Notes and Comment Blog

Welcome to oligarchy

Apr 18th, 2014 12:25 pm | By

The BBC reports on an academic study that finds the US is an oligarchy rather than a democracy. I knew that, but it’s interesting to have a study.

the two professors have conducted exhaustive research to try to present data-driven support for this conclusion. Here’s how they explain it:

Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organised groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.

In English: the wealthy few move policy, while the average American has little power.

The two professors came to this conclusion after reviewing answers to 1,779 survey questions asked between 1981 and 2002 on public policy issues. They broke the responses down by income level, and then determined how often certain income levels and organised interest groups saw their policy preferences enacted.

2002…long before Citizens United.

They conclude:

Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But we believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organisations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.

Eric Zuess, writing in Counterpunch, isn’t surprised by the survey’s results.

“American democracy is a sham, no matter how much it’s pumped by the oligarchs who run the country (and who control the nation’s “news” media),” he writes. “The US, in other words, is basically similar to Russia or most other dubious ‘electoral’ ‘democratic’ countries. We weren’t formerly, but we clearly are now.”

It’s not a cheerful finding.


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

The count

Apr 18th, 2014 12:10 pm | By

The BBC is still reporting on the kidnapped schoolgirls in Nigeria. Their reporter there, Will Ross, says the government is saying 99 girls are missing but parents are saying it’s 150 to 200.

The attack on the school in Chibok, a remote part of Borno state, happened late on Monday with gunmen reportedly storming the school, stealing food supplies and ordering the students onto lorries.

On Wednesday, the military said most of the abducted students had been freed “as troops pursuing the terrorists close in on the den of those believed to have carried out the attack”.

But Mr Olukolade said it was based on a report “filed in from the field indicating that a major breakthrough had been recorded in the search”.

“The report forwarded to the public on this issue was in good faith and not intended to deceive the public,” he said.

“The number of those still missing is not the issue now as the life of every Nigerian is very precious.”

Local education officials say 99 of the girls are unaccounted for, but some parents suggest between 150 and 200 are still missing, the BBC’s Nigeria correspondent Will Ross reports.

I still want to know why education is haram but kidnapping is halal.


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

The missing 200+

Apr 18th, 2014 12:04 pm | By

Richard Attias at the Huffington Post points out the lack of coverage of the kidnapping of more than 100 schoolgirls in Borno, Nigeria.

The Western media has made barely a mention of this story and appears resigned to ignore this abduction, which is an act of terror and unprecedented barbarism against these students whose only crime was to go to school.

That’s actually not true. It may be true of US media, but it’s not true of for instance the BBC World Service – it was the top story on Wednesday and it got a lot of minutes. He probably had no idea how much coverage there was in French, German, Swedish, Spanish etc etc media. Be careful  not to say “Western” when you mean “US.”

But anyway, if the US media are ignoring it, that stinks.

The World Service said yesterday that Nigeria had had to adjust the number way upward – they were now saying it was over 200 girls.

It’s awful.

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

See this door?

Apr 18th, 2014 11:21 am | By

For refreshment after that – the new xkcd.

Free Speech

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

“It’s more of a guy thing” in paintings

Apr 18th, 2014 11:00 am | By


Two more, for the total of three, at the Art Show and Silent Auction at the American Atheists’ Convention in Salt Lake City.

I’m told this one is hanging just below one of Neil DeGrasse Tyson.

This one is sculptural; the hand is part of it.

Stephanie Zvan's photo.

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

An affordable price

Apr 18th, 2014 10:05 am | By


So the American Atheists Convention is going on this weekend – Easter weekend, you know. Tom Flynn has the glory of giving the Easter sermon.

There’s an art show and auction. I loved the one last year. I kept wandering back to it to gaze some more.

But this year…There’s one guy who has a bunch of portraits of The Godmen of Atheism, and along with them – some naked women. The Godmen are all fully dressed, and the women, not so much.

Like this one:

See the oh so witty caption? “What glass ceiling?” Hahaharight, because naked woman among all the Godmen in suits – yeah that’s busting the glass ceiling all right. And the Women’s Rights barcode? Hahaharight because whatever.

I looked up AA’s Code of Conduct again.

American Atheists does not tolerate harassment of or by conference participants in any form. Prohibited conduct may include but is not limited to harassment related to gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, age, religion, sexual images in public spaces (not related to convention sessions or materials)…


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

Using abducted students as cooks, sex slaves and porters

Apr 17th, 2014 6:22 pm | By

Boko Haram has kidnapped more than 100 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok in Borno State.

