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.

Everyday misogyny

Oct 10th, 2012 11:44 am | By

It’s good to see Julia Gillard setting the leader of the opposition, Tony Abbott, straight about sexism and misogyny. It’s good to see her listing the sexist and misogynist things he’s said and done – such as standing in front of the houses of Parliament next to a sign saying “ditch the witch” and one describing her as “a man’s bitch.”

“The leader of the opposition says that people who hold sexist views and are misogynists are not appropriate for high office,” she continued. “Well, I hope the leader of the opposition is writing out his resignation because if he wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia, he needs a mirror.”

“I was offended too by the sexism, by the misogyny, of the leader of the opposition catcalling across this table … [such as] ‘If the prime minister wants to, politically speaking, make an honest woman of herself’ – something that would never have been said to any man sitting in this chair.

“I was offended by those things. Misogyny. Sexism. Every day from the leader of the opposition,” she said.

The anger in parliament follows a fortnight of debate about the tone of politics in Australia after the country’s best known radio talkshow host said Gillard’s recently deceased father had “died of shame” because his daughter stood in parliament and told lies.

Alan Jones’s comments during a Sydney University Liberal Club dinner triggered outrage. A number of companies which sponsored or advertised on his show withdrew their support. On Monday, the station suspended all advertising on his show.

In calling for Slipper to be sacked, Abbott echoed Jones’s remarks, saying Gillard should be ashamed of herself. “Every day the prime minister stands in this parliament to defend this speaker will be another day of shame for … a government that should already have died of shame,” said the opposition leader.

A furious Gillard hit back again, saying: “The government is not dying of shame. My father did not  die of shame. What the leader of the opposition should be ashamed of is his performance in this parliament and the sexism he brings with it.”

It’s good to see her hitting back, but it’s pathetic that she has to. It’s pathetic.

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

Then why?

Oct 10th, 2012 11:24 am | By

Like army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani for instance, who visited Malala in the hospital and took the occasion to talk comfortable pious bullshit. He

said Malala has “become a symbol for the values that the army, with the nation behind it, is fighting to preserve for our future generations.

“These are the intrinsic values of an Islamic society, based on the principles of liberty, justice and equality of man.”

Oh really. Is that a fact. Then why is Pakistan such a shit-hole? Why are all “Islamic societies” such shit-holes? If an Islamic society is based on the principles of liberty, justice and equality of man [sic] then why do so many people think it’s based on the principles of coercion, brutality and inequality of women and men? Why is there no Islamic society on earth that looks to outsiders like one that’s based on the principles of liberty, justice and equality?

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

Oh thank you so much Allah, you’re so kind

Oct 10th, 2012 11:13 am | By

Okay maybe I’m being a big mean atheist poopy head, but honestly, I do wish people would stop thanking Allah for saving Malala’s life. Say what? If Allah saved her life, why the fuck didn’t Allah prevent her (and her schoolmates) from being shot in the first place? Why didn’t Allah cause the shooters to have four flat tires on a very isolated mountain road? Why didn’t Allah give them all a bad intestinal upset that day?

Same old same old. Theodicy. If God this, then why that. Well think about it, people. Use your heads. Don’t just mindlessly thank Allah for stepping in hours after a girl of 14 was shot in the head by a man who thinks he’s acting on Allah’s behalf.

If Allah saved Malala’s life, why didn’t Allah simply set the Taliban straight years ago? Why didn’t Allah sit them all down and say look here, you shits, I don’t want you bullying women and whipping them for not wearing a burqa and keeping them from getting an education. What a stupid vicious idea; stop it this minute. ?

If Allah gets credit for the apparent failure to kill Malala, Allah gets blame for the attempt to kill Malala. It’s both or neither. You don’t get to choose only the nice bits.

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

A new contestant

Oct 9th, 2012 4:27 pm | By

Stephanie has some thoughts on Reap Paden. Who? I don’t know, really, except that he’s a friend of Justin Vacula’s. I saw a comment by him, or a mention of his podcast, or something, during the short period in which I was attempting to get Vacula to correct his misrepresentation of me on his podcast. (So many guys, so many podcasts.) That was all. I had no opinion on him until last Saturday, when someone pointed out a shouty podcast he’d just done and I listened to a bit of it. Man, it was shouty all right. He spent the first several minutes shouting at Stephanie louder and louder and louder and LOUDER. Calling her a fucking bitch over and over again. Not much substance, just louder and louder fucking bitch.

