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.

Salam Azad

Jun 11th, 2012 2:06 pm | By

Maryam did a blogathon today. All you need for an arrest is hurt religious sentiment is a good one (as are all the others). The first example she offers is a Bangladeshi writer.

A Bangladeshi court has issued an arrest warrant for the writer of a 2003 novel that allegedly contains insulting remarks against the Prophet Mohammed, a lawyer said Tuesday.

The court in Dhaka issued the order in response to a petition from a Muslim activist accusing author Salam Azad of hurting religious sentiment in his banned book “Bhanga Math” (“Broken Temple”).

“We told the court that the book contained slanderous remarks against the Prophet Mohammed and Islam. The judge accepted the petition and issued a warrant of arrest,” the petitioner’s lawyer Ekhlas Uddin told AFP.

I apologize for pointing out the obvious yet again, but sane legal systems do not have laws against “slander” of people who have been dead for centuries. I can say anything I want to about Socrates; so can you; so can anyone. Sane legal systems also do not have laws against “slander” of religions, even the local religion. Only insane legal systems have those.

The very idea is simply infantile. What next? Somebody slandered a building? A piece of fruit? Pluto? (planet or cartoon dog, I don’t care) The weather?

You saw it predicted here first.



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

Both sides

Jun 11th, 2012 11:42 am | By

A weekly podcast called Ask an Atheist devoted the episode recorded yesterday to what it calls “The Problem of Dogmatic Feminism”.

It got some things wrong.

At the beginning Becky and Sam (the hosts, along with Eileen who said only one thing) said that both sides in the dispute over feminism and atheism/skepticism were “doubling down”; it’s not as symmetrical as that. They said good men are getting shot down and men are being demonized; that’s way too sweeping.

After they said this in general terms for awhile Sam pressed Becky for specifics, so she named Rebecca, me, Stephanie, and Jen. She sort of kind of blamed the Women in Secularism conference. She talked about the more recent dispute with DJ, and said that he had apologized for the “gossip after regretted sexual exploits” remark; that’s entirely wrong, he hasn’t apologized for that. She said that we ”dogmatically” say that male speakers who hit on women are automatically predators; no we don’t. What Stephanie and Jen have argued is that speakers at events are as it were one up; they have a status that resembles that of teachers in relation to students – or, one might add (but they haven’t, that I’ve seen) priests in relation to parishioners. There’s also therapists in relation to patients, ditto doctors. I don’t think it’s dogmatic to argue that it at least can be exploitative to leverage that position to get moar sex. The complication, obviously, is that plenty of people will be perfectly happy to have sexual attention from a speaker, just as plenty of students will be perfectly happy to have sexual attention from a teacher. The role itself is inherently seductive. Becky may have this complication in mind when she calls it “dogmatic” to say that speakers should just refrain from hitting on audience members, but she didn’t spell it out, and given the rest of what she said in that part of the podcast, that’s unfortunate.

It improved a little after that, and Stephanie called in and corrected them on some points. But of course the ERV gang is flooding the comments, so that will make intelligent discussion impossible there. Anne C Hanna gives it a good shot though.


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

Better news, but not in English yet

Jun 11th, 2012 10:16 am | By

Javier Krahe has been acquitted of “hurting religious feelings” in a movie he made nearly 40 years ago.

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


Jun 10th, 2012 4:06 pm | By

Crommunist is doing the blogathan by taking pledges for learning songs and then posting a video of himself performing them. What a brilliant way of doing it!

Go cheer him on or donate all of your money or both.


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

What the bishops say

Jun 10th, 2012 1:58 pm | By

For our final item for this brief but exciting miniature blogathon – David Gibson at Religion News Service looks at the way bishops strain at imaginary gnats while gulping down very large smelly camels.

When the bishops gathered under intense public pressure in Dallas in June 2002, they seemed determined to take dramatic steps, and to a degree they did. Their Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People developed a “one-strike” policy to remove priests credibly accused of a single act of abuse, and jump-started efforts to have the Vatican streamline the process for defrocking abusive clerics…

Yet after all was said and done in Dallas, the bishops exempted themselves from any real sanctions. That self-absolution was considered outrageous at the time, and the passing years have not eased the anger.

