known as ‘Sister Ruby’, said: “What should be done if they do it? [practise homosexuality].

“If there are two such persons among you, that do this evil, the shameful act, what do you have to do? Torture them; punish them; beat them and give them mental torture.”

“Allah states, ‘If they do such a deed [i.e. homosexuality], punish them, both physically and mentally.

“Mental punishment means rebuke them, beat them, humiliate them, admonish and curse them, and beat them up. This command was sent in the beginning because capital punishment had not yet been sent down.”

Compassion is at the heart of every great religion.

In a broadcast the following day she focused her attention on another Qur’anic verse and said it was critical of mixed-faith marriages.

She said: “What happens when a Muslim man or woman get married to a Mushrak [a follower of another religion).

“Listeners! Marriage of a Muslim man or woman with a Mushrak is the straight path to hellfire.

“Have my sisters and brothers, who live with people of bad religions or alien religions, ever thought about what would become of the children they have had with them – and the coming generation?

“Where the filth of shirk (the sin of following another religion) is present, where the dirt of shirk is present, where the heart is impure, how can you remove apparent filth. How many arrangements will you make to remove the apparent filth?

“We are saying that Mushraks have no concept of cleanliness and uncleanliness.”

This is on a station called Asian Fever. What, one wonders, do for instance Hindu listeners think of Sister Ruby? Atheists? Buddhists? Jains? Do they all listen happily while she calls them filth? Do they consider it all part of their interfaith work?


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

In which I annoy everyone all at once

Nov 24th, 2012 3:47 pm | By

There’s apparently a lot of discussion on Twitter about something Richard Dawkins said yesterday (on something – a debate with Mehdi Hasan? is that right? – that will be on Al-Jazeera in December). I’ve seen some of it, but also references to more, which I haven’t seen. The origin was a tweet (isn’t it always?) -

Tonight, Dawkins argued that teaching a child about hell is worse than a child being sexually abused, which he said ‘she might feel was yucky’.

Some people pointed out that he said the same thing in The God Delusion, and even supplied the page, so I looked it up.

Here’s the thing. I agree with people who are outraged by the “worse than a child being sexually abused” part, but I agree with Dawkins that the badness of teaching children that hell is real is terrible and that that gets neglected.

I think this means I’ve irritated everyone. So it goes.

I think it’s a big mistake, and especially so for Dawkins and at this stage of the game, to compare it with anything else, and to minimize child sexual abuse. (TGD came out before the Ryan Report. I would guess Dawkins has read the Ryan Report. I think it was front and center at the time of the protests against the pope’s visit. If he has, it seems odd that he’s still arguing that priestly child sexual abuse isn’t always a big deal. He may be right that for some children it really isn’t, but it’s a very dubious thing to argue, especially when the church is still trying to brush it under the carpet.) I think he should just separate the two, and then leave the other one strictly alone. Focus on hell, and leave the child abuse issue alone; that’s my advice.

I do agree with him though that the idea of hell is really really bad. What he was talking about in TGD (starting on page 317) was a letter from “an American woman” who was raised Catholic and had both experiences at age 7 - priestly abuse and terror about hell. A priest fondled her, and a Protestant friend of hers died and went to hell – or so she’d been taught to believe. The second item was “by far the worst.”

Dawkins quotes from the letter.

Being fondled by the priest simply left the impression (from the mind of a  7 year old) as ‘yucky’ while the memory of my friend going to hell was one of cold, unmeasurable fear. I never lost sleep because of the priest – but I spent many a night being terrified that the people I loved would go to Hell.

You see in that tweet above it looks as if “yucky” is Dawkins’s word, and a damn silly one, but in fact he was quoting.

I think he shouldn’t compare the two, especially now, but I do think he’s right about hell.

I look forward to your letters, as Craig says.

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

A mark of the beast

Nov 24th, 2012 9:39 am | By

A Texas high school wants its students to carry ID cards with microchips, so that it can tell where they are.

