Notes and Comment Blog

Michelle Duggar says there’s an agenda

Jun 4th, 2015 10:19 am | By

Did you see the Duggars’ interview? I only caught the last 15 minutes (will watch it all eventually, obvs) but that was bad enough – jaw-droppingly disgusting. Michelle bleating away in that self-consciously meek little voice about people who have “an agenda” and how terrible they are.

Kevin Fallon at the Daily Beast has some highlights.

Megyn Kelly may not have wagged a finger at them or damned them to hell, the way so many of us wished she would have. But she did ask them tough, responsible, and necessary questions.

She asked why they protected a son who was harming their daughters. She asked for details that would refute the accusations that they covered his misdeeds up. She asked them if they were hypocrites. She asked specifically about Michelle’s comparing transgender women to child molesters. And Michelle stood by it. “It’s common sense,” she said, proving that she has no blessed idea what “common sense” is.

More, she thinks people accusing them of hypocrisy have an unholy ax to grind.

“Everyone of us has done something wrong. That’s why Jesus came,” she said. “This is more about—there’s an agenda. There are people who are purposing to bring things out and twisting them to hurt and slander.”

Oozing big crocodile tears she said that, while JimBob patted her back consolingly. They were both just a steaming mass of self-pity.

Is it possible to pick just one jaw-dropping, blood-boiling, unfathomable quote from this interview? Oh, there are dozens of them (and counting).

Certainly a frontrunner for the top prize would be when Michelle maintained that her daughters are being more abused by the press in the wake of the uncovering of Josh’s scandal than they were by Josh as children. “They’ve been victimized more by what happened in these last couple weeks than they were 12 years ago,” she said.

Yup, that was a doozy.

At the end Fox played a teaser for the interview with two of the girls that will be aired tomorrow, and they are taking the same line. It’s the press coverage that is the wrong done to them. They’ve been coached well – their whole lives they’ve been coached well.

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

Atena Farghadani

Jun 4th, 2015 9:55 am | By

Speaking of cartoons and satire…

An Iranian artist has just been sentenced to 12-plus years in prison for drawing cartoons of parliament as animals.

[Atena] Farghadani, a 28-year-old Iranian artist and activist, rendered visual judgment last year, lampooning members of her nation’s parliament over their vote to restrict contraception and ban certain birth-control methods — just one of her works satirizing the government. Tehran’s Revolutionary Court has now announced that it is rendering its own brand of judgment.

The artist’s crimes include “insulting members of parliament through paintings” and “spreading propaganda against the system,” according to Amnesty International.

Yeah, see, insulting members of parliament shouldn’t be a crime, and neither should objecting to the system. That’s the first thing that should be wide-open to criticism including insult, not the last.

Farghadani, a former fine-arts student who has expressed her opinions prominently through provocative works, was arrested last August and held for months. She was released for several weeks late last year before being rearrested after she spoke out about her mistreatment at the hands of guards. After her second incarceration, in Tehran’s infamous Evin Prison, she went on a hunger strike in February, reportedly suffered a heart attack and at one point lost consciousness. (Amnesty International details her timeline here, including her attempts to draw in prison by using flattened paper cups as her canvas.)

One political cartoonist particularly knowledgeable about her plight is Iranian American artist Nikahang Kowsar. Now a CRNI board member based in the Washington area, Kowsar was jailed in his native Iran 15 years ago for his cartoons critical of the country’s leaders.

“Atena is being punished for something many of us have been doing in Iran: drawing politicians as animals, without naming them,” Kowsar tells The Post’s Comic Riffs. “Of course, I drew a crocodile and made a name that rhymed with the name of powerful Ayatollah, and caused a national security crisis in 2000. What Atena drew was just an innocent take on what the parliamentarians are doing, and based on the Iranian culture, monkeys are considered the followers and imitators, [and] cows are the stupid ones.

“Many members of the Iranian parliament are just following the leaders without any thoughts.”




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

The thin line satire walks

Jun 3rd, 2015 4:08 pm | By

Jen reminded us of that New Yorker cartoon, so I thought I’d take a look back. Mother Jones, July 13 2008.

Weren’t we just having a discussion here on the Riff about the thin line satire walks, between being the opposite of a thing and an endorsement of a thing? Well, brace yourselves, because the New Yorker has jumped right into the middle of that argument with a cover that made my jaw actually drop.

The July 21st issue features a be-turbaned Barack and an afroed, gun-toting Michelle Obama, celebrating their arrival in the White House with a good old terrorist fist-bump. They’ve also apparently done a little redecorating, tacking up a portrait of Osama bin Laden and tossing an American flag into the fireplace for good measure. The illustration, called “The Politics of Fear,” is described in a New Yorker press release as satirizing the “scare tactics and misinformation in the presidential election”; as the Huffington Post put it: “all that’s missing is a token sprig of arugula.”


I think at the time it seemed like handing the Republicans a gift.

Satire is hard.


