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.

L’amour plus fort que la haine

Nov 9th, 2011 9:18 am | By

Via Maryam - Charlie Hebdo says love is stronger than hate. C’est vrai!

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

18, 19, 20!

Nov 8th, 2011 4:33 pm | By

Oh hey, what exciting news, the Duggars are going to have child # 20 – that is, Michelle Duggar is pregnant with child # 20. Quiverfull strikes another blow for theocracy.

The Quiverfull movement places emphasis on the importance of women submitting to their husbands and fathers, and is often recognized as a backlash to the gains made in women’s rights by the feminist movement. It is an anti-feminist backlash that holds that gender equality is contrary to God’s law and that women’s highest calling is as wives and “prolific” mothers. In line with other fundamentalist Christians, they believe a woman’s place is in the home, breeding children and serving her husband.

The movement embraces misogyny as God’s law. Women are reduced to breeders. Children reduced to metaphorical cannon fodder in to be brainwashed and sent out as cultural warriors, fighting for Christian dominion over America.

Yes yes yes, but let’s don’t be a party-pooper – they’re going to have another baaaaaaaybeeeeeeeeeee for Americans to watch on tv. Isn’t that cute?

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

Brave contrarian Brendan O’Neill

Nov 8th, 2011 4:11 pm | By

Brendan O’Neill is happy to characterize feminists as stupidly and feebly delicate and hyper-sensitive, and to use (or to allow the Telegraph to use) a 19th century illustration of a vapid woman tipping over to underline his sneer.

Would he be equally happy to see other people characterize Irish people as stupid and otherwise contemptible and use a 19th century cartoon to illustrate the sneer? Like this one maybe?


 There are more where that came from. Does Brendan O’Neill of Spiked really want major media returning to the good old days of publishing insulting caricatures of Other racial and ethnic groups? Or is it just women, or just feminists, who are fair game for that kind of thing.


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

Brendan O’Neill wins the sneering prize

Nov 8th, 2011 12:51 pm | By

Brendan O’Neill sneers again – this time at women resisting misogynist silencing campaigns.

One of the great curiosities of modern feminism is that the more radical the feminist is, the more likely she is to suffer fits of Victorian-style vapours upon hearing men use coarse language. Andrea Dworkin dedicated her life to stamping out what she called “hate speech” aimed at women. The Slutwalks women campaigned against everything from “verbal degradation” to “come ons”. And now, in another hilarious echo of the 19th-century notion that women need protecting from vulgar and foul speech, a collective of feminist bloggers has decided to “Stamp Out Misogyny Online”. Their deceptively edgy demeanour, their use of the word “stamp”, cannot disguise the fact that they are the 21st-century equivalent of Victorian chaperones, determined to shield women’s eyes and cover their ears lest they see or hear something upsetting.

Like this, he or the Telegraph helpfully illustrates:

 Oh yes, that’s it exactly – we’re all falling over, because we’re so fragile and stupid.

Would even Brendan O’Neill sneer in quite such a contemptuous way if the issue were racism instead of misogyny? Would he (or the Telegraph) include a cartoon like that, mocking the very idea of disliking and resisting racism? I do him the credit to doubt that he would, and the discredit to point out that he has no business having different standards for women.

…the most striking thing about these fragile feminists’ campaign is the way it elides very different forms of speech. So the Guardian report lumps together “threats of rape”, which are of course serious, with “crude insults” and “unstinting ridicule”, which are not that serious. If I had a penny for every time I was crudely insulted on the internet, labelled a prick, a toad, a shit, a moron, a wide-eyed member of a crazy communist cult, I’d be relatively well-off.

He says, missing the point by a mile. A toad, a shit, a moron, are all generic. It’s interesting that he didn’t include any anti-Irish epithets, but even if he had, at this point in history they don’t have the bite that racist or homophobic or sexist ones do. (But I’m not Irish. Correct me if I’m wrong and they still have all the old bite.)

He prides himself on being a libertarian contrarian. That’s nice, but he doesn’t get to ignore reality to shore up his case. Being called a cunt is not the same kind of thing as being called a shit.

For better or worse, crudeness is part of the internet experience, and if you don’t like it you can always read The Lady instead.

