Notes and Comment Blog

Guest post on “Aaron Swartz – The Internet’s own boy”

Jun 29th, 2014 10:23 am | By

Originally a comment by Harald Hanche-Olsen on The withdrawing room.

 I just finished watching Brian Knappenberger’s documentary on Aaron Swartz – The Internet’s own boy. Driven to suicide by overly aggressive prosecutors seeking to making an example of him for wanting to make knowledge available to everybody, Aaron was likely one of the brightest minds of his generation and a tragic loss to all. Have a look at Lawrence Lessig’s TED talk on The unstoppable walk to political reform to learn about just one important aspect of Aaron’s life.

The documentary is well worth watching. I believe it is screening in US movie theaters starting today. I got a copy because I backed the movie financially albeit very modestly. But at least if you are in the US, you can rent or buy the movie on vimeo. I should warn you that it is emotionally wrenching, but that is as it should be.

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

The reality check

Jun 29th, 2014 8:49 am | By


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

A retributive God who must punish sin

Jun 29th, 2014 8:27 am | By

Valerie Tarico reports that Child Evangelism Fellowship is targeting Portland, Oregon this summer, but Portland is fighting back.

 Good News Clubs mix snacks, games, art projects and stories with upbeat moral lessons and the theology of blood sacrifice. In a case that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, Child Evangelism Fellowship argued that they were entitled to operate in public schools because they are running a social and moral enrichment program akin to Scouting.

Much to the dismay of church-state watchdogs, a majority of the Court agreed, but to call Good News Clubs moral enrichment by secular standards or to liken it to Scouting, is a stretch. Despite evangelical influences in the Boy Scouts, scouting programs to a large degree emphasize virtues that are prized across both secular and religious wisdom traditions. Good News Clubs teach dark, divisive and potentially traumatic doctrines that are unique to fundamentalist forms of Christianity.

And they teach them on public school property, thanks to a disastrous Supreme Court decision. The fact that they’re on school property of course deceives children into thinking they’re part of school, and thus teaching the truth.

The Good News Club curriculum is filled with over 5,000 references to sin and thousands more to obedience, punishment, and hell. It stresses Old Testament narratives of a retributive God who must punish sin, warns children that they will suffer an eternity in hell if they refuse to believe, and stresses complete obedience as the supreme value. Good News Club tells children as young as preschoolers that they have “dark” and “sinful” hearts, were born that way, and “deserve to die” and “go to hell.”

That stinks on church property. It’s absolutely appalling on public school property.

For perhaps the first time, this summer Good News Across America will face organized opposition. As volunteers step up preparations for the Portland blitz, a coalition called Protect Portland Children is stepping up outreach to local media, parents, child advocates and school administrators. Protect Portland Children says they mean no disrespect for local churches and volunteers. Rather, they hope to “spread the word that the Good News Club’s extreme teachings can be psychologically harmful to children” and that Child Evangelism Fellowship “is now targeting Portland with a major recruiting campaign.” “One of our goals is to help the next city they target and to make this a national conversation,” says member Kaye Schmitt.

Protect Portland Children points to the investigative expose by journalist Katherine Stewart, author of The Good News Club,. Like Seattle’s Lederer, Stewart dug deeper after witnessing Child Evangelism in action at her daughter’s school. And they are taking tips from Cernyar, whose website Intrinsic Dignity examines legal precedents related to use of public facilities, providing guidelines and models for parents and administrators who oppose religious bullying in public schools. Despite the Supreme Court ruling, Cernyar urges parents and district administrators to push back: “It is possible for a school district to regulate its forum to protect its students from psychologically and emotionally harmful after-class activities.”

I hope that’s true.

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

Dawkins v SJWs

Jun 28th, 2014 4:24 pm | By

What about that zany Richard Dawkins, eh? You’ve seen the infamous June 24 tweet, right?

Sun will engulf Earth. If we launch DVD as , what would you put on it? Shakespeare Schubert Darwin Einstein for me. You?

There were prompt rebukes for the all white all male you get the idea. I actually thought that was pretty silly – it’s only four choices, and we’re all allowed to have favorites. But I didn’t say so, because I knew what was going to ensue, and I wasn’t wrong – the assholes got involved, Dawkins said silly things, and it all went to hell even faster than usual.

