Notes and Comment Blog

Well you don’t see rhinos with hangovers, now do you

Nov 20th, 2013 4:09 pm | By

Myths can be lethal.

A friend of mine just got back from a trip to Botswana to see the wildlife; she told me one of the guides told them there’s been a big surge in rhino poaching and it’s because of a myth in Vietnam that a bit of rhino before you get shitfaced will make the hangover not so bad. Well that’s a pathetic reason to wipe out a species, even if it’s true.

So I Googled, and there’s reporting on it. Like a piece titled

Using horns in hangover cures the hot new way to make rhinos extinct

Drunks in Vietnam have recently acquired a taste for rhinoceros horn and, frankly, the timing couldn’t be worse. The selfish lushes will pay $50,000 for a pound of horn, believing it will cure their hangovers, and the surge in demand is pushing rhinos to the very brink of extinction. It seems the dwindling rhinoceros population is inversely linked to an increase in stupid medical mysticism.

Why the fuck couldn’t they make the stupid myth be about dandelions or dust or something else abundant and easy to produce?

The Atlantic reported on it at the same time, last May.

Rhino Horn: Party Drug Some conservation groups, however, don’t think rhino horn’s newfound popularity in Vietnam has much to do with the cancer cure-all rumor (pdf, p.2). The more likely reason, they say, is that the horn powder is increasingly seen as a cocaine-like party drug, virility enhancer and luxury item–”the alcoholic drink of millionaires,” as a Vietnamese news site called it.

That’s partly because it is supposed to help the liver. With alcohol consumption on the rise as living standards improve, the swinging Vietnamese now prize rhino horn  as a way to let them drink more and cure hangovers faster. Tom Milliken, an expert on the rhino horn market, reckons that a rhino-horn  detox, ”especially following excessive intake of alcohol, is probably  the most common routine usage promoted in the marketplace“.

Ah it’s our old friend detox again. Goodbye rhinos, hello bogus “detox” drug.

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

Guest post by Leo Igwe: UN and Witch hunts in Ghana

Nov 20th, 2013 3:02 pm | By
The United Nations should use the visit to Ghana of the Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, Ms Gulnara Shahinian, to shine an international light on the menace of witch hunting in the country and in other parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Ms Gulnara Shahinian is scheduled to visit Ghana from 22 to 29 November 2013.
 The aim of her visit is to ‘assess the situation on the ground with regard to slavery-like practices’ in the country. According to a press release from her office, Ms Shahinian will, during her stay in Ghana, ‘explore strategies to address the current challenges in ending such practices, including the use of the worst forms of child-labour in a number of economic sectors, and other forms of contemporary slavery that are often less visible such as domestic servitude, and those emerging from harmful traditional practices.’ Unfortunately, there was no mention of the harmful traditional practice of witch hunting in Ghana and the plight of accused persons, especially women, children, internally displaced due to witchcraft accusation in this west African nation. The UN should break the silence on witchcraft related abuse in Ghana now!
Witchcraft is a way many people in contemporary Africa interpret misfortune, and Witch hunting is still observed and ‘respected’ as a tradition in Ghana. Most victims of witch persecution lack protection under the law in Ghana. When it comes to issues concerning witchcraft, tradition trumps human rights. Suspected witches are attacked, killed or expelled from their communities.
The UN Special Rapporteur should use her visit to promote the campaign to end witch hunting in Ghana. The witch hunting situation in Ghana is unique because the country has ‘safe spaces’ where alleged witches take refuge. These places are called ‘witch’ camps. They are not official refugee camps. The ‘witch’ camps are makeshift shelters and part of the traditional mechanism for managing and containing witchcraft accusations.
I urge the UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery to pay a visit to any of the ‘witch’ camps in Kukuo, Gambaga, Gnani, Gushegu, Naboli, Kpatinga or Bonyase in Northern Region. She should explore ways of getting the UN involved in providing humanitarian assistance to victims of witchcraft accusation. In fact the UN special rapporteur should get the UN to adopt these camps as refugee camps or camps for internally displaced persons. Witchcraft is a traditional belief, and witch hunting is a traditional practice of expelling and trying by ordeal persons suspected of engaging in harmful occult practices. It is one of the issues Ms Gulnara Shahinian should raise during her visit. The UN Special Rapporteur should discuss with all stakeholders strategies of ending this terrible practice in Ghana. The UN should help make witch hunting history in Africa!

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

Progress is slow

Nov 20th, 2013 2:30 pm | By

The New York Times magazine ran a long piece on the not enough women in STEM subjects question last month. It’s by Eileen Pollack, who herself stopped short of doing physics as a career. She started from way behind as an undergraduate because No Girls Allowed…

I attended a rural public school whose few accelerated courses in physics and calculus I wasn’t allowed to take because, as my principal put it, “girls never go on in science and math.” Angry and bored, I began reading about space and time and teaching myself calculus from a book. When I arrived at Yale, I was woefully unprepared.

But she caught up, dammit. But guess what – jumping over hurdles gets tiring after awhile.

