Notes and Comment Blog

Our short and pithy observations on the passing scene as it relates to the mission of Butterflies and Wheels. Woolly-headed or razor-sharp comments in the media, anti-rationalist rhetoric in books or magazines or overheard on the bus, it’s all grist to our mill. And sometimes we will hold forth on the basis of no inspiration at all beyond what happens to occur to us.

It’s always priorities, isn’t it

Apr 22nd, 2012 4:01 pm | By

Ah the Catholic church in Ireland - always shameless, always brazen, always ignoring the harm it does to other people while demanding infinite respect for itself. This time it has its mitres in a knot because a broadcaster said it had fucked things up in Ireland. Yes, and?

The Communications Office of the Irish bishops has demanded a full apology and retraction from radio presenter Ray D’Arcy after he told listeners “the Catholic Church, in many ways, has fucked up this country”…

Catholic communications chief Martin Long has demanded that the station and presenter retract the “insulting” and “offensive” comment on air tomorrow.

Oh has he. Has he really. The Irish bishops who concealed child rape and transferred rapist priests instead of reporting them to the police, thus enabling them to go on raping. The Irish bishops at the head of an organization that for generations imprisoned women in laundries to do slave labor for decades – an organization that made those women raise their children for three years and then hand them over to the “mother superior” and sign an oath “never to attempt to see, interfere with or make any claim to the said child at any future time.” The Irish bishops at the head of an organization that imprisoned the children of parents with no money for the sake of the cash the state paid them; an organization that starved the children and tortured them emotionally and physically. Those Irish bishops.

How fucking dare they.

H/t Robin.

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

No life for girls

Apr 22nd, 2012 11:35 am | By

Bangladesh has one of the highest rates of child (read: girl) marriage in the world; 20% are married off before the age of 15.

This of course means they get pregnant young, and give birth young. This means they get fistulas. This ruins their lives. There are tens of thousands in that situation, as there are in Africa. (In Sudan for instance. In Niger and Kenya. In Nigeria.)

There are people who campaign against child marriage in Bangladesh.

“I do this work because I wanted to put a smile back on the face of the parents,” says Oli Ahmed. He grins as he says it.

Oli is a campaigner who goes around the slum where he lives in Dhaka standing up to his elders and telling them why they shouldn’t marry off their daughters so young.

He’s the same age as Poppy, just 12.

He’s 12!! 12. You’re a good human being, Oli.

“I used to know a girl who was like an older sister to me, but she was forced to get married and never came back.”

It made him very angry and sad…Oli approached Plan International which was already working in his slum in Dhaka.

He told them he wanted to set up a group led by children to try and stop the practice. He goes door to door with a group of friends persuading, scolding and hectoring parents.

One NGO worker says that since they started work, the number of child marriages in that area has dropped by as much as 50%.

“I feel very good that a girl’s life has been saved because of the work that I’ve done,” says Oli.

Now all we need is tens of thousands of 12-year-olds like Oli.


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

Bruce on Day Four

Apr 22nd, 2012 10:57 am | By

A guest post by Bruce Everett

Day Four – Sunday: Last day of the convention proper…

I have to confess, owing to considerations arising out of personal matters not mine to recount, coupled with a genuine need for more sleep, I missed the first three speakers of Sunday’s presentations: Eugenie Scott, Tanya Smith and Annie Laurie Gaylor.

I can’t comment on the merits of their respective showings; however I’m noticeably left with a black hole in the overall convention experience. Missing out on the presentations of three women in a row, in a convention touted to demonstrate the increasing alignment of feminism and atheism, is quite a gap.

I’m wondering, other concerns permitting, whether priority categories of speakers (in this case, women) could be scheduled so as not to be clumped together, to avoid risking their being missed by misfortune, or by convenience to those who’d miss them deliberately (sniffy misogynists?)

I suspect there may be an ongoing debate about these kinds of things amongst organisers, perhaps worthy of being opened up to the broader public. I’ll be looking forward to the release of the DVD of the convention, in any case.


When I finally got settled in, it was time for Sam Harris to make his appearance…

Harris was going to give a talk on ‘the illusion of free will’, but apparently for reasons out of his control, it was predetermined that he’d give a talk on the topic of death.

This was the kind of Sam Harris I’d wanted to see. Warren at Embiggen Books would tell me the following afternoon that of all the prominent atheist authors, he thought Harris was the one who put out the most novel content. Harris certainly didn’t disappoint in this respect on Sunday.

There’s been a lot of talk of extracting, or reverse engineering from religion, elements that still contribute to some degree of human utility, but to adapt them without the harm, or the annoying frilly bits. Alain de Botton has made this the theme of his most recent project, and Dennett has been talking about it ever since Breaking The Spell.

(You’d think Alain de Botton had invented the idea just recently, owing to his style of self-promotion).

I have to confess, that reason-exalting gospel music, showcased by Dennett in the past, doesn’t do it for me – it seems far too white-middle-class (especially when white dudes dance awkwardly to it). Further, the idea of bird-watching as a scientific experience available to the masses, while not useless, is hardly an aesthetic salve for the world-weary and the over-worked. I find Alain de Botton’s idea of constructing temples to atheism frivolous, pointless, pretentious, and utterly repulsive (much like his middle-class, School of Life, self-help cult – yuck!)

Harris, for his part delved into a materialistic, neuroscientific perspective on dealing with death – our predictions, projections and anticipations about the future are just thoughts, and our memories of the departed and the past, similarly, are just thoughts. A great deal of our suffering is, Harris argued, brought about by dwelling on such thoughts – the departed, impending doom, anxieties over future needs not being met – over and over.

The crowd was instructed through a session of meditation, informed again by a neuroscientific outlook. It was joked at the end that we’d been duped, and that the audience were now all converts to Buddhism. While deliberately not tipping a hat to solipsism, Harris explained our conscious sense experience as like a dream constrained by external reality – i.e. don’t expect to be able to fly if you jump off a building.

During the questions and answers, it was explained that the consolations offered by this kind of approach weren’t a justification for apathy about suffering in the world, and that some Buddhist sects, disturbingly, had gone down precisely this road. The consolations of meditation were for respite, when our thoughts tortured us without any payoff (i.e. excessive, unproductive worrying).

Ray Kurtzweil copped it in the neck for utopian visions of uploaded consciousness, as did a specimen of transhumanist twee during the Q&A, about the sum of everyone’s memories of loved ones giving a kind of networked immortality. Call me biased, but I’m giving Harris bonus points for this.

The presentation was delivered in good humour, with compassion, and in a crisp, lucid manner. It was to my mind possibly the best talk of the convention. It was, I think, as Warren would later echo, the most novel discussion.


After a morning break, with nasty coffee and nice vegetarian-friendly biscuits, the crowd was treated to the premiere of Emma McKenna and Craig Foster’s short film, Parrot. (Dear SBS, please do screen it on SOS!)

Parrot told the story of two young Australian lads, both closeted atheists, raised in a Catholic family with an overbearing, dogmatically religious mother, and an enabling, feckless Dad. Tragedy strikes, and while the young protagonist of the film has to deal with the strife in his own way, his mother turns ever more to her faith, harbouring similar expectations for her family.

While Australia is generally an easy place for the godless to be out about who they are, such that it’s most often not mentioned, there are niches where religious dogmatism still gets an upper hand, causing problems for the godless (and those of the ‘wrong religion’). Traditional, conservative, church-going families are such a niche, and it’s still worth paying attention to what life is like in these environments, even here in safe, supposedly secular, Australia.