The government closed all schools in Borno three weeks ago because of frequent attacks in which hundreds of students have been killed in the past year. The girls who were kidnapped had been recalled so they could write their final exams.

The extremists have been using abducted students as cooks, sex slaves and porters.

Boko Haram has been on a rampage this week, blamed for four attacks in three days that started with an explosion at a busy bus station during the Monday morning rush hour in Abuja, the capital, which killed at least 75 people.

Two attacks in northeastern villages killed 20 people Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.

People from Chibok are searching the Sambisa Forest for them.

Education is forbidden, but mass murder and kidnapping for enslavement and rape – those are not forbidden. Funny kind of god Boko Haram has.

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

Gabriel García Márquez

Apr 17th, 2014 6:12 pm | By

From the Guardian:

Few writers have produced novels that are acknowledged as masterpieces not only in their own countries but all around the world. Fewer still can be said to have written books that have changed the whole course of literature in their language. But the Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez, who has died at the age of 87 after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease achieved just that, especially thanks to his novel One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Since its publication in 1967, more than 25m copies of the book have been sold in Spanish and other languages. For at least a generation the book firmly stamped Latin American literature as the domain of “magical realism”.

Born in the small town of Aracataca, close to the Caribbean coast of Colombia, García Márquez (or “Gabo” as he was often affectionately nicknamed) always identified himself with the cultural mix of Spanish, black and indigenous traditions that continue to flourish there. Although later in life he lived in Paris, Mexico and elsewhere, his books returned constantly to this torrid coastal region, where the power of nature and myth still predominate over the restraints of cold reason.

Hm. It’s not necessary to oppose reason to nature and myth. One can value and draw on all three.

Journalism was to remain a passion throughout his life: time and again his fictional stories have their basis in tales he heard as a young journalist, as he explains for example in the introduction to the 1994 novel Of Love and Other Demons. At the same time, whatever fantastic elements are to be found in his novels and short stories, García Márquez learned from journalism the craft of story-telling, showing himself to be an astounding judge of pace, surprise, and structure. He was also immensely interested in the cinema. In Rome in the 1950s he studied at the Experimental Film School, and while living in Mexico in the 1960s wrote several film scripts. He also dabbled in television soap operas, arguing that this was the way to reach the broadest possible audience and satisfy their need for narrative.

By the mid-1960s, he had published three novels that enjoyed reasonable critical acclaim in Latin America, but neither huge commercial nor international success. His fourth novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude, first published not in Colombia but in Argentina, was to change all that. It tells the story of succeeding generations of the archetypal Buendía family and the amazing events that befall the isolated town of Macondo, in which fantasy and fact constantly intertwine to produce their own brand of magical logic. The novel has not only proved immediately accessible to readers everywhere, but has influenced writers of many nationalities, from Isabel Allende to Salman Rushdie.

It was via Salman Rushdie, on Facebook, that I learned he was gone.



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

Silence empowers the Neo-Nazis

Apr 17th, 2014 5:41 pm | By

As I’ve been pointing out, Ayaan Hirsi Ali gets misread by people who are convinced she’s a far-right racist, or people who want to convince others that she is. There’s “Loonwatch” for instance. Loonwatch gives a very warped version of the talk in which she mentioned Anders Breivik. The article is titled Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Sympathizes with Terrorist Anders Behring Breivik and it repeats the accusation in the text.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali was invited to Germany to receive the Axel Springer Award, to recount her “escape” from Islam.

Sympathy for the Devil

In her acceptance speech, Ali expressed her sympathy for terrorist murderer Anders Behring Breivik. Her writings were included in Breivik’s manifesto and she took the opportunity of the speech to try and distance herself from his actions while squarely putting the blame for Breivik’s massacre on his targets.

That’s a lie. She didn’t express any sympathy for Anders Breivik. Here is her talk (thanks to Anthony K for the link), which is titled The Advocates of Silence.

“People ask me if I have some kind of death wish, to keep saying the things I do. The answer is no, I would like to keep living. However, some things must be said and there are times when silence becomes an accomplice to injustice.” I wrote those words in 2005. I was alluding to the plight of Muslim women who live in Europe, whose suffering inspired me to make the film Submission with Theo van Gogh. He was shot and stabbed to death by a radical Muslim.