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

Les articles de Charlie Hebdo relève de la satire et non de la haine

Jun 3rd, 2015 12:13 pm | By

And now with extra added Le Figaro and Slate France.

Malheureusement Slate France called me Olivia, but oh well. Ce n’est pas au sujet de moi Ce n’est pas à mon sujet.

From Le Figaro:

Jennifer Cody Epstein a fait partie des écrivains anglo-saxons qui se sont opposés à la remise du prix Courage et liberté d’expression au journal satirique français lors du gala organisé par l’association littéraire PEN. Un choix qu’elle déplore aujourd’hui.

Jennifer Cody Epstein regrette amèrement le choix qu’elle a fait il y a quelques semaines. La romancière américaine a fait partie des 204 auteurs anglo-saxons qui ont signé la lettre ouverte qui stipulait leur opposition à la remise du prix Courage et liberté d’expression à Charlie Hebdo, par l’association mondiale littéraire PEN (Manhattan).

Aujourd’hui, elle reconnaît avoir eu tort: «Ce fut une erreur de remettre en question la liberté d’expression. Les articles de Charlie Hebdo relève de la satire et non de la haine» a-t-elle écrit dans une lettre adressée à ses collègues écrivains…

Un repentir salué par Salman Rushdie , l’ancien président du PEN American Center: «Respect à Jennifer Cody Epstein pour son acte honorable d’avoir admis son erreur à propos de Charlie Hebdo», a-t-il écrit sur son compte Twitter. L’auteur des Versets sataniques avait traité de «lâches» ses confrères écrivains opposés au prix, accusant ces derniers d’être «à la recherche d’une personnalité».


Le 6 mai dernier, Gérard Biard, le rédacteur en chef de Charlie Hebdo, se rendait sur scène lors d’un gala, à New York, pour recevoir le prix PEN, sous une standing ovation.

Mais si la salle semblait d’accord avec ce choix, un peu plus de 200 écrivains s’y étaient opposés en signant une lettre où ils s’en dissociaient. Dans cette lettre, publiée par The Intercept, s’ils insistaient sur la tragédie des événements du 7 janvier, ils expliquaient que pour eux, le PEN Club «ne fait pas seulement part de son soutien à la liberté d’expression [avec ce prix], mais il valorise également le sélection de contenus offensants: des contenus qui intensifient les sentiments anti-islam, anti-Maghreb et anti-arabes déjà très présents dans le monde occidental».

Aujourd’hui, l’une de ces 204 signataires estime qu’elle a eu tort de se joindre à cette plainte.

Sur son blog, Olivia Benson a repris la lettre qu’a envoyée Jennifer Cody Epstein aux organisateurs de la pétition:

«Au cours de la dernière semaine, je me suis retrouvée à […] me poser de nombreuses questions, et j’en suis arrivée à la conclusion que ma décision –même si elle était bien intentionnée– était mal informée et (pour être honnête) mauvaise. […]

Then Olivia Benson went out and collared a perp.

Le geste a été salué par l’écrivain Salman Rushdie, a remarqué, de son côté, le Guardian. L’auteur des Versets sataniques, qui avait défendu Charlie Hebdo face à ces accusations, estime qu’elle fait une chose honorable en admettant son erreur à propos de Charlie Hebd, et se demande si d’autres vont la suivre.

It’s excellent that this story is spreading.

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

But now you’re a woman

Jun 3rd, 2015 10:43 am | By

And someone else saying it; Jon Stewart this time.

Yet another reason to mourn Jon Stewart’s imminent departure from The Daily Show: On Tuesday night, Stewart tore apart the media’s coverage of Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover for focusing on her looks.

After a montage of anchors noting how momentous Jenner’s debut is—which Stewart praised—the Daily Show host launched right into this: “It’s really heartening to see not only is everyone willing to accept Caitlyn Jenner as a woman, but to waste no time in treating her like a woman.” Cue another montage, this time marked by cries of “All I can say is, ‘Wow!’”; “She’s hot!”; and “I’m jealous!”

My point exactly.

“You see, Caitlyn,” Stewart said, “when you were a man, we could talk about your athleticism, your business acumen. But now you’re a woman—and your looks are the only thing we care about. Which brings us to Phase 2 of your transition: Comparative F–kability.” Anchors discuss whether Caitlyn is hotter than Jessica Lange, ex-wife Kris Jenner, and step-daughter Kim Kardashian.

Wait what? Step-daughter? Kim Kardashian? Is that a joke? If it’s not a joke I clearly don’t keep up with reality tv enough. I admit it: I prefer “Chopped” to the various Real Housewives one and the Kardashian ones. I don’t actually know who the Kardashians are, apart from people-on-reality-tv.

But anyway – yes – that was my point. Why is it all about her looks and fuckability? Why does woman=beautiful or not-beautiful hence pathetic?

If you answer that question, please do it without using the word “duh.” Thank you.

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

The timeliness

Jun 3rd, 2015 10:20 am | By

I love the new Jesus and Mo – those “timely” revelations are so…funny and disgusting, both at once.