I skipped ahead and listend to a bit more – some more guys had joined him and they were talking about Rebecca (why? I have no idea) by pretending to be talking in her voice, saying, “I’m a stupid cunt” and “I’m a dumb cunt” and laughing a lot. Oh, so that’s who that is, I thought. Another one to avoid.

I see people saying it’s good they talk like this, because that way people can realize what they’re like. Huh. I don’t think so at all. It would be much better if they weren’t like it. Talking like this is what makes them like it, so if they stopped talking like this, they wouldn’t be like it, and that would be better. If people talk to me and don’t call me a fucking bitch or a cunting cunt, then that’s better than if they do and so I find out what they’re like. I don’t want to find out what they’re like if they’re like that, I want them to hide it.

So anyway this Reap Paden commented on Stephanie’s post. He showed us what he’s like again.

You already lost Stephanie. You are just too damn dumb to figure it out.

Listen to this well-

I don’t give a fuck what you say I don’t give a fuck what you do. There is nothing you can do to stop me from doing/saying what I feel needs to be said.

I’m one of those people you won’t make quiet. You can’t win

It doesn’t matter what simpletons like you say about me. Intelligent people will figure it out while you spin your wheels trying to make yourself look good.

Anytime you open that hole under your nose about me and I hear about it, I will have a reply to it.

In the future if you don’t want to be called a bitch I would suggest you refrain from being one, seems simple enough to me.

That last bit is especially interesting. He will call us bitches because we are bitches, and it’s our own damn fault that he calls us bitches, because we’re too bitchy to refrain from being bitches.

I have my doubts.

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


Oct 9th, 2012 3:01 pm | By

I heard a long report on BBC World about Malala Yusufzai a couple of hours ago, including a big chunk of an interview with her. On top of everything else, she’s fluent in English. I looked for it via Google and thought I’d found it but was surprised at how cheery the reporter sounded – then I belatedly looked at the date: it was last January. She starts reading from the diary she wrote for the BBC at 1:25 in.

The report I heard today interviewed the New York Times reporter Adam Ellick, who got to know her in 2009. He posted a photo to Twitter. The other guy is her father.

Embedded image permalink

 Nighat Dad tweeted pictures of herself with Malala.

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

Don’t execute the rebellious child lightly

Oct 9th, 2012 11:27 am | By

Charlie Fuqua, a Republican candidate for the Arkansas House of Representatives, wrote a book called (frighteningly) God’s Law. It’s not a satire; he really thinks there is such a thing and that he knows about it. One item of god’s law is that rebellious children should be subject to the death penalty.

The Huffington Post quotes from the book via The Arkansas Times.

The maintenance of civil order in society rests on the foundation of family discipline. Therefore, a child who disrespects his parents must be permanently removed from society in a way that gives an example to all other children of the importance of respect for parents. The death penalty for rebellious children is not something to be taken lightly. The guidelines for administering the death penalty to rebellious children are given in Deut 21:18-21:

This passage does not give parents blanket authority to kill their children. They must follow the proper procedure in order to have the death penalty executed against their children. I cannot think of one instance in the Scripture where parents had their child put to death. Why is this so? Other than the love Christ has for us, there is no greater love then [sic] that of a parent for their child. The last people who would want to see a child put to death would be the parents of the child. Even so, the Scrpture [sic] provides a safe guard to protect children from parents who would wrongly exercise the death penalty against them. Parents are required to bring their children to the gate of the city. The gate of the city was the place where the elders of the city met and made judicial pronouncements. In other words, the parents were required to take their children to a court of law and lay out their case before the proper judicial authority, and let the judicial authority determine if the child should be put to death. I know of many cases of rebellious children, however, I cannot think of one case where I believe that a parent had given up on their child to the point that they would have taken their child to a court of law and asked the court to rule that the child be put to death. Even though this procedure would rarely be used, if it were the law of land, it would give parents authority. Children would know that their parents had authority and it would be a tremendous incentive for children to give proper respect to their parents.

See he’s not really urging that children should be executed. He’s just saying there should be a law on the books that would allow them to be executed for not giving proper respect to their parents. Moderation itself.


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

The bullet missed her brain

Oct 9th, 2012 10:21 am | By

I’m finding a lot of commentary and some (possible) news about Malala Yousafzai on Twitter (via #Malala).

The important item is a new update on her condition.

Doctors at the Saidu Sharif Medical Complex said that Malala was out of danger after the bullet penetrated her skull but missed her brain.

