Notes and Comment Blog

No backsies

May 26th, 2013 12:12 pm | By

Oh honestly. Teresa MacBain was supposed to be on CNN this morning to talk about how atheists deal with tragedy – but CNN went and canceled on her, because they wanted to talk about the London events and religious extremism instead. Phooey.

It would have been good. Here’s what she said about it on Facebook, before they pulled the plug.

I just received a call from CNN. They want me to be on the Sunday Morning show to discuss how atheists deal with tragedy. I’m very glad that I have this opportunity. My goal is to continue the process of normalizing atheism and share how so many of us have stepped up to help those who are suffering.

That would have been great.

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

Quel horreur

May 26th, 2013 11:53 am | By

Huge demonstration in Paris to say omigodno about same-sex marriage.

French police says that 150,000 protesters are taking part in the march in central Paris, but the organisers say the number is closer to one million.

One demonstrator dressed in black, holding a scythe and wearing a mask of Mr Hollande, stood behind a coffin in which lay a mannequin dressed as Marianne – the emblem of France.

I don’t get it. I never do. It’s other people, being allowed to do something that a lot of people think is a good thing to do. It seems so bizarre to get that worked up about it. It’s not legal permission to marry you, against your will – it’s just legal permission to marry someone of the same sex. Someone. Not you. Someone. Someone else.

Du calme, du calme.

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

Not a merely inner struggle

May 25th, 2013 6:39 pm | By

Tarek Fatah says it.

While ordinary Britons and non-Muslims around the world are bewildered by these never-ending acts of terrorism, the response of the leaders of the Islamic community is the tired old cliche — Islam is a religion of peace, and jihad is simply an “inner struggle.”

The fact these terrorists are motivated by one powerful belief — the doctrine of armed jihad against the “kuffar” (non-Muslims) — is disingenuously denied by Islamic clerics and leaders.

Yesterday, instead of calling on Muslims to shelve the doctrine of armed jihad, predictably, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) issued a quick press release claiming the “barbaric” attack has “no basis in Islam.”

Not true, MCB. As a Muslim, I can say without fear, the latest terror attack has a basis in Islam and it’s time for us Muslims to dig our heads out of the sand.

He says it. You don’t see that very often.

This was an opportunity for the Muslim leadership to confess they have failed and that the time has come to admit that jihadis cannot be fought without fighting the doctrine of jihad.

It is worth noting that not a single Muslim cleric since 9/11 has mustered the courage to say the doctrine of armed jihad is defunct and inapplicable in the 21st century. They rightfully denounce terrorism, but dare not denounce jihad.

If only they would.

Unless the leaders of British mosques as well as the Islamic organizations in the U.K. denounce the doctrine of jihad as pronounced by the Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat-e-Islami, and distance themselves from the ideology of Qutb, al-Banna and Maudoodi, they stand complicit in the havoc that these jihadis are raining down on the rest of us.

They cannot have it both ways: promoting the teachings of Maududi and Qutb among Muslim youth, while concealing the same teachings from the rest of Britain.

If the Muslim leadership did denounce armed jihad, think what a blow it would be against “Islamophobia.”

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

Not running away

May 25th, 2013 5:05 pm | By

Omar Bakri, founder of the banned UK Islamist group Al Muhajiroun, is excited about the “courage” of the guy who hacked Lee Rigby to death on a street in Woolwich.

What surprised me (is) the quiet man, the man who is very shy, decided to carry out an attack against a British soldier in the middle of the day in the middle of a street in the UK. In east London. It’s incredible.

“When I saw that, honestly I was very surprised – standing firm, courageous, brave. Not running away. Rather, he said why he carried (it out) and he wanted the whole world to hear it.”

No. That’s not courageous or brave. Nobody was going to hack him to death. The guy he hacked to death wasn’t given a chance to fight back. That’s not courageous, it’s not brave.

“The prophet (Mohammad) said an infidel and his killer will not meet in Hell. That’s a beautiful saying,” he said. “May God reward (Adebolajo) for his actions.”