The Patreon.


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

Guest post: There is no longer much excuse for being uninformed on this

Jun 3rd, 2015 9:14 am | By

Originally a comment by Robert McLiam Wilson on Jennifer Cody Epstein’s letter to the anti-Charlie Hebdo faction.

Ophelia, You are right to warn generously about Frenchy Charlie’s overly literal translation of ‘con’. All such words are nightmarishly difficult to translate. The register of the same word can vary wildly depending on context. Might I amiably suggest that ‘jerks’ is a touch mild and that ‘assholes’ might be an even better solution.

I write for Charlie Hebdo. I am their only English speaking contributor. This whole episode has been painful and deeply dismaying. Thus, J Cody Epstein’s retraction is to be warmly welcomed. And I feel it is futile and unhelpful to see it as mealy mouthed or conditional. Apologising sincerely is just about the hardest thing there is. I felt she did it with some grace.

As for those who insist on their wrong-headed view on the Taubira cartoon, there are two things to say. Firstly, Christiane Taubira is an almost terrifyingly impressive and daunting women. She’s a real warrior. She definitely does not need ANYONE’s protection.

And secondly, we have passed the point, I fear, where information and explanation can achieve much. There is no longer much excuse for being uninformed on this. If you continue to slander the living and the dead at Charlie Hebdo (that almost TEDIOUSLY anti-racist publication), then it is perhaps not because you are ignorant of the truth but rather because the truth is inconvenient to you.

Truth’s like that sometimes.

I was very encouraged by what you wrote and the general tenor of the literate and rounded comments. I hate to say something so…mean-spirited. But I can’t help noticing that all the funny people are on only one side of this particular garden fence.

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

So much more than beautiful women

Jun 3rd, 2015 8:21 am | By

Laverne Cox has thoughts on Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover photo and its reception.

[I]n a Tumblr post that went live shortly after midnight Tuesday, Cox warned the trans experience is much more than a dramatic physical transformation and only celebrating the women for their beauty can be inherently harmful to the trans cause.

“What I think [people praising Cox’s beauty] meant is that in certain lighting, at certain angles I am able to embody certain cisnormative beauty standards,” Cox wrote.

Cox hopes transgender role models like Jenner and herself can be seen as so much more than beautiful women.

Oh looky there – that was exactly my point.

“I love working a photo shoot and creating inspiring images for my fans, for the world and above all for myself. But I also hope that it is my talent, my intelligence, my heart and spirit that most captivate, inspire, move and encourage folks to think more critically about the world around them.”

Failing to see these women as holistic individuals runs the risk of fetishizing them, Cox wrote:

“Yes, Caitlyn looks amazing and is beautiful but what I think is most beautiful about her is her heart and soul, the ways she has allowed the world into her vulnerabilities. The love and devotion she has for her family and that they have for her. Her courage to move past denial into her truth so publicly. These things are beyond beautiful to me.”

Trans people are no less complicated, complete human beings than anyone else.

That too was my point. I think women should be seen as complicated, complete human beings just as men are, and of course that means trans women too.

It’s so much more than a magazine cover. The trans experience consists of a lot more than conforming to “cisnormative beauty standards.” Jenner and Cox are unusually privileged in resources and public support. Other trans men and women might not have the ability to transform themselves physically the way these two women have.

“Now, there are many trans folks because of genetics and/or lack of material access who will never be able to embody these standards,” Cox wrote. Furthermore, some trans men and women may simply not want cisnormative conformity. “More importantly many trans folks don’t want to embody” [these standards].

Just what Meredith Talusan wrote yesterday.

While Cox and Jenner’s photoshoots and media attention are to be celebrated, tweeting pictures of them and commenting on the beauty of their transformation must not be confused with fighting for the trans cause. Public acceptance is a huge part of it, but truly embracing and supporting transgender people is so much more than praising someone for their (cisnormative) beauty.

And not just more than. I think making such a point of praising someone for their (cisnormative) beauty makes life harder for people who don’t have (cisnormative) beauty.

Of course, you can say well that’s life, tough shit – beauty is beauty and people are always going to worship it, so deal. Lots of people do say that. But I don’t. I think we can be more thoughtful than that.

H/t Kausik.

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

The first to admit

Jun 2nd, 2015 5:00 pm | By

Hey, looka this: the Guardian reports on Jennifer Cody Epstein’s letter.

[I]n a move praised by The Satanic Verses novelist Salman Rushdie, who has thrown his weight behind PEN and Charlie Hebdo since the start of the controversy, Epstein has asked for her name to be removed from the petition.

“The 1st protester to admit she was completely wrong,” tweeted Rushdie on Sunday. “Respect to Jennifer Cody Epstein for doing the honourable thing & admitting she made a mistake about #CharlieHebdo. Will others follow her?”

It’s true, he did.


He shared it on Facebook, too.

The Guardian again (Alison Flood is the reporter):

In a letter to her fellow signatories published in full by the writer Ophelia Benson on Free Thought Blogs, Epstein wrote that she was “misinformed and (quite frankly) wrong” when she made her decision to add her name to the list.