“A bullet struck her head, but the brain is safe,” said Dr Taj Mohammed.

“She is out of danger,” he added.

Dr Laal Noor, from the same hospital, confirmed that the bullet broke her skull but missed her brain.

“The bullet struck her skull and came out on the other side and hit her shoulder,” he told AFP.

The same item includes more evil shit from the Taliban.

SWAT: The Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) which attacked National Award Peace winner Malala Yousafzai on Tuesday have said that they will target her again if she survives because she was a “secular-minded lady”.

A TTP spokesperson told The Express Tribune that this was a warning for all youngsters who were involved in similar activites and added that they will be targeted if they do not stop.

Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan said his group was behind the shooting.

“She was pro-West, she was speaking against Taliban and she was calling President Obama her idol,” Ehsan said by telephone from an undisclosed location.

“She was young but she was promoting Western culture in Pashtun areas,” he said.

One item claims that Imran Khan says it’s about the drones.

According to Imran Khan, Pakistani Taliban’s violence is a reaction to drone attacks. Was #Malala a drone pilot?

God hates women and schoolgirls.


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

Because she was secular

Oct 9th, 2012 9:25 am | By

A 14-year-old schoolgirl in the Swat valley in Pakistan has been shot in the head. The Taliban says it did it. Malala Yousafzai is also a campaigner for girls’ education. She was attacked on her way home from school in Mingora. She’s reported to be out of danger.

Ehsanullah Ehsan told BBC Urdu that they attacked her because she was anti-Taliban and secular, adding that she would not be spared.

Clear and to the point.

She kept a diary for BBC Urdu starting at age 11.

Correspondents say she earned the admiration of many across Pakistan for her courage in speaking out about life under the brutal rule of Taliban militants.

One poignant entry reflects on the Taliban decree banning girls’ education: “Since today was the last day of our school, we decided to play in the playground a bit longer. I am of the view that the school will one day reopen but while leaving I looked at the building as if I would not come here again.”

She has since said that she wants to study law and enter politics when she grows up. “I dreamt of a country where education would prevail,” she said.

The Beeb has some of it translated into English.

Saturday 3 January 2009

I had a terrible dream yesterday with military helicopters and the Taleban. I have had such dreams since the launch of the military operation in Swat. My mother made me breakfast and I went off to school. I was afraid going to school because the Taleban had issued an edict banning all girls from attending schools.

Only 11 students attended the class out of 27. The number decreased because of Taleban’s edict. My three friends have shifted to Peshawar, Lahore and Rawalpindi with their families after this edict.

On my way from school to home I heard a man saying ‘I will kill you’. I hastened my pace and after a while I looked back if the man was still coming behind me. But to my utter relief he was talking on his mobile and must have been threatening someone else over the phone.

A schoolgirl. 14. She wanted to go to school, and she wanted other girls to be able to go to school. Bang.


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

Salman speaks

Oct 8th, 2012 4:24 pm | By

Hey look, Salman Rushdie is on C-Span live right now. Well actually not right now, the woman who co-owns Politics and Prose is on right now, introducing him. Melody was on before that.

Now Robert Siegel is talking.

So watch and listen!

I’ll live-blog it, that’s what.

Paraphrase: It’s very difficult to write about duration. It was like the pampas, as Borges described it. You can’t take a picture of it, because it looks like a field. You can only get a sense of it by traveling in it, and then it just goes on and on, and it’s always the same, and it goes on and on, and it’s always the same, and it goes on and on.

The fatwa was like that.

One of the greatest things about the history of literature is that writers have always taken on ogres. When Mandelstam wrote about Stalin he knew who he was. When Lorca wrote about Franco he knew who he was. Writers have always stood up to tyrants.

The Satanic Verses wasn’t primarily a novel about Islam. It was primarily about migration.

I have less religion than you could inscribe on a chewed-off fingernail. [applause]

After he signed the absurd statement of religious faith, he felt like throwing up. “At that point, I just thought the hell with it. No more appeasement, no more apology. Fuck it.”

Out of that moment – it was an awful moment – he became the person he is, the person who could say what he says.

It was Christmas Eve 1990. Weirdly enough, I remember it. I was horrified that he’d made a “statement of faith.”

We can’t live in a world where what we can say is determined by violence.

[On the bounty] No one’s ever taken this old gentleman seriously, even in Iran, because he doesn’t have the money.

That’s one of the problems with Iran is that even the liberals are assholes.