ID badges containing radio tags started to be introduced at the start of the 2012 school year to schools run by San Antonio’s Northside Independent School District (NISD). The tracking tags gave NISD a better idea of the numbers of students attending classes each day – the daily average of which dictates how much cash it gets from state coffers.

I can’t help thinking it would be better if schools were small enough so that they could have a handle on how many students were attending just by eyeballing the classroom, but hey, I know that would cost more money and education of other people’s children isn’t a priority. So are these badges with tags ok? I don’t know; they seem intrusive to me, but then I don’t have a huge factory full of teenagers to run.

But one student refuses to wear the things because they’re of Satan.

Hernandez refused to wear the tag because it conflicted with her religious beliefs, according to court papers. Wearing such a barcoded tag can be seen as a mark of the beast as described in Revelation 13 in the Bible, Ms Hernandez’s father told Wired magazine in an interview.

That’s not a good reason. If that’s a reason, then another student could say that homework can be seen as a mark of the beast. If something that “can be seen as” whatever is a valid reason for refusal, then anything can be a valid reason for refusal. Hence the need for secularism. Once you can just paste the word “religious” on whatever you want to do or refuse to do, we’re screwed.

The Rutherford Institute said the NISD’s suspension violated Texan laws on religious freedom as well as free speech amendments to the US constitution.

But if “religious freedom” covers everything, then we’ll get paralysis.

The court’s willingness to grant a temporary restraining order is a good first step, but there is still a long way to go – not just in this case, but dealing with the mindset, in general, that everyone needs to be monitored and controlled,” said John Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute in a statement.

Mr Whitehead said student tagging and locating projects were the first step in producing a “compliant citizenry”.

“These ‘student locator’ programmes are ultimately aimed at getting students used to living in a total surveillance state where there will be no privacy, and wherever you go and whatever you text or email will be watched by the government,” he said.

But that’s a different argument. It’s a different kind of argument. It’s got nothing to do with a mark of the beast. I think he has a point, but it’s a secular point. They should make that point, and leave Revelation 13 out of it.


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

Cognitive dissonance

Nov 24th, 2012 7:05 am | By

Bjarte Foshaug did a toon. It made me laugh.

Embedded image permalink

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

Those things that we all have in common

Nov 23rd, 2012 4:02 pm | By

Another Very Young Girl spots the unfairness in gender stereotyping in the toy department.

A six-year-old girl wrote Hasbro to let them know they only have bros (HIGH FIVE!) in their game, Guess Who. You know, the game that’s like memory but all the characters have googly eyes, dodgy mustaches, and bad toupees? Well, guess who’s not in the game? Women. Actually, no, that’s not fair, there are five girls and nineteen boys. Five girls and nineteen boys.

What is it with that? I swear, I think there are actually people who think women are a small fraction of the population.

Her letter is short and to the point.

Dear Hasbro,

My name is R______. I am six years old. I think it’s not fair to only have 5 girls in Guess Who and 19 boys. It is not only boys who are important, girls are important too. If grown ups get into thinking that girls are not important they won’t give little girls much care.

Also if girls want to be a girl in Guess Who they’ll always lose against a boy, and it will be harder for them to win. I am cross about that and if you don’t fix it soon, my mum could throw Guess Who out.

My mum typed this message but I told her what to say.

Check out what Hasbro replied.

Dear R___,

Thank you for your email. Please find below an explanation which I hope your mummy will be able to explain to you.

Guess Who? is a guessing game based on a numerical equation. If you take a look at the characters in the game, you will notice that there are five of any given characteristics. The idea of the game is, that by process of elimination, you narrow down who it isn’t, thus determining who it is. The game is not weighted in favour of any particular character, male or female. Another aspect of the game is to draw attention away from using gender or ethnicity as the focal point, and to concentrate on those things that we all have in common, rather than focus on our differences.

Omigod did Chris Stedman get a job with Hasbro?!?!

Seriously. That is so fucking weaselly. The idea is to draw attention away from gender so that little pests like you won’t notice that we think there should be five times as many boys as there are girls in our game.