In the end, I graduated summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, with honors in the major, having excelled in the department’s three-term sequence in quantum mechanics and a graduate course in gravitational physics, all while teaching myself to program Yale’s mainframe computer. But I didn’t go into physics as a career. At the end of four years, I was exhausted by all the lonely hours I spent catching up to my classmates, hiding my insecurities, struggling to do my problem sets while the boys worked in teams to finish theirs. I was tired of dressing one way to be taken seriously as a scientist while dressing another to feel feminine. And while some of the men I wanted to date weren’t put off by my major, many of them were.

Mostly, though, I didn’t go on in physics because not a single professor — not even the adviser who supervised my senior thesis — encouraged me to go to graduate school. Certain this meant I wasn’t talented enough to succeed in physics, I left the rough draft of my senior thesis outside my adviser’s door and slunk away in shame. Pained by the dream I had failed to achieve, I locked my textbooks, lab reports and problem sets in my father’s army footlocker and turned my back on physics and math forever.

That was 1978. Recently she decided to try to find out if things had changed.

When I first returned to Yale in the fall of 2010, everyone kept boasting that 30 to 40 percent of the undergraduates majoring in physics and physics-related fields were women. More remarkable, those young women studied in a department whose chairwoman was the formidable astrophysicist Meg Urry, who earned her Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins, completed a postdoctorate at M.I.T.’s center for space research and served on the faculty of the Hubble space telescope before Yale hired her as a full professor in 2001. (At the time, there wasn’t a single other female faculty member in the department.)

In recent years, Urry has become devoted to using hard data and anecdotes from her own experience to alter her colleagues’ perceptions as to why there are so few women in the sciences. In response to the Summers controversy, she published an essay in The Washington Post describing her gradual realization that women were leaving the profession not because they weren’t gifted but because of the “slow drumbeat of being underappreciated, feeling uncomfortable and encountering roadblocks along the path to success.”

But shouldn’t they just tough it out? What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, after all. If that makes them give up then they must be weak and fragile – right?

No. Innate obstacles are one thing, and stupid ones created by people being jackasses are another.

Pollack arranged to meet with some interview female students interested in science and gender so that she could interview them; she was told that few would be interested enough to show up. Wrong.

The students clamored to share their stories. One young woman had been disconcerted to find herself one of only three girls in her AP physics course in high school, and even more so when the other two dropped out. Another student was the only girl in her AP physics class from the start. Her classmates teased her mercilessly: “You’re a girl. Girls can’t do physics.” She expected the teacher to put an end to the teasing, but he didn’t.

Other women chimed in to say that their teachers were the ones who teased them the most. In one physics class, the teacher announced that the boys would be graded on the “boy curve,” while the one girl would be graded on the “girl curve”; when asked why, the teacher explained that he couldn’t reasonably expect a girl to compete in physics on equal terms with boys.

Wouldn’t it be nice if people would stop doing that? But no, wait, that’s “politically correct” – and we can’t have that. It’s much better to remain free to pour scorn on people so that they will doubt themselves and stop trying.

In the two years that followed, I heard similar accounts echoed among young women in Michigan, upstate New York and Connecticut. I was dismayed to find that the cultural and psychological factors that I experienced in the ’70s not only persist but also seem all the more pernicious in a society in which women are told that nothing is preventing them from succeeding in any field. If anything, the pressures to be conventionally feminine seem even more intense now than when I was young.

It’s a long process. So long that nobody gets to see it happen, perhaps.

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

She was never told why she was hauled away

Nov 20th, 2013 9:35 am | By

Elizabeth Coppin is a survivor of both an Irish industrial “school” and a Magdalene laundry. She has taken her fight for justice to the UN.

Terrified Elizabeth Coppin was just 14 when she was taken out of the Co Kerry industrial school she had attended for 12 years and “locked up” in the Peacock Lane Laundry in Cork.

She was never told why she was hauled away from everything she knew and dumped in the hated institution with the chilling warning: “It will be a very long time before you get out.”

And it was the start of a hellish four years in three laundries for Elizabeth where she was:

  • FORCED to work long days with no pay
  • MADE to sleep in a cell with bars over the window and only a bucket for a toilet
  • LOCKED in a bare padded cell for three days after being falsely accused of stealing another girl’s sweets, and
  • PUNISHED by having her beautiful hair shaved off and her named changed to Enda after she ran away to escape the nightmare.

Now 64, Elizabeth has returned home from England to Listowel, Co Kerry, to fight for justice for herself and the thousands of women like her who were treated like slaves in the Laundries.

That was priest-ridden Ireland, Catholic Ireland. What was that again about the link between religion and compassion?

Elizabeth and fellow Magdalene survivor Mary Merritt have taken their campaign all the way to the United Nations Committee Against Torture to make their voices heard.

Defiant Elizabeth revealed: “As a vulnerable, ignorant, innocent and frightened child growing up in rural Ireland in an industrial school, abuse by the nuns was a daily ritual for as far back as I could remember.

“I have formed the opinion my torture in the Magdalene Laundries was State-sponsored because the Government and the nuns sent me to the Laundries whilst under-age and in their care.

“The fear of punishment was very real to us women in the Magdalene Laundries.

“We were dependent on the nuns for our welfare, liberty, subsistence and for our very survival.

“The religious have since tried to justify this saying they provided us with shelter, board and work and they acted in the best interests for all who entered the Laundries but this just adds insult to injury.