What you need when you write for children: you need lots of jump.

It’s strange coming to Washington with Christopher not here.

We invented this game of titles that didn’t quite make it. A Farewell to Weapons. Toby Dick. aka Moby Prick. Blueberry Finn.

They weren’t close friends until the fatwa. They became close friends because he wanted it that way.

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

You’re both right

Oct 8th, 2012 3:52 pm | By

I’d forgotten about NonStampCollecter (and that that was his name) until Theo Bromine posted a video in The return of snipping this morning. So that’s who NonStampCollecter is! I saw the name in another context but didn’t know who it was. Oh hooray. Boy do I like NonStampCollecter.


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

Nowhere were servants better treated

Oct 8th, 2012 10:52 am | By

Update: this item is from 1996. [hides scarlet face]

There’s an Alabama State Senator (Republican) running for Congress, who says slavery was a good thing for the people who were slaves.

Mr. Davidson referred to Leviticus 25:44 — “You may acquire male and female slaves from the pagan nations that are around you” — and quoted I Timothy 6:1 as saying slaves should “regard their own masters as worthy of all honor.”

“The incidence of abuse, rape, broken homes and murder are 100 times greater, today, in the housing projects than they ever were on the slave plantations in the Old South,” he wrote. “The truth is that nowhere on the face of the earth, in all of time, were servants better treated or better loved than they were in the Old South by white, black, Hispanic and Indian slave owners.”

Is that a fact. That’s what it was all about, was it? Being kind and loving to “servants”?

Like hell it was. It was about money. Slavery exploded as farmers started settling in Mississippi and raising cotton there. It was horrible, unhealthy work, and it could be hugely profitable provided you could get the labor. Cotton and slavery combined to make slaveowners rich. There was no love involved.

Speaking of the issue at a news conference, Mr. Davidson said today that although his ancestors fought in the Civil War, they did not own slaves.

“The issue is not race,” he said. “It’s Southern heritage. I’m on a one-man leadership crusade to get the truth out about what our Southern heritage is all about.”

Well that’s what the slavery part of “Southern heritage” is about – gouging cheap labor out of black people, first via slavery and then via Jim Crow laws. And by the way it’s insulting to a lot of Southerners to call that “Southern heritage.”

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

The stuff of nightmares

Oct 7th, 2012 4:11 pm | By

Taslima has a chilling little graphic

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

Mona Eltahawy talks about women in the revolution

Oct 7th, 2012 3:31 pm | By

Via Taslima, Mona Eltahawy talks to Robin Morgan. Mona is determinedly hopeful, but not blind to the reality.

Mona: I think we’ve reached the stage in Egypt where people understand that with a president from the Muslim Brotherhood movement and a still very powerful military, we’re caught between a very bad rock and a very horrible hard place because you’re talking about two sides of one coin: authoritarian, totalitarian, doesn’t believe in civil liberties and for whom and for which women’s rights are, absolutely at the bottom of any totem pole hierarchy and one of the highlights in my last visit to Cairo was attending a meeting that veteran feminists Nawal El Saadawi called in which it brought together various feminist groups, women and men who are interested in focusing on women’s rights at this very, very sensitive stage in Egyptian history. We still don’t have a constitution, and we don’t have a parliament, and the constitution is currently being written by a group of mostly men who I would not hesitate to call misogynists, many of whom actually believe it’s ok for a girl who is only 9 to marry and many of whom are not concerned with women’s rights at all. So we recognize that this is a very sensitive time and if we don’t jump on this it will jump on us. And So Nawal El Saadawi is trying to coordinate all the various groups on the ground into an initiative but I know her initiative is one of at least three. So I think women’s rights activists are looking around now saying, “Ok look, there are so many of us and we’re doing very similar work, let’s get together because we need that power of us together to fight against this misogyny, to fight against this hatred of women, to fight against the military and the fundamentalist movement for whom women’s rights are not a priority.”

That plus a miracle.

Mona’s planning a book.

Mona: I’m writing a book that is based on an essay I wrote a few months ago called “Why do they hate us?” and this essay caused a huge ruckus because the point that I was making is that uh a lot of the misogyny against that uh we experience as women in the Middle East and North Africa is driven by sheer hatred for women.

Robin: Yes.

Mona: Clearly and obviously this is not just limited to that region or that…

Robin: Oh you think? [laughs]

Mona: It’s global I’m sure but that’s where I come from and so that’s the region I can most talk about. So I want to write a book that I’m determined to call “Headscarves and Hymens.”