He says, exemplifying the problem himself. Either you put up with being called a cunt every time you say anything or you have to go read something called “The Lady.” Why would those be the only choices? Why does Brendan O’Neill feel so comfortable letting his contempt for women show?

Muddying the historic philosophical distinction between words and actions, which has informed enlightened thinking for hundreds of years, is too high a price to pay just so some feminist bloggers can surf the web without having their delicate sensibilities riled.

Of course it is true that the standard of discussion on the internet leaves a lot to be desired. There is a remarkable amount of incivility and abusiveness on the web. But that is no excuse for attempting to turn the internet into the online equivalent of a Women’s Institute meeting, where no one ever raises their voice or “unstintingly ridicules” another or is crude. I would rather surf a web that caters for all, from the clever to the cranky, rather than put up with an internet designed according to the needs of a tiny number of peculiarly sensitive female bloggers.

More easy contempt –  ”their delicate sensibilities,” “a Women’s Institute meeting,” “peculiarly sensitive female bloggers.” And one of the tags on that piece is, incredibly – “wallflowers.”

It’s just unbelievable.


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

Not as easy as you might think

Nov 8th, 2011 11:59 am | By

You may think it’s a cinch getting rid of misogyny. Turns out it’s not. Sady at Tigerbeatdown started out thinking it was (or more like assuming it was without noticing she was assuming it – we all know how that goes), and then she realized it’s not.

In 2009, I genuinely believed people were going to change their minds about being sexist, because they read my blog.

I know, right? If only someone had come up with this plan before! All I had to do was register a WordPress domain, compose some charmingly ironic yet pointed analyses of Ye Aulde Patriarchy, cite some academics so they knew I wasn’t stupid, throw a lot of jokes and references to oral sex in there to prove feminists weren’t “humorless” or “frigid,” and the sexists, they would be delighted. So delighted they decided to stop being sexists! “Hmmmm,” they’d say. “Sady sure doesn’t appreciate it when I do the sexism. Since she’s my new Internet Best Friend, I had better cut that shit out pronto! Then we can all join a bowling league!” BLAM. REVOLUTION ACCOMPLISHED. No more problems, for anyone, ever, because I blogged.

I hate to tell you this, friends. But I think my plan, it had a minor flaw. Which is: Misogynists don’t like women. It doesn’t matter how uniquely charming and witty and acquainted with various fine bourbons you are. Are you a woman? Then they don’t like you. And they especially don’t like you telling them what to do. By, for example, asking them to cut it out with the misogyny.

There may be one exception to that rule. It may be that if you are a woman who likes misogynists then they do like you – for now. But apart from that, no.

What I got, friends, were comments. Comments about myself. And blogs about myself. And message-board discussions, also about myself. And e-mails. What I got was what every woman (feminist or not) and openly anti-sexist person (woman or not) on this our Internet gets: I got targeted. With threats, with insults, with smear campaigns, with attempts to threaten my employment or credibility or just general ability to get through the day with a healthy attitude and a minimal amount of insult.

This is a recurring problem! Not a Special Sady Problem, but an Everyone Problem. And, increasingly, folks are identifying it as such.

Which means we can count on the threats and insults and smear campaigns to expand hugely, but it also means we can do a better job of resisting.



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

A highly gendered phenomenon

Nov 7th, 2011 4:34 pm | By

Anyway, even though I have no immediate plans to out any of the people who put a little sparkle into their drab lives by calling me and some of my friends cunts and manginas and worse than genocidal dictators, that doesn’t mean I’m not going to do anything at all. Nuh uh. I’m going to go on kvetching and nagging, like the other women bloggers who have decided no thanks, not having any more of that.

I’m going to call your attention to the AAUW report on sexual harassment in schools, for instance. I’m going to quote from it.