“I never asked the nuns to take me there and I want the Government to admit our human rights were violated and that we deserved better.”

Elizabeth finally got out of the Laundries aged 19 after almost five years and was so traumatised by what she had been through she fled to England.

She was treated like shit in the Peacock Lane laundry. She was locked up in solitary for three days with only a bucket and a cup and plate. She finally managed to escape, and got a job in a hospital.

But her world crumbled all over again when three Government officials turned up three months later and warned her: “Run away from this place we’re taking you to and we will put you in a place you’ll never get out of.”

Elizabeth wasn’t taken back to Peacock Lane but was instead moved to The Good Shepherd’s Laundry in Cork.

She said: “I was given the name Enda, my hair was shaved by the nun in charge and as she cut it she said, ‘I don’t think you will be running away for a long time’.”

As if she were a serial murderer, when in fact she was a young girl who had been locked up in prisons from the age of two.

Fortunately Elizabeth only had to endure that agony for five months, after which she was moved to another laundry, this time in Waterford.

She added: “I was there for one year. I had my own name and my own clothes, we used toilets and slept in dormitories and even though I was locked up and still doing the laundry work I found this place more tolerable.

“Maybe that’s because I was so institutionalised at that stage and the nun in charge was nice to me.”

And opening up about why she feels she can’t accept the Government’s offer of compensation after the Martin McAleese Report, Elizabeth said: “We worked, toiled and slaved under duress, coercion and fear.

“We were never given any type of education, we were not allowed to have friends and verbal abuse was normal so can someone please tell me how that wasn’t a serious breach of our human rights?”

No, no one can. That was a very serious breach of their human rights.


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

Spin the doll

Nov 20th, 2013 8:17 am | By

Girls! Girls demanding something different, girls who like to engineer things.

Fewer than 3 in 10 graduates in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are women. And barely 1 in 10 actual engineers are women. Early in a girl’s life, the toys marketed to her are usually things that don’t encourage her to enter those fields. GoldieBlox intends to change that by teaching them while they are young that these fields can be fun — and apparently epic, by the looks of this super-genius 2-minute video. Watch and learn.

It’s a commercial for a company called GoldieBlox.


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

What about yoga?

Nov 19th, 2013 5:59 pm | By

I don’t think I see much – if anything – about yoga among the targets of the skeptical patrol. But there’s a lot of bullshit in it isn’t there? Plus a lot of…what to call it…not full-on bullshit but a kind of hinting at more than is really there. Isn’t there?

I’m wondering because I was idly reading some bit of fluff in a neighborhood throwaway this afternoon and there was an “article” on the wonders of yoga written by someone who runs a yoga place (so what possible motivation could she have to pretend it’s more magical and health-giving than it really is?), which along with apparently reasonable claims about exercise was “it detoxes your organs.” I beg your pardon? No it doesn’t. “Detoxing your organs” isn’t a thing, and if you see a claim that treats it as a thing you know there’s bullshit going on.

Okay, Google is my friend, so here we go. 5 Yoga Poses for Detoxification.

Note from Joy: I am thrilled to share another post with you from my friend and amazing yoga instructor Michelle from sol glo. As you may have noticed, we launched our Spring 2013 online program: Eat Clean Body Lean: 21 Days to a Joyous New YouRegister Today!

These poses she has graciously put together for you will stimulate the passage of toxins! Of course the calming and centering aspect of yoga is essential for detoxification as well. Your body will not efficiently eliminate any toxins if you are in sympathetic nervous system mode, better known as “fight or flight”. Enjoy these poses from Michelle — she’s awesome!

That looks like a move from the reasonable to the not so much. Stress is bad for the body, so to the extent that yoga is good at relieving stress (which I think it is) it’s good for the body and makes it feel better. But is that “detox”?

“Happy New Year” often goes hand-in-hand with “Detox” for most people especially after indulging over the Holidays.

Yoga can help us release toxins that have been built up in the body and need help finding their way out, enhancing all of your efforts in your cleanse.  Through various twists, folds, inversions, and sweating, Yoga will clean out toxins, lower stress hormones, send more oxygen to our cells, and increase circulation to carry nutrients to the cells and toxins away to be eliminated.

“Yoga will clean out toxins”? That’s just gibberish, right? Decreasing stress will lower the production of adrenalin, as I understand it, but that doesn’t mean it “cleans it” out.

You know what else is a good anti-stress thing to do? Go to a big semi-wild park on the bluffs above Puget Sound with a bursting-with-energy dog on a cold cloudy damp day, and have fun. All those little chores you have to do become very manageable.


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

Remembering Lilian Baylis

Nov 19th, 2013 5:07 pm | By

Or not remembering her, as this letter in the Guardian points out.

The 50th birthday of the National Theatre has provoked much celebration, programmes, books, the parade of successive male artistic directors, anecdotes from star performers, a lot of mutual back-slapping and, in some cases, back-stabbing.

Simon Callow had high praise for Michael Blakemore’s book Stage Blood (Review, 16 November), which raises the curtain on some nastier aspects of theatre life. However, Blakemore is too preoccupied fighting the bigger boys for the limelight to notice that there are no women’s parts in his drama. Jocelyn Herbert has a bit part and Gillian Diamond a walk on. When it comes to two outstanding dames, he deals with them briefly, describing a farewell party at the Old Vic: “Peggy Ashcroft impersonated Lilian Baylis … it was a complete surprise to see her being so funny, sketching with a sure hand Miss Baylis’ cockney accent and physical peculiarities”.