Today, the problem of how to integrate Muslim immigrants into European society is, if anything, even more complex and challenging than it was then. There are, of course, still the advocates of silence. They say that an honest discussion of the challenges posed by some Muslim immigrants to European society will lead to a build-up of hatred against those immigrants: A hatred so vile and so strong as to translate into violence. A violence carried out by lone renegades like the Norwegian Anders Breivik, now on trial for his horrific spree in Oslo last year, or a more organized violence by neo-Nazi groups.

The advocates of silence also warn that honest discussion will encourage the emergence and rise of populist parties whose only political issue is immigration and Islam. They fear the election through non-violent means of politicians with a violent agenda that they will apply to Muslims as soon as they get into office. Advocates of silence conjure up terrifying visions of fascistic regimes that will implement mass deportations of Muslims, mass imprisonment of Muslims, the closing of their mosques, the shutting down of their businesses, the exclusion of Muslims from education and employment, and other types of discrimination.

I recommend reading the whole piece. She gives a careful and fair account of what the advocates of silence argue, so fair that she presents a convincing case.

The advocates of silence warn us that publishing these facts or debating them in the media and in parliament will transform the existing resentment towards Muslims into violent behavior. The sentiment of xenophobia, they argue, is irrational and cannot – or will not – tell the difference between a good Muslim and a bad Muslim. The xenophobes will persecute Muslims regardless of their guilt or innocence and hurt them.

Censorship and silence, we are told, are the best preventive remedies against hatred and violence.

I believe that the advocates of silence are wrong, profoundly and dangerously wrong.

I do not dispute that some Europeans are xenophobic, and that the tendency to scapegoat others is prevalent in many places. I understand that this tendency is more pronounced in times of economic hardship, such as much of Europe outside Germany is experiencing. I can see, too, that a major part of the difficulty if integration Muslims into European society has a social and economic explanation. Most immigrants of Muslim countries into Europe these days come from segments of society in their country of origin with little education and little or no job skills.

That’s a sample. You can see what I mean, I think – she doesn’t give a weak version of the argument she disputes, and she concedes many of its claims. Then she presents her arguments.

Secondly, silence empowers rather than weakens the populists and the extremists. When the political mainstream censors itself, the populists and extremists can represent themselves as the only people capable of addressing one of the major issues of our time. By breaking the taboo, they win trust and respect on that issue even as the parties of the establishment lose trust. Some newspapers – I will not mention them by name – may choose not to publish critical voices, but those in society for whom the presence of Islam is a problem can now simply click on their favorite blogs.

Thirdly, and perhaps most seriously, silence empowers the Islamists, the radical agents of hatred. The young Muslim dropout, who is morally confused, is approached by a confident Islamist with a not so hidden agenda. The Islamist’s potential rivals in the struggle of hearts and minds – the Christians and the humanists – have been silenced by the kind of inhibitions I have already described. Muslim ghettoes in Europe today are exposed without censorship to the siren song of jihad, of martyrdom, of Sharia law, of hatred and self-exclusion. Here is an extreme ideology just as abhorrent as the neo-fascism of a Breivik. Yet to speak out against radical Islamism is to be condemned as an Islamophobe.

Fourthly and finally, that one man who killed 77 people in Norway, because he fears that Europe will be overrun by Islam, may have cited the work of those who speak and write against political Islam in Europe and America – myself among them – but he does not say in his 1500 page manifesto that it was these people who inspired him to kill. He says very clearly that it was the advocates of silence. Because all outlets to express his views were censored, he says, he had no other choice but to use violence.

That last paragraph is the one brandished by people who loathe her as evidence that she was sympathizing with Breivik. She was doing no such thing.

Decades of informal censorship in Europe have led not to the promised integration of Muslim immigrants but to a culture of evasion and avoidance which has allowed extremism – both Jihadism and neo-Nazism – to flourish amid a general impotence of the established parties.

She does not like or want either of those.

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

You check it like you actually give a damn

Apr 17th, 2014 1:50 pm | By

Another message to men – specifically geek guys – about sexual harassment.

That women are harassed online is not news. That women in comics and the broader fandom cultures are harassed online is not news. That these women are routinely transmitted anonymous messages describing graphic sexual violence perpetrated upon them for transgressions as grave as not liking a thing… that is actually news to me, and it’s probably news to a lot of you guys reading this.

But it’s not news to a lot of women I know, and to women whose work you’ve read here and around the Web.

Nope, it’s not.