Then today he let us know that he’s been learning from the Twitter graffiti artists:

Learned a useful new phrase this week: Social Justice Warrior. SJWs can’t forgive Shakespeare for having the temerity to be white and male.

But wait – he explained – he’s a warrior for social justice himself, it’s just that he’s the right kind of warrior for social justice, unlike those pesky SJWs.

I fight for social justice, e.g. in the Islamic world, daily. But I hear people sneer at Shakespeare for being white & male.

Ah yes. He fights for social justice in “the Islamic world” daily, by telling women in the Dawkins world to shut up because Dear Muslima. He’s for social justice in places that are far away and exotic and not full of annoying women who question him instead of prostrating themselves before him. He uses the horrors perpetrated on women in “the Islamic world” as a shield and an excuse for his own impatient contempt for feminism in the part of the world where he actually lives.

Color me unimpressed.

Stephanie has commentary.


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

Red card for shock jock

Jun 28th, 2014 3:22 pm | By

Shock jock booted from lineup for calling Mo a diaper-lifter.

Broadcaster Michael Smith has been dumped from a guest slot on radio station 2GB after he referred to the prophet Muhammad as a paedophile.

Smith had been booked to present Chris Smith’s  afternoon program for three weeks starting Monday.

However, he has revealed on his website that 2GB’s program director, David Kidd, phoned him on Friday evening and allegedly said: ‘‘We won’t be needing you, you can’t call a Deity a paedophile.’’

Mr Kidd declined to comment when approached by Fairfax Media on Saturday.

Smith’s controversial outburst came during an on-air exchange with Ben Fordham on Thursday. ‘‘The prophet Muhammad was a paedophile, a pederast, a sexual offender, a man who promoted the idea that it was OK to marry a six-year-old and consummate the marriage when the little girl was nine. And that’s written into their books, it’s part of the philosophy … the Koran.  It’s factually correct,’’ he said.

Well he’s not wrong. Then again if he said that in aid of ranting about Mooosleeems invading Australia, maybe he should be dumped – except he’s a shock jock, and that’s what they do.

But if the objection really is to the quoted statement – well he’s right. Mullahs in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere cite the example of the prophet as the reason it’s ok for grown men to “marry” nine-year-old girls. That’s a bad thing.

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

Happy Pride Day

Jun 28th, 2014 3:13 pm | By

Via EXMNA on Facebook:

EXMNA stands in solidarity with everyone celebrating world pride 

We support the simple idea that everyone should have equal rights

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

Ramadan, meet Gay Pride

Jun 28th, 2014 12:56 pm | By

They met in Singapore, for one.

Pink Dot has been held every year since 2009. Attendees wear pink clothing and sit down for a mass picnic that ends with the forming of a pink dot.

But this year it falls on the eve of Ramadan, prompting an Islamic teacher to start a Wear White campaign against homosexuality, which has been supported by a Christian organisation.

Gay sex is illegal in Singapore.

I love it when Christians join with Muslims to oppose other people’s sexual orientations.

The Pink Dot rally proceeded peacefully on Saturday evening with no sign of anti-gay campaigners. Organisers said 26,000 people attended the event.

Wear White issued a statement saying it discouraged supporters from attending Pink Dot, as “it should be an event that no Muslim is associated with”.

Some chose to go online instead to protest at the event.

About 4,000 people so far have taken part in a virtual rally called FamFestSG. Its Facebook page carries a quote from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong that defines the term family as “one man one woman marrying, having children”.

The backlash has reignited the issue of gay rights in the largely conservative city-state.

That’s a pretty hopeful outcome, all told.

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

Of Mollison and Muggles

Jun 28th, 2014 12:04 pm | By

I’ve just read J K Rowling’s novel for grownups Casual Vacancy. It was gripping at first and then got more and more unpleasant to read, but the basic story – about a pleasant village near a city and the tensions between the two, in other words about class – was interesting enough that I read the whole thing. (Usually I stop reading novels I don’t like. I know lots of people who seriously think that once you start a book you’re somehow obliged to finish it, no matter how much you hate it. I think that’s entirely and comprehensively wrong.)

I dislike her mind. It makes me feel dirty. Reading the novel made me feel dirty much of the time. She’s full of disgust, Rowling is, and she isn’t embarrassed to let it hang out. Lashings of physical disgust for many of the characters, renewed every time she mentions them. She piles it on, and as you turn the pages, it starts to mount up, and you feel dirty – at least I did.

