Notes and Comment Blog

She only wants to talk to women

Apr 5th, 2014 5:36 pm | By

Is there a First Amendment right to bother strangers in the street? I sure as hell hope not.

By the end of June, the U.S. Supreme Court will have decided one of the most contentious topics facing abortion clinics and their patients today: at what point does a protester’s First Amendment rights interfere with a clinic patient’s right to seek medical care without nonconsensual proselytizing? That is the issue in McCullen v. Coakley, and a 35-foot buffer zone surrounding women’s reproductive healthcare facilities in Massachusetts. Mark Rienzi, on behalf of the anti-abortion activists who are challenging the state’s law, argued that being made to stand outside of a buffer zone inhibits his clients’ opportunities to speak with patients, and therefore is a violation of their First Amendment right to free speech.

No. Absolutely not. I say that not as a lawyer – obviously, since I’m not one – but as a person. Nobody has a “First Amendment right” to get in my face and talk to me. Insisting on talking to someone who doesn’t want to be talked to is harassment, plain and simple. I experienced it regularly as a teenager in Paris, and it’s a nightmare.

Women don’t suddenly become public property or public figures because they’re going to an abortion clinic. People in general aren’t obliged to be captive audiences for strangers who want to pester them. We’re all protected by the great and foundational Fuck Off principle.

Eleanor McCullen, the 77-year-old self-proclaimed “sidewalk counselor” and plaintiff in the lawsuit, claims that she is different from the other anti-abortion protesters because she only wants to talk to women who are seeking healthcare.

Fuck off, Eleanor McCullen. The women don’t want to talk to you, so fuck off out of it.

Scalia, of course, is all for Eleanor McCullen.

Her message seemed to resonate with Justice Antonin Scalia, who interrupted when the attorney representing Massachusetts used the word “protesters”:

“I object to you calling these people protesters, which you’ve been doing here during the whole presentation. That is not how they present themselves. They do not say they want to make protests. They say they want to talk quietly to the women who are going into these facilities. Now how does that make them protesters?”

The women who are going into these facilities don’t want to be talked to “quietly” by them. That’s not what they’re there for. I don’t want to be talked to “quietly” by some random pestering stranger who wants to convert me to her point of view when I’m on my way into the grocery store or the post office, so why the hell would women on their way into the abortion clinic want that? It’s harassment. Trying to force them to be talked to is harassment. Fuck off.

The author of the piece, Ashley Gray, is a clinic escort. She describes what these creeps are like.

One group is comprised of Catholic women who are affiliated with a crisis pregnancy center across the street and refer to themselves as “sidewalk counselors,” just like Eleanor McCullen. The characterization they use is intentional, as these women want to distinguish themselves from other, more overtly aggressive groups. These women sometimes carry signs and try to distribute pamphlets, but they prefer a more subtle approach to influencing patients and their companions.

They might begin by knocking on a patient’s car window, an aggressive action in itself, but done with a friendly smile. Then they make their pitch, “We have free sonograms across the street, here is some literature for you on the dangers of abortion, would you like a rosary?”

In my experience, few, if any, patients want to speak with these women. Some patients are polite and say, “No thank you,” while others just ignore them or ask to be left alone. When that happens, the sidewalk counselors step up their game.




That is harassment. As Gray says, knocking on the damn car window is aggressive. Fuck off.

By this time, however, the patients are actively trying to get away from the women, who nevertheless continue to stalk them for as far as they can, often right up to the clinic doors while trying to tell the patients, “It’s not too late, Mom!” They thrust gestational models of fetuses in the patients’ faces and say, “This is what your baby looks like inside of you.” They try to hand pieces of chocolate to patients, saying, “You must be hungry,” knowing that if a woman ingests food within twenty-four hours before she’s supposed to have anesthesia, her appointment will be successfully sabotaged. In short, the end justifies the means, even when, as is often the case, the patient is afraid or in tears.

It’s disgusting. There are five shits on the court so no doubt this will be declared a First Amendment “right,” but it’s disgusting.

The “sidewalk counselors” may not be your typical anti-choice protesters, who have become known for carrying bloody signs and loud “street preaching,” but they are just as upsetting, and perhaps even more so, because they do it under the disguise of a loving and caring person. They are not certified therapists or counselors. They have no degrees in psychology. Just because they prefer to talk, and not scream, does not make a difference in the impact or invasiveness of their actions on patients and their companions.

These people are using the First Amendment as justification to force patients, against their will, to listen to their evangelizing and to try to prevent them from exercising their right to obtain abortions. Justice Scalia’s comments reflected a profound misunderstanding of what it’s really like in front of abortion clinics, but whether you call them “sidewalk counselors” or “protesters,” the outcome is exactly the same: women feeling threatened, frightened, and harassed for obtaining reproductive medical care.

Harassment is not a god damn free speech right.

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

Some mirror

Apr 5th, 2014 1:46 pm | By

Google Earth street view from a road along a fjord on Austvågøy island which is one of the Lofoten islands in Norway (way up in Norway).

Click on it to get the full effect.


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

How different?

Apr 5th, 2014 12:45 pm | By

Chris Stedman asks at Religion News what misconceptions people have about atheists. There are lots of them, he notes, and that’s probably because most people don’t know many atheists, or don’t realize they do.