At its core, Parrot is still a little didactic, and if you’re watching out for it, mildly contrived. However, in the subsequent discussion between directors Foster and McKenna, and MC Lawrence Leung, it was revealed this was a much bigger problem in earlier copies of the draft, subsequent efforts preventing the protagonist from merely being a ‘voice-box’. Perhaps, if this concern had underpinned the project from the beginning, the final product would be perfect. Still, as is, it’s quite considerably better than the alt.atheism lecture dressed-up as dialogue that calls itself The Ledge (an atheistic high-concept film, not saved even by its considerably talented cast).


Jason Ball…

What can I say? The young man is impressive. He’s all over the place (in a good way): guest editing The Rationalist, making media appearances for the Atheist Foundation of Australia and whoever else, and doing a good job of all of it. It seems anywhere you look these days in Australian free-thought, there’s Jason Ball, doing his thing. It’s quite heartening.

The young Mr Ball recounted to the audience just how he came to atheism, secularism and free-thought, from the background of a moderately religious family (football was explicitly allowed to come before church, which seems to be a norm amongst Australian Christians). An exchange trip to theUS saw Jason as the only person in his class who believed in evolution, and from then on the young man was changed…

(There are more details to it than that, obviously; like many of the talks, it’s worth your watching the DVD when it comes out).

There are other young secular Australians amongst Mr Ball’s cohort, and I wonder if their interest in the movement comes from a similar background, and if it wouldn’t be worth considering head-hunting young individuals with similar goals, but with possibly complementary perspectives (working class, Aboriginal Australian, and so on…) Also, I’m told that Leigh, one of the young committee members behind the scenes, is similarly impressive, so perhaps we could see a little more of her take on things as well.


…and then there was PZ Myers. He’s published the speech he gave at the GAC, Sacking the City of God, over here, if you’re so inclined.

Maybe it was my mood at the time, or maybe it’s these anti-depressants I’ve been taking lately, but PZ’s hyperbole didn’t reach me the way it used to. Sure, I agree with a number, if not all of the substantive points raised in the talk to various degrees (the anthropology of religion and morals, truth, autonomy and community), and I’m not about to misconstrue the intent of the talk, or tone troll PZ for Not Helping(tm). But…

… PZ just didn’t rock me.

Maybe if Eugenie Scott had given a lecture on why we need to be ultra-deferential-to-religion in order to combat creationism, and I’d seen it, and I had frustration pent-up from it, then maybe PZ’s talk would have been an outlet. Perhaps if there’d been a comedic warm-up act, maybe if it was PZ headlining the first night rather than Jim Jeffries, I’d have seen things differently.

Maybe it’s because PZ followed the awesome Jason Ball. Maybe I just needed lunch.

Or maybe, in as far as I agreed with PZ, I found the substance of his talk uncontroversial and obvious, while in as far as it pushed the envelope, I found it unconvincing and difficult to take seriously – atheists are a hunting pack! Yes, well, maybe someone in the audience needed a bloviated confidence booster, but, whatever issues we do have (and we have plenty), we’re hardly under siege here inAustralia.

I’m not entirely sure I wasn’t witnessing projected nerd-affirmation in drag as secular activism. And I’m not entirely sure PZ appreciates the irony in his recent overuse of the word ‘wanker’, either.

Again, being so rhetorical, interpreting the content is subject to mood, so don’t take my word for it. No doubt footage will become available at some point for you to make up your own mind. Maybe I’ll even change mine.

(It wasn’t my intention at the outset of this post to suggest that on the night, PZ Myers was a bloviating wanker, but here we are at the end of the process, and… oh well.)


Lunch was served, eventually, being the same meal as the day before (I loved the vegetarian wraps – so this is good), although this time, there was a different accompaniment; visitors of another flavour than the last.


Islamic protest outside the 2012 GAC (1:24)

Okay, maybe I should take back that comment about PZ’s talk being bloviated; these guys (ALL OF THEM GUYS) really know how to billow hot air into empty rhetoric. I love how blue-shirted beard at 13 seconds seemed rather agitated with the hand waving, but I hope he wasn’t telling the other fellow (‘use your brains!’) not to give them the satisfaction, or anything like that. Kudos to Mr ‘use your brains’.

Now… as for the claim that Hitchens is burning in hellfire, it’s like the famous Josh Thomas quote from Good News Week; it’s like we’re being told that Hitchens, dead, is being punched in the aura by hippies. It’s hardly menacing, and makes more of a joke of the people claiming it, rather than impugning anyone else, dead or alive.

But the threats of hellfire against Ayaan Hirsi Ali are more menacing – you don’t experience hellfire in life, so there’s an implicit threat of death. Oddly enough, this didn’t seem to be taken particularly seriously by the Victorian police, who have a reputation for cracking down on protests (when they inconvenience rich people, at least).

I asked a couple of people, rhetorically, why there were no Muslim women protesting alongside the men, before heading back inside. It would turn out later, that ‘where are the women?’ would be chanted back at the Islamic protest, by a much larger group of atheists. I’d like to think this was my idea, but that’d be stretching credulity more than just a little – I’m just satisfied it happened.

…and then there was The Kiss.


Gregory Storer and Michael Barnett share a kiss – (used with permission)

They brought Allah, anger and hate, and we brought love. I think it’s obvious which won out on the day.

I’ve been told a few things about the exchanges surrounding the protest that I can’t verify, things which would be interesting to know if true. I’m told, for example, that a few Muslim men holding placards intentionally posed with members of the atheist choir, as a statement of peaceful, mutual, if hyperbolic disagreement. I’m also told that one atheist fellow shouted words to the effect of ‘go home’, before being turned upon by other (sarcasm wielding) atheists.

I’m not entirely sure this situation didn’t have the capacity to blow up into something nastier though – the implicit threats against Ayaan Hirsi Ali hint at as much. I’ve been to quite a few union rallies over the years, so it’s not the yelling that gets at me. It’s just in my experience such violent rhetoric is either abstained from, or results in controversy and sackings. Call me provincial if you will, but I think it’s something to keep an eye on, even if such concerns aren’t fashionable in edgy, radicalMelbourne.


Lawrence Krauss and Richard Dawkins gave a wonderful tribute to Christopher Hitchens; Krauss sharing personal anecdotes, and Dawkins referring to his interview with Hitchens in last year’s Christmas edition of New Statesman (which I had with me at all times during my stay in Melbourne, incidentally). This was accompanied by a montage of Hitchens at his most razor-sharp.

Tribute to Christopher Hitchens (11:09)

It has to be said, that hearing Dawkins emulating the manner of speech of Hitchens, was like listening to pan pipes attempting to imitate a tuba; all dry air and reedy, without the necessary, rich baritone. It’s not the worst thing to be accused of falling short of though, the bar being set so high.

This is the part where I suspect people in the audience most wish he were still around, occasional tears being shed; something that must have grated on a number of envious, less prominent, less respected authors around RadiCool Melbourne.

(This is the part where I’ll also point out that wherever I went in Melbourne, they only had Johnny Walker Red.)

The tribute segued into the Three Horsemen Panel, with Ayaan Hirsi Ali. After the huge applause had subsided, the proceedings were held in an informal manner, which Dawkins told us they’d play by ear, and see how it went.

Cooperation and secularism seemed to be the de facto theme of this Global Atheist Convention. I thought it might have just been me, owing to my attending secularist fringe events where cooperation in secular campaigning was discussed, but I’ve seen other people make much the same observations, here and there.

Cooperation, discussed by the panel, touched on a few interesting observations; Dennett raised Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s call for people to help secular Muslims, stating his own experience that while secular Muslims were not wary of atheists, they could be wary of being found by fundamentalist Muslims to have associated with atheists, which was risky.