Girls were more likely than boys to say that they had been
negatively affected by sexual harassment—a finding that
confirms previous research by AAUW (2001) and others.
Not only were girls more likely than boys to say sexual
harassment caused them to have trouble sleeping (22
percent of girls versus 14 percent of boys), not want to go
to school (37 percent of girls versus 25 percent of boys),
or change the way they went to or home from school (10
percent of girls versus 6 percent of boys), girls were more
likely in every case to say they felt that way for “quite a
while” compared with boys. Too often, these negative
emotional effects take a toll on students’ and especially
girls’ education, resulting in decreased productivity and
increased absenteeism from school (Chesire, 2004). Thus,
although both girls and boys can encounter sexual harassment
at school, it is still a highly “gendered phenomenon
that is directly and negatively associated with outcomes
for girls” (Ormerod et al., 2008).

It’s not harmless. It’s not just “how it is.”

Many of the students who admitted to sexually harassing
others didn’t think of it as a big deal (44 percent), and
many were trying to be funny (39 percent). Only a handful
of students who harassed others did so because they wanted
a date with the person (3 percent) or thought the
person liked it (6 percent). Thus, sexual harassment does
not usually appear to be a misunderstanding. Few harassers
see themselves as “rejected suitors,” and many appear
to be misguided comedians or simply students who are
unaware, or unwilling to recognize, that their actions
may bother others. These findings suggest that prevention
efforts need to address when humor crosses the line and
becomes sexual harassment. Moreover, for some students,
understanding that sexual harassment can indeed be a big
deal for other students is a necessary first step.

Of course, for the ones who do it precisely because they do understand that it’s harmful, it’s more difficult to know how to improve their thinking. What’s a school to do? Sit them down and look them in the eye and say “why are you so determined to be a malicious piece of shit?” Well no. I don’t know what they can do though.

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

Secularist of the Year 2005

Nov 7th, 2011 3:40 pm | By

Since Maryam has just joined FTB and Kenan is about to, I thought I would repost this item from October 2005, when Maryam was named Secularist of the Year and I rejoiced rather noisily. Pleasingly, I quoted an earlier article in the Guardian in which Kenan talked about and quoted Maram. It all joins up, you see.

October 9, 2005

Maryam won! Maryam Namazie is Secularist of the Year. Ya-hoooooo. Sorry to be so American, but I’m really really pleased. As a matter of fact, I’m also damn smug. Here I’ve been publishing her articles like mad all this time, which I haven’t noticed the Guardian or the Independent bothering to do. Well? Well??! Wouldn’t you be smug? Wouldn’t you? Who has the better judgment? Eh? Eh? Which would you rather have published – Dilpazier Aslam, or Maryam Namazie?

Well maybe now they’ll start publishing her. Maybe this will be the push they need. Kenan Malik said, you know. Remember that? In the Guardian (she said pointedly). All the way back in January.

It also creates a climate of censorship in which any criticism of Islam can be dismissed as Islamophobic. The people who suffer most from such censorship are those struggling to defend basic rights within Muslim communities. Marayam Namazie is an Iranian refugee who has long campaigned for women’s rights and against Islamic repression. As a result she has been condemned as an Islamophobe, even by anti-racist organisations. “On the one hand,” she says, “you are threatened by the political Islamic movement with assassination or imprisonment or flogging. And on the other you have so-called progressive people who tell you that what you say in defence of humanity, in defence of equal rights for all, is racist. I think it’s nothing short of an outrage.”

I don’t see anything about the award in the papers yet (Maryam told me herself, and Azar Majedi sent a congratulatory message), so I’ll just link to this for now. It wouldn’t do for people not to know.

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

You should be ashamed of yourself, JD

Nov 7th, 2011 10:31 am | By

Chris Rodda points out a really staggering example of abuse of privilege: an Air Force Major defaming enlisted service members who can’t reply because he outranks them. You probably won’t be astonished to learn that the Major is a Christian, and a proselytizing one at that, while the soldiers he goes after are atheists.

For the past three years, an atheist Army sergeant has had to remain silent as lie after lie was told about him by an Air Force Major named Jonathan Dowty. Major Dowty, a.k.a. JD the Christian Fighter Pilot, is a Christian officer who belongs to the Officers’ Christian Fellowship (OCF), an organization that thinks the real duty of a military officer is to raise up “a spiritually transformed military, with ambassadors for Christ in uniform, empowered by the Holy Spirit.”

As a devout Christian officer, Major Dowty has made it a practice to publicly attack and defame atheist and other non-Christian enlisted service members by name, knowing that they can’t respond to defend themselves because he’s an active duty officer, so it would be insubordinate for them to respond to him.