Baylis ran the Old Vic and Sadler’s Wells. She engaged Ninette de Valois and thereby was responsible for the founding of the National Theatre and the Royal Ballet. I believe it was her legacy that was being fought over and which Olivier had inherited. She launched the careers of Olivier, Richardson, Gielguid, Ashcroft, Redgrave, Thorndyke, Edith Evans, Guinness and many more. She died in 1937, aged 63. There is no memorial at her grave and none at the National Theatre, other than a terrace named after her, and there has been no programme about her as part of the celebrations. It is time this remarkable woman was awarded the tribute due to her. A word from Blakemore or Callow might have helped.
Liane Aukin

Really. We see so much shouting and complaining about efforts to remember to invite women to contribute, write, speak, manage, run, instead of just letting nature take its course and the best rise to the top on its own, like cream – when women who do rise to the top get brushed aside and forgotten.



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

Pat Condell should stop citing polls he hasn’t read

Nov 19th, 2013 10:43 am | By

Alex Gabriel has an immense detailed analysis of Pat Condell’s claims in a recent video about the attitudes of “Muslims” to homosexuality. It’s actually more than that, more of a meta-analysis of surveys on the subject.

He summarizes at the end:

For those who’ve skipped to the bottom, as a tl;dr summary, the landscape they suggest can I think be distilled as follows:

  • Muslim attitudes are often highly varied, in some cases powerfully polarised, including on questions of sexuality.
  • Determinants of this variation, in addition to other less obvious ones, include nationality, ethnicity and age.
  • All of these, age in particular, challenge the view conservative and fundamentalist approaches to Islam are ‘imports’ through recent immigration; their followers are often young, born or raised in Britain, more ‘strict’ or ‘radical’ than prior generations.
  • Most if not all British Muslims consider homosexual acts ‘morally wrong’ over ‘morally acceptable’, but large majorities in various polls tend to express respect, acceptance or otherwise humane responses to gay people.
  • Supporters of sharia law are not an ‘extremist fringe’ as some have claimed, but are a clear minority, with most surveys showing them at somewhere between 20 and 40 percent of Muslims.
  • More and better polling is required on what exactly sharia supporters understand it or its (ideal) function to be in Britain, but advocates almost always desire it as a Muslim-specific legal system within Britain rather than a totalitarian alternative to the country’s current governance.
  • Further, strong appetites exist for reform or reinterpretation of sharia in line with contemporary views on human (and LGBT) rights, although it’s unclear what the relationship of ‘sharia reformers’ to ‘sharia advocates’ is.
  • Muslim support for extreme draconian punishments and human rights abuses such as the Iranian government’s executions by stoning or hanging is extremely low most of the time.
  • More broadly, Muslims are by and large extremely unlikely ever to find violence justifiable, though Muslims polled by Gallup across Britain in 2008 were an unexplained exception to this. (This does not, however, suggest support for terrorism or homophobic attacks, and other data explicitly suggests a near-universal lack of support in these areas.)
  • All of us – think tanks, journalists, agitators on the right and left, opponents of Islam, defenders of Muslims and people who are both – need to become more literate in polling analysis, more willing to survey the bigger picture and less exploitative of polls as propaganda.
  • Polling companies need to be more judicious about wording, formatting and research methods, refusing to use biased or imprecise techniques when agreeing questions with clients (especially those, like newspapers or think tanks, with particular outlooks).
  • Numerous points raised by research above are legitimately concerning for secularists and human rights campaigners – not just the minority of Muslims supporting fundamentalist or violent practices, but the view itself that queer sexuality is immoral (even when no structuralised oppression follows this belief) and the support and continued operation of sharia courts as parallel, separate legal institutions in the so-called Muslim community.
  • These concerns are not well dealt with by smearing, homogenising and misrepresenting Muslims generally, and sensationalist xenophobia which characterises the presence of Muslims as a major threat to ‘the British way of life’ are both unfounded and unhelpful: non-Muslims (or those outside the ‘Muslim community’) are directly threatened very little by the issues above, whereas Muslim women, LGBT Muslims and other parts of that community marginalised by conservative religious tendencies are strongly affected.
  • Atheists, secularists and skeptics should stop engaging in anti-migrant/anti-Muslim racism, taking on the actual problems.
  • Pat Condell should stop citing polls he hasn’t read.

Don’t miss it.

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

Another pattern recognized

Nov 19th, 2013 10:20 am | By

Oh gosh, who could have predicted – George Zimmerman pulled a shotgun on his girlfriend the other day. There we all were thinking he’d learned his lesson and would totally be more careful with guns in the future! Were we dumb or what.

Amanda Marcotte asks some difficult questions.

…tightening up gun laws is known to make it better for victims of domestic violence. States that pass laws requiring a background check on all handgun sales have 38 percent fewer gun murders of women at the hands of current or former partners. A quarter of a million domestic abusers have tried to buy guns in this country, only to be unable to pass the background check.  