I suspect that this may be more of an issue in the antipode than down-under, although it doesn’t seem to be hurting George Galloway’s prospects much – why deal with moderate, secular Muslims when you can treat the fundamentalists as a voting bloc, right? Well, it works for some people.

I digress.

Contrary to a lot of public opinion, ‘new atheists’ aren’t opposed to cooperation, which makes any such line of questioning just a bit more trivial. Distinctions then, if sensible ones are to be made, as well as subsequent discussion, should be based on something like the conditions under which such cooperation would best occur, not on the prospect of cooperation itself. Unless of course you’re one of those parties benefiting from public confusion on the matter, in which case you’d want to present your political opposition as uncooperative, while being uncooperative yourself.

The Q&A session was pretty entertaining; one poor chap asking Richard Dawkins why a brain hadn’t evolved to the size of the entire universe. Ahem. Dawkins answered by pointing out the somewhat finite size of the birth canal.

While there are probably better, more technical objections to the query, it was a funny retort, and a nice light-hearted note on which to end the GAC proper. Although, having booked for a fringe event the following night, featuring PZ Myers, Chris Stedman and Leslie Cannold, on that very vexed of topics, cooperation still weighed on my mind.

I’ll write more on the topic in the next installation; Night of the Wankers (or Way kin whiff Strine)

~ Bruce

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

Strictness and violence

Apr 21st, 2012 3:11 pm | By

Maryam points out this helpful item: a speech last summer by Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah-Yazdi, religious advisor to Ahmadinejad, explaining that human rights have no place in Islam. Oh. Well thank you; that’s what critics keep saying, and it’s helpful to have the corroboration.

Mesbah-Yazdi, the theoretician of violence, gave a new speech at the end of Ramadan (end of August) in which he criticized the opinion of those people who claim Islam is based on generosity and respect for  Human Rights.

Yes exactly! I’m always criticizing the opinion of those people too. I keep asking them to name just one place where that works out in practice – just one country where the government is “Islamic” in some sense and generosity and respect for human rights are running the show. Just one.

In this speech he said: “Democracy, Human Rights and the rights  of citizenship have no place in Islam.” He continued that there is no room for freedom of speech and thought in Islam, and that Islam is based  on strictness and violence. Muslims and those who convert to the religion of Islam must only adhere to the opinions of the leader of the  Islamic Republic, according to Mesbah. He continued: “Until a person has  converted to Islam, he is free — but democracy and Human Rights have no  meaning within Islam. Everything must be under the surveillance of the  government, even the way people dress. And if some people say otherwise,  they don’t know Islam.”

Tariq Ramadan please note.

“There is no room for freedom of speech and thought in Islam, and that Islam is based  on strictness and violence.” That really sums it up admirably. Two words do the job. That’s exactly what I fear and loathe about Islam-in-power: strictness and violence. That’s a horrible way to live; absolutely horrible. It’s very helpful of Mesbah-Yazdi to make it so clear for us. It’s not as if people can accuse him of Islamophobia! And they can’t pretend it’s Western racism, either.

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

The only category

Apr 21st, 2012 2:20 pm | By

This little spat between the Inquisition and the slightly disobedient (but not disobedient enough) nuns reminds me of something that we generally don’t focus on sharply enough. It’s certainly obvious, yet it kind of fades into the background of the taken-for-granted.

The something is:

Women are the only category of people who can’t ever be Catholic clergy no matter what they do or don’t do. The only one. Atheists can change their minds. Buddhists can convert. Convicted felons can repent. Gay men can be closeted.

But women, and women only, are barred, completely and finally; barred as such, barred from birth, barred because of what they are. Trying to unbar them is an excommunicable crime, while raping children is not. Raping children in the performance of priestly duties is not an excommunicable crime – but ordinating ordaining a woman as a priest is.

It’s very interesting, if you think about it. There are no Chinese or Brazilian disciples of Jesus, but that doesn’t make Chinese or Brazilian men ineligible for the priesthood. Yet the explanation for the ineligibility of women is that there were no female disciples. That’s a transparently feeble reason.

No; it’s just that the church and its all-male staff share the age-old bigotry about women and they’re authoritarian and vicious enough to refuse to abandon it. They think women aren’t good enough to be priests. They think women are too dirty, and stupid, and sluttish, and weak to be priests. They don’t want women stinking up their club house. And because religion is Special, they get to act on their bigotry.


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

The Vatican rebukes Radical Feminist nuns

Apr 21st, 2012 10:53 am | By

Ah the dear US Conference of Catholic bishops – how it does love itself a chance to tell people to obey it. The same of course goes for the dear Inquisition, now thoughtfully renamed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which was Ratzinger’s part of the organization until he got the top job. The Inquisition has issued a new Obey Us, which the UCCB has kindly shared. It begins with – well, with Obey Us, of course.

The context in which the current doctrinal Assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in the United States of America is best situated is articulated by Pope John Paul II in the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Vita consecrata of 1996. Commenting on the genius of the charism of religious life in the Church, Pope John Paul says: “In founders and foundresses we see a constant and lively sense of the Church, which they manifest by their full participation in all aspects of the Church’s life, and in their ready obedience to the Bishops and especially to the Roman Pontiff. Against this background of love towards Holy Church ‘the pillar and bulwark of truth’ (1 Tim 3:15), we readily understand…the full ecclesial communion which the Saints, founders and foundresses, have shared in diverse and often difficult times and circumstances. They are examples which consecrated persons need constantly to recall if they are to resist the particularly strong centrifugal and disruptive forces at work today. A distinctive aspect of ecclesial communion is allegiance of mind and heart to the Magisterium of the Bishops, an allegiance which must be lived honestly and clearly testified to before the People of God by all consecrated persons, especially those involved in theological research, teaching, publishing, catechesis and the use of the means of social communication. Because consecrated persons have a special place in the Church, their attitude in this regard is of immense importance for the whole People of God” (n. 46).

Obey Us. Obey. Obey obey obey obey. Do what we tell you. Obey. Submit. Obey obey obey. Ready obedience to the Bishops and especially to the Roman Pontiff. Resist the particularly strong centrifugal and disruptive forces at work today. Allegiance of mind and heart to the Magisterium of the Bishops. Their attitude in this regard. Obey obey obey obey.

But the women in the Leadership Conference of Women Religious haven’t been doing it. They haven’t been obeying enough.

For instance they sent letters to the Inquisition saying they disagreed with things.

The Cardinal spoke of this issue in reference to letters the CDF received from “Leadership Teams” of various Congregations, among them LCWR Officers, protesting the Holy See’s actions regarding the question of women’s ordination and of a correct pastoral approach to ministry to homosexual persons, e.g. letters about New Ways Ministry’s conferences. The terms of the letters suggest that these sisters collectively take a position not in agreement with the Church’s teaching on human sexuality. It is a serious matter when these Leadership Teams are not providing effective leadership and example to their communities, but place themselves outside the Church’s teaching.

Right; because that’s not obeying. They’re supposed to obey.

And not only that, but – they are (brace yourselves) Radical Feminists!!1! 

Radical Feminism. The Cardinal noted a prevalence of certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith in some of the programs and presentations sponsored by the LCWR, including theological interpretations that risk distorting faith in Jesus and his loving Father who sent his Son for the salvation of the world. Moreover, some commentaries on “patriarchy” distort the way in which Jesus has structured sacramental life in the Church; others even undermine the revealed doctrines of the Holy Trinity, the divinity of Christ, and the inspiration of Sacred Scripture.

I take it the Inquisition is trying to get a mention on Manboobz.

They got a US bishop to look into it, and what the bishop found is a pervasive failure to obey.