The plot is – sort of – on the side of the lower orders, but the way she writes about them is the very opposite of that. The middle class characters who live in the village are all written in ordinary English, while the lumpen characters who live in “the Fields” – a housing estate between the city and the village, and loathed by most people in the village – are given a ludicrous dialect which consists of leaving out a great many letters. I thought novelists had stopped doing that in about 1905. It’s incredibly alienating, and it’s also silly – it pretends the middle class characters have no dialect and say all the words exactly as they are spelled. Yeah right.

This kind of thing is why I never liked Harry Potter, along with Rowling’s extremely uninteresting way with language. I went off Harry Potter early in the first book and never read more. I disliked her attitude to “the Muggles” and I disliked the simple-minded polarization of the houses at Hogwarts – and that’s when I closed the book and never went back.



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


Jun 28th, 2014 11:22 am | By

Chris Stedman interviews Hemant Mehta for RNS.

CS: What do you love most about the nontheist community? Where do you think it can improve?

HM: I love how certain issues that are controversial everywhere else in the country, like marriage equality, comprehensive sex education, and science in schools, are almost non-issues within our community. Where can we improve? In many ways, we act like there’s an atheist orthodoxy everyone must follow. As the demographics shift and atheists increase in number, we have to realize we won’t always agree on every issue. 


Hemant must have forgotten what he had just said when he went on to say the exact opposite. He loves how certain issues that are controversial everywhere else in the country are almost non-issues within our community, and where we can improve is in the fact that we act like there’s an atheist orthodoxy everyone must follow.

So how will be treat other atheists who happen to hold other controversial positions? There are atheists who are pro-life, Republican, gun owners, or home-schoolers. When I talk to them, they often tell me they feel unwelcome in both worlds—“I’m too atheist for the pro-life group, and too pro-life for the atheist group.” We have to ask ourselves: Are we united by our atheism or is it really more than that? Is it possible to be a rational thinker who holds contrary views on controversial issues? Will we allow ourselves to even have those sorts of debates or are they off-limits? Right now, those conversations are off-limits with many atheists and that’s a problem.

It depends on what we’re talking about, in what situation, with what people, for what purposes.

Are we united by our atheism? It depends. Am I united with people who detest feminism and make a habit of saying stupid things about it?

Nope. Not at all. I don’t care how atheist they are, because I care about the equality of women more.

And another thing: why is Hemant using the tendentious label “pro-life”? You know, the one that not too subtly implies that the opposition is pro-death? Why doesn’t he call them what they are, anti-abortion or anti-abortion rights?

And then, “off limits” is tendentious too. It sounds like an absolute when often it just means “I’ve had that conversation seven billion times already, I don’t need to have it yet more times just because some atheists are opposed to abortion.” Often it just means I don’t want to hear it; it pretty much never means no one should ever discuss the subject.

I guess that’s some of what I don’t love about “the atheist community.”


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

Her views brought her into conflict with the Muslim Brotherhood

Jun 27th, 2014 6:23 pm | By

The Guardian has more on Salwa Bugaighis.

Bugaighis, a lawyer from a prominent Benghazi family, was among the first to the barricades in Libya’s 2011 Arab spring revolution, and later resigned from the first rebel administration, the National Transitional Council, accusing it of freezing-out female members.

She was identified as perhaps the most charismatic figure in Libya’s women’s movement, supporting a successful campaign to establish minimum quotas for female lawmakers in parliament. She also opposed moves to make the wearing of the hijab compulsory, and her views brought her into conflict with the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist extremists.

“The killing seems intended to silence critics and muzzle dissent,” said Hanan Salah of Human Rights Watch. “Her conviction that dialogue is the only way out for Libya is now forever silent.”

This year Bugaighis and her husband left Libya with their three young children after one child was threatened by gunmen. But the couple returned recently, vowing to continue campaigning.

And the gunmen got them. Her husband is still missing.

Hassan Morajea, a student from Tripoli, said the lawyer was respected by men and women alike for her zeal. “Not only did she have something to say, but she knew how to say it, she was able to articulate what we all thought,” said Morajea.