Robin: “Headscarves and Hymens”

Mona: “Headscarves and Hymens” because it’s such a…

Robin: You’re such a wimp, you just just don’t take risks, [Mona laughs] you know. what a pity. If you only had a spine, Mona. [Both laugh]

Mona: I’m trying to provoke them and see how far I can go with this, it’s my contention that for women in the Middle East and North Africa, we’ve come to a point where it’s all about what’s on our heads—the headscarves—and what’s in between our legs—the hymens. So whether you’re talking about female genital mutilation or the so called virginity tests i.e. sexual assault and rape enacted upon female revolutionaries in Egypt by the military it’s really about Headscarves and Hymens and you know one of those women who survived these horrendous virginity tests and sued the Egyptian Military. A young woman called Samir Abrahim she told a great story during this meeting that Nawal El Saadawi called. She said, “Listen people, we need to get working women in these meetings because I know this woman, who was selling vegetables, she was selling rocket arugula somewhere and this extremist, this Islamist, came up to her and said, ‘Woman you’re not covered properly’ and you know what she did? She took off her blouse and said, ‘How do you like me now?’” [Robin laughs] So those are the kinds of stories that I want to document but also the kind of violations that we have to recognize but you know also one of the things that my books wants to do is to say that we have to identify as feminists. The time where all of these amazing young women who are saying, “No, no, no, it’s not about women’s rights, it’s about everyone’s rights,” I understand that. But we’re at a critical moment in our history and the region and the way we fight it is by identifying it as such. We are feminists, and we draw upon this wonderful history of Nawal El Saadawi, of Doria Shafik who invaded the Egyptian parliament with fifteen hundred women in the 50s, of Hoda Sha’arawi in 1923 who…

Robin: Took off her veil, yes.

Mona: We’re feminists are here and we are fighting.

Yes. You have to spell it out. If you say “everyone’s rights” then it never is. You have to spell it out.


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

Join the Day of Agreement

Oct 7th, 2012 1:50 pm | By

From Maryam Namazie and Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and One Law for All:
Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and One Law for All are calling on everyone to join the Day of Agreement.

It’s quite easy to do.
On 10 October, upload the day’s logo as your avatar on social media, Tweet #dayofagreement or try it with your colleagues, family and friends.

You can also join our five minute flash-mob at 12 noon in central London. (Email for more details).

Just remember, you can’t disagree with anyone – your colleagues, spouse, lover(s), mates, neighbours, children, bosses, or even politicians…

You are not allowed to dissent, ‘offend’ or question.

And before anyone gets too excited, they have to remember that they must also agree with everything you say. It’s only fair…

Seems impossible?

But that is what is expected of those of us who question, criticise or choose to leave Islam, including many Muslims and ex-Muslims…

Try it.

And while it all seems a bit of fun – on October 10 International Day against the Death Penalty – don’t forget that there are many living under Sharia law who are daily facing threats, imprisonment and execution for merely expressing themselves.

Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain

BM Box 1919

London WC1N 3XX, UK

Tel: +44 (0) 7719166731 +44 (0) 7719166731

One Law for All

BM Box 2387

London WC1N 3XX, UK

Tel: +44 (0) 7719166731 +44 (0) 7719166731

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

Who is merciful?

Oct 7th, 2012 10:58 am | By

An unpleasant little story from India.

…a 12-year-old boy was allegedly chained by authorities of a local madrassa to prevent him from escaping from the school.

According to Medak town police, the boy has been studying in ‘Minhaj-ul-uloom’ religious school for the past three years and had earlier made several attempts to run away from the madrassa, as he was not a quick learner and had a stammering problem.

The police said that the madrassa management had chained the boy a few days ago to prevent him from escaping.

To prevent him from “escaping” – as if he were somehow legally obliged to be there.

“There is no compulsion in religion.” Oh really?

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

Atheists are not citizens shock

Oct 7th, 2012 10:33 am | By

It’s interesting to see the Washington Post columnist Sally Quinn unabashedly announcing that theism is part of citizenship in the US.

This is a religious country. Part of claiming your citizenship is claiming a belief in God, even if you are not Christian. We’ve got the Creator in our Declaration of Independence. We’ve got “In God We Trust” on our coins. We’ve got “one nation under God” in our Pledge of Allegiance. And we say prayers in the Senate and the House of Representatives to God.