But when people meet atheists, they have an opportunity to revise their ideas about who we are and what we believe.

In that spirit, the Yale Humanist Community is cosponsoring an “Ask an Atheist” panel with Hartford Faith & Values—Connecticut’s nonsectarian, nonprofit religion news website and an affiliate of Religion News Service—this Monday, April 7 as the kickoff event for our first ever Humanism at Yale Week.

Great idea. He gets the other panelists to give some misconceptions, then he adds one.

I think another misconception is the idea that atheists and theists do not and cannot identify shared values or areas of mutual concern.

This is a harmful and ultimately dehumanizing assumption, predicated for some on the idea that atheists are so completely unlike theists—and that the chasm between believers and nonbelievers is so vast—that it isn’t valuable or even possible to work together for the common good.

But the reality is that we aren’t as different as we may think. Theist or atheist, we’re all trying to construct meaningful lives, understand ourselves and others, and learn more about the world around us. So let’s get together and get to know one another better.

I think that overstates the common ground a little bit. I don’t think it’s true that all theists are trying to learn more about the world around us. That’s one of the things I really don’t have in common with theists, as I understand theism. I think theism entails a belief in something that depends on non-rational non-empirical support – that depends, in short, on faith. I think that fact interferes with wanting to learn more about the world around us. I think theism is a motivation to try to ignore or deny some parts of the world around us – the ones that interfere with belief in a god, which is what theism is.

On the other hand people can compartmentalize. I get that. They can and do. But that’s not reliable; it’s not built in; it can’t be assumed. You never know when the door to the compartment is going to be breached, and the god-belief breaks through to distort the cognitive functioning.

To put it another way, I can easily agree that I can work with theists on many kinds of projects. I don’t quite agree that I can – necessarily – work with theists on trying to learn more about the world around us. Maybe I can, but maybe I can’t; it depends on the theists and how tightly closed they keep the compartment.

It seems to me that’s something the two parties really don’t have in common.

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

Time warp

Apr 5th, 2014 11:34 am | By

Is it 2009 again? Salon has run yet another 2009ish article ranting about HitchensHarrisDawkins and their misunderstanding of the science-religion debate. Oy.

Sana Saeed, the author, lets us know that she spent her childhood loving science and also loving religion. Then she lets us know she was the same way as a teenager.

It never once occurred to me during those years, and later, that there could be any sort of a conflict between my faith and science; to me both were part of the same things: This universe and my existence within it.

And yet, here we are today being told that the two are irreconcilable; that religion begets an anti-science crusade and science pushes anti-religion valor. When did this become the only conversation on religion and science that we’re allowed to have?

When? Hm, let me think about that.


It never became the only conversation on religion and science that we’re allowed to have. The opposite conversation is all over the place, along with lots of conversations somewhere between the two.

Next she explains that Christianity is not the only religion. Got it. Then she explains why there is no conflict between religion and science.

The absence of a centralized religious clergy and authority in Sunni Islam allows for individual and scholarly theological negotiation – meaning that there is not, necessarily, a “right” answer embedded in Divine Truth to social and political questions. Some of the most influential and fundamental Islamic legal texts are filled with arguments and counter-arguments which all come from the same source (divine revelation), just different approaches to it.

In other words: There’s plenty of wiggle room and then some. On anything that is not established as theological Truth (e.g. God’s existence, the finality of Prophethood, pillars and articles of faith), there is ample room for examination, debate and disagreement, because it does not undercut the fabric of faith itself.

Ummmmmm…that’s a very large exclusion. There is is ample room for examination, debate and disagreement on everything except God’s existence, the finality of Prophethood, pillars and articles of faith…which is a fuck of a lot of except.

That except is, not least, a giant bias built in to every kind of examination, debate and disagreement, as well as inquiry and investigation and all the rest of it. If you have to defend the assertion that something you call “God” exists before you can even get started, how free can your inquiry really be?

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

Trees and landslides

Apr 5th, 2014 10:43 am | By

You know the Oso landslide? The collapse of a rain-sodden slope that buried a lot of houses, vehicles, animals, and people in a small town north of Seattle two weeks ago?

It’s been reported heavily in the local media, but as a natural disaster and human tragedy, not as something that had been predicted and warned about for decades. Well guess what – it was predicted and warned about decades ago.

Rain is the fuel for landslides in wet western Washington. The tall trees of the Evergreen State help hold the ground together, not just with their roots, but also by soaking up rain before it goes deep underground. That’s why the state essentially prohibits clearing of forests in places where groundwater can pool beneath a landslide zone.
Kennard: “The clearing just makes it much more vulnerable for when you have a wet winter like now.”
Kennard works at Mt. Rainier National Park now. But in the 1980s he worked for the Tulalip Tribes north of Seattle. Even back then, tribes and state officials knew the Oso site had a long history of landslides large and small. 26 years ago, Kennard helped the tribes stop a clearcut on the same slope that gave way last week. The tribes saw it as a victory for the salmon they depend on in the Stillaguamish River at the base of the muddy slope.
Kennard: “We considered it a victory because the Department of Natural Resources, who has say over these things, this was the first time to our knowledge that they actually prohibited clearcutting of trees because there seemed to be a connection with landslides.”

And they prohibited it on the Hazel slope, which is the slope that gave way and fell on Oso two weeks ago, killing a lot of people and animals. Gosh gee what a coincidence.