Flood quotes extensively from the letter, which is good – that’s why I was given permission to publish it: to get the word out. Salman helped with that!

H/t Mr Fancy Pants

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

Guest post: Corporations stealing public domain music to copyright it

Jun 2nd, 2015 4:43 pm | By

Originally a comment by Jafafa Hots on IS cannot destroy these.

They may not be able to destroy public domain art, but US corporations are sure trying.

I have put up YouTube videos backed with public domain music. Every one has had a copyright claim filed against it despite the music being pre-1923, all of it acquired by me from public domain archives. One had three separate entities attempt to claim ownership of it.

I currently have one appeal under review, has been for a couple of weeks, where a company is claiming the rights to a song, “I Didn’t Raise My Son to be a Soldier,” recorded by the Peerless Quartet in 1914 – over 100 years ago. This is routine. These companies literally are downloading public domain works, adding them to their catalogs and claiming ownership, knowing that most people won’t dispute it.

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

Respecting the respected academics

Jun 2nd, 2015 12:58 pm | By

More on that all-male panel about women in comics, because it’s so absurd / grotesque / annoying. Jin Zhao reports:

“This is happening at #DCC2015. Let’s see how this ALL MALE panel about women in comics goes #noneofthismakesanysense,” an attendee, Christy, tweeted.

As the panel proceeded, she tweeted that the all male panel gave a “lecture” on early female characters in comics “in relation to men.” At some point, one of the panelist said “because girls get bored with comics easily,” she tweeted.

Comics are more of a guy thing.

Then there was the “it’s a historical panel” defense.

Comic Alliance‘s Janelle Asselin argued that the defense was a weak one.

“There are a lot of problems to unpack here, with probably the worst being that a convention representative thinks it’s okay to have only men speaking for and about women simply because a panel wasn’t about current women in comics, diversity, or bias,” she wrote.

Asselin also pointed out that it was written in the description of the panel that introducing attendees to women attending the convention was on its agenda, which an all-male panel failed to do.

Also at least one of the “respected academics” was maybe…not so much.

At the same time, the organizers “neglected to invite the foremost authority on the history of women in comics, Trina Robbins, despite the fact that she was a guest of the convention.” wrote Asselin.

Oh. Um…

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

Hiding in plain sight

Jun 2nd, 2015 12:06 pm | By

How do you get more women in _______? Where are all the women in ________? I dunno, let’s discuss it. Let’s discuss it on a panel at a convention.

The past few years have seen a lot of discussion (and a lot of misogynist backlash) about improving women’s experience of “geek” spaces such as video gaming, sci-fi conventions, and comics. So it was especially puzzling to see that Denver ComicCon, one of the biggest comic conventions in the country, convened a panel called Women in Comics that had no actual women sitting onstage.

Let’s discuss that on a panel at a convention! One with no women on it!

Sometimes I wonder if women are just plain cryptic, like chameleons and stick insects. “Just could not find a single one, after months of searching!”

Amanda Marcotte continues:

When Janelle Asselin of Comics Alliance asked about the omission, Denver ComicCon emphasized the historical aspects of the panel:

[I]t was a panel that took an historical view of women characters in comic books rather than the current role of women creators in the industry or diversity in comics — of which DCC has many with appropriately diverse panels. The Women in Comics panel was a submitted panel that featured respected academics on the subject.

Oh well, if it’s respected academics talking about us in our involuntary absence, that’s ok then.

There’s a lot of connections between the sexist boys’ club of the comics past and the sexist boys’ club of comics present. Perhaps a woman might be able to employ a little personal experience to help draw those historical connections. Plenty of people happen to be history experts and female at the same time. As Asselin notes, one such woman—Trina Robbins, a preeminent historian of women in comics—was even at this year’s convention. Well, at least there’s a new submission for the endlessly funny “Congrats, you have an all male panel!” Tumblr.

Totally worth it.

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

How difficult and expensive it is to be a certain kind of pretty

Jun 2nd, 2015 11:40 am | By

A friend drew this Comment is Free piece by Meredith Talusan to my attention.

When I heard that Caitlyn Jenner debuted her new name, her upcoming Vanity Fair cover and a new Twitter account, I went online to welcome her. Then I noticed a trend on my Twitter feed: people – including feminists, people of color, queers and transgender folk – commenting on how beautiful she looks. While I welcome all the positive affirmation of Caitlyn Jenner’s gender identity, it’s important to not forget how the forces of economic privilege and beauty standards affect most trans women. And, though all women are subject to conventional beauty standards, the ability and even necessity to adhere to them is rife with even more tension for trans women.

Of course it is. So wouldn’t it be nice to do our best to erode that necessity? To keep trying to nudge the world into realizing and accepting that not all women are gorgeous, and that gorgeous is not all any woman is?