That’s a disgusting thing to say. “Kaffir.” And he calls it a beautiful saying. It makes me feel ill.

Bakri said his organization Al Muhajiroun had nothing to do with the attack because members had not seen Adebolajo since 2005. However, Anjem Choudary, who took over the leadership of Al Muhajiroun when Bakri was exiled from Britain, has told Reuters Adebolajo attended the group’s events until about two years ago.

It seems to me people used to call Anjem Choudary a joke. He doesn’t seem to be much of a joke.

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


May 25th, 2013 4:47 pm | By

Just a small side thing, about reading and disagreeing with an opponent fairly.

A reader pointed out to me a post by Damion Reinhardt at Skeptic Ink about a post of mine. Here’s how he paraphrases my post:

Her argument seems to be something like this:

  1. Skeptics assent unquestioningly to moral propositions of the form “You must not [commit atrocities against humans]” without stopping to ask for further evidence.
  2. Checkmate, skeptics!

I may have missed out a step there, but that seems to pretty much cover it. My answer to this is twofold.

Here’s what I actually wrote:

One of the things that proud or “movement” skeptics like to say is “you have to be skeptical of everything.” No sacred cows!

But I don’t think even proud or “movement” skeptics really believe that, apart from a few psychopaths. I can think of lots of things I think no one should be skeptical of, and I’d be surprised to get much disagreement.

  • you must not push small children in front of speeding cars
  • you must not punch a child in the face
  • you must not kill all the Jews
  • you must not commit genocide
  • you  must not kidnap and imprison women
  • you must not force a woman to abort a pregnancy by first starving her and then repeatedly punching her in the abdomen as hard as you can
  • you must not set fire to people’s houses
  • you must not enslave anyone

They don’t match. What I wrote is not what he said I wrote.

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


May 25th, 2013 4:21 pm | By

Sorry, I had to make that earlier post private, because I was told it wasn’t a good idea. Sorry for any confusion.

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

Women leaving religion

May 25th, 2013 12:52 pm | By

Speaking of Quiverfull – one of the great panels at Women in Secularism 2 was the Women Leaving Religion one, with Maryam, Teresa, Vyckie and Jamila, moderated by Stephanie.

There was one part where Teresa was talking about the difficulties of leaving and of coming out, in particular the fact that her husband is still a believer, and they had always talked about everything – and she choked a bit on that word. Maryam reached for her behind the table. It wouldn’t have been visible to people much farther back (I was in the front row for a change). It made me get chokey. I love Maryam.

Photo by Monica Harmsen.

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

How to be a Real

May 25th, 2013 12:04 pm | By

Via Brian Engler via Vyckie Garrison – some Quiverfull wisdom by one “Von” on how to be a Real Man.

Real men marry. Real men seek the responsibilities (and joys!) that God has called them to and seek, actively seek: a wife and children. A wife and children that will require work on a daily basis; work to feed and clothe them, work to share in their joys and sorrows, work communicating, fixing, kissing… real men take those responsibilities seriously.

Real men marry, and lead spiritually. They realize that, however little they know about God and Scripture, it is their responsibility to step up to the plate and lead their family. To learn and to lead. Every day, all the time.

However little they know about anything, and however much their wives know about everything, it is still their responsibility to be the boss. God said so. It’s theirs because penis, and it’s not wives’ because not penis.

Real men can really admit they have real problems; and know that that is what wise counsel is for. Their father, their father-in-law, the elders of their church, other wise men… real men aren’t (too) afraid to go to these men and admit that they have struggles, and listen to, and act on, their advice.

That’s a new one (to me). I haven’t seen that particular piece of contempt before. Women aren’t even good enough to talk to when men have problems. Not even that. Not even though the problems could be domestic or relational, and women are generally thought – even by Quiverfull types – to be good at that. No, it has to be father, or her father, or wise men. Wise men.