“The Vatican also needs to do its job. It appears to have no problem investigating nuns and theologians, but investigating mismanagement by a bishop is not a priority,” the Rev. Thomas Reese, a well-known Jesuit commentator, told a symposium last month at Jesuit-run Santa Clara University to mark the 10th anniversary of the Dallas charter.

“Even when a bishop is indicted, no one has the sense to tell him to take a leave of absence until the case is over,” Reese said.

Quis custodiet, eh? Eh? It’s very like the bankers and hedge fund managers getting themselves put in charge of everything so that all the people who had nothing to do with all that gambling with other people’s money get to lose their jobs and houses and savings, while all the people who had everything to do with it continue to pocket millions every year, much of it via taxpayers. It’s very like that. We will fix all the things except the ones that have anything to do with us; those, of course, we will carefully bracket and put aside, because we want to be happy. Thank you for your understanding in this matter.

And so my part in the blogathon comes to an end and I get to rush outside for fresh air and rapid motion.

It is 1:58. This is post 13 of 13.

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

Poetry before they sleep

Jun 10th, 2012 1:26 pm | By

Maureen Brian (whom I met at QED, much to my delight) makes an eloquent point on the government’s education plans. It’s so eloquent that it gets the 1:30 slot.

In an ideal world we would have the active encouragement of all a person’s natural languages throughout life, GCSE and A Level exams available in most of them and an end to the notion that passing an exam 20 years ago beats speaking the language every day to your Granny.

We will not be getting that ideal world under the current government whose aim seems to be to have people reciting infant school poetry before they sleep, unpaid and in fear of losing benefits, under the bridges of the nation.


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

Out and spoiling for a fight

Jun 10th, 2012 1:00 pm | By

Ron Lindsay points out in the Huffington Post that coming out as an atheist is significantly different from coming out as LGBT.

True. Nobody is saying that being straight is based on a lot of unexamined and untenable beliefs. Nobody is saying or hoping that straightitude will wither away. A good many atheists are saying that religion is based on mistaken beliefs and that it does harm as a result, and should either wither away or become very much less obtrusive and demanding and Special.

I don’t foresee a best-selling book entitled “The Straight Delusion” or “Heterosexuality Poisons Everything.” The LGBT community wants acceptance; they don’t want to persuade others to join their “team,” and even if they had that objective, they would strive for it in vain.

By contrast, the amount of literature that has been produced in the last decade criticizing religious belief is extensive and continues to grow. Moreover, these critiques of religion seem to have had some effect.

So the fact that we don’t have two heads or spikes isn’t enough to make us acceptable, and we might as well get used to it. In fact it’s what we want. (“We” as usual are gnus, or outspoken argumentative atheists.) We want to chip away at social deference to religion, and we can’t combine that with claims to be jes’ plain folks like everybody else.

12:49. I can spend a luxurious 11 minutes eating lunch.

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

A bit of dessert

Jun 10th, 2012 12:26 pm | By

It’s not the thing you fling – it’s the fling itself.

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

Just look at the pretty birdeez, children

Jun 10th, 2012 11:58 am | By

Uh oh, it’s 11:50. That’s cutting it too fine.

The UK education secretary has decided to fuck up science education.

All children are to be taught a foreign language – which could include Mandarin, Latin or Greek – from the age of seven under reforms to the national curriculum being unveiled by the education secretary, Michael Gove.

In other reforms, children will be encouraged to learn science by studying nature, and schools will be expected to place less emphasis on teaching scientific method.

Less emphasis on teaching scientific method? What the hell? Why would they do that? They might as well say they’re going to place less emphasis on teaching children critical thinking and just stuff them with a Box o’ Facts.

The science curriculum is expected to emphasise using the natural habitat around schools – learning biology by studying the growth and development of trees, for example.