On June 25, 2010, Bishop Blair presented further documentation on the content of the LCWR’s Mentoring Leadership Manual and also on the organizations associated with the LCWR, namely Network and The Resource Center for Religious Institutes. The documentation reveals that, while there has been a great deal of work on the part of LCWR promoting issues of social justice in harmony with the Church’s social doctrine, it is silent on the right to life from conception to natural death, a question that is part of the lively public debate about abortion and euthanasia in the United States. Further, issues of crucial importance to the life of Church and society, such as the Church’s Biblical view of family life and human sexuality, are not part of the LCWR agenda in a way that promotes Church teaching. Moreover, occasional public statements by the LCWR that disagree with or challenge positions taken by the Bishops, who are the Church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals, are not compatible with its purpose.

They’re also not compatible with the fact that the bishops are men while the people in the LCWR are women (that’s what the W stands for), so obviously the latter don’t get to disobey the former. Any fule kno that.


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

Stand with Sergey

Apr 21st, 2012 10:22 am | By

A guy in Russia was arrested for saying gay people should have rights.

Sergey Kondrashov was jailed in St. Petersburg, Russia for defying a new draconian “homosexual propaganda” law. His crime? Holding up a sign saying a close family friend, who happens to be lesbian, deserves the same rights as he and his wife. Stand with Sergey – and other Russians who are refusing to be silenced, and challenging the spread of this backwards law nationwide.

There’s a petition you can sign. Only 30 thousand to go and they’ll have 100 thousand.

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

Bullying is healthy

Apr 20th, 2012 4:59 pm | By

So people are trying to combat the bullying of LGBQ teenagers in school, and religious conservative lunatics are trying to combat the efforts to combat the bullying. Yes that’s right. Grown-ups in grown-up organizations full of grown-ups are trying to prevent people from stopping bullying in schools.

Last  year, many conservative political organizations, including Focus on the Family,  the Family Research Council, the American Family Association, Liberty Counsel  and Concerned Women for America vocally opposed attempts by school districts  and public officials to combat bullying based on actual or perceived sexual  orientation and gender identity—categories typically considered along with  other attributes such as race, sex, age, disability and national origin.  Moreover, these groups smeared and demonized advocacy groups that collaborate  with teachers and administrators in developing best practices to combat bullying,  warning that anti-bullying groups would encourage everything from  “homosexualizing” youth to anti-Christian persecution to pedophilia.

Religious Right organizations demanded that schools and localities adopt policies that  would effectively leave LGBT and LGBT-perceived students unprotected and tie  the hands of schools that try to deal with the problem.

Liberty  Counsel Director of Cultural Affairs Matt Barber said there is “no evidence” that  LGBT people face either discrimination or violence, and Robert Newman of the  California Christian Coalition said that  bullying is “part of the maturational process,” adding, “I hardly think that  bullying is a real issue in schools.” Fox News host Steve Doocy even hosted a  segment called “Bullying: Crisis or Panic?” in which he asked if  bullying is an “exaggerated epidemic.”

WallBuilders  president and Republican operative David Barton falsely claimed that “the  leading pediatric association in America” opposed anti-bullying policies that  cover sexual orientation. Barton argued, “If  you’ll just let this develop naturally, they’ll end up being heterosexual  unless you force them to be homosexual…. If you let it run its course it’s  gonna turn out normal and natural, unless you guys intervene and make the  unnatural stuff natural.”

As it  turned out, the group Barton cited was a tiny, fringe anti-gay organization.  The country’s actual leading pediatric group, the American Academy of  Pediatricians, contacted Barton’s  group and requested a retraction, which Barton promptly refused.

These are adults. These are adults dismissing or making light of bullying in schools. These are adults trying to stop other adults preventing bullying. These are adults who want to keep bullying in schools.

One guy even came right out and said so, without even the thinnest veil of disguise.

When  whitewashing doesn’t work, some anti-gay activists just try to condone  bullying. That’s what Rich Swier of Tea Party Nation attempted to do in a column sent  out to members nationwide, dubbing the bullying of LGBT youth a “sham” and  adding that if it does take place, it is “healthy” since homosexuality, like  drug abuse, “cannot be condoned” and must be stopped:

This is not bullying. It is peer pressure and is healthy. There are many bad behaviors such as smoking, under age drinking [sic] and drug abuse that are behaviors that cannot be condoned. Homosexuality falls  into this category. Homosexuality is simply bad behavior that youth see as such and rightly pressure their peers to stop it.


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

On a billboard

Apr 20th, 2012 11:12 am | By

I saw this billboard while on a bus yesterday; it was urging adoption of pets from shelters, and it was a big banner portrait (not a photograph) of five Yellow Lab puppies. Four of the five are looking straight out, while just one of them is tilting the head…and has a pink bow behind the ear. Well gee, guess what we’re supposed to think – the one with the bow is A Girl.

So why is there only one girl then? Why four forthright direct Boy puppies and just one flirtatious coy bow-behind-the-ear Girl?

(And why single her out? Why signal her sex? Why put a bow behind her ear? When the fuck do puppies ever wear bows behind their ears?!! How would you even attach it? And why would you try when you know the puppy would yank it off in two seconds flat? What is your point?)

I’ll tell you why: it’s the Smurfette Principle. It’s the Muppets principle, the Toy Story principle, the Lion King principle, the Ice Age principle, the Winnie the Pooh principle, the Wind in the Willows principle. It’s the everybody is a boy except for a very rare weird stupid coquettish thing in skirts or with a bow behind her ear principle.

The Smurfette Principle was named by Katha Pollitt in the New York Times magazine in 1991. Not a god damn thing has changed in those 21 years.

Take a look at the kids’ section of your local video store. You’ll find that features starring boys, and usually aimed at them, account for 9 out of 10 offerings. Clicking the television dial one recent week — admittedly not an encyclopedic study — I came across not a single network cartoon or puppet show starring a female. (Nickelodeon, the children’s cable channel, has one of each.) Except for the crudity of the animation and the general air of witlessness and hype, I might as well have been back in my own 1950′s childhood, nibbling Frosted Flakes in front of Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig and the rest of the all-male Warner Brothers lineup.

Contemporary shows are either essentially all-male, like “Garfield,” or are organized on what I call the Smurfette principle: a group of male buddies will be accented by a lone female, stereotypically defined. In the worst cartoons — the ones that blend seamlessly into the animated cereal commercials — the female is usually a little-sister type, a bunny in a pink dress and hair ribbons who tags along with the adventurous bears and badgers. But the Smurfette principle rules the more carefully made shows, too. Thus, Kanga, the only female in “Winnie-the-Pooh,” is a mother. Piggy, of “Muppet Babies,” is a pint-size version of Miss Piggy, the camp glamour queen of the Muppet movies. April, of the wildly popular “Teen-Age Mutant Ninja Turtles,” functions as a girl Friday to a quartet of male superheroes. The message is clear. Boys are the norm, girls the variation; boys are central, girls peripheral; boys are individuals, girls types. Boys define the group, its story and its code of values. Girls exist only in relation to boys.

And it even applies to puppies for christ’s sake. There are four male dogs for every female – ask any biologist; this is a known fact about canine reproduction.


Boys are the norm, girls the variation; boys are central, girls peripheral; boys are individuals, girls types. And it would be nice to see that change, one of these days.

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

It never stops

Apr 19th, 2012 4:16 pm | By

Leo Igwe reports there is a new church in Cross River-Akwa Ibom states in Nigeria that looks set to cause more misery, torture and death with accusations of witchcraft.

 Leo writes:

Recently, the prophetic ministry joined the vanguard of witch hunting churches that are fueling witchcraft related abuse in the region.