Most recently Bugaighis had been a prominent member of a commission trying to bridge Libya’s growing factional divide. That divide appeared as wide as ever on Thursday, with rival militias deployed on the streets of Tripoli and the supreme court suspending sessions amid fears of violence.

When in doubt, kill all the best people.

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

Armed militia groups competing for turf and power

Jun 27th, 2014 5:54 pm | By

The New Yorker’s Newsdesk blog mourns Salwa Bugaighis.

On June 25th, in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, the lawyer and democracy activist Salwa Bugaighis was killed, bringing despair to those who knew her. Bugaighis, a bright, funny, courageous woman, fifty years old, was fighting for a democratic, open society. Along with her husband, Issam, and her sister Iman, she was at the forefront of the uprising against Muammar Qaddafi; later, she sat on the hastily declared transitional council that sought to bring order to the excited anarchy that followed Qaddafi’s fall.

As that anarchy turned to bedlam, Bugaighis worked to reconcile Libya’s feuding groups—even as her life was threatened, and as other critics of the militias were murdered. She had been spending time abroad, because of such threats, but came home for the elections.Yesterday, just after she returned from voting in parliamentary elections, gunmen surprised her at her house and shot her to death. Issam, who was abducted in the incident, is still missing. A Libyan friend of Bugaighis told me, “I am shocked beyond words. Sometimes I think that we just fucked up by removing Qaddafi—that I would rather live under a dictator and not worry about the safety of my family.”

That seems to be the terrible upshot of the past decade and more – that gangs of zealots are even worse than dictators, and that dictators may at some times in some places be the only alternative to gangs of zealots. I would so much prefer that not to be true.

Like the other protest movements of the Arab Spring, the Libyan uprising was inspired by the ouster of the Tunisian dictator Ben Ali, and by the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, in Egypt. Most of those revolts did not end well. Just as Egypt’s revolution has been hijacked by the same military that upheld Mubarak’s corrupt power, Libya’s revolution, too, has come asunder. Ever since Qaddafi died—run to ground, in October of 2011, by a mob of fighters who stabbed, beat, and shot him—Libya has degenerated into murderous chaos, with dozens of armed militia groups competing for turf and power, and a central government too weak to impose the rule of law.

I don’t like armed militia groups. How lucky I am not to have to live among them.

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

Her legacy and achievements

Jun 27th, 2014 5:39 pm | By

Samantha Power issued a statement on the assassination of Salwa Bugaighis yesterday.

The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the brutal assassination in Benghazi of prominent Libyan political thinker and human rights activist Salwa Bugaighis. Through her dedicated activism and her leadership in Libya’s democratic transition, including most recently through the Preparatory Committee for National Dialogue, Bugaighis courageously worked to achieve the aspirations of the Libyan people. Her legacy and achievements in building the foundations of an open, transparent and stable democracy will endure and her example will serve as a model for civil society activists in Libya and around the world.

In 2011, I had the honor to meet Salwa in Benghazi. She was exhilarated by Libya’s new possibilities and determined not to be deterred by those who threatened and intimidated her. Her ability to advocate with political insight and deep, selfless conviction won her the respect of Libyans from all walks of life. The news of her murder is heartbreaking. It underscores the need for an inclusive and revitalized political process – one based on law, not violence – that reflects aspirations of all Libya’s people.

Libya took an important step forward yesterday by holding new parliamentary elections, and we underscore the importance of the work of the Constitution Drafting Committee and the critical role for a Libyan-led national dialogue in Libya.

On behalf of the United States, I extend my deepest condolences to family and friends of Salwa Bugaighis and to the people of Libya.

Law is better than violence.

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

But go ahead anyway

Jun 27th, 2014 2:54 pm | By

An under-reported item – USA Today seems to be the only source even mentioning it: the Food and Drug Administration has lifted restrictions on a clinical trial run by Stanislaw Burzynski of the eponymous clinic.

Burzynski — hailed as a maverick by his fans but derided as a snake oil salesman by mainstream doctors — has long claimed to have achieved dramatic success in hard-to-treat cancers, especially brainstem tumors that are usually considered fatal. According to the National Cancer Institute, however, Burzynski has not produced proof that his drugs save lives by publishing a randomized, controlled trial in a peer-reviewed journal.

But now the FDA says all is forgiven, because Burzynski answered all their questions.