There will be less of a focus on doing experiments. Instead, children will be taught to observe their surroundings and learn how scientists have classified the natural world.

Seriously? Seriously? Forget experiments, just look at stuff and learn some lists?

That sounds like me at my teenage worst. “Uhhh, I like to look at stuff, that’s good enough.”

One of the first few comments captures it nicely.

Learning foreign languages from age 7 using songs and poetry and learning about science by spending time outside observing nature – that’s not news, my step-son did that at school 15 years ago. But then he did go to a Steiner school…


Whew – 11:58.

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

Not the way to make the world a better place

Jun 10th, 2012 11:26 am | By

This just in – today’s installment of Boko Haram attacks on churches in Nigeria. Body count for this week: 4 so far.

The violence Sunday in Jos and Biu, a city in hard-hit northeastern Borno state, comes as almost every weekend this year has seen churches targeted by a radical Islamist sect known as Boko Haram and other shadowy assailants exacerbating the country’s unease. While no group immediately claimed responsibility for Sunday’s dual attacks, they bore the hallmarks of the sect’s previous assaults, which continue unstopped despite a heavy military presence in the region.

You know this idea we were talking about, making the world a better place? This isn’t it.

Killing people isn’t it.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks. Nigeria faces a growing wave of sectarian violence carried out by Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is sacrilege” in Hausa. Boko Haram has been blamed for killing more than 560 people this year alone, according to an Associated Press count. The sect’s targets have included churches, police stations and other security buildings, often attacked by suicide car bombers across northern Nigeria.

That isn’t it. Boko Haram are not making the world a better place. The idea that any kind of genuine education is “sacrilege” or blasphemous or haram or Forbidden will not make the world a better place. (Genuine education does not include memorization of the Koran to the exclusion of everything else. That goes double when the memorization is in a language that the memorizer does not understand.) The spread of genuine education to all people will make the world a better place.

Just yesterday I published an article by Leo Igwe on Boko Haram and religious minorities in Northern Nigeria, in which he talks about some of the ways Boko Haram’s attacks will not make the world a better place.

Attacks on religious minorities could spark reprisal killings as has often been the case in the past, particularly in Southern Nigeria where Muslims are in the minority. In this way Nigeria is edging towards religious cleansing. Boko Haram attacks could provoke the cleansing of Christians in the Muslim majority states and of Muslims in the Christian majority communities. Already there are reports of Christians leaving Muslim majority communities for fear of being attacked and killed by militants.

That’s not a better world. People moving away from the places where they live because they are afraid of being killed or made destitute in religious cleansings – that’s not a better world. Boko Haram are doing it wrong.

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

Hamza Kashgari

Jun 10th, 2012 10:36 am | By

The final question from Brianne:

Any updates on Hamza Kashgari?

Not of the type “He is free!” alas…but there is what appears to be an update on how he’s doing, from a relative, translated on the Free Hamza Kashgari Facebook page:

We visited Hamza, thank God, he’s in a good mental condition, and he says “hello” to everyone asking about him, he was extremely moved ‘weeping’ when he heard about the Balloon’s launching on his Birthday, may God unite us with him again.

Well “God” kind of got him into this mess, but never mind. However, that’s something, but it’s still Hamza-in-prison as opposed to Hamza in New Zealand living a free life.

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

Inspiration and apparel

Jun 10th, 2012 10:22 am | By

Brianne’s topics part 2.

What work/speech/writing of Christopher Hitchens do you find most inspiring? What do you most disagree with?

Most inspiring: the literary/historical/foreign correspondent writing, because of its sheer abundance, erudition, wit, and style. Pretty much all the speech I’ve ever seen, even when he was both hungover and jetlagged, as he was the first time I saw him on a book tour, when he was promoting No One Left to Lie To. It was the morning after the White House correspondents’ dinner, and he’d taken the red eye to Seattle – so he must have been as hungover and jetlagged as it’s possible to be without expiring. It did show, but it didn’t make him slow or boring or unamusing.