Would you believe it? I really do find myself incredulous. Wouldn’t you think he would recognize that that is taking a grossly unfair advantage?

Major Dowty has relentlessly targeted five particular service members on his blog — three atheists and one Muslim in the Army, and one Air Force tech sergeant who practices an earth-centered religion. All of these service members are or have been clients of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), and include my fellow blogger here on Freethought Blogs, foxhole atheist SGT Justin Griffith.

Well, one of the soldiers Major Dowty has been lying about on his blog, SGT Dustin Chalker, just got out of the Army, and is now free to fight back against this Christian bully who has dogged him for the last three years.

Dustin’s “first order of business” upon becoming a civilian was to go straight to Major Dowty’s blog and post a little comment on a post that Dowty wrote about him just this week. Dustin’s comment, submitted last night, has not yet shown up on Major Dowty’s blog, where the comments are, of course, “moderated,” so I thought I would post it here.

And she did. It’s not a “little” comment, and it’s very satisfying. Go read it.

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

One stop shopping

Nov 7th, 2011 10:09 am | By

All your bases are belong to us, or, Freethought blogs assimilates more of the very best secular and/or atheist bloggers, or, yee-ha! Coming soon to a Freethought blog near you:

Kenan Malik

John Loftus of Debunking Christianity

Richard Carrier

Do admit.




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

It’s mine and you can’t play with it

Nov 7th, 2011 8:27 am | By

This is no good. No good at all. The video of the Haught-Coyne Q and A is mysteriously gone. Just gone. Page unavailable.

Perhaps there is some explanation other than the obvious (and discreditable)? I don’t know. I await further knowledge.

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

My ladder doesn’t go that high

Nov 6th, 2011 4:59 pm | By

From Tigerbeatdown, less than a month ago.

It’s concerted, focused, and deliberate, the effort to silence people, especially women, but not always, as I can attest, and particularly feminists, though again, not always, as I can attest, online. The readers, the consumers, the fans, may not always notice it because people are silent about it. Because this is the strategy that has been adopted, to not feed the trolls, to grin and bear it, to shut up, to put your best foot forward and rise above it.  To open your email, take note of the morning’s contents, and then quickly shuttle them to the appropriate files for future reference or forwarding to the authorities. To check on the server, fix what needs fixing, and move on with your day. To skim the comments to see what needs to be deleted, to know that when you write a post like this one, you will have to delete a lot of heinous and ugly comments, because you want to protect your readers from the sheer, naked, hate that people carry for you. To weigh, carefully, the decision to approve a comment not because there’s a problem with the content, but because you worry that the reader may be stalked by someone who will tell her that she should die for having an opinion. And when it happens to people for the first time, they think they are alone, because they don’t realise how widespread and insidious it is.

I really despise this idea that you’re supposed to “rise above it.” I fucking hate it. It makes it our problem, while the shit-throwers don’t have to do anything – they just get to go right on throwing shit. I despise the idea (that I’ve seen touted approximately seven trillion times in the last few months) that saying this is misogyny and it sucks is “playing the victim.” I beg your pardon? If you’re mugged is it “playing the victim” to say you were mugged? Sure, it’s childish to make too much of a fuss about one cross remark; it’s spoiled and whiny to talk about your own thin skin while ignoring tanks running over other people; but that doesn’t mean anyone should “rise above” deliberate calculated sustained campaigns of vituperation. If people are trying to bully you into shutting the fuck up, you really do get to resist. Not “rise above”; not ignore; resist.

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

You come to expect the vitriol

Nov 6th, 2011 9:20 am | By

Laurie Penny knows about misogynist abuse of writers who have the effrontery to be women.

You come to expect it, as a woman writer, particularly if you’re political. You
come to expect the vitriol, the insults, the death threats. After a while, the
emails and tweets and comments containing graphic fantasies of how and where and with what kitchen implements certain pseudonymous people would like to rape you cease to be shocking, and become merely a daily or weekly annoyance…

An opinion, it seems, is the short skirt of the internet. Having one and
flaunting it is somehow asking an amorphous mass of almost-entirely male
keyboard-bashers to tell you how they’d like to rape, kill and urinate on you.
This week, after a particularly ugly slew of threats, I decided to make just a
few of those messages public on Twitter, and the response I received was
overwhelming. Many could not believe the hate I received, and many more began to
share their own stories of harassment, intimidation and abuse.