Yes, and another aspect of the game is to draw attention away from using money or power or class or status as the focal point, because some of us have a lot more of those than others, because we have rigged things that way, so kindly concentrate on those things that we all have in common, rather than focus on our differences, before we call Homeland Security.

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

Very young real housewives of Malibu

Nov 23rd, 2012 3:14 pm | By

This is from two years ago, but so what – it’s still on point.

One wonders why the video that has a FEATURED label at the top of the right hand column is the one titled Anti Feminist, which features someone who 1. calls herself Trish 2. appears to be imitating a Barbie doll 3. says “like” every third word. It’s funny the way people who aren’t good at talking think it’s a good idea to make vlogs.

Anyway. Anita Sarkeesian, before all the Iago syndrome.

Update: before all the Iago syndrome that prompted misogynists to do everything they could to degrade and silence her, was what I meant.

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

This cannot be revoked

Nov 23rd, 2012 12:23 pm | By

The news from Egypt is appalling. The Islamist Morsi has granted himself the power to do anything he wants to do without any hindrance from courts.

President Mohamed Morsi issued a decree on Thursday granting himself broad powers above any court as the guardian of Egypt’s revolution, and used his new authority to order the retrial of Hosni Mubarak.

Mr. Morsi, an Islamist and Egypt’s first elected president, portrayed his decree as an attempt to fulfill popular demands for justice and protect the transition to a constitutional democracy. But the unexpected breadth of the powers he seized raised immediate fears that he might become a new strongman.

Ya think?

“An absolute presidential tyranny,” Amr Hamzawy, a liberal member of the dissolved Parliament and prominent political scientist, wrote in an online commentary. “Egypt is facing a horrifying coup against legitimacy and the rule of law and a complete assassination of the democratic transition.”

It’s so…basic. It trashes the whole point of being “Egypt’s first elected president” and talk of “a constitutional democracy.” This fancy idea of “electing” people? It’s supposed to entail accountability, and limits on power, and stuff like that.

Nathan J. Brown, a scholar of the Egyptian legal system at George Washington University, summed up the overall message: “I, Morsi, am all powerful. And in my first act as being all powerful, I declare myself more powerful still. But don’t worry — it’s just for a little while.”

The BBC reports that Morsi is saying there there there it will be fine.

President Mohammed Mursi has appeared before supporters in Cairo to defend a new decree that grants him sweeping powers.

He told them he was leading Egypt on a path to “freedom and democracy” and was the guardian of stability.

He was speaking as thousands of opponents gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and offices of the president’s party were attacked in several cities.

The decree says presidential decisions cannot be revoked by any authority.

What could possibly go wrong?

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

Iago syndrome

Nov 23rd, 2012 11:10 am | By

Oh good grief – Iago syndrome strikes again.

So this odd tweet flies by me:

Jeremy Stangroom Ed Rybicki speaks out about the consequences of the vile bullying he received at FtB:

8:52 AM – 23 Nov 12

#FTBullies. Honestly. Jeremy Stangroom is still regularly using that stupid hashtag, the darling of the obsessive under-motivated frothing haters who rave about the same five or six people day in and day out. You’d think it would be beneath him, but Iago-syndrome prevents.


What vile bullying he received at FtB? Rybicki doesn’t mention any in the cited article. None. He mentions hostile reactions in general, and comments on his story itself, but he doesn’t cite any “vile bullying” at FTB. He simply arbitrarily mentions the label at the end, apropos of nothing.

So where am I, now?  Well, pretty much in the same place I was in prior to early November, 2011, because I have stopped reading Hatespace: that’s right; I no longer bother to check in on the circle-jerk that FtB had obviously become.  I also got good news which completely distracted me from the bullshit: my long-shot effort at getting my 30-year dream project funded struck gold, and yes, the wonderful person who walked into my office and asked “Does anyone here know anything about viruses?” and I will be exploring oceanic viromes (thank you, Maya!).

So – all I can say is that I am wiser (but not sadder); that while as an atheist, humanist and liberal, the FtB blogs would look like they were made for me – they can Fuck.  Right.  Off.