I most disagree with just about anything he ever said about women, and in particular the Vanity Fair article that said women aren’t funny (and underlined it by adding you know what I mean, don’t deny it). I disagree with his views on abortion.

what does your superhero costume for Fighting Fashionable Nonsense look like?

To be literal first – I keep meaning to remove that from the logo. I never liked it, I just kept forgetting to remove it once I took full ownership of B&W (apart from the domain name for the old site, which has been witheld).

To stop being literal…hmm. Billie Burke’s outfit in The Wizard of Oz? No maybe not. Mr Greenjean’s green jeans? Ok but what else. Why, an evil little thing T shirt, of course.

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

An alert, curious citizenry

Jun 10th, 2012 9:58 am | By

It’s 9:47. I took some time to read things, and have a little coffee, so it’s 9:47. Yikes.

Brianne – awake much too soon after her 24 hour stint – provides topics.

How can we get Americans more interested in world politics? Do we need to get Americans more interested?  Does that kind of interest and knowledge set have to start being rolled out in the younger school years?

We certainly need to get Americans more interested – because the US does a lot of [helping/meddling] in the world, and citizens should have more knowledge in order to judge what is helping and what is meddling. Because there are international charities and NGOs, which Americans – like anyone else – can work for, donate to, promote – or criticize and expose – or both. Because the world matters. Because internationalism is better than parochialism. (That will have to be just a flat assertion for now – it’s 9:53.) Because the world is interesting.

It helps to get people started early, but it’s not a now or never thing. I utterly failed to be interested in things like that as a child, but I changed later. On the other hand the need to make a living can get in the way of changing later. (I solved this problem by mostly not actually making a living. Not suitable for all audiences.)

Three minutes to the hour.

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

How do we get to where we are?

Jun 10th, 2012 9:26 am | By

EcksLibris (amusing nym!) replies to my request for topics to post about:

I would love to hear more about you, how you came to your beliefs/lack thereof, and how you became an activist (in the best possible sense of the word)!

I don’t generally like to talk directly about Me Me Me, but talking about how we come to our beliefs/lack thereof is another matter. It’s always interesting, at least to me.

I came to my lack of theist beliefs mostly by never really having theist beliefs in the first place, as well as I can remember. I was told things, as a child, but I think they must have always been hedged. I know they were sometimes, because I can remember bits of discussions with my mother and they were hedged. I don’t think “God” ever sank in. I don’t think it can have, because I had stronger feelings about tv characters and characters in children’s fiction than I ever did about “God.” If the idea of “God” really sinks in, you surely have strong feelings about “God.”

But atheism was mostly in the background for me, until the publication of Carl Sagan’s The Demon-haunted World. It wasn’t the book itself that changed that so much as it was a couple of interviews he gave to promote it, one on Fresh Air and the other on Science Friday. They galvanized me, somehow. That became my way of making the world a better place: not just being a non-theist but arguing with theism and the way of thinking that makes it “normal” and beyond dispute.

That’s not a very full account, but in fact it sums up quite a lot.

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


Jun 10th, 2012 8:54 am | By

Ewan answered my request for suggestions by asking for reasons to support the SSA. Greta has a good selection of quotations on that.

JT Eberhard, a campus organizer and high school specialist with the Secular Student Alliance, gives us his personal account of what he does. He starts with Jessica Ahlquist on what the SSA did for her:

When JT Eberhard contacted me and gave me the support of the Secular Student Alliance I felt like I had friends again.  Over the course of two years the SSA provided me with support and JT closely monitored the actions of the school committee, always ready to come to my defense at any minute.  He expressed that he cared not only for the issue at my school but also for my well-being and shared personal stories and advice.  Anyone can tell that for JT and the rest of the SSA staff, their positions within the organization are not merely a source of income, but a life-long passion and a genuine desire to help young secular people.  When I attended their annual conference last summer and was given the opportunity to share my story I felt a sense of community I had never experienced before.  I know so many other students who share my feelings and are thankful for the SSA and their brilliant staff.  They are literally changing lives.