So, on the night of the latest slide, Kennard was surprised when he looked up the area on Google Earth. He saw an aerial photograph with a clearcut from 2005 right at the edge of the landslide zone.
Kennard: “I thought, whoa, that seems to be awfully close.”
Aerial photos taken of the Oso slide last week show a wall of exposed earth hundreds of feet high, almost directly below that 2005 clearcut.
State officials say the cut they approved was safe: it was just outside the no-logging area intended to keep groundwater from building up. But those aerial photos also show that the seven-acre clearcut crossed the line. Here’s Washington State Forester Aaron Everett.
Everett: “It appears, though we continue to investigate, that there’s been an intrusion into the no-harvest area.”
That intrusion apparently happened at the hands of the landowner, a small timber company called Grandy Lake Forest Associates. But the company has not responded to interview requests.

Brilliant, isn’t it? Grandy Lake Forest Associates got a few more trees and so a few more dollars – and a bunch of people in Oso got killed.

That 2005 clearcut? The state allowed it right on the boundary of a no-logging zone that didn’t reflect the latest scientific information. State-funded research from eight years before the clearcut showed the groundwater danger zone clearly overlapping with the area the state OK’d for clearcutting. Everett says the DNR is investigating what happened.
Everett: “The protections that the department puts in place to ensure that timber harvest do not contribute to landslide hazards are rigorous and are designed to protect public safety and natural resources. It’s a difficult thing to talk about in the face of a tragedy like this.”
Geologists say identifying where groundwater moves beneath a landslide zone is hard to do precisely.
Here’s geomorphologist Paul Kennard:
Kennard: “Perhaps what is sort of the legal definition of the groundwater recharge area is actually a small part of the real groundwater recharge area. All that area has been cut and it takes decades to recover.”
Kennard urges more cautious landuse anywhere near one of these deep-seated landslide zones.
But geologists also urge people not to jump to conclusions about the role of one small clearcut in 300-acre landslide. They say detailed study of this slide is needed before concluding how much of a role, if any, the recent clearcutting played.

Ok. Don’t jump to the conclusion that it was for sure logging that caused the landslide. Ok. But you know what? It seems like the kind of thing where you err on the side of caution, by a wide margin. You have what a geomorphologist considers a slide-prone hill right above a town. That seems like one stand of trees you just leave alone.


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

Kapitalist Kollege

Apr 4th, 2014 5:49 pm | By

The Nation takes a look at one of the more egregious scams in the scam-ridden US: for-profit colleges that flourish because of the egregious scam of our college loan “system.”

More than half of the students who enroll in for-profit colleges—many of them veterans, single mothers, and other low- and middle-income people aiming for jobs like medical technician, diesel mechanic or software coder—drop out within about four months. Many of these colleges have been caught using deceptive advertising and misleading prospective students about program costs and job placement rates. Although the for-profits promise that their programs are affordable, the real cost can be nearly double that of Harvard or Stanford. But the quality of the programs [is] often weak, so even students who manage to graduate often struggle to find jobs beyond the Office Depot shifts they previously held. The US Department of Education recently reported that 72 percent of the for-profit college programs it analyzed produced graduates who, on average, earned less than high school dropouts.

Well that’s the programs they analyzed: maybe they analyzed programs they had reason to suspect were bad. But it’s pathetic that any of them should be as bad as that.

For-profit schools are driving a national student debt crisis that has reached $1.2 trillion in borrowing. They absorb a quarter of all federal student aid—more than $30 billion annually—diverting sums from better, more affordable programs at nonprofit and public colleges. Many for-profit college companies, including most of the biggest ones, get almost 90 percent of their revenue from taxpayers.

Well that’s the free market, dammit.


On March 14, the administration released its much-anticipated draft “gainful employment” rule, aimed at ending taxpayer support for career college programs that consistently leave students with insurmountable debt.

This rule would have a real impact: it would eventually cut off federal student grants and loans to the very worst career education programs, whose students consistently earn far too little to pay down their college loans, or whose students have very high rates of loan defaults.

Some critics say the rule is too weak – but the industry on the other hand says oh no no it’s much too strong.

APSCU and other lobbyists for the for-profit college industry are now out in full force, hoping to extract from the gainful employment rule its remaining teeth. Supporters of stronger standardsto protect students from industry predation—among them the NAACP, the Consumers Union, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the Service Employees International Union and others (including, full disclosure, myself)—will push back, but they have far fewer financial resources for the battle. This is a crucial round in a long fight, one in which the industry has already displayed a willingness to spend tens of millions to manipulate the machinery of modern influence-peddling—and with a remarkable degree of success.

Well that’s how the system works, dammit. It’s pay to play. If you have more bucks, you get to win all the battles. That’s democracy.


For-profit colleges have also sponsored policy events held by media outlets. Officials at The Chronicle of Higher Education admitted to me that they had allowed Career Education Corp. not only to sponsor the Chronicle’s Washington, DC, event on student loan defaults but also to select all the speakers, despite CEC’s own terrible record on these defaults. Education expert Barmak Nassirian likened it to “a conference about preventing lung cancer, with the tobacco companies…presented as credible interlocutors.”

Why yes, it is. And?

That’s what we do.

Then David Halperin details the money going to people in Congress. Then there’s the pointlessly respected Washington Post.