Excuse me. I am a citizen. I don’t have to claim anything (and neither does any other citizen), and I certainly don’t have to claim a belief in god. Nobody has to. Nor does anyone have to claim a disbelief in god.

Up until now, the idea of being American and believing in God were synonymous.

No, they were not.

It’s slightly shocking to see a political columnist betray such ignorance of political basics. A majority opinion is not at all the same thing as being any particular nationality. The claim is both absurd and bossy.

Fortunately there are many comments pointing out how wrong that column is, along with some predictable sexist dreck.


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

An instrument of mischief

Oct 6th, 2012 5:48 pm | By

Have you read the Leiter and Weisberg review of Thomas Nagel’s book Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False? It’s pretty entertaining.

First there’s theoretical reductionism: it’s all physics. Nobody thinks that, so it’s silly to bother with it. Second there’s naturalism: what there is is what there is. (That’s my version. Theirs is the proper one.) Lots think that, so what’s Nagel’s problem with it? Well he reads “widely in the literature that explains contemporary science to the nonspecialist” and he notices that science often contradicts common sense.

This style of argument does not, alas, have a promising history. After all, what could be more common-sensical, obvious or evident than the notion that the earth is flat and the sun revolves around the earth?…Happily, Nagel does not attempt to repudiate the Copernican revolution in astronomy, despite its hostility to common sense. But he displays none of the same humility when it comes to his preferred claims of common sense—the kind of humility that nearly 400 years of nonevident yet true scientific discoveries should engender. Are we really supposed to abandon a massively successful scientific research program because Nagel finds some scientific claims hard to square with what he thinks is obvious and “undeniable,” such as his confidence that his “clearest moral…reasonings are objectively valid”?

In support of his skepticism, Nagel writes: “The world is an astonishing place, and the idea that we have in our possession the basic tools needed to understand it is no more credible now than it was in Aristotle’s day.” This seems to us perhaps the most startling sentence in all of Mind and Cosmos. Epistemic humility—the recognition that we could be wrong—is a virtue in science as it is in daily life, but surely we have some reason for thinking, some four centuries after the start of the scientific revolution, that Aristotle was on the wrong track and that we are not, or at least not yet.

See what I mean? Entertaining.

And then, Nagel thinks there are objective moral truths, and that that fact shows that naturalism is wrong.

 there is nothing remotely common-sensical about Nagel’s confidence in the objectivity of moral truth. While Nagel and his compatriots apparently take very seriously their moral opinions—so seriously that they find it incredible to suggest that their “confidence in the objective truth of [their] moral beliefs” might, in fact, be “completely illusory”—this can hardly claim the mantle of “the common sense view.” Ordinary opinion sometimes tends toward objectivism, to be sure—often by relying on religious assumptions that Nagel explicitly rejects—but it also often veers toward social or cultural relativism about morality. Whether morality is truly objective is a philosopher’s claim (and a controversial one even among philosophers) about which “common sense” is either agnostic or mixed.

Sam Harris notwithstanding.

And then Nagel argues for teleology. I’m beginning to be tempted to read the book now.

Or perhaps not.

We conclude with a comment about truth in advertising. Nagel’s arguments against reductionism are quixotic, and his arguments against naturalism are unconvincing. He aspires to develop “rival alternative conceptions” to what he calls the materialist neo-Darwinian worldview, yet he never clearly articulates this rival conception, nor does he give us any reason to think that “the present right-thinking consensus will come to seem laughable in a generation or two.” Mind and Cosmos is certainly an apt title for Nagel’s philosophical meditations, but his subtitle—”Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False”—is highly misleading. Nagel, by his own admission, relies only on popular science writing and brings to bear idiosyncratic and often outdated views about a whole host of issues, from the objectivity of moral truth to the nature of explanation. No one could possibly think he has shown that a massively successful scientific research program like the one inspired by Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection “is almost certainly false.” The subtitle seems intended to market the book to evolution deniers, intelligent-design acolytes, religious fanatics and others who are not really interested in the substantive scientific and philosophical issues. Even a philosopher sympathetic to Nagel’s worries about the naturalistic worldview would not claim this volume comes close to living up to that subtitle. Its only effect will be to make the book an instrument of mischief.

That’s unfortunate.


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

Is it time yet?

Oct 6th, 2012 4:04 pm | By

Adam Lee has an article in Salon about Divisiveness Among Teh Atheists and what a good thing it is. (No, he doesn’t say anything about “bitchy infighting” or the Judean People’s Front.)