The Internet is a boon to humanity. It is also terrible. That is its special nature. Every cogent thought put forth has a dark, mindless twin — sometimes these twins are legion — ready to feed on a person’s idea and process it into the toxic waste found at the bottom of virtually any website you care to visit. We call them trolls, and anyone reading this site or others like it knows that popular art and its surrounding fandom attract a particularly nasty strain of them.

I’m not just talking about the trolls. I’m not just talking about the mischief makers, the haters, the contrarians or the pedants. What I’m also talking about is something much worse and heretofore all but invisible to me and many other men like me. I’m talking about this:

Women in comics are the deviation, the invading body, the cancer. We are the cure, the norm, the natural order. All you are is a pair of halfway decent tits, a c*nt and a loud mouth. But see, it doesn’t matter how loud you get. It doesn’t matter how many of your lezbo tumblr and twitter fangirl friends agree with you and reinforce your views. You can be all “I’m not going to be silent about misogyny so f*ck you!” all you want. In the end all you are is a pathetic little girl trying to effect change and failing to make a dent. You might as well try to drain the ocean of fish. That’s the kind of battle you face with people like me. We won’t quit. We won’t stop attacking. We won’t give up. Ever.

I’ve encountered such sentiments before, but it’s only recently that I’ve learned how common they are.

Those remarks were sent to Janelle Asselin, a ComicsAlliance contributor, professional comic book editor, and academic researcher. She posted them on her Facebook page, to which she’s restricted public access for obvious reasons. I’ve republished the message here with her permission.

I’m sure what that guy says is true, but what I think is also true is that it will cost them all the best places. They won’t get to hang out with the cool kids.

At last month’s Emerald City Comicon in Seattle, Janelle joined former ComicsAlliance Editor-in-Chief Laura Hudson and occasional CA contributor Rachel Edidin on a discussion panel about sexual harassment in fandom culture and media. Laura and Rachel have also written about harassment before and since. It’s a subject I care about too, and I attended knowing I would hear some profound stuff about women in the industry in which I’ve spent a huge part of my adult life. But I went mainly because all three of these women are my friends and colleagues and I like to support their endeavors in all things. I didn’t think there would be anything for me, as a man, to take onboard from the sexual harassment panel. I don’t harass women. I hate men who do. What else was there for me to do but listen and try to empathize?

As it turns out… this. Writing this thing you’re reading now.

You see, each of these women — and they’ve been echoed by others including Kate Leth and Heidi MacDonald — explained something to the Seattle crowd that I thought I knew but never truly understood before:

This isn’t their problem, guys. It’s ours. We have to solve it.

Sexual harassment isn’t an occupational hazard. It’s not a glitch in the complex matrix of modern life. It’s not something that just “happens.” It’s something men do. It’s a choice men make. It’s a problem men enable. It’s sometimes a crime men commit. And it is not in the power nor the responsibility of women to wage war on this crime.

It’s on us.

How do we fight this war? We stop enabling. We check ourselves and, when necessary, wreck ourselves. Do you know a guy who’s hate-following women on Twitter just to troll them? You check him. Do you know a guy who’s writing disgusting screeds to women journalists because they don’t like the same things he likes? You check him. Do you know a professional whose discourse with women in his field is loaded with gender-specific language and condescension that could enable further abuse? You check him. Are your Twitter followers identifying you as a sympathetic ear for their sexist views? You check yourself. Is your website’s message board a cesspool of ignorance and hate? You check it like you actually give a damn. Do you know a guy who’s sending rape threats to women for any reason? Oh, you report that guy.

That. That’s what’s needed. A lot lot lot lot more of that.

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

Sisters contact

Apr 17th, 2014 11:02 am | By

Damion Thompson reports at the Telegraph (yes, I know – the Telegraph) that the University of East London said No to gender segregation at an event on its campus.

blogged yesterday about this “segregated” Muslim event organised by the Islamic Society of the University of East London, due to happen tonight at UEL’s main lecture theatre on its Docklands campus.

Much to my surprise, UEL immediately banned it from their campus. See the reaction below by Peter Tatchell, who brought this to public attention:

Check out the poster for the event.

SEGREGATED EVENT, spelled out right there on the poster, and then segregated numbers for the “brothers” and “sisters” to contact.


The New Ham Recorder has more.

The dinner event, organised for tonight by the University of East London’s Islamic society, advertised it as a “segregated event”, and had separate booking phone numbers for “brothers” and “sisters”.

