Notes and Comment Blog

Seeing Jesus everywhere

Mar 23rd, 2013 5:39 pm | By

More Jesus.

In a twirly roll.

Flower roll with peanut butter.jpg

It’s the one at ten o’clock, so it’s hard to make out.

Bird shit. You didn’t think the Ohio one was the first, did you?

A Colomba Pasquale. How appropriate!

Raisin bread.

The one on the left. Jesus of the sad face.

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

A missionary

Mar 23rd, 2013 12:29 pm | By

The new Free Inquiry appeared a few days ago, but it’s not online yet, and I haven’t received a copy yet. Other people have though, and one tweeter reached out to me as a result.


TheAtheistMissionary @AtheistMission

Just read @OpheliaBenson’s lame response to @michaelshermer in Free Inquiry. Ophelia, don’t “bend a knee” – tell someone who cares.

Tell someone who cares? That’s a dumb fuck thing to say. Somebody does care, or I wouldn’t have been invited to write it, would I. Also I know a few people who care. “Tell someone who cares” is just a stupid retort to a published article. I didn’t tell “The Atheist Missionary” personally, I simply wrote a response to something that was written at and about me. If “The Atheist Missionary” doesn’t care then he (it is a he) doesn’t have to read it. I didn’t “tell” him anything.

And as for lame response – it isn’t, actually. In a way I have Shermer to thank for that – he made it incredibly easy for me. But at any rate it isn’t lame.

I’m not sure I should post the whole thing here before the issue is online, but I’ll post the last few paragraphs (it’s only 922 words, much shorter than Shermer’s piece) so that you can see what “bend the knee” refers to.

So why is Shermer so angry? He did after all say what I quoted him saying. (He twice says I “redacted” it but that’s offensively incorrect – I did no such thing.)

He seems to be furious simply because some underling had the gall to criticize him – as if he were beyond or above criticism. Well why would that be? A cat can look at a king, after all. Shermer seems to see it as some sort of lèse majesté, as if we were in Thailand, where it’s an actual crime to criticize the royal family. But Shermer’s elevated status is – ironically – as a prominent skeptic. A skeptic. If there’s anything skeptics don’t subscribe to, it’s the idea of infallibility.

Shermer however genuinely does seem to think that “prominence” should confer immunity to challenge. After he mentions the putative purge of “such prominent advocates as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris” he says that “I have stayed out of this witch hunt against our most prominent leaders.” Our what? Whose “leaders”? I don’t recall joining any army, or even a party. I don’t consider Dawkins and Harris my “leaders”; I don’t consider anyone that.

No, I’m sorry, that won’t do. I’m not going to bend the knee to “our most prominent leaders” and I’m not going to refrain from criticizing them and go looking for less prominent people to dispute. On the contrary: the prominence itself is a reason to dispute a bit of thoughtless sexism. The honcho dudes are influential, so it’s all the more unfortunate if they’re recycling dopy sexist stereotypes.

As a lot of people have pointed out, Shermer could have just said he misspoke, as happens in live conversations, and moved on. Instead he chose an explosion of outraged vanity. So much for skepticism.

That’s what it refers to.


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

Who is more mainstream?

Mar 23rd, 2013 11:24 am | By

See update at end.

So all the irritated or difficult or especial feminist types think all of atheism is sexist to the core and hostile to all but the most compliant and Hot women, right?

No. Not at all.

Adam Lee has a post on the subject.

He starts with a post by Melissa McEwan that lists a string of rules (in the form of tweets). I’m not all that fond of strings of rules. I think that’s for the same sort of reason I’m not fond of attempts (let alone demands) to discuss complicated philosophical issues on Twitter. I’ve been finding it pretty funny lately to see Richard Dawkins doing exactly that, repeatedly – discuss abortion on Twitter, discuss eugenics on Twitter. If there’s any medium under the sun that’s not ideal for discussing complicated philosophical issues, it’s Twitter! There’s a reason John Rawls and Derek Parfitt and Ronald Dworkin put their thoughts into books as opposed to telegrams.

So I’m not really crazy about McEwan’s string of rules. I can think of exceptions, and complications, and questions…It’s just not really a very rule-ish subject. It’s bigger than that. Yes observance of some minimal rules would help, to be sure…but that’s so very minimal that it’s really not very interesting. Yes ok no name-calling, no photoshops; can we move on now? To something a little more complicated and interesting?