Unfortunately, the Zimmerman situation demonstrates why even having more comprehensive background-check laws may not be enough to keep legal guns out of the hands of angry, belligerent men who are eager to pull them on anyone they feel entitled to control. Despite a history of frequent run-ins with the police and one dead teenager, Zimmerman hasn’t been convicted of the kind of crime that would make him ineligible for gun ownership. Is there a way to make it easy to get as many guns as you want without making it a gun bonanza for people who find them attractive as totems to express their unjustified paranoias and their desire to instill fear and obedience in the people around them? It doesn’t really seem that there is, which is why so many other countries have decided to lower their murder rates with extensive bans and gu[n] buyouts, to great success. To be blunt, there’s a problem with any legal regime that allows a George Zimmerman, after all that has happened, to still have a gun with which he can threaten his girlfriend. This country needs to get to fixing it.

It needs to but it won’t. We know that much.

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

If it bleats like a goat

Nov 18th, 2013 5:10 pm | By

If you see an organized group of people pursuing an activity for 30 months and then you see a couple of members of that group pursuing what looks like the same activity, it’s not confirmation bias to conclude that they’re doing what it looks as if they’re doing. It may be a mistake, but it’s not confirmation bias.

That’s my helpful hint for the day.

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

Madcap students having larks

Nov 18th, 2013 4:42 pm | By

Oh good grief. Do students who are members of the Edinburgh University Law Society really need to be told that white people “blacking up” by way of a costume is not funny or cool or hip this late in the game?

The Beerientering event, which took place on Thursday night, asked students to follow an “around the world” fancy dress code.

However, pictures soon began circulating on social media of four students – three men and one woman – “blacked up” to represent Somali pirates.

Third year Social Anthropology student Amie Robertson, 19, who is a member of the Amnesty Society and the Tibet Society, was one of those who challenged the group.

She said: “We ran into them in The Three Sisters bar. We tried to explain that their costumes were deeply offensive and racist. They didn’t even deny that, they just said, ‘Oh, it’s only for one night’. One of the members of the Vegetarian Society, who is of Pakistani descent, told them if they really thought it was okay, they would let her take a picture – and they did!”

And then the next day they said it was just a coincidence! And it was a dare! And nobody said anything! And they were brave heroes!

The Edinburgh News goes on to ask the question I know you are all shouting as you read:

 Is blacking up always as offensive as the politically correct would have us believe?

Ah yes the politically correct, the dreary pious self-righteous always-pestering politically correct, in contrast to the free-spirited, the witty, the rebellious, the original, the fearless, who cover their privileged pallid skin with brown makeup in defiance of all that correctness.

In a pig’s eye.

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

Separation of church and health care

Nov 18th, 2013 10:49 am | By

Nina Martin at ProPublica has a story on another example of a Catholic hospital attempting to prevent doctors from discussing abortion with patients even when a pregnancy threatens a woman’s life.

A dispute between a Colorado cardiologist and the hospital he works for has highlighted a growing area of concern among patient advocates and civil libertarians: gag rules imposed on doctors and nurses by Catholic health-care providers.

In a complaint filed Wednesday, ACLU of Colorado [1] accused Mercy Regional Medical Center in Durango, in the remote southwest corner of the state, of illegally telling doctors and other employees that they cannot discuss abortion with patients, even if a pregnancy threatens a woman’s life. The complaint was filed with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which oversees the state’s hospitals.

Even if a pregnancy threatens a woman’s life. Study that. Fix it in your memory. Think about it. Most people don’t realize this can happen at Catholic hospitals and healthcare systems, and they don’t believe you when you tell them. It can and it does.

A pregnant patient showed signs of Marfan syndrome, a heart condition which can turn fatal with pregnancy.

According to the complaint, Demos met with the patient, who was eight weeks pregnant and displayed signs of having the disorder, in early 2012. As he tells it, he recommended follow-up testing and discussed the treatment options — including abortion — should the results indicate that her life was in danger. Fortunately, an echocardiogram showed that the patient’s blood vessels were normal, Marfan syndrome was ruled out, and she went on to have a healthy baby. “I never saw her again,” Demos said.

But then more than a year later the patient complained to the hospital that Demos had discussed abortion, and the hospital told Demos not to do that any more.

A Brooklyn native who has lived in Durango since 2008, he said he became a Mercy employee in July 2011, when his private practice group was bought out by another group that eventually became part of Mercy. He can’t recall whether he knew what Mercy’s policies were on abortion: “Perhaps I should have known, but I didn’t.” And he had more than the usual reason to be cautious about a patient who might have Marfan: Many years ago, he said, he treated another pregnant woman with the condition who died. Not to have discussed the option of abortion with someone who might suffer from the disorder “would have been malpractice,” he said.

But hospital officials apparently saw it differently. Demos was reprimanded and told (in the words of the complaint) that he was “not permitted to recommend an abortion, nor is he permitted to even discuss the possibility of terminating a pregnancy with a Mercy Regional patient, regardless of the circumstances.”

Later, Mercy Regional’s chief medical officer, John Boyd, assured the patient in writing that the hospital would “provide education to all our employed providers, reminding them that they should not recommend abortion — even to patients who may have serious illnesses,” the ACLU’s complaint says, quoting his letters. Boyd also reaffirmed that under The Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, Mercy Regional’s staff was “precluded … from providing or recommending abortion.”