In what appears to be a clear and targeted attempt to undermine the progress which government and non-governmental agencies have made in the fight against witch hunting in Akwa Ibom, the church organized in March a crusade tagged ‘Uyo Festival of Fire’ at Ibom Hall in Uyo, the state capital. The theme of the crusade was ‘My Father! My Father!! That Witch Must Die’.

Religion is poison. It doesn’t poison everything, because not everything is poisoned; but it is poison. That billboard is poisonous. It’s demanding the torture and murder of children and other vulnerable people.

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

Court sentences are based on sharia

Apr 19th, 2012 3:27 pm | By

But then we read a story from Saudi Arabia, and we are struck dumb.

A Sri Lankan woman is currently facing decapitation by sword on a witchcraft charge in Saudi Arabia, in accordance with Wahhabism, a strict form of Sunni Islam. The UN reports executions tripled in the kingdom in 2011.

­A Saudi man complained that in a shopping mall his 13-year-old  daughter “suddenly started acting in an abnormal way, which happened  after she came close to the Sri Lankan woman,” reports the daily Okaz.

After the local man denounced the Sri Lankan for casting a spell on  his daughter, police in the port city of Jeddah found it sufficient cause to arrest the woman.

A Sri Lankan woman was in a shopping mall. Some guy said his daughter “suddenly started acting in an abnormal way” after she came close to the woman. The woman was arrested as a witch, and could have her head chopped off.

It makes you hate the species. It makes you wish human beings had never evolved.

In the absolute monarchy that Saudi Arabia is, a criminal code does not exist per se. Court sentences are based on Islamic Sharia law on the interpretation of judges.

It’s all been such a mistake. We were once little shrew-like animals. That would be so much better.

The beheading of Indonesian national Ruyati binti Sapubi in 2011 sparked a widely-discussed scandal. The 54-year-old woman, who worked as a maid, was sentenced to death after she confessed of murdering her employer with a kitchen knife after suffering abuse.

With about 1.5 million Indonesians working in Saudi Arabia, many of them as maids, the ruling caused an outcry in Indonesia, which even considered banning its women from working in the kingdom. After the Saudi Arabian ambassador officially apologized for the incident, the initiative was left in oblivion.

The cases of mistreatment of maids, who came in waves to Saudi Arabia in the recent past, received a different attitude of national justice. In April 2011, a Saudi woman convicted of torturing her Indonesian maid successfully had her conviction quashed on appeal.

I saw this horror via Taslima.

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

The Romneys ate tuna

Apr 19th, 2012 3:16 pm | By

I can only find it funny. There was an old joke about Martin Amis – that his first book was titled My Struggle. That should be a new joke about the Romneys. Our Struggle.

You’re going to need a hanky for this sob story, as told by Ann Romney back in 1994, of just how hard young Mitt and Ann struggled when they were just starting out:

They were not easy years. [...]We were happy, studying hard. Neither one of us had a job, because Mitt had enough of an investment from stock that we could sell off a little at a time.

The stock came from Mitt’s father. When he took over American Motors, the stock was worth nothing. But he invested Mitt’s birthday money year to year — it wasn’t much, a few thousand, but he put it into American Motors because he believed in himself. Five years later, stock that had been $6 a share was $96 and Mitt cashed it so we could live and pay for education.

Let’s interrupt this tale of woe for just a minute to reflect on the value of $96-a-share stock back in 1969, when this great triumph over poverty occurred. Andrew Sabl, who dug up this old Boston Globe interview, did some quick calculationsto figure out just how “not easy” it was to live off Mitt’s stock portfolio:

By Ann’s own account, the stock amounted to “a few thousand” dollars when bought, but it had gone up by a factor of sixteen. So let’s conservatively say that they got through five years as students—neither one of them working—only by “chipping away at” assets of $60,000 in 1969 dollars (about $377,000 today).

I shouldn’t find it funny. I won’t find it funny if the Mormon wins the election. But for the moment…I can’t help finding it funny. Disgusting, but funny.


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

And more Bruce at the GAC

Apr 19th, 2012 10:39 am | By

A guest post by Bruce Everett

Day three – Saturday: The meat of the GAC… or the TVP…

Early to bed, early to rise… sigh. I went to bed late, owing to running into an old school friend at the GAC, and going out for drinks. On our crawl, we even ran into the messiah…

Imaan – Bigger Than Jesus

He shares at least one thing in common with Richard Dawkins, incidentally; he doesn’t like Andrew Bolt.


Okay… Saturday… Early to rise

Saturday morning, after being unintentionally awoken by one of my jetlagged Italian roommates (which was welcome because my alarm clock had broken), I got off my backside and made my way to the convention to see Peter Singer.

Singer, if you don’t know, is a vegetarian, which kind of suggests certain things about what the catering may need to take into account. Kylie Sturgess reminded the audience as much as we went into a break later in the day (respect those vegetarians!)

Catering turned out to be more amenable to us animal-cruelty avoiding weirdos in the audience.

Singer invoked the old device of The Expanding Circle to discuss the extent to which we are willing to extend our moral concern beyond our selves, and our immediate kin, though the tiers of groups, all the way up to and including all life on Earth capable of suffering. It was argued, predictably, that the circle is expanding; however, Singer referred to Steven Pinker’s recent Better Angels of Our Nature as an empirical basis for this claim, which was novel.

Although I think Singer was bested in terms of overall value by other speakers at the convention, he was still no slouch. Indeed, he’s the academic I most anticipated seeing at the convention; I wasn’t disappointed.

Leslie Cannold however, stole the show. It was at least a tie between her and Lawrence Krauss, who would follow later in the night, in terms of sheer energy and engagement.

The myths surrounding section 116 of the Australian Constitution were torn asunder by Cannold, especially in light of the DOGS 1981 case, where the High Court used what appears to be pure sophistry to interpret the separation of church and state inAustraliaout of existence. This was made apparent, and obvious, through a comparison of the incredibly similar wordings of our section 116 and the establishment clause of the first amendment in theUSconstitution.

Prepared with Max Wallace, and delivered by such a proficient communicator as Leslie Cannold, the issue was rendered vivid and undeniable. The success of the delivery of this message is important because of a common misconception; Australiahas no separation of church and state – it’s a soft theocracy.


Dan Barker was, well, Dan Barker. Lovable, but still with the oratory of a preacher; a kind I personally find off-putting. I emphasise; ‘personally’.

I can understand Dan Barker’s appeal to those leaving fundamentalist Christianity though. He nails biblical absurdities with wit and emotion, and just a bit of camp value, if you like that kind of thing. I especially appreciated Barker’s disclosure of how he spends the royalties from an old piece of Christian propaganda he produced back in the day; on a charity supporting women’s reproductive autonomy.

Others may differ, but aside from light entertainment, I got only one thing from Dan Barker’s performance, but it was a good-un; I gained a trust in his motives I otherwise couldn’t have.

When I discussed the Convention with Warren Bonnet (editor of the Australian Book of Atheism, and co-owner of Melbourne’s Embiggen Books), he emphasised the importance of these conventions as a means to humanise our networks; that we don’t just leave our interactions purely at the mercy of communications technologies, with all the social problems that can arise out of them.

While it wasn’t necessarily the high-profile atheists Warren and I had in mind, I think my experience watching Dan Barker, whom I’ve had (healthy) doubts about, demonstrates the point. I trust others can corroborate experiences like this.


After the morning break (with very nice, vegetarian-friendly biscuits – BISCUITS!), a political panel discussing the need for secular reform, in particular in the regulation of education, consisted of Fiona Patten, Colleen Hartland, Dick Gross, and Marion Maddox, with Derek Guille as moderator.