But anyway. Adam balked at McEwan’s implication that sexism (or worse) is mainstream atheism and vice versa.

McEwan posted this:

I started out writing about why I didn’t want to have anything to do with mainstream movement atheism, but, in the end, this entire endeavor has revealed that whether I want anything to do with mainstream movement atheism is irrelevant, because mainstream movement atheism doesn’t want to have anything to do with me.

Although I agreed with just about everything else McEwan was saying, I thought this was unfair. Certainly, I’m not denying that sexism exists. I’ve seen the abuse hurled at some of my female friends, and I’d never tell any woman that they have an obligation to put up with it. I believe it benefits both atheists and feminists for us to have a closer alliance, but if any feminist doesn’t feel safe or comfortable in the atheist community, then that’s entirely her decision to make.

But I think McEwan went farther than that, by saying “mainstream movement atheism doesn’t want to have anything to do with me”. To me, this sounds as if she’s saying that atheism has only one voice, and it’s the voice of the sexists. I just don’t think this is accurate.

I don’t either. I said that there.

No, I don’t either. Definitely not. Which is ironic, because I’m one of the Top Demons of the sexist faction, and one of the most-cited reasons (that I see) for my enviable status is that I’m always saying things like “all atheist men are sexist” or “all of mainstream movement atheism is hostile to women.”

But I don’t think that at all and I’ve never said it. I think mostly the sexist faction is pretty marginal.

I think sexism is somewhat less marginal (and thus more mainstream) in organized movement skepticism, but that’s a different thing, and anyway only somewhat.

Mind you…there is a lot of sexism in “mainstream movement atheism.” There are a lot of sexist guys there, churning out a lot of sexism. But that still doesn’t make the sexism mainstream, because there are a lot of the opposite, too. I have no idea what the actual percentages are, but I see no reason to think the sexism is dominant or the majority.


Update March 26

It turns out I was too hasty with this one, and mischaracterized what McEwan said. Here’s what she said -

I started out writing about why I didn’t want to have anything to do with mainstream movement atheism, but, in the end, this entire endeavor has revealed that whether I want anything to do with mainstream movement atheism is irrelevant, because mainstream movement atheism doesn’t want to have anything to do with me.

Message received.  I’ll show myself out, etc.

Of course I don’t actually mean me, per se.  What I mean is people from various marginalized populations, who challenge the kyriarchal structures at work in mainstream movement atheism, despite its claims to aspire to better.

What I mean is that people are watching how this played out, and people watch how every iteration of attempting to have a serious conversation about inclusion plays out, and every time this happens, it’s not just about shouting down one critic, but conveying to everyone following the totally predictable pattern that they still are not welcome, that they still are not safe.

Well, yes, I don’t disagree with that.

My bad.

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

More things that look like Jesus

Mar 23rd, 2013 9:49 am | By

One miracle after another.

Apple pie and custard.

Image Ref: 09-23-4 - Apple Pie and Custard, Viewed 26108 times

A stone wall.

Image Ref: 9908-11-6747 - Stone wall with evening sunlight, Viewed 5040 times

This one daffodil that looks taller than the others because of the angle.

Image Ref: 9909-03-832 - Daffodil, Viewed 3969 times

This other dog too.

Image Ref: 01-07-71 - Dog, Viewed 54801 times

A pineapple. (Yes, I went there.)

Fruit - Pineapple has been viewed 480033 times

Beans on toast.

Image Ref: 09-37-4 - Baked Beans on toast, Viewed 87548 times

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

It’s uncanny!

Mar 23rd, 2013 9:32 am | By

Ah no I can’t resist. Resistance is too much to ask.

A guy in Ohio found some bird shit on his windshield, and at first he thought it was just some bird shit, as one does, you know, but then he took a closer look and guess what?! It turned out to be a picture (delicately drawn in bird shit) of a piece of toast with a picture of Jesus on it!

No, wait, that’s not right. It was the lid of a jar of Marmite with a picture of Jesus in it.

No. It was a tortilla with a picture of Jesus on it.

No. It was a 14th century painting of Jesus that looked uncannily like Jesus.

No, it was a 12th century painting of The Virgin Mary that looked uncannily like Jesus.

No, seriously. He took a closer look and the bird shit turned out to be a picture of Jesus.