That looks as if he’d already cited FTB earlier in the piece, but in fact he didn’t; those are his first mentions. So…what vile bullying? What, exactly, is Jeremy Stangroom talking about?

PZ points out that Rybicki’s article was widely criticized, not to say rebuked; it was far from being a Freethought blogs exclusive.

It was a not-very-good piece that relied on sexist stereotypes for a crutch. It gets a very thorough going over in the comments section there — a great many people were appalled that such a “tongue-in-cheek” exercise in perpetuating falsehoods about women could get published, even as fiction, in a science journal. It also got slapped down by Jacquelyn Gill, who compiled a huge list of negative responses, such as this one by Anne Jefferson. This wasn’t an FtB-led rejection — it was a massive, science-internet-wide gag reflex that puked all over poor Ed Rybicki’s story. Dana Hunter was our local huntress spearing the wild Rybicki, with follow-ups that included Ophelia Benson.

But to claim it was “bullying” or that FtB was responsible…well, that’s typical Jeremy Stangroom, not letting the evidence cloud his hatred of everything on this network.

Typical Iago syndrome.

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

Iago and Hippolytus

Nov 22nd, 2012 5:27 pm | By

Ever read Euripides’s Hippolytus?

It’s interesting because Hippolytus is very like a Taliban dude. He loves Artemis and hates Aphrodite, and he keeps telling everyone how pure he is. In short, he hates sex.

It has this one speech of his, starting at line 617…

Oh, Zeus! Why did you bring woman into the light of the sun? Woman, this impure, this evil destroyer of mortals! If you wanted to sow the seeds for the mortal race you should not have done it through women but a price.

Men should be able to just go to some temple or other, put there some piece of bronze or iron, or even some gold –whatever their means would allow- and with that price paid, pick themselves the son they want. Take him home with him and there, the two men could live out their lives, in their house without a woman to be seen anywhere! As it is now, even before we want to bring this… this curse, into our house, we must squander away our whole estate! And here’s what I mean by this. Here’s the clear proof of it: The woman’s father, the man who had begotten that beast and who had raised her -that poor man, not only has to lay a dowry out for her but he must also send her away, so he can shed from himself this unbearable burden!

And then, her husband, the other poor creature, the one who has brought this… fake statue, into his house, this ruinous beast, her husband, the moment he gets her into his house, he begins to happily decorate her! He begins the little game of cajoling her with pretty clothes! Fancy clothes for a worthless, vile statue! And there, you see, there goes, bit by little bit, all the wealth of his estate! And then come the unavoidable choices of his constrains. Either his in-laws are so good that he accepts the burden of having to endure a rotten and painful marriage, or it’s the other way around: he gets a great wife but rotten and painful in-laws, in which case, he’ll need to content himself with the thought that, the good part of this marriage cancels out the rotten part. But the man who gets it the easiest is the one who brings into his house a woman who is totally useless. A nothing. A zero. A simple, simple- minded woman. A useless woman.

But I hate the smart ones! I simply loathe that sort! Oh, Zeus, spare me! I hope I’ll never end up with a woman in my house who’s cleverer than women should be!  Aphrodite plants a lot more evil schemes in the minds of those clever ones! The dumb ones are kept on the straight and narrow because of their… rather diminutive wit. And, if you do get a wife, give her no slave. Instead, give her animals. Give her dumb brutes for companions. Wild beasts that you can’t talk to and they can’t talk back. Give a bitch of a wife a servant and what have you got? The two talk together inside, hatch up all sorts of evil plans and then the servant goes off and carry those plans outside the house!

Source. Translation by George Theodoridis.

It made me think of Iago, so I read the opening scenes of Othello again – and my jaw kept dropping with amazement. I’d forgotten how incredibly raw it is, and I didn’t even know before how familiar it is.

In the first scene, Iago and Roderigo come in in mid-conversation, and a strikingly sleazy conversation it is. They both dislike Othello and they talk about it for awhile, then…

RODERIGO What a full fortune does the thicklips owe

If he can carry’t thus!