But UEL pulled the event after human rights activist Peter Tatchell lobbied Vice-Chancellor John Joughin, warning the seating arrangement would breach equality law.

The Day After Tomorrow event – which charged £5 for tickets – would have seen a lecture theatre at the UEL’s Docklands campus strictly segregated, with women and men sitting apart.

Concerns were also raised about statements made in the past by two of the preachers booked to appear.

A spokesman for UEL said: “The society will not be permitted to use any of UEL’s facilities or premises to host this event. “We have made it very clear to the organisers that the university will not tolerate segregation or hatred in any form.”

The UEL Islamic Society was not available for comment at time of press.

Mr Tatchell thanked UEL for the move, saying: “Gender segregated seating violates the university’s equal opportunities policies and the equality laws.

“The swift, positive response of UEL stands in contrast to some other universities which, in the name of tolerance, collude with Islamist intolerance by allowing extremist preaching on university premises.”

It’s interesting that those other universities are very high-status ones while UEL is not. Similarly, Brandeis is not East Topeka Community College. I wonder why it’s the high-status universities that are so woolly on this issue.

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


Apr 17th, 2014 10:48 am | By

This business of rape being something that’s done to the man who owns the woman who is raped…I watched some of the 1959 movie Anatomy of a Murder the other day, and was struck by something the defense lawyer-protagonist (Jimmy Stewart) said. One character said of another, “He was a nice guy.” Jimmy Stewart responded, “Yeah, a nice guy, except for his habit of raping other men’s wives.”

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


Apr 17th, 2014 9:33 am | By

The horror…

A woman in India sought to enact revenge on her daughter’s rapist, so she got four men, including her own husband, to gang rape the wife of the accused man.

According to reports, the revenge rape, which happened in Barabanki, Uttar Pradesh, India on Sunday, left the accused rapist’s wife struggling for life on the side of a road.

The mother of the teenage girl that was originally raped allegedly called on three men and her husband to rape the wife of her daughter’s rapist in retaliation for the crime. The four men wound up abducting the woman, taking her to an area near a police station in a neighboring village, and gang raped her.

Later on, the men drove the raped woman to an area along the side of a road where they dumped her and fled the scene. The woman was discovered by villagers and brought to the hospital where she is now reportedly in critical condition.

I got nothin.

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

She’s down, kick her some more

Apr 16th, 2014 6:26 pm | By

Another piece of annoying waffle about Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Brandeis, this one in The New Republic. Isaac Chotiner muddles it from the beginning:

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the outspoken (this is almost a euphemism) Somali-Dutch opponent of Islam, was recently offered an honorary degree by Brandeis University. The school, which apparently only recently became acquainted with some of her comments about the Islamic faith, decided to revoke the offer of the honorary degree and instead invite her to campus for a dialogue.

No. It wasn’t “we want to switch the honorary degree to a dialogue.” Brandeis revoked the award (it wasn’t an offer at that point, because Hirsi Ali had accepted), period. It also said she was welcome to come along and have a discussion, but that was just a face-saving bit of bullshit. It was not an exchange or an alteration or anything else “normal”; it was an insult followed by an insulting sop. Imagine a friend inviting you to dinner and after you’ve accepted with thanks, calling up to say “I’ve changed my mind, you can’t come to dinner. You’re welcome to drop in sometime for coffee though.” See? The sop doesn’t make the insult less insulting; it actually makes it that little bit more so. It also isn’t any kind of normal substitution.

…the real question is why so many people are coming to the defense of a person who has voiced views as misguided as Hirsi Ali’s. (Various conservative—and even moderate—outlets have expressed dismay and anger at the decision.)

Note that “even moderate” – as if it were only conservatives and a very few “moderates” who saw any value in Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that there is a double standard at work—and that making nasty comments about Islam is somehow more acceptable than making them about other faiths.

One, what if it were? What if Islam were in fact worse than other “faiths”? Then why would it be unacceptable to say so? Chotiner doesn’t bother to say, he just takes it for granted. Two, bullshit, plenty of us make “nasty comments” about other religions too.

But this controversy isn’t about shunning someone from polite society. It is about giving a person an honorary degree. I certainly don’t think she was deserving of a degree in the first place, so, as Gharib argues, once the university realized its mistake, correcting it was reasonable. The counter argument, which isn’t entirely misguided either, would state that colleges should try to set a certain tone about these issues—even if it really isn’t a “freedom of speech” issue—and thus letting her get the award (after inviting her) would have been fine too. The world wasn’t going to come tumbling down either way, and some of the lessons Hirsi Ali has preached seem valuable.