Perhaps the most effective lobbyist for the for-profit colleges in 2010-11 was Donald Graham, CEO of the Washington Post Company, which obtained 55 percent of its revenues from its Kaplan education subsidiary, which was, in turn, dominated by the Kaplan for-profit college. Meeting with Obama administration officials and members of Congress, Graham insisted the proposed rule would deny low-income students educational opportunities.

For Washington leaders, Graham was a pillar of the community, someone who attended the same social functions—someone they could trust. And intended or not, Graham’s entreaties may have seemed to come with an implied threat: Cross me and risk my paper’s wrath.

While Graham’s august presence led many fancy Washingtonians to believe that Kaplan was, amid a sea of shady for-profit college operators, “one of the good ones,” the record showed otherwise.

Don’t tell us that; it’s the Washington Post.

Aaaaaaaaaaaand then there are the banks, that make out like bandits from the college loan swindle.

When it came to lobbying against accountability, one more powerful force was in the mix: large financial institutions. The companies making the most money off student loans have included America’s biggest banks: Citi, Wells Fargo, Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase, along with the number one student loan company, Sallie Mae. These companies earn big profits in the lucrative private, nonfederal student loan market, with particularly strong revenues from for-profit colleges, who are eager to share in the benefits. Some banks have an even more direct interest: Goldman Sachs owns 43 percent of EDMC, while Wells Fargo has a 19 percent stake in Corinthian.

But they’re banks, what could possibly go wrong?


The whole thing is a scam and a rip-off and the people who are making a lot of money out of it are using some of that money – ultimately via taxes, don’t forget – to frustrate efforts at reform.

I feel so proud to be an American.

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

More haha rape jokes haha

Apr 4th, 2014 4:01 pm | By

Because we just never get tired of them, right?

Here’s another instance of rape culture to add to the ever-lengthening list: French so-called “comedian” Rémi Gaillard’s latest video, Free Sex.

In the prank, Gaillard stands a few feet away from unsuspecting women and, using the camera’s trick of perspective, makes it look like they’re having sex. He simulates sex with a woman tying her shoelace on the sidewalk, another reading on a park lawn and a third rifling through her handbag in a grocery store aisle. And he uses women smoking on a bench and eating their lunch in the sunshine to imitate oral sex.

It’s hilarious because the victims don’t know he’s there, but he’s having sex with them. Non-consensual sex is the whole joke.

Hey listen, they’re out in public. That’s implied consent. That’s why street harassment exists: women imply consent by going outside. Everybody knows that.

Roselyne Bachelot, France’s former health minister, called the video out for “glorifying rape” according to The Independent. “The film is abject. Absolutely abject. It is rape. The word is not too strong,” she said.

No sense of humor. Feminazi. Ruining a good guy’s reputation.

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

Minutt for minutt

Apr 4th, 2014 11:53 am | By

Ok now I know what I’ll be watching on my laptop in small increments for the next six months or so…

Norway’s public tv station NRK did a week long real-time program that was a trip on its famous Hertigruten ferry from Bergen to Kirkenes, a trip that takes six days and passes some of the most skull-crushingly beautiful scenery on the planet – possibly the most: National Geographic has called the fjords the top Thing To See in the world. I have a huge crush on the fjords, just so you know.

One of my local PBS stations ran an hour-long extract from that show last night, so now I want to see all six days, and god damn if NRK doesn’t have it right there for the watching. Thank you NRK.

The ferry – the Nordnorge – takes a side trip to Geiranger Fjord. There’s also Troll Fjord.

The show is 134 hours and 42 minutes.

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

Clergy aren’t obliged to tell magistrates

Apr 4th, 2014 11:23 am | By

A week ago the Italian Bishops’ Conference published guidance saying that they don’t have to report suspected sexual abuse of children to the police.

Fair enough. They agreed it among themselves, so it’s none of anyone else’s business, right? That’s democracy.

The Italian Bishops’ Conference said the guidelines published Friday reflected suggestions from the Vatican’s office that handles sex abuse investigations.

Victims have long denounced how bishops systematically covered up abuse by shuffling pedophile priests around while keeping prosecutors in the dark. Only in 2010 did the Vatican instruct bishops to report abuse to police — but only where required by law.

Well of course only where required by law. You don’t expect them to do the right thing even when not forced to do you?! Don’t be silly. They’re human. They’re not going to rat out a friend and colleague just because some snotty little kid whines about being fucked up the ass. Besides priests are special! They’re perfect, because of that thing Jesus said. Snotty little kids are anything but special. (But. I said But. Huh huh huh.) Snotty little kids grow up to be grubby smelly adults who aren’t priests. (We don’t rape children who have a Vocation of course. Usually. Unless they’re exceptionally pretty.)

The Italian guidelines cite a 1985 treaty between the Vatican and Italy stipulating that clergy aren’t obliged to tell magistrates about information obtained through their religious ministry.

There you go. The Vatican got Italy to agree to that, so they’re home free.

Also besides, the whole reason they have this policy is to protect the victims. No really. The cardinal said so. The Tablet reports, you decide.

The president of the Italian bishops’ conference has defended a decision to exempt bishops from having to report claims of abuse by clergy to the police, because he said Italian law does not require it and victims may not want them to.

Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco told reporters on Saturday that the decision by the Italian bishops’ conference would not fall foul of Vatican rules. “The Vatican requires national laws to be respected, and we know that there is no such duty [to report abuse] under Italian law,” he said on the sidelines of a meeting in Genoa.

The bishops’ conference published guidelines on Friday stipulating that clergy are under no obligation to inform authorities about suspected abuse but have a “moral duty” to act to protect the vulnerable and “contribute to the common good”.

And the common good of course requires that priests take care of themselves first of all.

The abuse survivors group SNAP were highly critical. They said: “The stunning, depressing and irresponsible contradiction between what Vatican officials say about abuse and do about abuse continues.” They also criticised Pope Francis for not amending the Vatican requirement, which “give Italian bishops permission to ignore or conceal the rape of boys or girls,” they charged.

In Feburary the UN denounced the Vatican’s record on child protection. In its 16-page report it said: “The Committee is particularly concerned that in dealing with allegations of child sexual abuse, the Holy See has consistently placed the preservation of the reputation of the Church and the protection of the perpetrators above children’s best interests.”

Bagnasco said some victims may not want to press charges. “What is important is to respect the will of the victims and their relatives, who may not want to report the abuse, for personal reasons,” he said.

And that’s what they’ve been concerned about all this time. Of course it is.



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

Improper use of social media

Apr 4th, 2014 9:40 am | By

A word of advice for schoolteachers: don’t ever seek a job in Cincinnati Catholic Archdiocese schools. You’d have to sign a contract that makes you their slave.

The Archdiocese has a new contract for teachers, one that’s twice the size of previous contracts, to accommodate the many things it tells you not to do.

The contract for the 2014-15 school year explicitly orders teachers to refrain “from any conduct or lifestyle which would reflect discredit on or cause scandal to the school or be in contradiction to Catholic doctrine or morals.” It goes so far as to ban public support of the practices.

Principals in the 94 Archdiocese-supervised schools in Southwest and Central Ohio began receiving the new employment agreements Thursday. More than 2,200 Greater Cincinnati parochial teachers will be affected by the new contract, the Archdiocese estimates.

I wonder how many of them are looking around for a new job right now.

Under the new contract, teachers are expressly prohibited from: “improper use of social media/communication, public support of or publicly living together outside of marriage; public support of or sexual activity out of wedlock; public support of/or homosexual lifestyle; public support of/or use of abortion; public support of/or use of a surrogate mother; public support or use of in vitro fertilization or artificial insemination.”

The wording is horrendously foggy – maybe whoever drew up that contract should do a refresher course in how to English – but you can figure out what they’re trying to say. You can’t publicly support “living together outside of marriage.” You also can’t yourself “live together outside of marriage.” (What, no roommates? What do people do if they can’t afford the rent? Or if they just want company around the house? If they just like sharing the rent and the chores with a friend or two or four?) You can’t support “sexual activity out of wedlock” and you also can’t fuck someone you’re not married to. You can’t support “homosexual lifestyle” and you also can’t be lesbian or gay or bi. (I don’t even know what the Vatican thinks about being trans. Maybe it forbids itself to have an opinion.) You can’t support “use of abortion” and you can’t yourself have an abortion. (What if you’ve already had one, or more than one? Is that a firing offense?) You can’t support “use of a surrogate mother” and you can’t “use” a surrogate mother yourself. Does that also mean you can’t be a surrogate mother? Is it ok to be one but not to “use” one? Who the fuck knows. The Archdiocese has its list of rules, and it’s doing its best to put them into a contract; don’t bother it with tiresome questions.

In short, the Archdiocese thinks it has the right to be all up in your business every hour of every day just because you work for one of its schools.

The contractual language is a first because it brings more specificity to the individual teacher employment agreement and what practices will cost teachers their jobs.

And it further focuses on the Archdiocese’s established philosophies and the importance of adhering to Catholic teachings, Archdiocese spokesman Dan Andriacco said.

“There aren’t any new expectations of our teachers in the 2014-2015 contract. The revised wording is just more explicit in that it lists examples of behaviors that are unacceptable as contrary to church teaching,” Andriacco said. “We think that’s fairer to the teachers and a help to them.

“We’ve always regarded our schools as a ministry. That’s why we open the doors in the morning. Not all of our students are Catholic and not all of our teachers are Catholic, but all of our schools are Catholic. And we found out from listening sessions around the Archdiocese two years ago – when we developed our Vision for Catholic Schools – that Catholic identity is very important to our Catholic school families,” Andriacco said.

And what is Catholic “identity”? For the majority of Catholics, it’s much more a matter of shared rituals and symbols than it is of obedience to that hateful list of Forbidden Things above. Much more. But the Archdiocese wants to interpret it is both permission and demand for more rigorous enforcement of the hateful rules.

Before and after: New restrictions in teacher contract


  • The 2013-14 teacher employment contract for the Cincinnati Archdiocese has provisions on personal behavior, but not as detailed as the one teachers will be required to sign for the 2014-15 school year. Teachers must also initial some of the provisions as well as sign the contract agreement.
  • The current, three-page contract includes a provision that states in part that teachers: “understand and fulfill his/her duties as a Ministerial employee of the School/Educational Office and serve as a Catholic role model, inside and outside of the classroom, regardless of his/her personal beliefs or other religious affiliation; comply with and act consistently in accordance with the stated philosophy and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church … which include certain proscriptions on personal behavior not adhering to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church that could be detrimental to the Employee’s ability to serve as a Catholic role model; comply with the policies and directives of the School/Educational Office and the Archdiocese, including without limitation the Archdiocese’s “Ethics and Conduct Policy.”