IAGO Call up her father,

Rouse him: make after him, poison his delight,

Proclaim him in the streets; incense her kinsmen,

And, though he in a fertile climate dwell,

Plague him with flies: though that his joy be joy,

Yet throw such changes of vexation on’t,

As it may lose some colour.
RODERIGO Here is her father’s house; I’ll call aloud.

IAGO Do, with like timorous accent and dire yell

As when, by night and negligence, the fire

Is spied in populous cities.

RODERIGO What, ho, Brabantio! Signior Brabantio, ho!

IAGO Awake! what, ho, Brabantio! thieves! thieves! thieves! Look to your house, your daughter and your bags! Thieves! thieves!

BRABANTIO appears above, at a window

BRABANTIO What is the reason of this terrible summons? What is the matter there?

RODERIGO Signior, is all your family within?

IAGO Are your doors lock’d?

BRABANTIO Why, wherefore ask you this?

IAGO ‘Zounds, sir, you’re robb’d; for shame, put on your gown;

Your heart is burst, you have lost half your soul;

Even now, now, very now, an old black ram

Is topping your white ewe. Arise, arise;

Awake the snorting citizens with the bell,

Or else the devil will make a grandsire of you: Arise, I say.

BRABANTIO What, have you lost your wits?

RODERIGO Most reverend signior, do you know my voice?

BRABANTIO Not I what are you?

RODERIGO My name is Roderigo.

BRABANTIO The worser welcome:

I have charged thee not to haunt about my doors:

In honest plainness thou hast heard me say

My daughter is not for thee; and now, in madness,

Being full of supper and distempering draughts,

Upon malicious bravery, dost thou come

To start my quiet.

RODERIGO Sir, sir, sir,–

BRABANTIO But thou must needs be sure

My spirit and my place have in them power To make this bitter to thee.

RODERIGO Patience, good sir.

BRABANTIO What tell’st thou me of robbing? this is Venice;

My house is not a grange.

RODERIGO Most grave Brabantio,

In simple and pure soul I come to you.

IAGO ‘Zounds, sir, you are one of those that will not serve God, if the devil bid you. Because we come to do you service and you think we are ruffians, you’ll have your daughter covered with a Barbary horse; you’ll have your nephews neigh to you; you’ll have coursers for cousins and gennets for germans.

BRABANTIO What profane wretch art thou?

IAGO I am one, sir, that comes to tell you your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs.

BRABANTIO Thou art a villain.

IAGO You are–a senator.

See what I mean? Racism and misogyny in the crudest possible terms. It’s vile stuff, and meant to be. Iago is one of the most horrible characters Shakespeare ever came up with, and he reveals him as such right at the beginning. But doesn’t it sound familiar? Iago would have loved Twitter. Think of all the high school girls he could have bullied into suicide.

But what an opening for a play, eh?


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

His wife had left the international airport

Nov 22nd, 2012 4:18 pm | By

Another new wrinkle in the project to make sure that women are kept under ferocious control at all times no matter what – Saudi Arabia has now arranged things so that when a woman leaves Saudi Arabia, her male “guardian” gets a test message saying “Hey! Did you know your slut has crossed the border?”

Since last week, Saudi women’s male guardians began receiving text messages on their phones informing them when women under their custody leave the country, even if they are travelling together.

Manal al-Sherif, who became the symbol of a campaign launched last year urging Saudi women to defy a driving ban, began spreading the information on Twitter, after she was alerted by a couple.

The husband, who was travelling with his wife, received a text message from the immigration authorities informing him that his wife had left the international airport in Riyadh.

Women are not allowed to leave the kingdom without permission from their male guardian, who must give his consent by signing what is known as the “yellow sheet” at the airport or border.

This of course is to make sure that they don’t run around naked begging foreigners to fuck them.

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

Steve Moxon goes to Parliament

Nov 22nd, 2012 12:42 pm | By

From the C of E we drift over to the Houses of Parliament in all their Victorian Gothic splendor. What’s going on there? An influential committee is taking advice on women from Steve Moxon. Victoria would be proud – she hated feminists.