Real women marry, hopefully young. They know they are called to marriage in their youth, to a husband in his youth, and are not afraid of this.

Real women who understand that they are not called to ‘a career’ but a house. They are called to love their husbands, bear and love their children, and keep their house.

And none of this pesky modern shit about deciding that for themselves; none of that actually thinking about one’s life and how one wants to live it; no sir; real women are “called” to do one kind of thing and not all the others. End of story (in every way).

Real women realize the marriage is more important than the wedding. They don’t bankrupt their new husband or father, or delay their marriage for months while things are ‘planned’ to be just perfect. Real women marry and bear children; they don’t spend the rest of their life poring over their wedding pictures.

Real women obey their husbands over their fathers. While the honor that the young woman owes her parents is lifelong, and includes obedience to all of his lawful commands, she realizes that she now has a much more direct authority in her husband.

Real women are not afraid of submission. Well, maybe they are, but they do it anyway. They strive to give to their husbands the same kind of submission that the Church owes to Christ.

That’s Quiverfull! Maybe they are – maybe they do have qualms – but they do it anyway! They obey and submit. Booya, that’s what this is all about. Obey, god damn it!

Real women know that they are often called to listen when they would like to speak. That is more important to build their husband up than to put him down with their latest spiritual point.

Ha. Haha. Hahahaha. Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha.

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

Help Imad

May 25th, 2013 11:05 am | By

Imad Iddine Habib has run out of cash, and urgently needs more. I told him I would rally the troops.

Use this button to donate. Thank you Maryam!

We are with you, Imad.

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

The actual photo

May 25th, 2013 9:53 am | By

I should post the real photo, because that was actually about something, something that matters. It’s Brian’s photo.

Photo by Brian D. Engler

Left to right: Stephanie, me, Brianne, Maryam, Jason, Kate, Miri, PZ, Ashley. All Freethought bloggers, you see. All in the one place so we thought what fun to get a picture, and of course Brian obliged. Freethought bloggers for international solidarity with atheist bloggers.

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

From an optics point of view

May 24th, 2013 6:04 pm | By

Dan Fincke did a great post a couple of days ago about WiS and the bizarre inappropriateness of the opening remarks.

It was especially troubling, from an optics point of view if nothing else, that he chose to do this specifically to feminists, a group defined primarily by the women associated with it. That he broke with traditional form of being a host rather than a critic when the event’s speaker roster was set to be all women and his audience was predominantly women sent a message, whether he intended it or not. It was that women don’t deserve the same basic respect and civility that is routinely afforded to your average conference speakers and participants. A crowd of women can get a stern talking to and skeptical querying about issues they are probably oblivious to in lieu of a welcome.

Yes. That is indeed a big, big, big part of the problem.

I’ve talked to quite a few people about this since getting back from DC, some of them people who go to a lot of conferences (unrelated to secularism or feminism). Nobody could think of a single instance of anything remotely like the reception we got. The normal thing is to welcome participants and say a little about the conference. The normal thing is not to decline to welcome participants (because participants were welcomed the year before) and then scold them. That’s not normal procedure. We’re not being weird or petty in saying that. It’s not normal; it’s special treatment.

Well why do we get special treatment? What’s different about us?

Oh right.

No, really. As Dan says, that sends a message, whether it’s intended to or not. A conference of women has to be lectured by a man before starting, so that they don’t make a mess of everything.

Particularly galling was Lindsay’s inability to adequately define privilege before criticizing it or to adequately explain how it works well in helping us analyze injustice against marginalized people before talking about potential abuses of it. As a philosopher, I am bothered by Lindsay’s laziness in understanding concepts before criticizing them and his blindness about feeling like he was in a position to criticize the concept to an audience of feminists without even taking any time to treat it in its strongest and most useful senses. This was, remarkably, an astounding instance of privilege induced blindness itself. It is staggering and upsetting that he managed to do that to open a conference on feminism.