Precluded. Note that. The staff is “precluded” by a bit of Catholic bullshit from providing a medical procedure even to save a patient’s life. Precluded! As if Catholic dogma calls the shots in hospitals!

The ERDs, a set of 72 guidelines issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, restrict a range of reproductive health options that conflict with church teachings — abortion, birth control, sterilization, fertility treatments — as well as certain end-of-life care possibilities and stem cell research. The directives also have been interpreted by many hospitals to prohibit emergency abortions for miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies as well as emergency contraception after sexual assault (which generally works by preventing implantation of a fertilized egg).

The directives have long been controversial with women’s health advocates and civil libertarians, and the Colorado episode, they say, underscores why. The guidelines don’t just restrict what doctors and nurses at Catholic providers may do; they can even limit what health professionals are allowed to say.

Mercy’s policy “prevents physicians from fulfilling their ethical obligations” to patients and “interferes with patients’ rights to make informed decisions regarding their medical care,” the complaint said. The policy also violates patient safeguards under Medicare and Medicaid as well as a Colorado law protecting physicians’ autonomy, the ACLU said.

Mark Silverstein, ACLU of Colorado’s legal director, said that by barring doctors from informing patients about all possible treatment options, Mercy Regional poses “a potential threat to the health, safety and even the lives of its patients.”

Catholic bishops are setting medical policy. This should not be allowed.

The potential risk to patients is especially grave in communities like Durango, where a Catholic hospital is the only one for miles around, added Sheila Reynertson of MergerWatch, a New York–based nonprofit that tracks Catholic hospital consolidations and their impact. She noted that so-called “sole provider” hospitals — there are 30 of them in mostly isolated parts of the country — receive additional federal funds to serve the needs of their communities, as well as Medicare, Medicaid and other tax breaks.

Reynertson said that gag policies like Mercy’s are “absolutely” common — and are becoming more so as Catholic health-care systems gobble up other providers in a merger boom touched off by health-care reform. “What’s unusual about this case is that you have it in writing,” Reynertson said. “Usually, the policies are not so clear cut.”

Catholic health-care systems have gobbled up almost all the providers in Seattle. I live in Seattle. I object.

But vague gag rules may be just as problematic, Reynertson added, especially at secular hospitals and practices, like Demos’s, that find themselves under Catholic control. “People tend to overreact to keep their jobs. This is what we’ve heard many times — the nurse in the emergency room who is suddenly very nervous about that pregnancy emergency because there’s a heart beat. Doctors become nervous, hospital administrators become nervous. It’s a chilling effect.”

Does that sound familiar? University Hospital Galway?

Also unusual is that Demos is a heart specialist, suggesting that the gag rules can have a broader reach than many people realize. “Usually you would expect to see this kind of thing happening to an OB/GYN” — the doctors who have historically been most likely to come into conflict with the ERDs, Silverstein said.

In his statement, spokesman David Bruzzese acknowledged that, as a faith-based hospital, Mercy is committed to carrying out its mission and ministry “in a manner that is consistent with our religious and ethical directives.”

But, he added, patients and physicians “are free to use all information in the medical literature to make appropriate medical decisions.”

The ACLU, meanwhile, urged state health department officials to intervene to stop Mercy Regional from enforcing its gag policy and from “inappropriately interfering with its physicians’ practice of medicine.” It has requested a response from the state by the end of the month.

But we know that the state (which includes the federal one) is very queasy about messing with bishops.

Thanks to Michael DeDora for sending me this.

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

Idaho is not for children

Nov 17th, 2013 6:05 pm | By

An investigative reporter named Dan Tilkin has found ten more dead children of faith healers in an Idaho cemetery.

A former member of the Followers of Christ advised him to go to Peaceful Valley and look for two specific names.
He found them. He found many more.

Garrett Dean Eells.

The coroner’s report says Garrett was a 6-day-old baby who died of interstitial pneumonitis. That’s pneumonia, untreated.

Jackson Scott Porter.

Jackson was a baby girl. She lived only 20 minutes. The coroner’s report said she received no pre-natal care.

Her grandfather, Mark Jerome, says she died in his house three months ago after his daughter went into labor.

“Well, when she came over, she was just sick – like a kidney infection or something like that,” Jerome said. “So she just wanted to come to the house for a couple days. And when she had the baby no one expected it, it just happened that quick.”
The coroner used the words “extreme prematurity” to describe the labor.
Jerome said he doesn’t regret the lack of pre-natal care. That gets to the heart of faith-healing.
“That’s the way we believe,” he said. “We believe in God and the way God handles the situation, the way we do things.”

Then why live in a house? Why wear clothes when it’s cold? Why eat and drink? Why not just lie around and wait for god to handle the situation?

The Canyon County coroner believes Preston had Down’s Syndrome, and that the 2-year-old died of pneumonia.

KATU reported on his death in 2011, along with that of 14-year-old Rocky.

Rocky isn’t buried in the cemetery, but he lived nearby with his parents, Sally and Dan.

They didn’t want to talk about not getting him treatment.