Jenner’s womanhood and the beauty for which she went through many trials to gain certainly shape the person that she is, but it’s vital to ask ourselves whether our acceptance and celebration of her humanity is partially predicated on that beauty. If we accept her in part because she fits into our understanding of the gender binary, then we’re celebrating not just her transition but her economic privilege and her allegiance to a beauty standard that, for non-trans, cisgender women, may mean being more desired or liked, but for trans women is often an insurmountable barrier to being considered women at all.

That’s not worded well. The beauty standard emphatically does not mean, for non-trans, cisgender women, being more desired or liked. It can mean that for the women who succeed in meeting the standard – but at the same time it can create even more hostility. And as for women who don’t succeed in meeting the standard, and/or don’t want to and don’t try – nope, it doesn’t mean being more desired or liked for them, for sure.

But having said that, yes of course for trans women it can be an insurmountable barrier to being considered women at all. There are many reasons to stop treating beauty as a requirement and duty for women, and that’s one of them.

The way in which socially progressive, cisgender people – who are otherwise critical of conventional beauty standards and economic privilege – give themselves permission to talk about trans women in aesthetic terms reveals a certain truth that sometimes feels insurmountable to trans people: affirming trans women’s attractiveness also often affirms our sometimes-limited understanding of the gender binary.

Exfuckingactly. That’s what I was talking about yesterday. People who know better than to reduce cis women to their looks fall all over themselves to do that to Jenner, and I would like to know why.

In Jenner’s case, there’s little doubt that she desires to be complimented for her attractiveness, and it’s hard to fault people for giving her that. But there’s a fine line between complimenting Jenner and considering her beauty a condition of her womanhood, and that line does not escape other trans women. As my friend Lilith Gütler wrote on Facebook: “I’m sorry, it’s hard to be ‘proud’ of someone who has had the financial means to achieve unrealistic goals for girls like us”. She then explained how painful it is to see someone spend as much money as Jenner did to look good, while Gütler has been unable to put together enough funds for the sexual reassignment surgery of which she’s dreamt for many years. Her understanding of the economic conditions required to transition with such aplomb were echoed by a number of other trans women on my social media feeds, even those who celebrate her visibility: we all know too well how difficult and expensive it is to be a certain kind of pretty.

And how oppressive and claustrophobic it is to be expected to.

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

Bouquets for CFI

Jun 1st, 2015 12:03 pm | By

Ed has a post on what’s been going on with Taslima lately and who did what to help and what should happen in the future.

I am very happy to announce that Taslima Nasrin, whose life was threatened by the same people behind the brutal murder of at least three Bangladeshi bloggers in recent months, is now safely in the United States and out of harm’s way. I want to share with you how this happened because a lot of people need to be thanked and it provides a great example of humanists coming together to help someone in need.

On May 5th, the night before I was leading a civics/lobby day for CFI Michigan, I got an email from Taslima that included a link to this news report from India about the direct threat made on her life by the same people who murdered Avijit Roy and two other atheist bloggers in Bangladesh. She had been living in India, a few hundred miles from where those murders took place.


When I got this email, I was on my way to Lansing to meet with Michael De Dora, head of CFI’s Office of Public Policy, who was helping lead the lobby day. Michael and I had talked a few times in the past year or so about the need for some sort of program that would help get atheists who are at great risk, primarily in Muslim countries, to the West where they could be safe. We both agreed that it would be best if one of the big atheist/humanist groups would do it.

So they combined forces, and gave their thumbs a damn good workout, and got things going.

The need was for

a fundraiser to pay for Taslima’s flight to the U.S., set her up with a place to stay and provide for a few months to pay the bills while she establishes a life in this country.

Ron Lindsay and CFI stepped up to the plate.

I got an email back from Ron Lindsay saying that he would check with his staff to see if they could handle all of that.

At the same time, Michael was also communicating with Ron (literally, we were sitting in the same House office building cafeteria, both texting and emailing back and forth) and he told him that he would handle all of the logistics if necessary — whatever it would take to make sure Taslima was safe. By the end of that incredibly busy day, Ron had emailed back and said that the staff had “eagerly embraced” the opportunity to make this happen and that the amazing Debbie Goddard and Martina Fern, the new development director who was also in Lansing with us, had agreed to oversee the whole thing.

FTB’s PhysioProf said that he had hundreds of thousands of frequent flyer miles and would be happy to use them to get the plane ticket.

And he did.

A few words about Taslima, if you don’t know who she is. Taslima is a renaissance woman — a poet, novelist, physician and activist for atheism, humanism and feminism. That activism got her exiled from her native Bangladesh more than 20 years ago and put a high price on her head from Muslim extremists. She lived in Europe after being exiled, but settled in India in 2004. Alas, that was temporary as she was chased out of Kolkata and had to move to New Delhi.

She has spent the last 20+ years moving and hiding, never feeling truly safe, but the danger to her life has never been higher than it is now. Everyone involved in this process has been terrified for her and desperate to get her to where she would no longer have to hide in the shadows or look over her shoulder. Taslima is a beacon of light in the humanist community and a shining example of courage in the face of barbarism and brutality. And we now have the opportunity to help her build a new life free from the constant threats. I hope that all who can afford to do so will help us do that. You can donate here.