Note to self: Follow Laurie Penny on Twitter.

Perhaps it should be comforting when calling a woman fat and ugly is the best
response to her arguments, but it’s a chill comfort, especially when one
realises, as I have come to realise over the past year, just how much time and
effort some vicious people are prepared to expend trying to punish and silence a
woman who dares to be ambitious, outspoken, or merely present in a public

Quite. The time and effort create a very sinister impression of dedicated, indeed downright Spartan, rage and hatred. The lack of proportion is unnerving.

Many commentators, wondering aloud where all the strong female voices are,
close their eyes to how normal this sort of threat has become. Most mornings,
when I go to check my email, Twitter and Facebook accounts, I have to sift
through threats of violence, public speculations about my sexual preference and
the odour and capacity of my genitals, and attempts to write off challenging
ideas with the declaration that, since I and my friends are so very
unattractive, anything we have to say must be irrelevant.

And one starts to think it’s not worth it.

I’d like to say that none of this bothered me – to be one of those women who
are strong enough to brush off the abuse, which is always the advice given by
people who don’t believe bullies and bigots can be fought. Sometimes I feel that
speaking about the strength it takes just to turn on the computer, or how I’ve
been afraid to leave my house, is an admission of weakness. Fear that it’s
somehow your fault for not being strong enough is, of course, what allows
abusers to continue to abuse.

I believe the time for silence is over. If we want to build a truly fair and
vibrant community of political debate and social exchange, online and offline,
it’s not enough to ignore harassment of women, LGBT people or people of colour
who dare to have opinions. Free speech means being free to use technology and
participate in public life without fear of abuse – and if the only people who
can do so are white, straight men, the internet is not as free as we’d like to

Well then, the internet is not as free as we’d like to believe.

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

Fat, ugly, desperate or a bitch who deserves to be slapped, hit or gang-raped

Nov 5th, 2011 3:35 pm | By

And here’s the New Statesman on the subject.

Helen Lewis-Hasteley -

The sheer volume of sexist abuse thrown at female bloggers is the internet’s festering sore: if you talk to any woman who writes online, the chances are she will instantly be able to reel off a Greatest Hits of insults. But it’s very rarely spoken about, for both sound and unsound reasons. No one likes to look like a whiner — particularly a woman writing in male-dominated fields such as politics, economics or computer games.

Hmm…I don’t seem to have that problem. Maybe that’s because I don’t see talking about it as being a whiner at all; I see it as political. That’s because it is political. The misogyny is political and talking about it is political. Goebbels was political; Radio Mille Collines was political; why would misogynist campaigns not be political?

While I won’t deny that almost all bloggers attract some extremely inflammatory comments — and LGBT or non-white ones have their own special fan clubs too — there is something distinct, identifiable and near-universal about the misogynist hate directed at women online. As New Statesman blogger David Allen Green told me: “In three years of blogging and tweeting about highly controversial political topics I have never once had any of the gender-based abuse that, say, Cath Elliott, Penny Red, or Ellie Gellard routinely receives.”

Kate Smurthwaite -

I get abusive comments on my blog or under my videos. Some is straight up hate-speech: fat, ugly, desperate or a bitch who deserves to be slapped, hit or gang-raped. Other times it is in the form of unsolicited advice: subjects I “shouldn’t” cover or opinions I “shouldn’t” have. I’d say in a typical week I get 10-20 abusive comments though there are undoubtedly more that I don’t see on other sites.

The vast majority of the abuse is gender-related. There is a clear link to internet pornography. Much of the language used could have come straight from pornographic sites.

There is an underlying issue though — the people who post these comments reveal a deep-seated hatred towards women. I find that unsurprising in our culture. Violent extreme pornography is normal internet fare. Gang rape and prostitution are subjects for popular music. At least 95 per cent of actual rapists are still on the streets. That’s the real problem. We need to address that.