The animating idea behind Atheism+ is that atheism isn’t a stopping point, but a beginning. We’re atheists not because we want to gather and engage in collective back-slapping, not because we want to chortle at the foolishness of benighted believers, but because we care about creating a world that’s more just, more peaceful, more enlightened, and we see organized religion as standing in the way of this goal. We consider politically engaged atheism an effective way to demolish this obstacle, to refute the beliefs that have so often throughout human history been used to excuse cruelty, inequality, ignorance, oppression and violence.

Is that bitchy of us? No, it isn’t. Joking aside, it isn’t. It’s what freethought has always been about. I bet nobody ever called G W Foote bitchy.

While Atheism+ has already seen allies flock to its banner, it has its detractors as well. The most common complaint heard from some quarters is that A+ is “divisive,” that it causes us to waste valuable time and energy on infighting rather than accomplishing the goals we all have in common. However, this is a classic example of how privilege makes it easy for people to overlook barriers that don’t personally affect them. The truth is that the atheist movement is already divided, and has been for a while: Surveys show that there’s a significant imbalance of men over women. Some of this may be due to outside cultural factors, but some of it is surely owing to the experiences that many women have spoken out about: belittling language and condescension, unwanted sexual advances, outright harassment, and sometimes violent abuse and threats when they speak up about the other things that make them feel unwelcome.

It is now. I don’t know that it was a couple of years ago (at the time I thought it was mostly just a matter of forgetfulness – conference organizers forgetting to ask women to speak and forgetting how to look for them when PZ and others told them to ask), but it sure as hell is now. There are places I won’t go near, for the simple reason that I don’t want buckets of ordure dumped over my head.

Atheism+ isn’t creating division, it’s an effort to fix an already existing division by lowering the barriers to women’s participation in the atheist movement. The widespread adoption of anti-harassment policies at most major atheist conferences, as well as the series of atheist leaders speaking out against hate directed at women, are a good start, but there’s much more progress to be made.

Like…people stopping. People stopping things like this disgusting podcast, in which Reap Paden calls Stephanie Zvan a fucking bitch over and over again in a shouting enraged rant, and later joins with some other dudes to call Rebecca Watson a stupid cunt. Just not doing that, would be progress. I don’t see Reap Paden doing a racist version of that, so progress would be not doing a sexist one either.

For many atheists, the events leading up to the formation of Atheism+ have been one dispiriting experience after another, as the depths of hate that have been festering among us have emerged into public view. It’s clear there’s a small subset of people within the atheist community, mostly but not exclusively male, who are driven into a raving fury by the idea that there should be any limitations on people’s behavior or that we should undertake to make our movement more diverse. It’s unlikely that we can rid ourselves of these people entirely; but at the very least, we hope to ensure that the larger community won’t sanction their behavior, regard it as acceptable or tacitly condone it by saying and doing nothing.

Or somewhat more than tacitly condone it by saying and doing nothing about that while pitching daily fits about “FTBullies” and their friends and allies.

Most important, we want to be clear that this isn’t a problem unique to atheism. On the contrary, it’s something that’s happened over and over through history as once-fringe ideas move into the mainstream and become more diverse. As this article on io9 notes, other conferences are having these same fights, which may well mean that feminism and social justice are ideas whose time has come.

Oh god that last part makes me want to bang my head against the wall. We thought feminism’s time had come forty years ago. Forty fucking years ago, children. It’s so sad that we’re forlornly hoping that maybe now…

You youngsters will be saying the same thing in forty years. I’m sorry to tell you that, but you will.

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

The return of snipping

Oct 6th, 2012 12:48 pm | By

Well great. No need to worry about all the poor sad tragic parents in Germany frustrated in their desire to snip off the end of their infant boy’s penis. They can haz circumcision. Yay!

The Cologne court ruling in June outraged Germany’s Muslims and Jews, and triggered an anguished national debate, by stating that ritual circumcision of under-aged boys amounted to “bodily harm” and parents should wait for their son to make his own decision.

Omigod I know, right? Wait for their son to make his own decision! How crazy is that?! If they wait, he’ll decide no! And that won’t do, because. So obviously they absolutely have to do it when he’s too small and altricial to refuse. That’s absolutely the only fair thing! If you know it’s something a person with a mature-ish brain would refuse to do, you totally have to do it to them when they are infants. This is God’s wish. God could have just issued the infants without the foreskin, but that would be too easy.