He says. But look at it. That’s Jesus? Is he kidding? It’s a dog! A dog that is for some reason wearing a wig. But anyway it’s a dog.

Via Ed.

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

Detailed sexual commentary was part of the “feedback”

Mar 22nd, 2013 4:25 pm | By

Soraya Chemaly explains, again, that internet harassment and threatening are not trivial or no biggy or “harmless expressions of free speech.”

Often, these incidents come down to a group of men targeting a woman because they perceive a potential threat to men’s “free speech” and that this threat trumps a woman’s rights — to free speech and to actual, physical safety.

Take Rebecca Meredith. Two weeks ago, as she wrote about in an article in the Mail Online, she participated in a formal university debate. Some students, most, if not all, of whom happened to be men, heckled her.  Fine, everyone gets heckled.  But then, when she and her female debating partner confronted the hecklers for the sexist tone of their “critiques,” the responses included, “Get that woman out of my union,” “What does a woman know anyway,” and “Frigid bitch.” Whatever. The educated, elite young men, their academic peers, went on to make crass comments regarding their breasts and other aspects of their physical appearances. Detailed sexual commentary was part of the “feedback” they received.  They, like Richards, felt “uncomfortable” with the tone and content, especially in a professional context. “Naturally,” as this event migrated online, some other men publicly decided to parse Meredith’s “rape potential,” while others piled on to describe their “rape-her” preferences.

That’s unpleasant at best and intimidating at worst. That’s not “free speech” – it actively discourages free speech.

The massive amount of social sanction and support provided online for violent, ugly, trolling mobs making physical threats like these about women they don’t even know isn’t outside of mainstream culture.

But it should be. We’re trying to make that the case. No prospect of success so far though.

Sexist commentary — the jokes, the asides, the slights, the tweets — is hostile, but it’s just the very surface of what we’re dealing with. This isn’t about being “offended,” it’s about feeling marginalized as a result of hate and disdain.   Women like Richards and so many others reach a saturation point where staying quiet about it is no longer possible.

What online thugs and their defenders are actually saying is, “How dare you mess with my privileges? Stop challenging norms that I benefit from or invading public spaces where I’ve historically dominated without this kind of restraint.”  What elite has ever given up its privileges willingly and without a fight? It’s such an inconvenience.

If “we” want women to “lighten up,” or we want stop telling women to be afraid, then “we” have to stop threatening them with rape and raping them.

I would like it if we could do that.


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

Is that an air freshener or are you just watching women pee?

Mar 22nd, 2013 3:19 pm | By

Ah the old put a hidden camera in the room where women use the toilets trick.

A Tippecanoe County pastor who was arrested last year under suspicions that he had planted cameras in his church’s ladies’ room has been charged going on 1 year later with child exploitation and voyeurism.

Fifty-six-year-old Robert A. Lyzenga, a former pastor at Sunrise Christian Reformed Church in Lafayette, was charged Thursday with five counts of child exploitation and five counts of voyeurism. That’s 10 felony charges.

According to court documents, on April 22, 2012, a Tippecanoe County Sheriff’s Office deputy was dispatched to the church (located on County Road 500 South) on a complaint of a camera being found in a women’s bathroom.

So what is that? Combining glimpses of the Forbidden Parts with dirties? Peepee, poopoo, tinkles, smells? Arousal and degradation and contempt all at once?

And doing it all for god, or protected by god, or with god’s forgiveness, or some damn thing.

Via Ed.

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

She should have just had a dialogue with them

Mar 22nd, 2013 11:35 am | By

Well, the Adria Richards blowup sounds very familiar.

Lindy West at Jezebel comments.

Now. A few things. Yes, in the grand scheme of the entire earth, a few offhand jokes about “big dongles” are almost completely innocuous. In fact, I made pretty much exactly the same joke one million times, whenever my nerdy former roommate said he was looking for his “dongle” or he needed to go “dongle shopping.” However, CONTEXT MATTERS. And the issue that a lot of (white) men seem to have trouble grasping is that not everyone gets to move through the world wrapped in the comfy presumption that every space is their space. Many people almost never get to feel like that, outside of their own homes, because most spaces aren’t inclusive of all groups.

And sometimes because a few people go to great lengths, all the time all day every day, to make certain spaces feel the very opposite of their space – to make them feel like tanks of sharks armed with whirling razor blades.