The people mentioned above deserve enormous gratitude. I want to personally thank Ron Lindsay and CFI for stepping up and making this possible, especially Michael De Dora, Debbie Goddard and Martina Fern. And I’d like to thank that PhysioProf guy, who may come off as gruff but is a deeply caring and compassionate person.

I second and third and fourth that.

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

Guest post: Better still if you brought yours back from the Holy Land

Jun 1st, 2015 11:06 am | By

Originally a comment by Charles Freeman on The Shroud of Turin continues to sell tickets.

The article has given rise to a lot of interest and outside the authenticists’ websites very positive. For those who read the original to the end, you will see I never argue that the Shroud was a fake. There were hundreds of thousands of painted linens around in the medieval period and they were widely used in churches, especially during Lent when opulent altars and statues were traditionally covered up.

If you were a forger hoping to get away with a burial shroud you would stick to the gospel sources and certainly not add images. The most successful shroud relics in the medieval period were single cloths WITHOUT images – better still if you brought yours back from the Holy Land.

The Quem Queritis Easter ceremony when they held up a cloth from a makeshift ‘tomb’ to show that Christ had risen is the best fit explanation for the origins of the Shroud. We know that the linen was often painted and a single sheet.

I have never seen anyone except David Roehmer put forward this second century Gnostic theory – so I don’t know what historical or scientific work he is relying on.

When you wanted to paint a linen in medieval times, you gessoed it on the surface and once it was sealed then you painted on top. Some of the few surviving examples are vastly more sophisticated than the Shroud ever was. The trouble was that the painted surface easily disintegrated although the Shroud seems to have kept pretty intact until the nineteenth century. The present discoloration of the linen appears to be the result of centuries of the weave being overlain by the gesso and paint. It is only a surface disoloration – presumably the gesso stopped the images penetrating further – and the varying thicknesses of the original paint left a sort of negative image behind. It is all too often assumed that the images left today are the images that were originally created and all kinds of ingenious methods, from laser beams to scorches, have been devised to recreate them – but you would have to seal and paint the linen according to the medieval manuals and leave it in place for several centuries and then when it disintegrated we would probably have similar images. See you in 500 years time!

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

Jezebel can’t wait to see more

Jun 1st, 2015 10:20 am | By

What the hell is this about?

Jezebel on Facebook:


You look great, Caitlyn! Can’t wait to see more.

Then a glam photo of Jenner in a strapless dress with long flowing hair and tasteful makeup.

Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair Cover Is Here, and She Looks Amazing

Caitlyn (née Bruce) Jenner has revealed her name (spelled with a C!) and her new look—photographed by Annie Leibovitz—on the cover of next month’s Vanity Fair.

So she looks great, so what? Isn’t Jezebel supposed to be at least nominally feminist? Isn’t feminism in large part about not reducing women to their looks? Why does that suddenly change when the subject is a trans woman? What am I missing here?

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

IS cannot destroy these

Jun 1st, 2015 9:30 am | By

Maria Popova at Brain Pickings shares a stash of public domain owl and osprey portraits.

Indian fish-owl

Burrowing owl

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

The makers of rubble

Jun 1st, 2015 8:56 am | By

Taslima tweeted a cartoon:

Embedded image permalink

Sums it up, doesn’t it. Creative people create beautiful things. All the tyrants of IS know how to do is smash all the beautiful things.

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

CFI gets the job done

Jun 1st, 2015 8:25 am | By

Here is the big news I’ve been sitting on for

  1. weeks
  2. the past several days

It’s a press release from CFI:

Amid Death Threats from Islamists, CFI Brings Secular Activist Taslima Nasrin to Safety in U.S.

Center for Inquiry Establishes New Emergency Fund for Freethought Writers Threatened by Radical Islamists

The Center for Inquiry has established an emergency fund to assist freethought activists whose lives are under threat by Islamic radicals linked to Al Qaeda in countries such as Bangladesh, where three secularist bloggers have been murdered since February. Outspoken human rights activist Taslima Nasrin, specifically named as an imminent target by the same extremists responsible for the murders of Avijit Roy, Washiqur Rahman, and Ananta Bijoy Das, arrived in the United States last week under the assistance of CFI.

Taslima Nasrin

Nasrin was recently named as one of the next targets for murder by Al Qaeda-linked extremists, prompting CFI to assist in transporting her safely to the U.S., alleviating the immediate threat to her life. Her safety is only temporary if she cannot remain in the U.S., however, which is why CFI has established an emergency fund to help with food, housing, and the means for her to be safely settled. An appeal will be sent out today to CFI’s supporters asking them to donate to this cause. Dr. Nasrin arrived in Buffalo, N.Y. on Wednesday, and was met by CFI staff.