“What I will talk to you about is the law,” Dan Sevy said. “I would like to remind you this country was founded on religious freedom, and on freedom in general. I would like to say, I picture freedom as a full object. It’s not like you take “a” freedom away. It’s that you chip at the entire thing. Freedom is freedom. Whenever you try to restrict any one person, then you’re chipping away at freedom. Yours and mine.”

That’s true. Dan Sevy doesn’t have absolute freedom, just as the rest of us don’t. None of us can walk up to people and hack them up with machetes and then stroll off unmolested. We do restrict each other, all the time, in many ways. That’s the price of living among humans. The price of living at a vast distance from all humans is mostly starvation and death.

Unfortunately, those weren’t the only names in the cemetery. There are 10 new graves that look as though they belong to children that have appeared since KATU’s last report in 2011.

Arrian Jade Granden.

Arrian was 15 years old. She ran track at Parma Middle School.

In June 2012, she got food poisoning.

She vomited so badly she ruptured her esophagus.
She slipped into unconsciousness and went into cardiac arrest.
She died.

Micah Taylor Eells.

The autopsy says Micah died of “likely an intestinal blockage.”
Micah was four days old.

None of the parents of the children who are buried at Peaceful Valley Cemetery will be prosecuted. Oregon wiped out its laws protecting faith-healers. Idaho did not.

So, if you’re a child – don’t live in Idaho. Get right out of there.

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

The joke shall never die

Nov 17th, 2013 4:55 pm | By

Tweeted by Charles Stewart @BirdTerrifier.

Damion & Chs Stewart did an elevator pic and tweeted it. Hilarious? I thought I'd pass out from laughing.



Brilliant, right? Just never gets stale, right? Intelligent, right?

Yeah. Welcome to “the community.”

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

The bobbleheads failure

Nov 17th, 2013 12:32 pm | By

More on the LOL Albert Einstein sexually assaults Marie Curie video, from Jonathan Eisen at Phylogenomics.

Wow.  I just do not know even what to say here really.  My Facebook feed is filling up with discussion about this video “A Very Special Thanksgiving Special | It’s Okay to be Smart” from PBS Digital Studios and I thought it would be important to share this with a wider audience.

The video includes scenes like the following:

Marie Curie is the only female scientist represented who says “It was very nice to be included”.

That is, she’s the only woman, and the only one who says it was nice to be included.

Read the whole thing. It even has his school homework on Curie, lots of it, because she was his one major hero.

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

Just relax

Nov 17th, 2013 11:54 am | By

A police chief in India made a horrible remark about rape the other day.

[CBI chief Ranjit] Sinha made the remark on Tuesday during a conference about illegal sports betting and the need to legalise gambling. He said if the country could not stop gambling, it could at least make some revenue by legalising it. “If you cannot enforce the ban on betting, it is like saying, ‘If you can’t prevent rape, you enjoy it’,” he said.

Speaking to the media on Wednesday, Sinha said he was sorry if his statement hurt the sentiments of some people and added that he made the remark inadvertently.

Well that’s kind of the point – it indicates that he thinks rape can be “enjoyable” if you just tweak your attitude. “If you can’t prevent assault and battery, you enjoy it.” Oh yes? How?

The remarks by the CBI director have caused outrage across the country, which was recently roiled by widespread protests following the fatal gang rape of a 23-year-old woman on a moving bus in New Delhi.

Following a public outcry over the Delhi attack, the government introduced tougher rape laws in March, which include the death penalty for repeat offenders and for those whose victims are left in a “vegetative state”.

And it’s not very helpful if police chiefs talk as if rape is just rough sex.

Kavita Krishnan, an activist with the All India Progressive Women’s Association, called for Sinha to step down.

“How can he remain the head of India’s premier investigation agency?” she said.

Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Brinda Karat said Sinha’s comments were offensive to women everywhere.

Oh well. If you can’t stop clueless remarks about rape, you enjoy them.


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

Bobblehead Thanksgiving

Nov 17th, 2013 10:48 am | By

There’s this guy Joe Hanson, a biologist and the host and writer of PBS Digital Studios’ video series It’s Okay to be Smart. He reports that his latest video took some heat.

My desk is covered in bobblehead dolls of famous scientists. This week I put out a video where they joined me for Thanksgiving Dinner.

Many people have contacted me on Twitter in the past day to say they are offended by that video. To you, and others, I am deeply sorry.

The criticism directed at the video (and much of it at me personally) centers around Albert Einstein’s advances toward Marie Curie. I should mention that Madame Curie is the only female science doll at the table for the simple reason she is the only female science doll available for purchase in bobblehead form.

Ok so I watched the video. I’d read the post first, so I was primed to look for stuff to object to, if not to be offended by, but I watched it anyway.

I dunno. I like the goofy conceit of having a party with the bobblehead dolls, but the resulting video not so much. It needed better dialogue all around.

In producing this video, we guided improv voice actors to create caricatures of dead scientists so we could lampoon the most extreme aspects of their personalities. Then we made dolls act out those extremes, flaws and all. We tried to present the way in which these characters might actually act, in their own time. Galileo doesn’t get evolution. Tesla is obsessed with Edison. And Einstein reflects the dark reality that many men in his time acted inappropriately toward women.