Some cancer specialists say they’re disappointed by the FDA’s decision and concerned for the safety of young patients. Critics also say they’re concerned about the financial impact on dying patients or their families, who often organize elaborate fundraising efforts to obtain the $100,000 or more needed to pay for Burzynski’s experimental treatments, which are not covered by insurance.

“This puts patients at risk,” says Peter Adamson, chairman of the Children’s Oncology Group and chief of clinical pharmacology and therapeutics at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Research has shown that antineoplastons can cause serious and even life-threatening side effects. “Exposing patients to ineffective therapies does not offer a meaningful prospect for benefit and only exposes patients to risk.”

Also, charging for them is not the usual way of doing things, as I understand it.

So a shitty piece of news that’s almost completely ignored by the news media.

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

Wanted poster

Jun 27th, 2014 12:32 pm | By

You know Nineveh? You know ISIS is in Nineveh? You know that fabulous Assyrian winged bull?

Photo: “ISIS has destroyed archaeological monuments at Mosul (Nineveh) Museum, including the famous winged Assyrian bull"

It’s still there.

There’s a rumor that ISIS has destroyed it, but apparently the rumor is false. Conflict Antiquities says there is no evidence that the bull has been destroyed. Also, it was a lion, also, that one is at the University of Chicago, not the Nineveh Museum.

24 News (@24news__) reported in Arabic, ‘Iraq: “Daash” gunmen seize Nineveh Museum, and they destroyed ancient masterpieces, including the rare Assyrian winged bull [العراق : مسلحو "داعش" يستولون على متحف نينوى ويقومون بتكسير التحف منها تحفة الثور الاشوري المجنح النادرة]‘. Coptic Nationalism (@DioscorusBoles) repeated the news in English, ‘ISIS destroys archaeological monuments at Mosul (Nineveh) Museum, including the famous winged Assyrian bull’ (and others copied-and-pasted or modified it).

However, as Christopher Carlson (@C_Perspective_) observed, news and social media were sharing ‘a picture of the Sedu [šēdu/shedu/lamassu] from the University of Chicago. The one in Mosul wasn’t in as good condition.’ (Making the original report even less reliable, there were two winged lions (not bulls) from Nimrud in Mosul Museum.) I haven’t been able to find any photos of artefacts from Nineveh Museum that have been destroyed by ISIS. I’ve searched the Arabic-language “news” but haven’t been able to find any report other than the original headline.

Moreover, the claims of the destruction of the winged bull and other artefacts were first spread on the 21st of June. Yet, on the 23rd, the British Institute for the Study of Iraq (BISI) issued a statement that did not mention any destruction at that (or any other) museum; and the Council Chair, Eleanor Robson (@Eleanor_Robson), explicitly stated that ‘all’ of the museums in the affected areas had been ‘reported safe so far’. There is no evidence that the Assyrian winged bull or Mosul/Nineveh Museum’s other artefacts have been destroyed.

There’s always tomorrow, but for now, the artifacts haven’t been stomped into dust.

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

To protect the slut-whisperers

Jun 27th, 2014 12:00 pm | By

The Rude Pundit has a suggestion in the wake of the SCOTUS ruling in McCullen.

There’s a sweet little church in Grafton, Massachusetts.

The congregation participated in 40 Days for Life, an action during Lent that 17,000 churches around the world took part in, with another 40 Days planned for September 24 to November 2.

The St. Mary’s churchgoers headed over to Worcester to protest at a Planned Parenthood and to “sidewalk counsel” women there…

Come September, and maybe even before, the parishioners will be harassing every woman who goes to the Planned Parenthood, even those just going for pap smears and help getting pregnant. And they will no doubt be joined by the anti-abortion radicals, the fetus picture carriers, the screamers, the hysterics who shame women.

“Is it really necessary to be out on the sidewalk instead of praying at home?” St. Mary’s wants to know. Look up at that picture again. What do you see in front of St. Mary’s? That’s a nice, wide, very public sidewalk. The parking lot is across the street, so most of the people attending church services on, say, a nice summer Sunday will have to walk that sidewalk, a sidewalk just like the one outside Planned Parenthood in Worcester. A sidewalk like the one that Eleanor McCullen “gently” counsels women from outside a Planned Parenthood in Boston.