So it turns out he doesn’t care either way; so why did he write this piece? I don’t know. On the other hand, no, it’s not “about giving a person an honorary degree.” It’s about giving a person an honorary degree and then taking it back. Brandeis had zero duty to give her an honorary degree. Once it did announce it was giving it to her, though, it should not have taken it back without a really compelling reason. No, “once the university realized its mistake,” correcting it was not reasonable.

But the strangest response has been from Tablet, which is by no means a right-wing publication, and which has given Hirsi Ali a “Moses Award” and castigated Brandeis for its decision. According to Tablet‘s editors, the Brandeis revocation is a reminder of “how threatened we’ve all become by a public conversation that permits the expression of nuanced, complicated, even at times offensive ideas—meaning, any ideas at all worth their salt.” Right—because Hirsi Ali’s quotes above are “nuanced, complicated.”

But the only quote he gave “above” was that familiar one from the Reason interview. It was from an interview.  As I’ve said, I disagree with much of what she’s said in interviews recently, but I think it’s ridiculous that people keep citing things she said in interviews while ignoring all her books and articles. Which is the more likely to be her considered opinion?

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

They don’t believe in fictional gods

Apr 16th, 2014 5:33 pm | By

This could happen to anyone.

On March 14, 2013, a 63-year-old atheist writer named Aleksandr Kharlamov was arrested in his hometown of Ridder in the east region of Kazakhstan and tried under the country’s Criminal Code Article 164 on charges of “inciting religious hatred” for articles he wrote criticizing religion. According to Forum 18 News Service based in Oslo, Norway, Kharlamov’s sentence included a month of enforced psychiatric detention and five months in prison. During that time Kharlamov lost 44 pounds.

An atheist writer. I’m an atheist writer. I’m trying to imagine being arrested and imprisoned for that.

[T]he American Humanist Association connected with Kharlamov and supported his legal efforts with a $2,000 donation as part of its increased work to defend the rights of nonbelievers abroad. Kharlamov took time to answer a few questions for (translated from Russian): Do you know of other atheists living in modern Kazakhstan?

Kharlamov: Yes, there are other atheists living in Kazakhstan. Many of my colleagues, who are journalists and human rights activists, are atheists, and there are many more. These people came to my defense. Atheists in Kazakhstan are highly spiritual and highly moral people, but they don’t believe in fictional gods. It is our hope that humanity will not disappear from the face of the planet, but that we will help build a new civilization of truth and justice. Do you think there will be freedom of religion in modern Kazakhstan?

Kharlamov: In modern Kazakhstan, under the current political and legal regime, there is no true freedom of religion, and the situation is getting worse and worse. It is evident that most Kazakh authorities support the religion of Islam and persecute non-Muslims, including atheists. However, religious Islamists create organized crime and extremist militias, religious Kazakhstans commit crimes, and participate in armed religious conflict, like in Syria. Fanatics from the religion of Islam believe that their religion is the one true one and should become the only religion on the planet. How difficult is it to be an atheist in modern Kazakhstan?

Kharlamov: In modern Kazakhstan it’s very difficult, because true atheists reject inventions and fight against every lie. We have to deal with people who spread lies, misinformation, inadequate thinking, and primitive ideology. People who are honest, truthful, and fair are taken into custody and put in prison or in camps. This hampers science, technology, and social progress.

I hope things get better for him.


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

Dial it down, North Dakota

Apr 16th, 2014 4:28 pm | By

North Dakota went a little too far, a judge has ruled.

A federal judge has struck down a North Dakota law banning abortions if a fetal heartbeat can be detected, calling the law “invalid and unconstitutional.”

The law, passed by lawmakers in the state just over a year ago, bans abortions as early as six weeks into pregnancy and is considered the most restrictive in the country.

Another loss for the “it’s not your body any more, IT’S THE BABY’S” crowd.

U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland, who is based in Bismarck, cited the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, saying “no state may deprive a woman of the choice to terminate her pregnancy at a point prior to viability.”

No, not even if it really really wants to.

The Associated Press writes:

“North Dakota’s heartbeat measure was among four anti-abortion bills that Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed into law last year with overwhelming support from the state’s Republican-led Legislature. Backed by the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, the state’s only abortion clinic, the Red River Clinic in Fargo, filed a lawsuit against the heartbeat law last July.”