Women are biologically unfit to rise to the top in business, according a self-described academic speaking before an influential parliamentary committee.

Steve Moxon, author of ‘The Woman Racket’, appeared at the business select committee on Wednesday as part of an inquiry into “women in the workplace”.

A  self-described academic? What’s that? Self-description isn’t what determines who is an academic. It’s more external and objective than that.

Moxon, ranked one of the ten most powerful people in ‘men’s rights’ by website ‘theantifeminist’, was dropped as a UKIP candidate in local elections for expressing sympathy with Norwegian mass-killer Anders Breivik on his blog earlier this year, and has also described claims against Jimmy Savile as “hysteria”.

Just the right sort of person to tell an influential parliamentary committee what’s what when it comes to women in the workplace. Or to put it another way, huh? What were they listening to him for?

Giving evidence to the committee he said males were in a “dominant hierarchy” from toddlerhood.

“You can pretend that the sexes are all the same but if you go looking … females form what is generally dubbed a personal network,” he said.

“There’s no surprise that women have difficulty in the work place, not only do they have difficulty but they don’t want to be there in the first place!” he said.

He then claimed that the gender pay gap should be bigger, telling MPs “there must be referencing for it to be as small as it is.”

It’s an outrage.

In his written submission to the inquiry, Moxon suggests women may not even want “to climb the workplace hierarchy”, adding that the push toward gender equality risked producing discrimination “against men.”

Ah yes, I’ve been seeing people claim that lately – that feminism doesn’t want equality, it wants discrimination against men. I think that comes from men who think it’s discriminatory to expect men to do an equal share of housework.


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

For theological reasons

Nov 22nd, 2012 11:59 am | By

A member of the General Synod of the Church of England explains about the vote not to allow women bishops.

The legislation we voted on needed to achieve two outcomes: the ordination of women to the episcopate; and sufficient provision for those who, for theological reasons, find this innovation unacceptable.

For theological reasons – that’s important, you see. They can’t be political reasons or moral reasons or we just don’t like them reasons. Why? Because it looks bad. But theological reasons – ah now that’s a whole different kettle of bullshit. That gets a pass, and a wide berth, and a deep bow, and a determined looking in the other direction.

You can do a lot with theological reasons. You can drone about how the bishop is supposed to be a Jesus-substitute, and pretend that that means the bishop has to be A Man, while the bishop doesn’t have to be Jewish, or a carpenter, or an Aramaic-speaker, or a whole list of things that Jesus had or was. All the variables can vary except just this one thing, and that one can’t be touched not nohow. The bishop can be different from Jesus in more ways than anyone can count, as long as the bishop too is A Man.

In other words, the Church of England wanted women bishops but within the framework of an inclusive church, where people could disagree about the ordination of women yet remain loyal Anglicans and united around the good news of Jesus Christ.

An “inclusive” church that includes people who think women are inferior, but not people who think churches shouldn’t make rules that apply to everyone while excluding half of everyone from the rule-making jobs.

Voting no was a vote for equality in the church; equality that stems not from what we do, but from what God has done for us; God created each one of us and Christ paid the same price for each one of us, so we are free to serve one another without reference to role or status. Leadership in the Church is surely modelled on the Son of Man.

Word salad. The church makes rules for all its members, but excludes half its members from the top decision-making jobs. That’s not some special fancy goddy kind of equality.

To be called to be a bishop is a calling to serve God’s family. The Church is not a workplace, with a hierarchy to climb, but a family in which each member has different responsibilities but is equally valuable. To be called to be a bishop is not to be called to be a CEO but to be a father to the church family. The bible teaches us that fathers are called to lay down their lives in self-sacrificial service by taking responsibility for the spiritual welfare of their family. Of course, the Church needs mothers, too, but I believe they have a different, equally self-sacrificial and equally valuable role to play.

No. It’s not “equally valuable.” If women are officially excluded from the top of the hierarchy, that is not any kind of equal. It is profoundly dishonest to pretend it is.



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