Marion Maddox stole the show, and given she was the biggest believer on the panel, it was perhaps ironic that she was easily most worthy of the title ‘secular fundamentalist’ – taking Dick Gross and Colleen Hartland to task for their comparatively soft touch. (It also helped that Maddox knew her material.)

Dick Gross was a waste of space on the panel, which isn’t to say I dislike him. It’s just that aside from a single salient point – concerning a matter of opportunity cost between comparative religion and science funding in schools – he listlessly equivocated and vacillated, seemingly wasting a lot of energy just to position himself as some kind of moderate.

All the positioning could have been justified if only he’d committed himself to clearer, more lucid disagreement with the others on the panel. But that isn’t what he gave us (and I don’t care one jot about his long-standing status as a popularFairfaxblogger.)

(Right on the back of the publication of Freedom of Religion & the Secular State, Dick’s was a seat that would have easily been better filled by Russell Blackford.)

Fiona Patten, of the Australian Sex Party, was largely in agreement with Marion Maddox, although the sequence of questioning left her largely nodding her head and adding occasional secondary points after Maddox spoke. I would have liked to have seen Patten given the lead more often – not to displace Maddox, but so that at least Patten had a chance to direct discussion towards the political niches where she has more specialised experience than Maddox. As an experienced newsperson, Derek Guille should have taken this into account.

General consensus was reached, which was more or less unsurprising; to do secular education right, public schools needed better funding across a number of curriculum learning areas. I’m in agreement; however, there are those libertarians in the ‘atheist movement’ who support voucher systems and privatisation who may be at odds with this.

I don’t say this to be all fuzzy and inclusive; rather, I think it would be interesting to see, especially of those plying a trade in the Skeptic movement (effectively placing them in competition with public education, and making them beneficiaries of widespread scientific ignorance), which libertarians disagree.

On balance, I think the event at Embiggen Books two nights earlier, with Meredith Doig, Russell Blackford and Graham Oppy, was better, although I think adding Maddox and Patten to the mix, based on their GAC appearance, would make for a dream-card. Maybe if there’s another GAC inMelbourne?


Dan Dennett followed, giving a lecture on closet atheists – directed especially at any undercover believers in the audience. I’ve already seen much of what Dan Dennett has to say on the matter, so I won’t discuss the substantive points (if you’re curious, there’s The Evolution of Confusion), however there are signs of Dennett’s project progressing, with further refinements to the theory, as well as practical developments (see The Clergy Project).

Dennett was cuddly, friendly and funny, as usual (we even got the ‘deepity’ spiel). Technical terms were bridged with puns, criticism with good humour, and as always with Dennett, commonly accepted implications of well established theory were exposed as having either logical flaws, or obvious exceptions.


Lunch saw visitors arrive, or at least, it was the first I saw of them during the day.

‘Eternal Life in Christ Jesus Our Lord’? What, these guys will be living in JC’s intestinal lining as irritants?

Really, what on Earth did they hope to achieve? And ‘no warning is too strong’? That almost sounds like a threat, although I suspect it may actually refer to the sulphurous odour wafting from sweaty, angry Christians.

After a suitably wonderful vegetarian lunch (the wraps were awesome), and fundamentalists largely already forgotten, I have to confess I was getting a little tired. Which isn’t to say I fell asleep, however…

AC Grayling was on next, and for the life of me I can’t remember the substance of his presentation. In part, I recall agreeing with him in advance, and having no particular objection to what he had to say. I recall good humour, but not the actual jest.

I feel as if I’ve done him a disservice, like I’m a disrespectful undergrad.

This, I guess, is just a part of the reality of these things – the chaos of travel, especially on a low budget like my operation (the gold ticket was really pushing it, but I intended to make a go of things). I’m new to writing on the road, or rails, as it were.

My only defence, in my poor study of AC Grayling, is that I’ve had distractions of all sorts on this trip. In this case, having lost my earlier company, I was seated next to this ultra-defensive, thirty-something guy, who was insisting that a general statement about the first night’s comedy made by Daniel Dennett was specifically a defence of Jim Jeffries (it’d be interesting to find out what Dennett actually thinks).


Lawrence Krauss was next to give a talk; adapted from one he gave a few years ago at the request of Richard Dawkins, and which led to Krauss’ latest, A Universe From Nothing. Krauss was very much alive, and I was very much awake, and while I was familiar with the content, I was still captivated by the delivery.

If I could have asked for anything more, it would have been rather than having it asserted that it doesn’t matter that Krauss’ definition of ‘nothing’ is different from the traditional metaphysical definition, to be told why it doesn’t matter. Perhaps something similar to how Einstein’s refutation of the traditional, supposedly logically necessary, Euclidean definition of space, shows us how our traditional-intuitive approach to ‘nothing’ (or any other traditional-intuitive truth) may also be wrong. The history of intuitive ideas is a graveyard.


After a break where I took in a subjective impression of the demographics of the audience (there seemed to be more ethnic diversity and a more even gender balance in the younger generations), Geoffrey Robertson took to the stage to deliver the inaugural Christopher Hitchens Memorial Lecture. Hitchens’ various exploits against tyranny were re-told in brief, with anecdotes from Robertson’s privileged perspective as a friend.

Robertson took to criticising religion in a way I’d never really seen of him – a trite little poem, and suggestions for the re-purposing of empty churches as public toilets. I’m left wondering where and when the next Christopher Hitchens Memorial Lecture will be held.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali followed, discussing the nature of the Arab Spring protests, and what an Islamist Winter would look like for those living in theMiddle East. Often, when Ayaan Hirsi Ali addresses matters of politics, rather than autobiography, I find a lot to take exception with, although in many cases I’m never quite sure if it’s an infidelity of language (and perhaps a leftish prejudice on my part), that’s to blame.

I do think that this is generally true – that Ayaan Hirsi Ali isn’t as precise in discussing politics as many, including myself, may want (consider, for that matter, what she had to say about her own non-existent affinity for statistics in Infidel). Then consider the literary pareidolia that arises in the media whenever it’s a ‘New Atheist’ that’s being covered; the result is a lot of myth surrounding the woman, which can be hard to cut through to ascertain what it is exactly that she wants, and what it is that motivates her politics.

There’s an obvious passion for feminism there, but I’m talking particulars and nuance (her critics almost always seem to be after something else – a caricature). The need for cooperation being a theme that emerged out of various talks by this point (with a lot of disagreement on how to go about it), Ayaan Hirsi Ali delivered a plea to the audience: secular Muslims need your help.

If you hadn’t followed her for some time, with a fair mind and parsing her prose through a fine-tooth comb, you could be forgiven for thinking this was a little inconsistent with her politics. I’m still not sure it absolutely isn’t, but I can’t for the life of me say why it is, if it is. The only kinds of interpretations I can subscribe to at this point, are ones that whatever else, at least acknowledge Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s sincere concern for people’s welfare, including Muslims, and especially Muslim women.

Yet still, accepting this kind of interpretation will get you chewed out by sanctimonious sorts.


Finally, with Now Praise Intelligent Design, was Richard Dawkins. Often it seems, Dawkins is in the game of repeating himself, over and over and over. This is in part, I think, due to people demanding answers to the same questions, in particular in relation to ideas he put forth in The God Delusion, over and over and over. With such public fixation, you’d think he hadn’t authored a book since.

In fact, that was largely the case with Dawkins’ Q&A debate on the ABC – Dawkins was positioned against Pell and yet again introduced as the author of The God Delusion (but nothing else), to be asked the same questions by the audience that he’s been getting for years.

It’s worth giving viewers and readers new to the discussion, their on-ramp, but some of us more rusted-on followers of discussion, occasionally need a little more to keep our attention.