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

What the Saudi representative actually said

Jun 27th, 2014 10:51 am | By

Paul Fidalgo explains why the Saudi representative had a triple meltdown at the UN Human Rights Council on June 23 (last Monday).

Part of that has to do with what CFI is and what it’s been doing lately.

The organization for which I work, the Center for Inquiry, sees as part of its core mission the proliferation of the rights to free belief and expression around the world. In recent years, we’ve worked very hard to raise awareness of the threat posed by state-sanctioned anti-blasphemy laws, which criminalize religious criticism; apostasy laws, which make leaving the majority religion a crime; and the various forms these violations of human rights take, such as laws against “offending religious feelings.”

This work has extended to Indonesia, Bangladesh, Sudan, but Saudi Arabia looms particularly large.


Saudi Arabia, however, has been a major focus of ours in recent months, and thanks to their own defensiveness, they’ve actually helped us to shine an ever-brighter spotlight on their suppression of free speech and belief.

In 2012, liberal Saudi activist Raif Badawi, founder of a website for open discussion of religious, political, and social issues, was arrested for insulting Islam, and for apostasy, the latter of which is punishable by death. More than a year later, a court found him guilty of insulting Islam and “showing disobedience,” and sentenced him to six years in prison and 600 lashes. You read that correctly, six hundred lashes. With a whip. The charge of apostasy was dropped for the time being, but after a review almost another year later, a higher court actually increased his sentence to 10 years and 1000 lashes. He has been in prison for over two years now, awaiting his fate. His wife recently fled with their children to Canada, where she presses for international intervention on her husband’s behalf.

But this particular case does not end with Badawi himself. Waleed Abu al-Khair is also a reform activist as a human rights lawyer and founder of a human rights watchdog group in Saudi Arabia, who also happens to be Raif Badawi’s lawyer and brother-in-law. Al-Khair had long been a target of the Saudi government, and in 2013 he was charged with a number of offenses including “breaking allegiance to and disobeying the ruler,” “disrespecting the authorities,” and “offending the judiciary.” After months of court battles, al-Khair was arrested in April of this year, and could potentially remain in prison for 20 years under Saudi Arabia’s anti-terrorism laws. And why is a human rights reformer being charged under a terrorism law? As Eman Al Nafjan wrote in the New York Times, “The authorities knew all along that Waleed Abu al-Khair was guilty. They just needed something better to charge him with.”

Suffice it to say, Raif Badawi no longer has Waleed Abu al-Khair to represent him.

It is the plight of these two victims of persecution — guilty of nothing more than speaking their minds, believing as they wish, and seeking a way to a fairer and freer Saudi Arabia — that CFI chose as their focus for its statement to the United Nations’ Human Rights Council on June 23, 2014. CFI is one of many NGOs that have “consultative status” at the UN, and we frequently speak out on issues regarding free expression and belief, and the persecution of believers and nonbelievers alike. Our chief UN representative, Michael De Dora, was recently elected president of the UN’s NGO Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief, and works alongside our allies in the NGO community, such as the International Humanist and Ethical Union. CFI has UN representatives in New York and Geneva, where the Human Rights Council convenes.

This makes me proud to know them.

CFI planned to deliver a short and impassioned statement to the Human Rights Council, through our representative Josephine Macintosh, forcefully condemning Saudi Arabia’s persecution and imprisonment of Badawi and al-Khair, demanding that all charges against them be dropped, and that they be immediately freed.

What made this doubly powerful was that Saudi Arabia has itself recently became a member of the Human Rights Council, an irony not lost on many.Brian Pellot,the human rights reporter for the Religion News Service, rightfully called their election to the Council “a disgrace.” Be that as it may, members they are, and on this particular Monday, Saudi representatives were there in the room to hear themselves be condemned for their oppression.

They did not like it.

You can see it transpire in a video that is becoming somewhat viral (as much as a video of a UN council meeting can be viral), as Macintosh attempts to deliver the CFI statement harshly criticizing Saudi Arabia, the Saudi representative tries on three separate occasions to silence her. Three times, the Saudi representative frantically appeals to the Council’s presiding vice president, brashly shouting over Macintosh with a sense of panic in his voice. I don’t speak Arabic, but while the real-time translation of the Saudi representative interprets him as asking for the statement to end for what sounds like procedural minutia, two native Arab speakers I know told me that his words more accurately translated to “I ask you to shut her up!”