Note that there’s only one clinic. It’s a big state, North Dakota. Small population but big state. It must be a long drive to that clinic for a lot of people.




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

When do we get to give informed consent?

Apr 16th, 2014 4:11 pm | By

Miri is angry. She’s right to be angry. What’s she angry about? People who don’t know jack shit about psychology making pronouncements about psychology, especially aggressive personal “you don’t have that you liar!!” type pronouncements.

Apparently a bunch of Skeptics™ don’t know what posttraumatic stress disorder is, but insist on lecturing those diagnosed with it (or those who have studied it) without ever bothering to educate themselves about the disorder, its symptoms, and its etiology. Because nothing says skepticism quite like blathering on about what you have no evidence for!

Well they probably saw an episode of a tv show that mentioned it once. I saw this one episode of The West Wing this one time, when Josh had PTSD and Adam Arkin came down from New York to fix him. Josh was all defensive and angry because he thought it was going to be talking about fee-fees and he didn’t want to, but Adam Arkin said oh hell no, I’d rather be set on fire than talk about your fee-fees. So that makes me an expert on PTSD, surely.

So, onto our Skeptics who think themselves qualified to determine who has PTSD and who doesn’t based on their own random little criteria. First of all, if someone has the symptoms of PTSD, then they have the symptoms of PTSD. You can’t Logic! and Reason! your way out of this.

But second, to anyone who claims that only things like combat, assault, or natural disasters can cause PTSD, maybe you should see what actual researchers in psychology have to say about that. Namely:

Research on online bullying and harassment is, unfortunately, still sparse. But given the dismaying way in which interactions online can incite the same strong emotions that interactions in person can, I fully expect this area of research to fill up quickly. We’ve already seen in several high-profile cases that technology-based bullying and harassment can provoke someone all the way to suicide. That they might also experience PTSD is not a huge logical leap at all.

No but you see people who let online bullying and harassment provoke them to suicide are making a mistake, a factual mistake, like taking an umbrella with you because you think it’s raining when it really isn’t. It’s the same with PTSD. So if enough people harass people with PTSD hard enough for long enough, the people with PTSD will admit they don’t have it and then the harassers will have made the world a better place.

Notably, the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, which is the diagnostic manual used by the World Health Organization, does not attempt to stipulate which types of trauma cause PTSD. It just states that the first criterion is “exposure to a stressful event or situation (either short or long lasting) of exceptionally threatening or catastrophic nature, which is likely to cause pervasive distress in almost anyone.”

I can easily see bullying and harassment falling under that category, as the only people I have ever seen claim that bullying and harassment are not traumatic are people who have not personally experienced it.

Maybe it’s all a big science experiment that we don’t know about. Maybe all these people are doing all this bullying and harassment as research. Maybe we’re all living in a great big giant motherfucking Milgram experiment.

Or else there are just a lot of shitty shitty shitty people out there.

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

More from Father Gearoid

Apr 16th, 2014 11:22 am | By

After Gearoid O Donchu says he would do nothing different as a result of hearing the confession, so he would let the people who drank the poisoned wine after him drink it and die.

Michael responded [5:40]

I think anybody listening to this will understand that that is a deeply immoral position – that on the basis of what you believe the creator of the universe is saying to you that you would allow another innocent priest to die by drinking altar wine that you are knowingly leaving there that’s poisoned – or more seriously, because it’s an actual case that we’re talking about, you would leave vulnerable children to be raped on the basis of not giving information that you know that could protect those children from being raped – it’s absolutely shocking and it shows that religion corrupts our natural sense of morality.

The priest explained about the super-special role of the confessional.

In confession the priest is acting as facilitator or mediator between god and the sinner, giving forgiveness, giving god’s forgiveness.

Just parenthetically – the absurd arrogance of that. I know that’s old news, but still. What makes them think – even accepting the god claims, even buying the notion that there’s a god – that they can “give” god’s forgiveness? The whole idea is ridiculous any way you look at it, including even goddy ways.

Michael asks then why do you try to persuade them to go to the authorities? If all you do is listen and give god’s forgiveness, why try to persuade and counsel them? The priest says he never said his only role is to listen, he also advises, but it all stays in the confessional. Joe Duffy says “In fairness, this is canon law.”

I stopped there – 8:23 – because I want to expostulate. So the fuck what?? What makes anyone think “canon law” is allowed to flout secular law? Why does anyone bother to say such a thing?