You know (if you’ve been reading here) how isolated Jessica has been and still is at her school and in Cranston. You know what it’s like to be a teenager. Adults have had time to thicken their skins and get used to conflict, but teenagers are raw. Given the bizarre way the religious majority has been encouraged to see itself as a persecuted minority over the past two or three decades, their unleashed rage can be incredibly intimidating. That right there is a good reason to support an organization that can give isolated bullied teenagers a set of allies and friends.

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


Jun 10th, 2012 8:27 am | By

It’s 8:05 – no, 8:06. Get going.

An item on Twitter just now caused me to read the Wikipedia entry on the atheist’s wager, an alternative to Pascal’s of the same ilk.

You should live your life and try to make the world a better place for your being in it, whether or not you believe in god. If there is no god, you have lost nothing and will be remembered fondly by those you left behind. If there is a benevolent god, he will judge you on your merits and not just on whether or not you believed in him.

Not alternative enough, if you ask me. It’s still too focused on postmortem, as if we were going to be alive postmortem to care what people think of us. It’s also too focused on incentive or reward. Try to make the world a better place so that people will remember you fondly. That’s a stupid reason. If you’re going to try to make the world a better place, do it so that the world will be a better place, not so that people will remember you fondly. Jeez. Get over yourself.

Here’s a news flash: apart from a few intimates, most people won’t remember you at all, fondly or otherwise. After a few decades no one will remember you at all. “Here lies one whose name was writ in water,” said Keats on his tombstone. Well he was wrong, but for most of us, that’s the story.

Vanity and longing for posthumous affection is a pitiful motivation for making the world a better place. Come on. Write your name in a few toilet stalls and on a few garage walls and garbage cans, and let it go at that. For the rest, just concentrate on making the world a better place so that the world will be a better place.

8:14. Woo hoo! Bags of time to catch up on Twitter and write the 9:00 item.

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

Good morning blogathon

Jun 10th, 2012 8:00 am | By

Here we go. The miniature blogathon begins.

Brianne did hers yesterday, except hers wasn’t miniature: she did the whole 24 hour thing. I encouraged her by reminding her that the second half was going to be much longer than the first. I’m kind that way.

You were supposed to suggest things for me to post about. Seriously: any suggestions? But then it’s Sunday, when nobody reads this. People read this exclusively during working hours, so that they’ll know for sure they’re not wasting their time.

Not to worry. It’s not as if the world is empty of things to talk about.

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

A whole Trojan stable

Jun 9th, 2012 5:57 pm | By

Via Tarek Fatah, a Calgary conference has invited Bilal Philips as the top speaker; Philips has repeatedly said homosexuals should be executed. Get the name of the conference – The Power of Unity: Islam in a MultiCultural Canada. Some unity!

And there’s a slew of other craps, too.

Munir El-Kassem, a dentist from London, Ont., wrote a column back in 2001 that condemned the West as hypocritical and defended the Taliban regime for destroying the sixth-century Buddha statues in Bamiyan…

Shaykh Hatem Alhaj recently lost his job at the Mayo Clinic because he wrote papers in support of female circumcision. He later tried to clarify his position by saying he only supports nicking the clitoris, not cutting it right off.

And George Galloway is on the dance card too.

Abraham Ayache, chairman of the Muslim Council of Calgary, said the conference is being organized to celebrate 50 years of Islam in Calgary and is all about unity and celebrating multiculturalism…

But a recent posting on the MCC website under the heading “Ask the Imam” seems to  indicate that some of the organization’s hired imams haven’t read the memo about  cultural tolerance and unity.

In answer to a question by a single mother concerned about her children no  longer being obedient to her, an imam on the site wrote: “You should instil a  hatred for this culture and its ways in the hearts of your children.” He also  wrote: “It is haraam (forbidden) for you to give your children free rein in  forming friendships with the children of the kuffaar.”