Oh really! I did not know that. How very…diplomatic.

Why does this matter? This dust-up in the Human Rights Council is remarkable for several reasons. For one, it may have been the first confrontation of its kind for the Kingdom. As investigative journalist Ali AlAhmedtweeted, “Kudos 4 @center4inquiry 4 making history by being the 1st ever NGO to address #Saudi HR abuses at #UN HR Council.”

Secondly, while CFI is among the largest secularist and skeptic groups in the world, it is still a relatively small player in terms of the wider global NGO community, as compared to, say, an Amnesty International. And yet our statement so troubled the Saudi delegation, got so deeply under their skin, that they felt compelled to resort to embarrassing outbursts before the rest of the assembled world representatives. As Michael De Dora told the news outletMiddle East Eye, “It doesn’t look good for Saudi Arabia. By trying to silence us, and looking a bit desperate in doing so, they have actually caused more attention to be given to the statement we were delivering.”

And then people who pay attention learn that Saudi Arabia was trying to get the Human Rights Council to “shut up” a representative of an NGO who was reporting on human rights violations by Saudi Arabia. Not a good look.

It kind of reminds me of the US’s opposition to the International Criminal Court. Also not a good look.

Perhaps most importantly, our statement put on the record what everyone knows to be true, that Saudi Arabia fails every test for compliance with even the most basic tenets of universal human rights. As a member of the United Nations, it is implied that it shares a belief in what the UN charter says about “respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.” As a member of the Human Rights Council, it must be held to a high standard indeed. As we declared in our statement, over the shouts of the Saudi representative,

As an elected member of this Council, Saudi Arabia is obliged to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights” and “fully cooperate with the Council”. If it is to retain any credibility as a member, we urge it to reform its laws so as to protect freedom of religion, belief, and expression, cease the use of corporeal punishment, and repeal Article 1 of its interior ministry’s decree defining atheism as terrorism.

This is perhaps what upset the Saudis most, that a statement from a relatively small organization of infidels was able to call them out before the eyes of the world for lacking credibility. We named them as blatantly unworthy of even being in that room.

The world noticed. Will they continue to shrug? We certainly aren’t going anywhere. For Raif, for Waleed, for their families, and for the countless others being crushed for their voices and their thoughts, our spotlight will ceaselessly shine directly into the faces of the oppressors until the intensity of the light, and the heat of the gaze of the civilized world, become too much for them to bear.

That’s beautiful.

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

To engage in personal, caring, consensual conver­sations

Jun 27th, 2014 8:57 am | By

Ok I’m reading the McCullen opinion, and already in the first sentence I have a problem. This is going to take years – it’s 52 pages.

In 2007, Massachusetts amended its Reproductive Health Care Facili­
ties Act, which had been enacted in 2000 to address clashes between
abortion opponents and advocates of abortion rights outside clinics
where abortions were performed.

Um, no. That makes it sound like a matter of political theater, or debates that turned into clashes. The clashes were between abortion opponents and women attempting to enter the clinics where abortions were performed. The abortion opponents try to stop them.

There are escorts, who are there to try to protect such women from the protesters, but they wouldn’t be there if the protesters weren’t so intrusive and aggressive.

But more substantively…p 3:

The buffer zones serve the Commonwealth’s legitimate inter­ests in maintaining public safety on streets and sidewalks and in preserving access to adjacent reproductive healthcare facilities. See Schenck v. Pro-Choice Network of Western N. Y., 519 U. S. 357, 376. At the same time, however, they impose serious burdens on petition­ers’ speech, depriving them of their two primary methods of com­municating with arriving patients: close, personal conversations and distribution of literature. Those forms of expression have historically been closely associated with the transmission of ideas. While the Act may allow petitioners to “protest” outside the buffer zones, petition­ers are not protestors; they seek not merely to express their opposition to abortion, but to engage in personal, caring, consensual conver­sations with women about various alternatives. It is thus no answer to say that petitioners can still be seen and heard by women within the buffer zones. If all that the women can see and hear are vocifer­ous opponents of abortion, then the buffer zones have effectively sti­fled petitioners’ message.