That bothered me too, and it seemed uncharacteristic. It was so thin – so inadequate – so vulgar, even. It was a Fox News version of feminism. For cryin out loud, that’s the best you can do? Just a parody version to poke at? And you’re implying that we plan to talk nonsense like that? That is insulting.

Ron Lindsay was an egregious violator of civility principles by being such a disrespectful host and then poisoning the well against Rebecca Watson in his post replying to her counter post to his talk and to his first blog defense of it. And this is especially upsetting given that only this past spring he signed a civility pledge meant to set a standard for others in the community to follow. This pledge gave a ton of instruction to people engaged in emotionally upsetting fights, including to people who were on the receiving end of awful interpersonal abuse. I believe in the ideals of that pledge. I believe that even though it demanded people do difficult things that they are vital things that must be done if the movement is to have healthy debates about serious philosophical differences in the future.

And Ron Lindsay showed that he could not stick to the pledge the first time that he felt like someone made an uncharitable reading of his words in a very heated, public dispute after he signed it. The first time! He is asking women, specifically Rebecca Watson, to be bigger than a torrent of abuse that includes rape threats, death threats, sexually degrading photoshops, a website devoted to monitoring their every misstep, etc. And he cannot handle civil criticism from that same woman  that was not a fraction as abusive to him as what she has had to endure. And he showed this thin skin while being the host of a conference where she was a speaker and it was his obligation to respect the position that that role put him in as a host. This was an abuse of his position and an embarrassment.

So much so that he’s now withdrawn the most insulting thing he wrote in that post – but only that, and no more. The only slightly less insulting things are left unwithdrawn.

By highlighting his anxieties with the worst instances of feminist activism as though they were the most central and pressing concerns related to feminists Lindsay inadvertently sent this message: When I think about feminism the first thing that comes to mind is how feminists act counter to rational ideals. Given feminism’s vital accomplishments, feminism’s hugely important substantive goals, and the long history of women being misogynistically mistrusted as inherently irrational, Lindsay could not have sent a worse signal.

It was a good way to incite an even bigger torrent of abuse against us though. I don’t think he intended that, but he sure as hell didn’t give it enough consideration to cause him to re-think.

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

Invoking the Kindly Ones

May 24th, 2013 12:54 pm | By

So Arizona State Representative Juan Mendez gave a secular invocation in the state House of Representatives on Tuesday. (Invocation. Honestly, what a word. Normally the legislators in Arizona call up spirits every morning. “Hellooo. Hellooooooo, is anyone there?” Then one day there’s a slip-up and one legislator talks sense for once.) Well we can’t have that.

American Atheists announced Friday that it has demanded an apology on behalf of all non-Christians for disparaging remarks made by Arizona state Senator Steve Smith on Wednesday. Smith’s remarks were in response to the secular invocation offered by state Representative Juan Mendez on Tuesday in the state House of Representatives.

Smith, a conservative Christian, opened Wednesday’s House session with not one, but two prayers, the second in “repentance” of the secular invocation offered the day before by Mendez. Smith invited the other lawmakers present to join him; about half of the sixty did. Smith said, “When there is a time set aside to pray …, if you are a nonbeliever, don’t ask for time to pray.”

Religious test for office. Dude, that’s a no-no. You’re not allowed to do that.

“Opening the legislative sessions with prayer is disenfranchising to anyone who is not Christian as demonstrated by Representative Mendez’ attempt to balance this outdated practice with a secular alternative,” said President David Silverman. “But for Senator Smith to say that a fellow lawmaker’s secular choice requires ‘repentance’ is reprehensible. His statement excluding nonbelievers is one of the most un-American remarks I have ever heard from a public servant and is a perfect example of why there should not be any prayer sponsored by government. Senator Smith should be ashamed. He owes Representative Mendez an apology. He owes non-Christians an apology. He owes the American people an apology.”

“For Smith to suggest that Mendez’s expression of Humanist beliefs requires our government to pray for repentance is really awful and insulting. I’m incredibly disappointed,” said Seráh Blain, Executive Director of the Secular Coalition of Arizona.