Hmm. What other kind of thing is detrimental to the Employee’s ability to serve as a Catholic role model? Anything they forgot to mention? Does the Employee have to molest children?

At any rate, they’re not kidding. They do fire people for not being reactionary-Catholic enough.

Recent Archdiocese firings, suspensions, dismissals for clashing with church teaching


  • In 2009 a nun was suspended by the Archdiocese for publicly supporting the ordination of women priests.
  • Later that year a volunteer religion education teacher was dismissed after her letter to The Enquirer in support of the suspended nun was published.
  • In 2010 the Cincinnati Archdiocese fired an unmarried teacher who became pregnant by artificial insemination. A federal court ruled in 2013 in her favor, ordering the Archdiocese to pay her $171,000 for her improper firing.
  • In 2013, an assistant principal at Purcell Marian High School was fired for writing on his public blog his support of gay marriage.

You have been warned.

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

The honors list

Apr 3rd, 2014 5:41 pm | By

Maryam has been made a Laureate of the International Academy of Humanism, which is a CFI thing full of starry stars. AC Grayling, Taslima Nasrin, Harold Kroto, Leo Igwe, Patricia Churchland, Dan Dennett, Rebecca Goldstein, Susan Jacoby, Wendy Kaminer, Jonathan Miller, Salman Rushdie, Peter Singer, Wole Soyinka, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Keith Thomas…and lots more.

Very cool.

Here’s the whole list.

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

The safety of zeroing out

Apr 3rd, 2014 4:44 pm | By

Another state down.

Catholic News Agency “reports”:

The Louisiana House of Representatives has overwhelmingly approved new safety regulations requiring that abortion doctors have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, rules which could lead most abortion clinics in the state to close.

“We are thrilled that the Louisiana House of Representatives overwhelming passed H.B. 388 to protect the health and safety of women,” Benjamin Clapper, executive director of Louisiana Right to Life, said March 31.

Ya that’s not safety regulations, you lying shits. That’s making abortion unavailable.

The bill requires that abortion doctors have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic.

In addition, it clarifies that informed consent protections also apply to abortions procured with the RU-486 pill. Doctors who perform more than five abortions per year must also maintain proper licensing.

Lots of new obstacles to abortion; lots of women forced to remain pregnant against their will. Triumph.

The bill drew opposition from abortion clinics and several abortion advocacy groups.

Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast’s Louisiana director Melissa Flournoy predicted that at least three of the five abortion clinics in Louisiana could close if the bill becomes law, Reuters reports. This would leave two abortion clinics in the area of Shreveport, La.

In Louisiana abortion will be made “safer” by being made impossible to get for most women in the state.

At least six other states have considered laws requiring admitting privileges at hospitals.

On March 27, a federal appeals court upheld safety provisions of a Texas law that requires abortionists to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. The provisions have the same language as the Louisiana bill.

The Texas law has contributed to the closure of about one-third of that state’s abortion clinics, leaving 19 remaining open, Reuters says.

Another win for theocracy in America.

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

The ground shakes

Apr 3rd, 2014 4:23 pm | By

The Onion reports on a disturbing new trend:

Increasing Number Of Men Pressured To Accept Realistic Standards Of Female Beauty

The tragedy!

NEW YORK—Confronted on a regular basis with images of women who represent a diverse array of body types, a growing number of American men are reportedly feeling pressured to accept the increasingly realistic standards of female beauty now depicted in the media, social scientists confirmed this week.

“More and more, men today find themselves bombarded with un-retouched images, and with that comes the considerable mental burden of trying to reconcile what they see in these ads and magazines with their personal perceptions of beauty,” said sociologist Cliff Hillard, who studies attainable ideals of female attractiveness in the media and how they can create an overly realistic sense of what women ought to look like. “For most men, it’s very discouraging. Instead of seeing only rail-thin models, they’re now exposed to accurate representations of women whose proportions mimic those of actual human females.”

Look at it this way: it will make going to the supermarket and taking the bus less traumatic. Habituation can take the horror out of anything.

H/t G Felis

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

He might not like the food

Apr 3rd, 2014 1:36 pm | By

So a guy rapes his 3-year-old daughter, is tried and convicted several years later, and…

gets no jail time.

Robert Richards IV was in 2009 convicted of raping his three-year-old daughter, seven years after she, then five, told relatives that she didn’t want “my daddy touching me anymore.” In an alarming twist, the judge who sentenced the heir to the du Pont fortune let him off with no jail time, arguing that six-foot-four Richards “will not fare well” in prison.

Instead of sentencing him to prison for raping a toddler, Judge Jan Jurden ruled that Richards would benefit from treatment. Critics have since noted that such treatment is usually only offered to drug addicts or those in possession of child pornography, not convicted rapists. The details of the case became public this month when Richards’s ex-wife sued him for damages related to the abuse of their daughter.

Well it’s like this. If you’ve always been very rich, then your skin gets so delicate that you can’t tolerate life in prison. Other people can, of course, people who have not always been very rich, but that’s their problem. You, having always been very rich, cannot. The judge simply took this into account.