It may be that Dawkins was quite aware of this. His talk, focusing on taking back the phrase ‘intelligent design’ to refer to designs by humans, that are intelligent, touched on neglected territory – explicitly raising the issue of the reproductive design of babies: eugenics.

Dawkins sorted eugenics into positive and negative categories, respectively adding desirable traits to a child’s genome, and editing away inherited diseases.

Dawkins warned of the need for much care in the implementation of positive eugenics, and confessed disquiet, going as far as pointing out that there is the Hitler factor to it; Hitler attempted it (albeit with dubious morals, and insufficient understanding of biology, as per the period).

I’m waiting for some clever RadiCool, or creationist, to edit this talk into the appearance of some kind of doomsday scenario where Dawkins is calling for a eugenic New World Order, or some such.


I’d really like to see more of this kind of thing from Dawkins, and I think there’s also a need for it – this kind of technology is going to take-off somewhere in the world, at some point,  irrespective of what naysayers say. Eugenics needs to be discussed, irrespective of the risk of being misunderstood by the wilfully scientifically illiterate.


Saturday night: The gala dinner.

I have to confess that I’m not a big fan of Mr Deity, and to be more honest, I have to say that I’m still not really sure why. I’ve got nothing at all against Brian Dalton (aka Mr Deity).

There was interesting discussion, aside from the comedy; the fact that Mr Deity was also popular with some liberal theists. For those advocating the maximum of cooperation at the GAC and events like it, this can only be a good thing.

I’m not a good judge for this. Mr Deity is just as much geek culture as it is atheist culture, and I’ve another confession; by default I’m not well disposed to any convention with a significant geek demographic.

This was my first convention, ever. Honestly. I still don’t think I could manage to withstand a DragonCon, ComicCon, or any of those other Nerdventions. Yuck.

So please don’t take my lack of appreciation too seriously.

Now this chap called Simon Taylor was the MC for the gala dinner, and it’s good that Kylie Sturgess and Lawrence Leung got a break. But there were a few more things I would have liked from Taylor, or at least one…

Specifically, when getting the various tables to design rationalism/atheism/science slogans, which he read out from little blue cards, he didn’t read out mine! (Hrmph!)

I’ll re-write it here and now…

‘Science: It’s self-correcting. Hopefully like whoever it was that booked Jim Jefferies.’

Maybe Mr. Taylor wanted to keep getting work… I still think it’s sufficiently light-hearted.


Dinner was good, incidentally, though the serving arrangements made it difficult to distinguish which guests at a table required vegetarian food.

I had to point this out with each course. That being said, my main meal was quite awesome; some kind of spicy, roast pumpkin number.


Shelly Segal. Maybe you’ve heard of her; she’s got an atheist album, oddly titled ‘An Atheist Album’.

The main problem I have with Segal’s performance was not of her own making – the sound was clearly set up wrong, with the volume up too high, and all sorts of distortion during the higher notes.

And Shelly Segal can hit her notes pretty hard. Couple this with the occasional acoustic ‘TWANK!’, and you have something potentially jarring for people who are, in large part, trying to enjoy a meal.

I won’t stop being an ass there though. Her lyrics were too didactic, too descriptive by far. It’s as if a conclusion has been decided upon, and the lyrics reverse engineered to that end, by committee. The songs, those which I’ve heard, state their premises explicitly, rather than proceeding artistically from them.

An Atheist Album.

It’s much the same difference as between Parrot (shown the following afternoon) and the clumsily scripted The Ledge. I hope at some point, Shelly Segal is afforded the opportunity to take creative influence from the likes Craig Foster and Emma McKenna (the directors of Parrot).


Of all the comedians at the GAC other than Stella Young, Tom Ballard managed to pace his routine the best, with the least desperation. His material was all quite fresh, even referencing goings on this far into the convention, yet in a way that made his material look as if it had been run through days of polishing, and numerous trial performances.

It made a refreshing difference from the comparatively… aged routine of Ben Elton. (‘How about those spam emails, kids?’)

Ballard of course was preparing the audience for Catherine Deveny.


I have to confess I have a chip on my shoulder when it comes to Deveny’s work. When she was sacked as a Fairfaxcolumnist some time back, I was quite open with my belief that she didn’t deserve the column in the first place (which is not to say I thought she deserved nothing).

(Deveny, I am told, was instrumental in gaining what women appearing at the first GAC in Melbourne had in the way of prominence – this prior to involvement with ‘No Chicks, No Excuses’; making Deveny worthy of more than ‘nothing’.)

Her angle in writing, passed off as ‘edgy’, to me comes across as entirely conventional, unsympathetic bogan (aka ‘chav’, aka ‘white trash’) bashing. Odd considering her background – but then again, she’s got new middle class friends to impress now.

Enough of the past, I’ve made my point – I’m prejudiced.

I’ve never seen Deveny live before. I’ve been told not to judge her until I do. Well I have now, and…

…I liked most of her act. It was quite good, especially the moment’s silence for Christopher Hitchens,. during which Hitchens’ quote concerning the overrated reputation of lobster, champagne, anal sex and picnics was displayed on-screen.

‘Maybe he shouldn’t have tried them all at once!’ announced the end of the moment of silence.

I was almost willing to call this performance near-flawless, until the end…

‘But just remember people, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists …. are all human, so treat them with respect. Except the Hindus; they’re cunts! Goodnight!’ (I paraphrase).

At least I won’t have to eat my hat.

I kept my eye on Dawkins and Dennett during this performance, because I could see them more or less, face to face to judge their reactions. Dawkins had loudly applauded an earlier portion of the routine addressing the clerical buggery of children, but he seemed quite disengaged by the end, and while Dennett was politely clapping at the conclusion, he wore an expression that said ‘what was that, that just happened?’

Lost in translation from Strine, exhaustion from jetlag and performing, dislike for crass humour, or all these and more? It’s hard to tell. Something was cool about the way Deveny was received by the horsemen at the final moment.

~ Bruce

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


Apr 18th, 2012 6:36 pm | By

So where were we – oh yes – there’s a post at RDF about the Women in Secularism conference, with a particular mention of Elisabeth Cornwell, who is president of RDF US.

Dr. R. Elisabeth Cornwell and many other leading women speaking at Women in Secularism Conference

            By – - CENTER FOR INQUIRY                  Added: Sunday, 15 April 2012 at 5:38 PM

May 18–20, 2012 Crystal City Marriott Reagan National Airport Arlington, Virginia

FEMINISM AND SECULARISM.Given the role religion has played in the repression of women, they would seem to be natural allies, and, indeed, many feminists have been outspoken and influential secularists. However, the relationship between secularism and women’s issues remains largely unexamined.

UNTIL NOW.Join us on May 18-20, 2012, for the “Women in Secularism” conference, sponsored by the Center for Inquiry. This historic conference will discuss and celebrate the many contributions women have made to the secular movement, while critically examining both the successes and failures of secularism in addressing women’s concerns.

Naturally we can’t have that kind of thing without at least one anonymous [cough] turning up to sneer, so someone calling himself “The Ghost of Mr Emmeline Pankhurst” (hawhaw, geddit – the poor bastard was pussy-whipped! hawhaw) turned up to sneer, at great and tedious length, thus totally derailing the thread. I replied to him briefly, and he replied to me at great length. After one of his long and insulting (insulting among other things to all the speakers, including Dr. R. Elisabeth Cornwell, president of RDF US) (and by the way me), a mod said

OK, this is enough now, thank you.

Further sparring posts from either side will be removed.

Wrong! False equivalence. Go directly to jail, do not pass Go, do not collect $200.

Update: The people at RDF have (in response to an indignant email from me) added a note saying the discussion can be continued here. That helps with the false equivalence problem.