Stop trying to exclude and disenfranchise us! It ain’t right!


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

Don’t just tell the grunts

May 24th, 2013 12:31 pm | By

Obama gave a commencement speech at the Naval Academy today, and used the occasion to tell them to quit saying “shut up and listen” to their superior officers. No no I’m kidding, he used it to tell them not to do sexual assaulting.

President Obama used a commencement speech before Naval Academy graduates on Friday to urge them to follow an “inner compass” and to warn that rising numbers of sexual assaults in the military threatened to erode America’s faith in the armed forces.

No, it doesn’t “threaten to”; it’s already done it. It’s not so much eroded as gutted my trust in the willingness of the people who are in charge of the armed forces to do a god damn thing about rampant sexual harassment. They act like the Vatican and I don’t trust them at all.

The president praised the military as the nation’s “most trusted institution,” but took note of the recent cases in which service members have been charged with sexual assault. He said those people “threaten the trust and discipline which makes our military strong.”

“We need your honor, that inner compass that guides you,” the president said, essentially using the platform at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium to scold those who have strayed from that direction recently. “Even more than physical courage, we need your moral courage — the strength to do what’s right, even when it’s unpopular.”

Good, but also tell the people in charge do what they’re supposed to be doing. And could you make it so that crimes are not dealt with in-house? That’s not asking too much.

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

No harassment here! Nothing to see!

May 24th, 2013 12:04 pm | By

Why would anyone think otherwise??!




That fake account appeared a lot on #WISCFI during the conference, too. I don’t think I saw any other fake accounts of any other speakers; just that one. I’m special. I don’t know why, particularly, but I am.

Twitter deleted the account on Monday, but of course the genius behind it just created another one.

But that, as we all know, is not harassment. It’s dissent, it’s criticism, it’s disagreement.

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


May 24th, 2013 11:28 am | By

No not bridges between atheists. Not bridges between atheists and People of Faith. Not bridges between the Boy Scouts and faggots their friends in the gay community. No, bridges. The kind that carry cars and trucks across rivers.

Yesterday evening one such bridge carried one such truck across the Skagit River, some 90 miles north of Seattle (where I am). It was a big truck, with an oversize load, and the load whacked into one of the overhead girders – and that span of the bridge fell into the river.

Fell into it, right then, right after the truck whacked the girder. I spent an hour last night staring at the tv with my mouth open. There were two vehicles visible in the water, but no one (except perhaps the rescue people in boats, who could perhaps see to the bottom, as the river is only ten feet deep there) could be sure there weren’t more under the water. This morning though it’s reported that there were only two and that all three people involved are ok.

Well, Mount Vernon, Washington is not Minneapolis. This isn’t as big a deal as the collapse of a big urban bridge. On the other hand, the bridge is on I-5, which is the only freeway between Seattle and points south, and Vancouver, so it is a big deal.

It’s great, isn’t it? The world’s richest country and we don’t maintain our bridges.

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

How stereotypical environments

May 23rd, 2013 6:21 pm | By

There was that panel Saturday morning.

One question Greta gave us was “does affirmative action work?”

I don’t think I started by saying it depends what we mean by “work” but I think I did indicate that that’s what I meant. Maybe I started with “Yes in the sense that” and went on from there. I think it does work in the (familiar) sense that if you always see X job or vocation or career full of all or mostly men (or white people or rich people and so on) then if you are not a man (or white etc) you will conclude, without deciding to conclude it, that you’re not supposed to be there.

This thought irritates the bejesus out of a lot of people. That’s sad for them but that doesn’t make it not true.

Ok, they perhaps think, but you can’t do anything about it without a lot of Professional Victimhood and Social Engineering and paying attention and all kinds of shit we don’t want to do. The hell with that. Don’t do anything, because.