Eleanor O’Hagan -

On the whole I’ve managed to avoid the worst threats and misogyny that other women writers endure, but I don’t think that’s luck or because my opinions are more well-argued. I think it’s because, very early on, I became conscious of how my opinions would be received and began watering them down, or not expressing them at all. I noticed that making feminist arguments led to more abuse, and as a result, I rarely wrote about feminism at all. I was so nervous about the abuse I would receive when I wrote an article about cultural misogyny. It felt like I was exposing myself as a feminist.

Yikes! That’s a scary one. Not at all surprising, but scary.

Cath Elliot -

How am I supposed to know for instance whether “Let’s hope she doesn’t end up getting stabbed in the head or something” is a throwaway comment by a sad little man sat in his bedsit in his underpants, or whether it’s something slightly more sinister that means I need to keep looking over my shoulder whenever I leave the house? At what point does “a bit of online abuse” cross over into sexual harassment or hate speech? And how do you determine when a ‘nasty comment’ has crossed a line and become a genuine threat to kill?


That’s all I can stand to read for the moment. To be continued.

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

Crude insults, aggressive threats, unstinting ridicule

Nov 5th, 2011 3:11 pm | By

Wo. What was that we were saying about misogynist comments and sexist epithets and stereotype threat and the way racist and homophobic comments are uncool but misogyny is edgy and funny?

Maybe there’s actually something in it?

Crude insults, aggressive threats and unstinting ridicule:  it’s business as usual  in the world of website news commentary – at least for the women who regularly contribute to the national debate.

The frequency of the violent online invective – or “trolling” – levelled at female commentators and columnists is now causing some of the best known names in journalism to hesitate before publishing their opinions. As a result, women writers across the political spectrum are joining to call for a stop to the largely anonymous name-calling.

Largely anonymous, is it? Oh but surely that doesn’t matter. Surely that doesn’t make any difference, and anyway it’s a sacred right. Everybody has a sacred right to anonymously call non-anonymous women bitches and cunts. Obviously.

The columnist Laurie Penny, who writes for the Guardian, New Statesman and Independent, has decided to reveal the amount of abuse she receives in an effort to persuade online discussion forums to police threatening comments more effectively.

“I believe the time for silence is over,” Penny wrote on Friday, detailing a series of anonymous attacks on her appearance, her past and her family. The writer sees this new epidemic of misogynist abuse as tapping an old vein in British public life. Irrelevant personal attacks on women writers and thinkers go back at least to the late 18th century, she says. “The implication that a woman must be sexually appealing to be taken seriously as a thinker did not start with the internet: it’s a charge that has been used to shame and dismiss women’s ideas since long before Mary Wollstonecraft was called ‘a hyena in petticoats’. The net, however, makes it easier for boys in lonely bedrooms to become bullies.”

Linda Grant, who wrote a regular column for the Guardian in the late 1990s, has stopped writing online because of the unpleasant reaction. “I have given it up as a dead loss. In the past, the worst letters were filtered out before they reached me and crucially they were not anonymous,” said Grant.

“What struck me forcibly about the new online world were the violence of three kinds of attitude: islamophobia, antisemitism, and misogyny. And it was the misogyny that surprised me the most. British national newspapers have done little, if anything, to protect their women writers from violent hate-speech.”

The author and feminist writer Natasha Walter has also been deterred. “It’s one of the reasons why I’m less happy to do as much journalism as I used to, because I do feel really uncomfortable with the tone of the debate,” she said. “Under the cloak of anonymity people feel they can express anything, but I didn’t realise there were so many people reading my journalism who felt so strongly and personally antagonistic towards feminism and female writers.”

Neither did I. I do now though – boy do I ever.

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

The Vatican sees its diplomatic role as

Nov 5th, 2011 12:10 pm | By

Can I be mean? Can I laugh a cruel laugh at the Vatican’s shock-horror that Ireland closed its “embassy” to the Vatican on account of how it was useless?

Catholic Ireland‘s stunning decision to close its embassy to the Vatican is a huge blow to the Holy See’s prestige and may be followed by other countries which feel the missions are too expensive, diplomatic sources said on Friday.