That’s not multiculturalism. Calling people “the kuffar” is not multiculturalism. Advocating the execution of gays is not multiculturalism. Happy Canada day.


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

What could possibly go wrong?

Jun 9th, 2012 4:01 pm | By

It seemed like such a good idea – spending three years, three months and three days in a Buddhist retreat seven thousand feet up an Arizona mountain, living in rustic conditions and meditating silently, with a charismatic Princeton-educated monk for a “spiritual leader,” in order to “employ yoga and deep meditation to try to answer some of life’s most profound questions.”

Wait, what?

How would yoga and deep meditation enable anyone to answer some of life’s most profound questions? Unless, I suppose, some of those questions have to do with how boring it would be to spend three years, three months and three days meditating silently, no matter how charismatic one’s Princeton-educated spiritual leader is.

Erik Brinkman, a Buddhist monk who remains one of Mr. Roach’s staunchest admirers, said, “If the definition of a cult is to follow our spiritual leader into the desert, then we are a cult.”

Yes, that’s one pretty good definition of a cult. Following spiritual leaders into the desert has “cult” written all over it. Pro tip: it’s because of the following, and the spiritual leader, and the desert.


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

She won’t shut up or back down

Jun 9th, 2012 11:26 am | By

Athena Andreadis is disgusted but not surprised at the spectacle of Golden Dawn spokesman Elías Kasidhiáris hitting Liána Kanélli in the face on a tv talk show the other day.

For those sequestered in silently running nuclear submarines, Golden Dawn got 7% of the vote in the May elections, gaining seats in the parliament – the first time such a thing has happened since World War II (not counting the junta). Its platform is the standard troglodytic garbage: ethnic purity, “natural” order – which includes the de jure disenfranchisement of women and Others – and bodily violence against those who disagree. Its members regularly assault immigrants, minorities and journalists as well as other “undesirables”, with tolerance (if not cooperation) from the police and portions of the media. Serial killer Anders Breivik listed Golden Dawn in his diary as the likeliest group to “cleanse” Europe.

The violence against those who disagree is not figurative violence, or “merely” threatened violence.

To anyone speaking Hellenic, it becomes obvious when you watch the video that Kasidhiáris was as well-informed as Sarah Palin. The two women, Kanélli in particular, let him know this. His response was standard: first he accused them of bringing “personal matters” (namely, his impending trial) into politics. Then, after a brief exchange of verbal insults, he flung a glass of water at Dhoúrou’s face. The three male politicians present sat through this like statues while the talk host made feeble mewling noises. The only one who did something was Kanélli, who went toward Kasidhiáris brandishing a newspaper.

To show that he doesn’t take guff from uppity broads, even ones old enough to be his mother, Kasidhiáris jumped out of his seat and hit Kanélli three times. On the face. The first was a slap. The other two were left-right closed-fist punches.

Yet again, I’m naïve. I’ve always thought that was taboo, and known to be taboo – at least taboo enough not to be done on television. Silly me.

He then threatened he would “return with reinforcements” and somehow managed to escape from the TV station to “parts unknown” (almost certainly the offices of Golden Dawn) to avoid the automatic arrest warrant for assault which, by a quirk of Hellenic law, expires within 48 hours of its issue. The police, not surprisingly, have been “unable to find him” – even though he issued a lengthy (and presumably traceable) statement from his ultra-secret location, in which he said that Kanélli should be the one to be arrested and face assault charges because she “attacked him first”. The head of his party stuck by him, arguing that the incident had been blown out of proportion and, in any case, the two women are really to blame because, well, they provoked him and what’s a manly man to do except respond (literally) two-fistedly?

The defense of men who beat up women everywhere – she provoked him. Bitchez always provoke.

Sound familiar? The tactics of cowardly bullies do not change across time and cultures. Yet even more mind-boggling is the enormous number of people who opined anonymously online that “the cunt had it coming” and “finally, someone put the fat ugly dyke in her place.” Kanélli infuriates many people because she won’t shut up or back down…

Uh oh.

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