That’s called laissez faire, and it’s libertarian crap. The way things are right now isn’t just magically the best way they could be, so yes we do too so get to tinker with them. No we don’t want to draft everyone until all the numbers come out even, but we do want to get rid of obstacles, including subtle ones that take digging and research to discover.

I talked about that a little, via the work of a University of Washington psychologist whose name I couldn’t remember. She is Sapna Cheryan, and she works on things like stereotypes and environments. I said her research had found that tiny cues in a lab can make a difference to whether or not women feel as if they’re supposed to be there – something as small as a plant. Debbie Goddard expressed surprise at that but Elisabeth Cornwell next to me muttered that it’s true. It’s very interesting stuff. A title:

Cheryan, S., Plaut, V. C., Davies, P., & Steele, C. M. (2009). Ambient
belonging: How stereotypical environments impact gender participation in
computer science. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 97,

It’s optimistic research, really, because tiny inexpensive things can make a real difference.

So, we know this, so why pretend we don’t? Why pretend it’s all aready just everyone’s totally free preference? Maybe some day it will be, but we’re not there yet. (Actually it won’t be, because totally free would mean totally uninfluenced, and how the hell would that be possible?)

I enjoyed that panel. It was interesting and collegial and fun.

I’ll probably say more about it. I’m doing this slowly.

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

Another hilarious hashtag

May 23rd, 2013 5:43 pm | By

What is that hilarious hashtag? #vaculamustdenounce

Geddit? It’s a hilarious joke about Dave Silverman’s effort to get Vacula to say that harassment is bad. Yeah what could be funnier than that?





That’s only a sample of what was posted over the space of an hour or so. Busy!

Update to add a few more, because they’re so funny.



The one about American Atheists is especially weird. Woooooo; welcome to another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind.

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

Peeps talking

May 23rd, 2013 1:17 pm | By

Just because. I like the picture. I like the moment. Pieter Breitner in the kilt.

Photo by Brian D. Engler.

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

A melancholy part of modern life

May 23rd, 2013 9:49 am | By

Mark Urban at the BBC explains the ways the Woolwich murder is different from other such murders – it’s not networked, it’s just a couple of guys with everyday tools, so it’s not the kind of thing that intelligence services can prevent; the guys look ordinary; there’s no way to prevent their “message” from spreading; responses have changed…

Governments have become better at calibrating their response to these acts and so has the public. After Boston and Woolwich, for example, they were careful not to leap to conclusions or to issue responses of the “War on Terror” kind that would have inflamed communal tensions.

There are still some who are defaulting to stereotypical responses to such situations, and certainly in Boston after the marathon bombings, I witnessed a small quantum of media-fanned hysteria, but in general people have become better at accepting that such incidents are a melancholy part of modern life and should not alter their view of other cultures or religions.

Excuse me. That last item is one thought too many. It’s pretty typical BBC bullshittery in its careful vagueness, but given our knowledge of typical BBC bullshittery, we can be pretty sure we know what it means: don’t think of the Woolwich attack as anything to do with Islam. If that is the thought, it’s one thought too many. It is anythiing to do with Islam. If it were Catholic fanatics doing this kind of thing, that would be anything to do with Catholicism. When anti-abortion fanatics murder doctors who provide abortions, that is anything to do with anti-abortion fanaticism, and sometimes with a particular religion that underpins or prompts the anti-abortion fanaticism. This incident on a London street is anything to do with Islam. The murderers said so themselves. Yes, other people follow a better Islam (one that ignores much of its own “scripture”); yes it’s theoretically possible to have a better Islam; but no, it is not the case that this murder has no implications for how people should view Islam.

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

Why would you open on such a hostile note?

May 22nd, 2013 6:27 pm | By

I’m belatedly listening to Citizen Radio on Women in Secularism 2. It starts 16 minutes in. It’s as good as everyone said it is.

Update. Great line. Jamie Kilstein:

If Ron LIndsay was opening an NAACP conference, he’d be the guy who’s like, “Welcome! WHERE’S WHITE HISTORY MONTH?”

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