Too expensive and too worthless, being as how the Vatican isn’t actually a real state and therefore “embassies” to it are kind of pointless. It’s been very kind and theocratic and respectful for countries to send ambassadors all this time, but all the same the Vatican really does need to learn to stand on its own two feet in their pretty red shoes.

Ireland will now be the only major country of ancient Catholic tradition
without an embassy in the Vatican.

“This is really bad for the Vatican because Ireland is the first big Catholic
country to do this and because of what Catholicism means in Irish history,” said a Vatican diplomatic source who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Yes and what does Catholicism mean in Irish history? Centuries of being priest-ridden; Magdalen laundries; industrial “schools” which were actually prisons for children; child rape; refusal to do anything about child rape.

Dublin’s foreign ministry said the embassy was being closed because “it yields no economic return” and that relations would be continued with an ambassador in Dublin.

The source said the Vatican was “extremely irritated” by the wording equating diplomatic missions with economic return, particularly as the Vatican sees its diplomatic role as promoting human values.

Promoting human values. Human values.  What the fuck does the Vatican have to do with promoting human values – the whole point of the Catholic church is that the values are goddy values, not human values. What human values? Kidnapping single women who get pregnant and then keeping them in prison at hard labor for years, after taking their babies away from them? Kidnapping the children of poor women and keeping them in prison at hard labor for years? Telling poor women their babies died and selling those babies to people with more money, as nuns and priests did in Spain? Protecting child-raping priests and bullying their victims into silence? Ordering people not to use condoms for no earthly reason, in the full knowledge that many people will die as a result, leaving orphan children? Human values – how dare the Vatican “see its diplomatic role as promoting human values”?

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

Jesus and Mo do lit crit

Nov 4th, 2011 3:42 pm | By


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

She rebelled herself to death

Nov 4th, 2011 2:52 pm | By

There’s a terrifying piece at No Longer Quivering, by a former believer in the child-rearing methods of Michael Pearl. She followed the plan; it didn’t work; she did what Pearl said to do, and followed it harder. Hit harder, was what you were supposed to do when it didn’t work. Hit harder, and blame the child. She had a hard time with that, but her ex-husband didn’t.

My ex-husband got angry with the kids for thwarting the Pearl method, but he remained coldly self-controlled. He also left bruises. A lot of bruises.

Why didn’t I stop him? I finally did, but early in my marriage I was paralyzed by fear and brainwashed by bad teaching. We both feared raising ungodly kids. We were looking for confirmation that some part of this system worked, and my ex-husband began to get results. The children flinched when he even moved. Cowered when he reached for a spanking implement. Had semi-seizures on the carpet following “biblical correction.” We got compliance with our wishes. Eventually, there was immediate and unquestioning compliance. My ex-husband had quelled the rebellion in three kids. He had created unfocused, freaked-out little robots who obeyed.

That last sentence chills me.

To Train Up a Child is a manual of progressive violence against children. Not only are there no stopgaps to prevent child abuse, the book is a mandate to use implements to inflict increasingly intense pain in the face of continued disobedience. The part about not causing injury is vague and open to interpretation, but the part about never backing down or shirking your parental duty to spank harder and harder is crystal clear. The Pearls’ teachings will lead, inescapably, to extremely strong-willed kids being abused and sometimes murdered by fundamentalist parents who are determined to “break” those children.

Like Hana Williams.

The only way to break the wills of children like this is to kill them. The 911 call that Carri Williams made to the police dispatcher says it all.

“Operator: What’s the emergency?

Carri Williams: Um, I think my daughter just killed herself.

Operator:  Why do you say that?

Carri Williams, Um, she’s really rebellious, and she’s been outside refusing to come in, and she’s been throwing herself all around, and then she collapsed.”

And died of exposure, with her mouth full of mud. Because she was so rebellious.

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

What theology knows and how it knows it

Nov 4th, 2011 10:34 am | By

Naturally in the wake of the video suppression-and-unsuppression I’ve been thinking again about the “what” of theology. I’ve been thinking about theology as an academic discipline and department, and how that works, and relatedly, about how it knows what it claims to know, and how it knows it knows it. Yes really: both of those: because surely that’s a minimal requirement for an academic: not just to know things, but to know (and be able to explain) how you know them.