A number of sources, including the chief prosecutor in the Delaware county where the case was tried, said they found the judge’s justification for waiving jail time—that Richards wouldn’t do well in prison—highly unusual. One defense lawyer gave the following assessment to The News Journal: “Who thrives in jail?”

“It’s an extremely rare circumstance that prison serves the inmate well,” Delaware public defender Brendan O’Neill told The News Journal. He surmised that the Richards case would make Americans wonder “how a person with great wealth may be treated by the system.”.

Prison may well be a terrible idea overall. That however is not a reason for keeping very rich people out of it while not keeping everyone else out of it.

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

We’ll show you who’s “too controlling”

Apr 3rd, 2014 10:57 am | By

A British woman who went to visit family in Iran has been locked up for five months in Evin prison for saying things on Facebook.

Roya Saberi Negad Nobakht, from Stockport, was arrested as she stepped off a plane in the provincial city of Shiraz and accused of being a spy, husband Daryoush Taghipoor told the Manchester Evening News.

Daryoush said his 47-year-old wife has been detained at Evin, an infamous prison in Iranian capital Tehran, on suspicion of plotting to commit crimes against security and insulting Islam.

He claimed her arrest was over comments she made on an internet chat forum and to friends on Facebook about the Iranian government being too controlling and ‘too Islamic’.

Part-time chef Daryoush and Roya, an English student at Stockport College, have lived in Heald Green for six years and are naturalised British citizens.

This is not good.

The 47-year-old, speaking from Iran, added: “It’s a very bad situation. We don’t know what’s going on. Roya is not well at all. She has lost three stone and is frightened. She is scared that the government will kill her.”

For saying things on Facebook.

The threat of execution could be real, the International Business Times reports.

Roya Saberi Negad Nobakht, 47, from Stockport, has been detained in an Iranian prison and charged with “insulting Islamic sanctities”, a crime punishable by death.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has said it is “urgently” examining Nobakht’s case, yet negotiations are difficult as Britain has no embassy in Iran.

Also because Iran is Iran.

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


Apr 3rd, 2014 10:35 am | By

Interestingly understated headline in the Independent:

Concern as Brunei brings in system of Islamic law with punishments that include the dismemberment of limbs and stoning to death

Well yes, that would awake some concern.

The Sultan of Brunei, one of the world’s wealthiest rulers and a close ally of Britain, will this week oversee his country’s transition to a system of Islamic law with punishments that include flogging, the dismemberment of limbs and stoning to death.

I hate having close allies like that, don’t you?

The 67-year-old absolute monarch declared last year that he wanted to introduce a full sharia system in his oil-rich nation and warned critics who took to social media sites to complain that they could be prosecuted using the new laws.

Well that’s the advantage, isn’t it. A perfect system – harsh laws and sadistic punishments, which can be invoked against YOU if you object to the introduction of harsh laws and sadistic punishments. A perfect, closed system, just the ticket for one of the world’s richest dictators.

Offences include insulting the Prophet Mohamed, drinking alcohol, getting pregnant outside of marriage and “sodomy”. The latter will be punishable by stoning.

“It is because of our need that Allah the Almighty, in all his generosity, has created laws for us, so that we can utilise them to obtain justice,” the Sultan said at the time.

Stupid thing to say. What need? We can create our own laws, that will be better than those shit laws imposed by a man who lived 14 centuries ago and had the moral views you would expect from a man who lived 14 centuries ago, and claimed they were created by “Allah the Almighty.”

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

We were always being exhorted to think for ourselves

Apr 2nd, 2014 5:01 pm | By

A wonderful passage from Louise Antony’s essay in Philosophers Without Gods (a collection she edited):

As I’ve said, the reactions of grownups to my questions about religion were doubly distressing to me because of their dissonance with the principles adults were explicitly promoting in other contexts. In school, a broadly libertarian and individualistic ethos prevailed. We were always being exhorted to “think for ourselves.” In reading, we were urged to “sound out the words instead of just asking,” and in arithmetic to figure out the problems on our own. Science teachers and science books agreed heartily that curiosity is a marvelous thing, the engine of all scientific achievement. One must not take things for granted; one must always ask “why.” The best scientists, it was stressed, are the ones who see mystery in the everyday, who press for deeper and deeper understanding. In the biographies of Marie Curie I devoured, she was praised for seeing questions no one else did and for persisting in her work until she got her answers. (My mother, by the way, got me these books. She was a secret feminist. She kept the secret even from herself.) In my elementary school citizenship classes, democracy was praised as the most perfect political form because it allowed every citizen to “follow his own conscience.” My parents and teachers, counseling me about personal behavior, stressed the importance of doing what I knew was right, regardless of what other people thought. Why in religion was I supposed to dumbly accept whatever the authorities told me?

It’s a hella good question, isn’t it.

To the best of my recollection I didn’t get that as a child. I remember asking my mother a lot of questions, and I remember getting replies that pretty much agreed with the questions. She didn’t claim certainty about any of it that I remember, or talk about having “faith.” I don’t remember any dogma or any requests to stop asking questions. Maybe it’s just that I don’t remember…but honestly I doubt it. It wasn’t a faithy household.

I lucked out.