CFI has also heard from several other writers and activists in Bangladesh who are in similarly perilous situations, many of whom have also been specifically named as targets for murder for their secular advocacy. The decision was made by CFI that any money raised in excess of what is necessary for Dr. Nasrin will go toward a general freethought emergency fund to assist with the rescue of other atheist, humanist, and secular activists under threat.

Donate now.

Dr. Taslima Nasrin is a world-renowned secular activist and author, whose uncompromising advocacy of human rights and criticism of religion forced her into exile from her native Bangladesh in 1994. A physician by training, she has written innumerable books, articles, and poems, and been at the forefront of political activism for secularism, free expression, and equality. Since 2004 she has lived in India, but even there she has faced persecution and threats. She is now an associate editor and frequent contributor for CFI’s magazine Free Inquiry, and has been a repeat speaker at CFI events, as well as a longtime ally in CFI’s fight for free expression around the world.

“Taslima is a truly international role model, as her work and her courage inspire people of all ages to question tradition, challenge dogma, and fight for human rights,” said Ronald A. Lindsay, president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry. “We could not stand by while her life was in danger, nor will we turn our backs on the other brave freethinkers in fear for their lives. I know our community will make a strong show of solidarity and give generously to this emergency fund.”

“I lost a valued friend and ally when Islamic extremists murdered Avijit Roy, and since then, two more secular writers have been taken from us,” said Michael De Dora, CFI’s representative to the United Nations. “While it is truly up to the authorities of countries like Bangladesh and others to rein in this threat, we’re going to do our part to keep these people safe. We’ll need the secular movement’s help to do it, and I know we can count on this community’s support.”

* * * Media Alert: CFI and allied groups will host congressional briefings on the threats to religious dissidents around the world on June 9, and on the specific situation in Bangladesh on June 10. Details here

Additional recourses:

First of all – if you have donation money to give, pour it out for this.

Second – all the thanks in the world to CFI, and especially Ron Lindsay and Debbie Goddard and Michael De Dora, who made this their project.

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

The Shroud of Turin continues to sell tickets

May 31st, 2015 6:10 pm | By

Charles Freeman has an article in History Today about the Shroud of Turin. He tells me the subject is neglected by academics, and “the absurd ideas of the authenticists are given full and virtually unchallenged internet space.” He adds that National Geographic is especially bad on this, maintaining “the idea that there is something inherently mysterious about the Shroud when in fact an afternoon in a conservation lab – which would find the traces of gesso and paint – would probably sort things out.” He gave me carte blanche to use the article, so have a feast.

A RECTANGULAR linen cloth 4.37 metres long and 1.13 metres wide, the Turin Shroud, housed in that city’s cathedral since 1578, is famous for its two images of a mutilated man, appar-ently naked, one of his front, with the arms crossed over the genital area, the other of his back. The wounds resemble those of a crucifixion, with an additional wound in the side similar to the one inflicted on Jesus when he was on the cross (John 19:34). Here we have negative images of Christ’s body as if they had been transferred from the body to the cloth. The linen is woven in a three-to-one herringbone twill, one of the many variations that weavers in wool, linen and silk were capable of from ancient times. The folded Shroud was heavily damaged in a fire of 1532 and the burn marks remain prominent.

There is enough uncertainty about the Shroud’s origins to convince some that it is the actual burial shroud of Christ. The mystery is deepened by the claim that no artefact has ever been the subject of so much research. However, when the scope of this research is considered, it is obvious that many areas of its history and the iconography of its images have not been fully explored. For example, the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP), which examined the Shroud in 1978, when it was still owned by the Savoy family, did not have a single expert in the history of relic cults, techniques of ancient weaving or the iconography of medieval painting on its team. No one appears to have investigated the kinds of loom, ancient or medieval, on which a cloth of this size may have been woven. Nor has anyone closely examined the many early depictions and descriptions of the Shroud that illustrate features now lost.

Hmmm. Did they carefully avoid experts who might actually find that the shroud is not what it purports to be?

These depictions, which date largely from between 1578 and 1750, acted as souvenirs of occasions when the Shroud was exhibited. They show the assembled clergy and, in later cases, the Savoy family, standing behind their relic, which is always shown with the frontal image on the viewer’s left. Survivals are rare, for the paper on which they were printed was often of poor quality, but there are enough – perhaps 50 different depictions in total by a variety of artists – to see the images on the Shroud as they once were. Many from the Savoy collections are illustrated in the catalogue of a 1998 exhibition held in Turin. They vary in details and accuracy (some show the Crown of Thorns more clearly than others, for instance) but, as a group, they have not yet received serious study.