I always think about that when reading or listening to (listening to being a much slower and thus more squirmy frustrating process) John Haught and theologians like him (Alister McGrath for instance). I also think about it when reading Paul Tillich. I think about the “minimal requirement for an academic” aspect. How does he get away with it? How does this work? Is theology just exempt from that minimal requirement, and if so why? Just a hangover from the past, when theology was central as opposed to marginal-bizarre?

What are the criteria for theology as an academic discipline? How do practitioners tell good theology from bad? Is there such a thing as “wrong”? Is there falsification? Is there peer review? Are there any boundaries – any checks on what we outsiders see as making stuff up?

Does it have an epistemology at all? Does it pay any attention to how it knows what it claims to know? Does it have clear standards? Is knowledge of the field all it takes? Is it hermetic and insular: internally consistent (or not) but of no interest otherwise?

Does Haught think about any of this? He argues against what he calls “scientism” (which may or may not agree with what philosophers mean by it), but even if “scientism” is wrong does that make theology right? Even if science is not the only way to find things out, does it follow that theology is another way to find things out? (I know the answer to that, because it’s so obvious. I know only obvious things. No, it doesn’t follow, because theology is not the only alternative to science.) Can you get from the error of scientism to the reliability of theology? No.

Is theology a form of knowledge? If so, what kind? What is its methodology? How does it know what it claims to know? Does it have peer review? If so, what do the peers review? What makes theology better or worse?

Haught talked about personal transformation (as necessary for getting at the truths of religion, or something along those lines). That’s a strange idea. Usually the more reliable way to get at knowledge, facts, truth, good evidence, is to learn the appropriate methods and unlearn the other kind. It entails learning not to trust your gut or your guesses, let alone your wishes. “Personal transformation” sounds like learning the opposite. Being “carried away” sounds like surrender to one’s own existing biases and wishes.

This is all very puzzling to me.



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

This tests _____________

Nov 3rd, 2011 5:03 pm | By

So thinking about this athletic ability/strategic intelligence test I’ve been pondering what other tests would show.

A test for atheists and theists, for instance. A test in which the subjects would be told “this tests your generosity” – or warmth or empathy or compassion or altruism or kindness. I wonder if the theists would be primed to do better while the atheists would be primed to do worse.

That would be my guess, at least. I bet I have that stereotype. Do I also consciously believe it? Yes, maybe. I at least believe it’s possible.

I don’t think theists have a better metaethics than atheists; I think the reverse. But I think they might have a better motivation…depending on what kind of god they believe in. The god that a lot of people believe in is really quite nasty, and I don’t think that god motivates much extra kindness or generosity. Nevertheless “God” is supposed to be super-good, and people who both believe that and have a sane idea of what “good” means might well be motivated to try to live up to a god of that kind. That could be enough of an extra prod that they would actually be on average a few points more generous.

What if there were a test in which subjects were told it was testing their rationality? That one is more enigmatic to me, because I don’t know which stereotype believers would buy into – ours or theirs.

Or a test in which they were told it was testing for innate scientific ability? I bet that one would skew the other way – believers doing worse, atheists doing better. I’m just guessing. Social psychology is interesting though, no question.

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

Social contingencies

Nov 3rd, 2011 3:49 pm | By

Thanks to Stacy Kennedy on the Stereotype threat thread I’m reading Claude Steele’s Whistling Vivaldi.

He notes that we in the US live in an individualistic society.

We don’t like to think that conditions tied to our social identities have much say in our lives, especially if we don’t want them to.

We’re supposed to rise above such things. He subscribes to that idea himself. But –

But this book offers an important qualification to this creed: that by imposing on us certain conditions of life, our social identities can strongly affect things as important as our performance in the classroom and on standardized tests, our memory capacity, our athletic performance, the pressure we feel to prove ourselves…[p 4]

We’re all subject to it. All.

Suppose you go to a psych lab and play miniature golf. Suppose you’re told before you start that the task measures “natural athletic ability.” Guess who does badly. White students. Then again suppose you’re told the task measures “sports strategic intelligence.” Guess who does badly. Black students.

Striking, isn’t it.

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