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

What philosophers call epistemic peers

Apr 2nd, 2014 4:26 pm | By

After the conversation with Plantinga, Gary Gutting moved on to one with Louise Antony.

Antony is the editor of the wonderful collection of essays Philsophers Without Gods (Oxford University Press 2007). I’ve blogged about it several times. Gutting’s conversation with her is much more interesting than the one he had with Plantinga.

Gutting starts by telling her she’s “taken a strong stand as an atheist” and she replies by saying she doesn’t know what he means by that.

L.A. I don’t consider myself an agnostic; I claim to know that God doesn’t exist, if that’s what you mean.

G.G.: That is what I mean.

L.A.: O.K. So the question is, why do I say that theism is false, rather than just unproven? Because the question has been settled to my satisfaction. I say “there is no God” with the same confidence I say “there are no ghosts” or “there is no magic.” The main issue is supernaturalism — I deny that there are beings or phenomena outside the scope of natural law.

That’s not to say that I think everything is within the scope of human knowledge. Surely there are things not dreamt of in our philosophy, not to mention in our science – but that fact is not a reason to believe in supernatural beings.

It’s a reason to know that we don’t know everything, it’s not a reason to assert the existence of specific supernatural beings. Not knowing is not a reason to invent things and then pretend the invented things are real.

Antony then wonders why he’s puzzled how rational people could disagree about the existence of God. Believers disagree about lots of things. He says he thinks it’s relevant to ask believers why they believe those things too.

G.G. But people with many different specific beliefs share a belief in God — a supreme being who made and rules the world. You’ve taken a strong stand against that fundamental view, which is why I’m asking you about that.

L.A. Well I’m challenging the idea that there’s one fundamental view here. Even if I could be convinced that supernatural beings exist, there’d be a whole separate issue about how many such beings there are and what those beings are like.

You can add detail after detail after detail…and why believe any of it?

Antony points out that people can have good reasons for disagreeing; it’s not the case that one of them has to be irrational.

G.G.: No, they may both be rational. But suppose you and your theist friend are equally adept at reasoning, equally informed about relevant evidence, equally honest and fair-minded — suppose, that is, you are what philosophers call epistemic peers: equally reliable as knowers. Then shouldn’t each of you recognize that you’re no more likely to be right than your peer is, and so both retreat to an agnostic position?

Oh come on – how can you possibly know that any particular person is equally adept at reasoning, equally informed about relevant evidence, equally honest and fair-minded compared to any other particular person?

L.A. Yes, this is an interesting puzzle in the abstract: How could two epistemic peers — two equally rational, equally well-informed thinkers — fail to converge on the same opinions? But it is not a problem in the real world. In the real world, there are no epistemic peers — no matter how similar our experiences and our psychological capacities, no two of us are exactly alike, and any difference in either of these respects can be rationally relevant to what we believe.

Exactly. If philosophers talk about epistemic peers they’re just playing silly buggers.

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

Surplus to requirements

Apr 2nd, 2014 12:02 pm | By

Matt Rowland Hill says why the Law Society’s guidance on sharia-compliant wills was such a shit idea.

British Muslims aren’t a single culture with a monolithic faith, and it’s not up to the Law Society to decide which understanding of “sharia practice” is correct. Instead of producing a neutral description of sharia, it has effectively issued a declamation on behalf of a regressive, reactionary version of Islamic jurisprudence that more liberal-minded Muslims fight bravely against.

For an organisation ostensibly committed to the liberal values enshrined in British law to join the theological fray on the conservative side is a cruel blow to reformist Muslims. (To name just one, Dr Usama Hasan, an astronomer, Islamic scholar and imam, argues there is no necessary conflict between sharia and feminism for those with a less literalistic approach to holy texts than the Law Society.)

What makes the controversy over these guidelines all the more absurd is their utter pointlessness. The Law Society ought simply to remind its members that their job is to provide legal, not religious, advice: clients looking for guidance on what sharia requires should be advised to consult an Islamic authority of their choice.

What I said all along. It’s a job for an imam, not a lawyer.

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

Hello corruption our old friend

Apr 2nd, 2014 9:15 am | By

The Supreme Court says oh the hell with it, just buy and sell elections as if they were so much popcorn. Go right ahead.

The Supreme Court struck down limits Wednesday in federal law on the overall campaign contributions the biggest individual donors may make to candidates, political parties and political action committees.

Because what could possibly go wrong? Why shouldn’t elections be a matter of which side has the most cash? Think about it. Rich people are the best people, right? So the more money a candidate gets, the better that candidate is. It’s simple.

Chief Justice John Roberts announced the decision, which split the court’s liberal and conservative justices. Roberts said the aggregate limits do not act to prevent corruption, the rationale the court has upheld as justifying contribution limits.

The overall limits “intrude without justification on a citizen’s ability to exercise ‘the most fundamental First Amendment activities,’” Roberts said, quoting from the court’s seminal 1976 campaign finance ruling in Buckley v. Valeo.

Justice Clarence Thomas agreed with the outcome of the case, but wrote separately to say that he would have gone further and wiped away all contribution limits.

Of course he would. The very rich George Bush 1 plucked him out of obscurity, so of course he doesn’t give a shit about all the people who do feckless irresponsible badly-paid jobs like teaching and farming and mining and cleaning rich people’s toilets.

This country is fucked up.

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