I can only speculate, but based on my experiences in male-dominated fields (film criticism, comedy), I imagine that the relatively small number of women working in tech are on high alert all the time. I imagine that constant dick jokes, with their tacit imagery of a woman’s body on the receiving end of said dick, might start to wear on a woman who already feels subtly unwelcome in a male-dominated space. I imagine that that wearying onslaught might be particularly frustrating when the woman is simply trying to do her job without being reminded, by the hundreds of strange men surrounding her, of her utility as a sexual object. I imagine that attempting to speak quietly with each individual man and instruct them in the particulars of rape culture and the subtle hostilities of gendered interaction might eventually begin to seem like a lost cause (and also, potentially, frightening).

Or worse. Worse is what happened to Adria Richards next, and that kind of thing makes all but the most compliant women feel at the mercy of raging shouting screaming mocking jeering threatening enemies.

Regardless of what you think of the joke itself, it is sexist to contribute (willfully or cluelessly! Ignorance is not an excuse!) to a hostile work environment for women. Full stop. If you didn’t realize you were doing it, that means you haven’t bothered to think critically about women’s comfort and needs. It’s fucking 2013. It is not women’s responsibility alone to correct gender imbalances. We need men to help. Richards shouldn’t have had to reach out to PyCon administrators to get the disruption sorted out—men should learn to police their own goddamn behavior and the behavior of their neighbors. It’s not enough to be neutral. It’s not enough to be nice. Forward-thinking men who work in fields traditionally hostile to women have a responsibility to be actively pro-woman in those spaces.

Protip: that doesn’t include things like trying to force them to engage in a “dialogue” with the very people who have been raging shouting screaming mocking jeering threatening and insulting them.

PZ also has a post on the subject.

I wonder how many women will now think twice before complaining about asshole behavior at their job or at a meeting? If they’re inhibited, congratulations, scumbags: you got what you wanted. On the other hand, maybe we’ll finally reach a critical mass of outrage, and the next time some dudebro starts with the sexist shit at a conference, a dozen people, men and women alike, will rise up and tell him to grow up or get out.

I know I’m even less inclined to let casual smears slide now. I hope you feel the same way.

I do, as a matter of fact. I’m not optimistic that it’s going to get me anywhere, but I do.


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

250,000 children were removed

Mar 22nd, 2013 10:10 am | By

Julia Gillard has apologized for Australia’s policy in the 1950s 60s and 70s of forcing unmarried mothers to give up their infants for adoption.

A senate inquiry found that about 250,000 children were removed from unmarried mothers in Australian hospitals shortly after their births in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s and given to childless married couples.

Many women said they were coerced into signing away their children.

That doesn’t sound like a very humane policy.

Ms Gillard made the apology at Parliament House in Canberra in the presence of more than 800 people affected by the policy.

They cried and cheered as they listened to Ms Gillard and responded with a standing ovation when it was finished.

The prime minister told the audience that the policies had “created a lifelong legacy of pain and suffering”.

“We acknowledge the profound effects of these policies and practices on fathers and we recognise the hurt these actions caused to brothers and sisters, grandparents, partners and extended family members,” she said.

“We deplore the shameful practices that denied you, the mothers, your fundamental rights and responsibilities to love and care for your children,” she added.

This report is from RTE. Ireland has reasons to pay attention, as it goes on to say.

Meanwhile, Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte has told the Dáil that there is no legislation planned for a State inquiry into illegal adoptions in Ireland.

The matter was raised during the Order of Business by Sinn Féin’s Aengus Ó Snodaigh, who claimed that it was an emerging issue as a result of reports into Magdalene Laundries.

Noting today’s apology in Australia to those affected by illegal adoptions there, Mr Ó Snodaigh asked if there were any plans to hold a similar inquiry in Ireland, which would look at the falsification of adoption records.

Mothers who lose their children, children who lose their mothers, siblings who lose each other…It’s a heartbreaking legacy.

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

A press release from American Atheists

Mar 22nd, 2013 8:54 am | By

Atheist Convention to Feature “Dinner With The Stars,” Live Auction


Cranford, NJ—American Atheists will host some of the leading national and international atheists at a fundraiser dinner and auction on the eve of its 50th Anniversary Celebration and National Convention in Austin, Texas next week.