There’s an issue here. I guess it doesn’t arise that much because people don’t act like anti-abortion protesters much. It was an issue with the Hari Krishnas once upon a time, I think…

The issue is to do with our right to move around in public freely without other people deliberately blocking us, pestering us, harassing us, soliciting us, getting in our way. It’s similar to the issue I had with street harassment in Paris as a teenager.

Imagine if there were always a bunch of people on the sidewalk in front of your front door, hassling you whenever you arrived home. That would be hellish.

Apparently the First Amendment protects their “right” to do that.

I’m not convinced. Even leaving abortion aside – I’m not convinced. It’s this business of “they seek not merely to express their opposition to abortion, but to engage in personal, caring, consensual conver­sations with women” – hey I don’t give a fuck what other people “seek” to do if doing it entails their getting all up in my face. The word “consensual” frankly doesn’t belong there, and borders on insulting. I’m not at all convinced that people in general have a constitutional right to try to insist that I “consent” to listen to them.

The law is a clumsy instrument to deal with harassment, but not dealing with harassment at all is a seriously bad idea.


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

To depart as swiftly as possible from Sudan

Jun 27th, 2014 7:46 am | By

In better news, Meriam Ibrahim is again out of prison, and this time she’s safe at the US embassy. Since the US is where she wants to go, and her husband is a US citizen, that’s the best place for her inside Sudan.

On Monday the appeal court annulled her death sentence and freed her, after which she went into hiding because of death threats.

Wani, a US citizen since 2005, said he hoped the family could start a new life in America. But 24 hours later security service agents apprehended the family, including a baby girl born while Ibrahim was shackled to the floor of her cell, claiming that her travel documents were forged. Ibrahim’s lawyer, Elshareef Mohammed, said more than 40 security officers stopped them boarding a plane to Washington.

The US state department said its envoy then met Sudanese foreign ministry officials at their request and told them the family needed to be able “to depart as swiftly as possible from Sudan and that we are happy to help in any way we can”.

Next steps? The trip to the airport; boarding the plane; takeoff; goodbye Sudan.

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

The holy duty to be raped

Jun 27th, 2014 7:34 am | By

There is really only one Commandment: Control All The Cunts. From the Assyrian International News Agency:

On June 12, only two day after capturing Mosul and other territories in Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria issued a decree ordering the people to send their unmarried women to “jihad by sex.” In the proclamation ISIS threatens to impose Sharia law on all who fail to comply with the decree.

Here’s a translation of the decree, followed by the original in Arabic. AINA cannot confirm the authenticity of this document.

In the Name of Allah the Merciful

Subject: Mandate

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria
The State of Nineveh

In the Name of Allah the Merciful

After liberation of the State of Nineveh, and the welcome shown by the people of the state to their brotherly mujahideen, and after the great conquest, and the defeat of the Safavid [Persian] troops in the State of Nineveh, and its liberation, and Allah willing, it will become the headquarters for the mujahideen. Therefore we request that the people of this state offer their unmarried women so that they can fulfill their duty of jihad by sex to their brotherly mujahideen. Failure to comply with this mandate will result in enforcing the laws of Sharia upon them.

Allah we have notified, Allah bear witness.

Short, brutal, to the point. Hand over the women so that we can fuck them. If you don’t we will torture you and call it “sharia.” Allah says so.

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

So, explain to America why anyone would make a woman CEO

Jun 26th, 2014 6:05 pm | By

Hahahaha some silly woman thought she could do a high-level job but tv personality Matt Lauer put her straight. He wanted to know if she was going to be able to do the high-level job and take care of her children. He also asked her if she got the job because she’s a fuzzy touchy-feely wooooman, because why else would anyone ever hire a woman for anything, except wet nurse or prostitute.

Today Show host Matt Lauer on Thursday asked General Motors CEO Mary Barra if she felt she could run a company and be a good mother during an interview about the company’s controversial recalls.

“I want to tread lightly here,” Lauer said before launching into a question about why Barra got the CEO job, noting that she is extremely qualified.

“But some people are speculating that you also got this job because as a woman and as a mom because people within General Motors knew this company was in for a very tough time and as a woman and a mom you could present a softer image and softer face for this company as it goes through this horrible episode. Does it make sense or does it make you bristle?” he asked.

“Well it’s absolutely not true,” Barra responded. “I believe I was selected for this job based on my qualifications. We dealt with this issue — when the senior leadership of this company knew about this issue, we dealt with this issue.”


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