It’s exactly the same as the Mafia and other criminal organizations you know. They too have their own internal laws, especially laws mandating silence, and loyalty to colleagues at the expense of everyone else, and concealment at all costs.

Next Michael gives a good summing up of how warped Catholic morality is, and there’s a fraught little pause, and then the priest says, “All I can do is repeat” and I laugh loudly and hit the pause button [9:48] and that’s enough for now.


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

Florida leads the way

Apr 16th, 2014 10:32 am | By

It’s not just Oklahoma. Florida passed a bill last year barring local governments from enacting mandatory paid sick time laws. The Orlando Sentinel reported on June 14:

Florida Gov. Rick Scottdidn’t waste much time in signing a bill Friday that would block local governments from enacting mandatory paid sick time measures, such as the one pending in Orange County.

The Republican governor sided with Walt Disney World, Darden Restaurants, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and a broad array of powerful business interests who argued the ban was needed to avoid a patchwork of local employment rules for companies.

That’s code for “to avoid having to pay for workers’ sick leave.”

“Protecting small businesses and jobs from union mandates that drive up costs makes Florida more competitive,” said Mark Wilson, President and CEO of the Florida Chamber. “This law ensures mandatory leave is decided at the state level and preempts union-backed efforts to have local and county governments adopt policies governing terms of employment and other wage related issues.”

That’s right. Paying the workers does indeed drive up costs. Perhaps Florida should consider laws permitting outright slavery.

The AFL-CIO provides some specifics of who promoted the law.

The bill was supported by business interests, including the the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Florida Chamber of Commerce, Walt Disney World and Darden Restaurants, which owns Olive Garden and Red Lobster.

The legislation is similar to model legislation promoted by ALEC in various states and the bill was championed by ALEC member Steve Precourt (R), the state House majority leader. Since 2011, 67 ALEC-sponsored bills to weaken wage standards have been introduced in state legislatures, 12 of which have been signed into law.

Scott’s signing of the bill preempts an Orange County referendum scheduled for 2014 that would have let voters determine whether the county should require businesses to provide paid sick leave. More than 50,000 voters signed petitions to get the measure on the ballot. Big Business opposed the referendum, claiming it would drive up costs, but evidence from other locales that have approved paid sick leave measures found that such laws either had no impact or a positive one on profitability and that such policies are good for business and job growth.

But it’s so much more fun to gouge the workers.

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

Guest post on “you got politics in my programming”

Apr 15th, 2014 4:37 pm | By

Originally a comment by DrMcCoy on When openness is taken as an absolute.

as few as 1.5% of open source programmers are women [...] chauvinism, assumptions of inferiority, and outrageous examples of impropriety (including sexual harassment at conferences where programmers gather) to a lack of women mentors and role models

A shame. really. :/

This is why I’m glad at least GNOME’s Outreach Program for Women exists. There should be more programs like that, though.

But the outcry on reddit and Phoronix when it was announced that the GNOME Foundation had a temporary cash flow problem. People yelling that the GNOME Foundation was wasting their money on that “useless” program and how they’re using donations to push their political agenda. There were even personal attacks against Karen M. Sandler, who initiated that program a few years ago and led it until moving on to the Software Freedom Conservancy earlier this month. And there’s people claiming that she “jumped ship” or was “pushed off”.

If those people had read the announcement, they would have seen that the actual issue was quite simpler: The GNOME Foundation doesn’t even pay most of the interns of the outreach program. Instead, the money comes from other companies, like Red Hat and Google. Unfortunately, some companies didn’t pay in a timely manner with the intern’s contract, so the GNOME Foundation had to front the money for a time. Apart from that, the outreach program seems to be ticking along rather nicely and growing.

As for Karen Sandler, while I don’t know her personally, I am following a podcast (“Free as in Freedom”) she does with Conservancy’s President Bradley M. Kuhn; and occasionally lurking in the related IRC channel; and read Bradley’s blog. And from what I gather, it looks to me like she was rather “pulled” by Bradley, than “pushed” from the GNOME Foundation. She has been a pro-bono attorney for Conservancy for years and she’s friends with Bradley, who has complained about his high workload in the past.

All this fuss about nothing, the “you got politics in my programming” (really, this is the Free Software, it was political from the beginning), the “she looks like a fat ugly feminist”, the “women just choose to not contribute”, the “don’t waste money on this sexist outreach”… It’s reallyfrustrating. :(

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