The event is scheduled for 7:00 PM on Thursday, March 28, the night before the convention weekend begins.

Attendees will be able to dine with many star speakers including former California Congressman Pete Stark, Twisted Sister lead guitarist Jay Jay French, British philosopher and author A.C. Grayling, blogger and activist Greta Christina, author Katherine Stewart, Biblical scholar Dr. Hector Avalos, President of the Atheist Community of Austin Matt Dillahunty, former preacher Teresa MacBain, international video blogger Cristina Rad, and American Atheists President Dave Silverman.

Among the items up for auction are a rare first-edition work by the 19th-century American orator and statesman, “The Great Agnostic” Robert Ingersoll; an illustrated copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy signed by its author, the late Douglas Adams; and a copy of the late Christopher Hitchens’ final work, Mortality, with the author’s original signature on a card.

Also for auction is a weeklong stay at the vacation villa Paradise Costa Rica for up to six guests. Information about the villa is available at A noteworthy past guest was atheist philosopher Daniel Dennett, who recently finished a manuscript there.

American Atheists’ 50th Anniversary Celebration and National Convention will feature such speakers such as former Congressman Pete Stark, Twisted Sister lead guitarist Jay Jay French, authors A.C. Grayling and Katherine Stewart, popular debater Matt Dillahunty, former pastors-turned-atheists Teresa MacBain and Jerry DeWitt, and American Atheists President David Silverman. The convention will also feature a costume dinner, free concerts, a comedy show, an art show and silent auction, more than 25 national and local exhibitors, and childcare options for attending families. The convention takes place the weekend of March 29.


AMERICAN ATHEISTS is a national 501(c)(3) organization that defends civil rights for atheists, freethinkers, and other nonbelievers; works for the total separation of religion and government; and addresses issues of First Amendment public policy.

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

LSE students twin with theocracy

Mar 21st, 2013 5:35 pm | By

Well guess what the LSE Student Union has spent its afternoon doing. It spent it discussing a Motion to “Twin the LSE with the Islamic University of Gaza.” Abhishek Phadnis was there.

I spoke against the Motion, saying I was non-committal on the support of Palestine but strongly opposed to any alliance with the Islamic University of Gaza, on account of it being inseparably intertwined with Hamas and having as its stated aim the reformation of Islamic societies “in line with the revolutionary side of religion”; the wish of its founder, Hamas’s Ahmed Yassin.

Yes the “revolutionary side of religion” that’s all about stripping women of all rights while muffling them in yards of cloth.

But Abhishek might as well have saved his breath to cool his porridge; the motion passed with only five No votes.

Secular education? Pffffff. That’s only for “Westerners; everyone else needs theocracy. Maryam calls this the racism of low expectations.

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

Amina Filali

Mar 21st, 2013 5:15 pm | By

Oh, god, another one. A girl of 16 in Morocco was raped, and the judge ruled that she had to marry her rapist, which was nice for the rapist because it allowed him to stay out of jail, but was a bucket of rancid liquid shit for the girl. The rapist, to show his gratitude to Amina Filali, beat her severely – so she ate rat poison and died.

The girl’s father said he “did not want to accept this marriage,” which some have said was pushed in order to protect the family’s honor. But “my wife, my family and the court of the city of Larache” wanted the union to proceed, as it did.

“The judge decided he must marry her, and I had no opportunity to refuse the judge’s decision,” the father said. “I wanted to send (the eventual husband) to prison, and have my daughter stay with me until she became (an adult).”

That seems like a better arrangement than tying her for life to the man who raped her, but then again, “the family’s honor.” How anybody can think it’s “honor” to force a girl of 16 to marry the man who raped her is beyond me.

“Through this law, the rape becomes legitimate,” said Fouzia Assouli, president of the Moroccan advocacy group the Federation of the Democratic League for Women’s Rights, of the fact that an alleged rapist can avoid jail if he marries his victim.

That fact has stirred anger and action in Morocco, including Saturday’s demonstration in Rabat, which is about 170 kilometers (105 miles) south of Larache.

Protesters held up pictures of Amina Filali, held up banners and chanted in Arabic, “Let’s … end the marriage of minors.”

Moroccan law defends “family morals, but does not take into account the right of women as a person,” Assouli told CNN.

Let’s change that. Everywhere in the world. Quickly, please.