Jewish and Muslim groups branded the court order an attack on their religious freedom and an embarrassed German government — particularly sensitive to charges of intolerance because of the Nazi past — vowed to bring in legislation swiftly to protect ritual circumcisions.

Germany is home to about 4 million Muslims, mostly of Turkish origin, and 120,000 Jews. Chancellor Angela Merkel said if it failed to take action it risked becoming a laughing stock.

And there was just absolutely no need to think about the competing rights of the infants to keep their bodies intact until they were old enough to make their own decisions. Hell no! Fall all over yourselves to appease religious ”groups” as if nothing else mattered.

The Justice Ministry has now issued the outlines of the new legislation that will protect a family’s right to circumcise their child, provided they have been fully informed about the procedure and use the “most effective pain relief possible.”

Completion and approval of the new law, which gives any family the right to have their child circumcised, regardless of religion, may be just weeks away. Some lawmakers are pressing for a vote of conscience freed from party discipline.

The right, the right, the right – as if the only right that mattered were the right of parents to have something done to their child. As if the right of the child – the infant - not to have a bit snipped off for no real reason had never even been thought of.

Muslim and Jewish groups have cautiously welcomed the outline proposal, but the months of uncertainty and debate that followed the Cologne ruling — which triggered rare joint demonstrations — have shaken the communities.

“This whole row has been very damaging to the integration process,” said Cologne doctor Omar Kezze.

Kezze, originally from Aleppo in Syria, is the doctor whose trial sparked the Cologne court ruling. A boy he circumcised was taken to hospital after his wounds continued to bleed and the hospital informed the police and local prosecutors. The court cleared Kezze of all charges but created a legal minefield when it classified circumcision as “bodily harm”.

“We have a financial crisis, we have extremists on the left and the right, many, many attacks,” Kezze said, speaking in his busy surgery where pictures of his native city adorn the wall.

“There are many things for our prosecutors to fight; they really shouldn’t be questioning a tradition dating back to Abraham.”

Bollocks. Evil bollocks. A tradition dating back to Abraham is just the kind of thing that everyone should be questioning.

Not all in Germany want to allow religious circumcisions. An opinion poll by TNS Emnid shortly after the Cologne ruling found 56% opposed to the practice.

Some doctors and children’s rights associations submitted a petition in September calling for a two-year moratorium and a round-table of medical, religious and legal experts to study circumcision fully.

“In the clear opinion of experts, the amputation of the foreskin is a grave interference in the bodily integrity of a child,” Georg Ehrmann, chairman of the child protection group Deutsche Kinderhilfe, told a news conference.

Oh well who cares what they think. It’s only what “the communities” think that counts.

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

Unless women are properly in power

Oct 6th, 2012 11:13 am | By

An Egyptian women’s rights activist, Dalia Ziada, gave a talk at Tufts a couple of days ago and said what we already know: that the revolution is not an egalitarian revolution, and is taking away women’s rights as opposed to expanding them.

The pro-democracy figure warns that the heady optimism that infused Cairo’s Tahrir Square last year is being slowly replaced by fear that the very political forces that helped sweep long-serving Hosni Mubarak from power are remaking Egyptian society into a rigid, religiously intolerant, patriarchal system.

“What’s happening now is the Muslim Brotherhood is coercing everything,” she said, referring to the once-banned conservative Islamic political group that now dominates Egypt’s parliament and the presidency. “What I fear is that we will be facing the Muslim Brotherhood’s theocracy with Mubarak’s autocracy.”

“I don’t believe our revolution will succeed until one day we will have a woman president. I don’t believe there can be a democracy unless women are properly in power,” she said in a speech at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Medford, Mass., yesterday.

Indeed there can’t, since women are half of the demos.

…the Muslim Brotherhood and its Freedom and Justice Party agitate for policies and legislation – such as child marriage and female genital circumcision – that, Ms. Ziada argues, are contrary to the ideals of last year’s protesters…

But Egypt’s political life also mirrors traditional social norms, she acknowledged, particularly when it comes to attitudes toward women in public life. She said her organization helped run a public opinion survey not long ago in Cairo, and of the roughly 1,000 people surveyed, every one of them said they did not want a woman to be president.

“Men are telling women, ‘Go back home, it’s not your time now, we want to build democracy, you should be home,’” she said, wearing one of her distinctive brightly-colored head scarfs. “It’s not proper that the people who led the revolution are now completely out of the scene now,” she said.

No it’s not, but the outlook is grim.

I should end on a more hopeful note. I got nothin.

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