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

Talk about it like a grownup

Apr 18th, 2012 11:37 am | By

Paul Fidalgo has a very cogent note to anonymous sneery opponents of the Women in Secularism conference on his (highly recommended) Morning Heresy CFI blog:

Look, people, and yes guys, I’m talking to you specifically. This conference is not about “separating” women from men, it’s about having the spine as a movement to say that women deal with prejudices and oppression that are unique to them, thanks to religion, and at the same time recognizing that our own community has a LOT of work to do in how we treat, acknowledge, and highlight our female half. It’s not a conference exclusively FOR women, but yes, about them. Our boss Ron Lindsay says men absolutely should attend. PZ Myers says men should attend. And I’m telling you, too. If you think it’s a problem to have a conference like this, I challenge you to buy a ticket, show your face, and talk about it like a grownup. No more nameless Internet thuggery.

Well quite. If you have something to say, show your face and talk about it like a grownup. You’re safe. We don’t deliver fatwas. We don’t throw acid. We don’t poison the water supply.



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

Poisoning schoolgirls for god

Apr 18th, 2012 10:51 am | By

In Afghanistan, of course.

About 150 Afghan schoolgirls were poisoned on Tuesday after drinking contaminated water at a high school in the country’s north, officials said, blaming it on conservative radicals opposed to female education.

Some of the 150 girls, who suffered from headaches and vomiting, were in critical condition, while others were able to go home after treatment in hospital, the officials said.

They said they knew the water had been poisoned because a larger tank used to fill the affected water jugs was not contaminated.

“This is not a natural illness. It’s an intentional act to poison schoolgirls,” said Haffizullah Safi, head of Takhar’s public health department.

None of the officials blamed any particular group for the attack, fearing retribution from anyone named.

I’ve said this before, but it remains cogent – what a disgusting god these guys imagine. It not only wants girls to remain ignorant, it wants them to be poisoned if they try to learn.

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

Oscar Wilde he ain’t

Apr 17th, 2012 5:35 pm | By

RDF has a plug for the Women in Secularism conference. Elisabeth Cornwell of RDF is one of the speakers.

Naturally the page has filled up with jeering comments from an anonymous bully. Of course it has. It wouldn’t do to miss such an opportunity to express hostility and contempt for women and feminism.

Ho hum.

It’s too bad for him that not all organizations and groups and even conferences are like that. If they were we really might shut up, just to escape the thugs. But they’re not, so we don’t.

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

A millstone tied around his neck

Apr 17th, 2012 2:15 pm | By

Oh noes! Trusted Vatican janitor has been raping popes for decades.

The widely publicized trial revealed that Falduto, well regarded and affectionately referred to as “Beppe” by Vatican City residents, had over a period of six decades frequently exploited his position to compel Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul I, Pope John Paul II, and Pope Benedict XVI to engage in unwanted sexual activity.

“The crimes committed by Mr. Falduto are of course shocking and deplorable,” said Dean of the College of Cardinals Angelo Sodano, adding that he had never previously suspected “kindly old Beppe” of any wrongdoing. “But perhaps most upsetting is the fact that this man gained the trust of high-ranking church authorities and then betrayed that trust by secretly defiling innocent popes.”

“These appalling acts caused tremendous psychological trauma for his victims, and we are currently reexamining our internal policies to safeguard the current and future papacy,” Sodano continued. “Even one pope molested is one too many.”

H/t The Onion.

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

Too many palm fronds

Apr 17th, 2012 1:43 pm | By

More on Sadakat Kadri on sharia, this time in the New York Times.

Today the confusion, Mr. Kadri makes plain in “Heaven on Earth,” is how to interpret this wide-ranging series of edicts, some from the Koran and many others based on hadiths, which are reports about the Prophet Muhammad written more than a century after his death. Scholars have sets of interpretations; increasingly freelance jihadists have their own.

Of course they do, and that’s why questions about ”how to interpret this wide-ranging series of edicts” are otiose. That was then, this is now, we have to come up with our own “edicts” based on reasons and subject to review and reform.

In his reading of the Shariah, he finds rationality and flexibility. His argument is with recent hard-liners who, he writes, “have turned Islamic penal history on its head.”

He is furious that fundamentalists “have associated the Shariah in many people’s minds with some of the deadliest legal systems on the planet.” He calls them traditionalists who ignore tradition. He is disgusted that warped opinions “are mouthed today to validate murder after murder in Islam’s name.”

It can be dangerous work for journalists and scholars to single out aspects of Islam for criticism. At times in this book you sense the author going well out of his way to lay down extravagant praise, like palm fronds, before proceeding with mild cavils.

Well you know what? If he’s afraid of the danger, he should have left the subject alone. It’s dangerous work for Maryam and Anne-Marie, too, but they do it anyway, without handing out any palm fronds of praise. If the only way Kadri felt he could do the book was by offering lots of flattery to protect himself, he should have chosen a different subject.

He was inspired to write this book, he says, by Sept. 11 and by the London bombings of July 7, 2005. (He was a commuter in London that morning.)

In the aftermaths he longed for answers to simple questions: “Where was the Shariah written down? To what extent was it accepted that its rules had been crafted by human beings? And what gave the men who were so loudly invoking it the right to speak in God’s name?”

Nothing. Nothing gives anyone that right. It’s a form of blackmail, and it’s bad. Turn your back on it.

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

“Interpreting sharia”

Apr 17th, 2012 11:18 am | By

A lawyer called Sadakat Kadri was on Fresh Air yesterday to talk about his new book on the history of sharia. He’s very critical of the idea that sharia courts are a bad thing. He’s of the “it’s all a matter of interpretation” school, as if that by itself solves the problem of goddy law.

“It’s a huge oral tradition, which was set down in the 9th century and which was then, by some people, transformed into compulsion and rules,” Kadri tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross. “It would be literally impossible to follow all of them, because plenty of them directly contradict each other. So you have to make choices, and Muslims have been making choices for … the last 1,400 years. And what’s happened over the past 40 years is that in certain places, the hard-liners have come to the forefront.”

No, you don’t “have to” make choices. You don’t “have to” pay any attention to it at all. Who cares what people “set down” in the 9th century? This isn’t the 9th century.

We may find wisdom and insight in writing from previous centuries, but we don’t “have to” and we shouldn’t treat any of it as mandatory, much less as orders from god. (If god really wanted to give us instructions it ought to find a more reliable method of saying so. Then we could still decide whether to obey or not.) There is simply no good reason to treat one particular book or collection of sayings from the distant past as any more binding than any other such book or collection of sayings. We should treat them all as what they are: things that human beings have said and written.

If we’re making choices, then we’re making them according to our own secular values. (If we make no choices but obey everything blindly, including when they’re contradictory, we’re making a huge mistake.) Forget the holy books and do your best with secular reasoning.

But of course people don’t, so they’re at the mercy of those hard-liners that Kadri mentions.

People just seemed to be arguing about Islam, Islamic law, the Shariah, without actually getting to the substance of what it was all about. So because I come from a Muslim background, I certainly had plenty of people I could ask. I started with my father. My father’s also a lawyer. I asked him, ‘So what is the Shariah? What does it say? Where is it written down?’ And he didn’t really have an adequate answer, as far as I am concerned. He said, ‘It’s what’s regarded as God’s law.’ And I knew that. I didn’t need to be told that. And the more I asked, the more I realized people just seemed to be ignorant. Muslims seemed to be ignorant, let alone the people who were attacking it without knowing what they were talking about.

But why try to defend sharia then? Why try to defend goddy law at all? It’s not defensible, because the whole idea of “God’s law” is indefensible, because God is not around for appeals.

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