THERE IS AN ENGRAVING of one such exposition of 1613 by Antonio Tempesta. He was celebrated for his panoramic view of Rome (1593), which shows the individual buildings of the city in meticulous detail, and he was brought to Turin to work for Duke Carlo Emanuele I (1580-1630). It is an exposition from the height of the Counter-Reformation, when the concentration was on drama, with fusillades and the singing of choirs as the Shroud was unfurled before an enthusiastic crowd. My research began with this engraving, as it demonstrated that the original images of the Shroud were much more prominent than they are now. The Shroud would not have made an impact on such large crowds if they had not been. There are features – the Crown of Thorns, the long hair on Christ’s neck, the space between the elbows and the body, the loincloth – that can no longer be seen today. The marks from the fire of 1532 are also clearly evident. Texts describing the Shroud confirm the accuracy of the Tempesta engraving. Two features that are less obvious are the extent of the blood on the body images and the marks of Christ’s scourging or flagellation. We have evidence that these were once prominent. Astonishingly, few researchers appear to have grasped that the Shroud looked very different in the 16th and 17th centuries from the object we see today.

No one has found any significant evidence of the Shroud’s existence before 1355, when it appeared in a chapel at Lirey, in the diocese of Troyes, supposedly advertised there as the burial shroud of Christ. Such sudden appearances of cults were common in a Europe recovering from the trauma of the Black Death. They caused a great deal of frustration for a Church hierarchy anxious to preserve its own status.

Ah now that strikes a familiar note. The church is still like that – it’s still fretful at the failure of so many people to obey its orders, and still resentful of upstarts and frauds while considering itself The One True Item.

The bishop of Troyes, Henry of Poitiers, whose responsibility it was to monitor such claims in his diocese, investigated the shrine and reported that not only were the images painted on the cloth but that he had actually tracked down the painter. After this clerical onslaught, the Shroud was hidden away for more than 30 years. Yet the Church accepted that it was not a deliberate forgery and in January 1390 the (anti)pope Clement VII allowed its renewed exposure in Lirey. This suggests that the Shroud may have been credited with unrecorded miracles, thereby acquiring the spiritual status to make it worthy of veneration. Doubtless aware of the earlier claims by the Lirey clergy, Clement insisted that it was publicly announced before each exposition that this was NOT the burial shroud of Christ.

An interesting thing is that the iconography of Jesus became very bloody in the 14th century, when it hadn’t been before. That reminds me of Mel Gibson’s violence-porn film.

Twenty years later the Clare nuns, who repaired the Shroud after it had been damaged by fire, also recorded the emotional impact of the wounds. Once it had been rolled out for veneration:

we let our look go up and down through all the bleeding wounds whose prints appeared on this holy Shroud … we saw sufferings that could never be imagined … the traces of a face all bruised and all tortured by blows, his divine head pierced by big thorns, from which blood rills came out and bled into the forehead and divided in various rills covering the forehead with the most precious purple in the world … the side wound appears as wide as to allow the passage of three fingers, surrounded by a four-finger-wide blood trace, narrowing from below and approximately half a foot long.

On the image of the back, once again the blood was prominent:

the head nape pierced by long and big thorns, which are so thick that you can understand that the crown was like a hat [as on the Tempesta engraving], the nape more tortured than the rest and the thorns stuck more deeply with large drops of blood coagulated in his completely stained-with-blood hair.

Little of this vivid imagery survives today. These bloodstains echo revelations reported by mystics of the 13th and 14th centuries. St Bridget of Sweden, whose Revelations date from the 1340s, received a vision from the Virgin Mary, who told of how she saw her son flogged so that ‘the weighted thongs tore his flesh’ until he was ‘all bloody and covered with wounds so that no sound spot was left on him’. He was taken off to be crucified and the Virgin went on to de-scribe how he had been nailed to the cross. Then ‘they put the Crown of Thorns on his head and it cut so deeply into my son’s venerable head that the blood filled his eyes as it flowed and stained his beard as it fell’. The English mystic Julian of Norwich also described, in about 1372, a vision of Christ’s Passion, where she saw ‘the red blood flowing down from under his crown, hot and flowing freely and copiously, a living stream, just as it was at the time when the Crown of Thorns was pressed on his blessed head …’ Linked to these visions is the appearance, in both 14th-century sculpture and painting, of the ‘Man of Sorrows’, in which Christ appears with the Crown of Thorns on his head, his wounds intact and the blood still flowing. The scriptural inspiration is Isaiah 53: 3-4: ‘He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.’

THE CHANGE IN ICONOGRAPHY is dramatic. Scenes of Christ’s burial from the 12th and early 13th centuries show little or no blood, as in the enamel of the Lamentation from the Klosterneuberg Altar of 1181, where Christ is being laid out, his hands crossed over his pelvis but with few signs of any bloodshed. The (Hungarian) Pray Codex from 1192-95 is another. Once the Klosterneuberg enamel is compared with imagery of 130 years later, as seen in the Holkham Bible of c.1330 (from Holkham Hall in Norfolk), the contrast is obvious. In its crucifixion scene, blood spurts from the Crown of Thorns and more runs down Christ’s arms from the wounds in the hands. The moment shown is when his side has been pierced and he has died (John 19: 34-5).

Creepy, isn’t it. What does any of that have to do with…well, anything, apart from a taste for violence and/or melodrama?

This is a small sample of Charles Freeman’s research on the subject, which should be more widely known so that National Geographic would be embarrassed to take the shroud seriously.

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