This video makes a joke to call attention to the sexual harassment that many women still today experience, often from wannabe Einsteins. The joke is uncomfortable because these issues are uncomfortable. To be very clear: that joke is not an endorsement of sexism in science. We aimed to ridicule miscues of science in society, past and present, using dolls, and we failed.

Well, yes. They needed a much better script, at the very least. (And, to be picky but then again this kind of thing does matter, notice that he calls Marie Curie “Marie” but he calls Charles Darwin “Darwin” and Nikola Tesla “Tesla.”)

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

A rough start in life

Nov 16th, 2013 6:14 pm | By

There’s been an arrest in an FGM case in the UK, which could result in the first ever prosecution there.

The victim was five weeks old.

Sources say the victim’s age is unprecedented and extensive efforts are being made to gather the evidence needed to bring charges. The barbaric practice — which can involve the removal of all or parts of the labia and clitoris or the sewing up of the vagina — has been illegal in Britain since 1985.

No charges have been brought since then as secrecy and a lack of reporting have hindered police efforts to enforce the law.

Detectives believe evidence about the mutilation of the baby girl could now lead to a breakthrough and have submitted a file to prosecutors. But because the surgery was carried out overseas they are still unsure whether charges can be brought.

Five weeks old.

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

“We play Christian music in our store all the time”

Nov 16th, 2013 5:32 pm | By

A grocery store owner in Iowa likes to lecture his employees on how to be more biblical. He lectured one of them so much in such an annoying way that she up and quit.

Sherri Chafin said she quit in January 2012 after Stille preached to her about the wisdom of King Solomon and questioned her lifestyle. She filed for unemployment pay.

“He told me that I should read one psalm, or one chapter, per day, something like that,” Chafin testified at an unemployment hearing.

Chafin said Stille also criticized aspects of her life.

“He asked me if I was receiving food stamps, or any welfare, or anything like that. He told me that if I was, it was unjust because I worked and I lived with my roommate — who is my boyfriend and we’re not married,” Chafin testified. “He was very intimidating.”

That’s enough of that, Ms Chafin – he was your employer, your boss, put in that position by god, and it was your duty to heed and obey him. The bible says so, somewhere.

Stille said his employees all knew before they were hired that faith is an integral part of his business.

“Before we hire anybody, we tell them our faith. We play Christian music in our store all the time, and we always make sure that’s OK with them because that’s a part of our life,” Stille said.

On the other hand we’re talking about Tabor, Iowa, a wide place in the road with a population of 1000. I’m guessing jobs aren’t abundant there.

Administrative Law Judge Julie Elder sided with Chafin, finding that Stille’s conduct was, at best, “inappropriate, unacceptable and unprofessional” and had created an intolerable work environment.

Reached by the Register after the judge’s decision, Stille expressed frustration.

“It’s just a lot of baloney and it’s more of government getting involved where it shouldn’t,” he said. “I’m just really frustrated with the whole mess.”

Chafin said she now works at an adults-only store in western Iowa called Romantix.

Asked about her current job, Chafin said, “I’ve never had any problems with my boss.”

Ah now that’s a fitting punishment.


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

Dave’s update on Skepticon

Nov 16th, 2013 11:42 am | By

Rumors are flying about what happened at Skepticon very early this morning, and Dave Muscato said “please distribute” on his update when he posted it on Facebook, so I might as well distribute it here too. The original is at Skepticon.

My name is Dave Muscato; I am the Public Relations Director for American Atheists. I am at the Skepticon conference in Springfield, MO, although I am attending on my own “off-duty” this weekend and not in a working capacity for American Atheists.

Early Saturday morning, there was a security incident and I would like to clear up any misconceptions, explain where things stand, and tell you how Skepticon has resolved the situation.

About 4 AM on Saturday morning, another attendee of the conference made a graphic and direct verbal death threat to me while brandishing a semi-automatic pistol, which this person claimed was loaded. The incident occurred on E St Louis Street outside, away from conference property and neither in the conference hotel nor in the expo center. I was with a small group of people who were able to distract this person with conversation and diffuse things until we were able to return to the University Plaza hotel, where the person went to his room. I reported the incident immediately to hotel security and the Springfield police, and made statements on the record about what happened.

Skepticon organizers have been fully informed of all details of the incident, and all organizers and volunteers, as well as police and hotel security, have this person’s name and photograph. This person has agreed to leave the hotel and not return to Skepticon this year or in future years.

Skepticon organizers have been overwhelmingly supportive and competent. I was offered a security escort, which I appreciated, but felt was unnecessary and declined.

I still feel safe at Skepticon. I have been coming to Skepticon for four years now and intend to continue to donate and to return to Springfield for Skepticon 7.

I am not going to name the person involved in this incident at this time. Skepticon organizers and American Atheists have this person’s name and information. I will let them decide how to handle informing other event organizers about this situation.

What happens next depends on what American Atheists’ in-house counsel and the Springfield Police Department advise.

I would prefer not to discuss this incident further. I am OK. I thank everyone for their concern. I am extremely impressed and flattered with the outpouring of support from Skepticon organizers, other attendees, and speakers, as well as the support from the atheist community online.

I am here the rest of today but if I miss you, I will see you next year for Skepticon 7!



I hate the gun culture in the US. I hate, hate, hate it.

I hate it.

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