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

Vile and hateful in all the ways we’ve come to expect

Mar 21st, 2013 4:11 pm | By

Zinnia reports -

It was exactly three months ago that Richard Littlejohn published a piece in the Daily Mail viciously attacking Lucy Meadows, a primary school teacher in Britain. Littlejohn targeted Meadows because she’s transgender and had chosen to remain in her job as a teacher after beginning to present as a woman – this was the entire basis for his outrageous, unprovoked assault on her identity, her career, and her very life. It was vile and hateful in all the ways we’ve come to expect from a publication that, like much of the press these days, treats trans women as alternately ridiculous or a threat to society. It was quite literally intolerant of everything that Lucy Meadows was.

So it came as a surprise today that the Daily Mail has completely removed any mention of Meadows from Littlejohn’s column. What happened? Did they suffer a sudden attack of morality, three months later? No. Their decision was based on something much darker than conscience.

Lucy Meadows killed herself this week.

Read the rest of what she says.

I’m shivering a bit, myself. I’m so tired of human malevolence.

 Update: via Bernard Hurley:

A petition to the Daily Mail to fire Richard Littlejohn

A candlelight vigil for Lucy Meadows -

Outside Daily Mail offices. Monday 6.30pm. Northcliffe House, 2 Derry Street, Kensington, London W8 5TT.


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

Cameron goes all out for theocracy

Mar 21st, 2013 9:35 am | By

David Cameron threw an “Easter reception” (a whut?) at 10 Downing Street, at which he promised to support theocracy.

The Prime Minister promised Christians that the Government “cares about faith” despite clashes with religious groups over gay marriage and welfare cuts.

At an Easter reception in Downing Street, Mr Cameron pledged the Coalition is committed to Britain’s links with the Church of England.

“It does care about the institutions of faith and it does want to stand up and oppose aggressive secularisation that can sometimes happen in our society,” he said.

“Wherever we go, we stand up for the right of Christians to practise their faith.”

Well that’s a sinister thing to say. Secularists don’t oppose anyone’s right “to practise their faith” – except when doing so infringes on basic rights of other people. Cameron shouldn’t obfuscate that.

He praised Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, for handing out bibles to state schools and said the right to say prayers before council meetings will be protected.

Oh so that’s what he means! Not the right to “practise faith” but the right to impose a particular “faith” on everyone in public, state-funded settings. Theocracy, in short.

“We’ve sent out a very clear message to aggressive secularists,” he said. “We changed the law so that people can go on saying prayers before council meetings. Michael Gove made the very brave decision, I thought, and right decision to give every state school a copy of the King James Bible. Some people said, ‘What a waste of money;’ I say no, I think it was a great use of money. This book is one of the things that made our country what it is today in terms of its messages and its brilliant language.”

Never mind the waste of money; it’s theocracy. State schools shouldn’t be treated as branches of the Church of England. Attendance at church should be voluntary; attendance at school is not voluntary. I really think David Cameron ought to be able to see the difference.


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

How to fertilize the salad

Mar 21st, 2013 9:05 am | By

Eric has a reading post up, and it suggested some thoughts to me, which turned out to be thoughts I want to expand on a bit, so I took the bus back.

Typically, in my magpie way, I zoomed in on the meta part of what he said at the expense of the substantive part. Never mind. The substantive part is also interesting, but for the moment – it’s about reading and thinking and blogging.

Eric’s introductory meta:

As usual, I am trying to read two or three books at one time, and that means I have several different lines of thought running in my head all at the same time. Lately, this has been especially true, since I went through a flurry of book buying which will lead to bankruptcy if I don’t take myself in had. All this diverse reading doesn’t really help a lot with blogging, because I have a tendency to jump back and forth along the trains of thought that occupy my mind, and what comes out sometimes looks a bit more like a word salad then carefully thought through argument — and then, of course, it simply gets trashed.

I do that too, but I have a different take on it, which I started to say there.

I don’t altogether agree with you that reading several books at once doesn’t help with blogging – if only because I think blogging is an ideal medium for the scrappy, the incomplete, the in progress, the brief – for the process of thought itself. Maybe that’s just me. I’ve always liked diaries, letters, notebooks – all kinds of writing that’s pre-publication or entirely separate from publication.

But that’s actually not the only reason. Another is that I think reading several books in parallel is a good thing to do, because it’s a way to see connections that one otherwise wouldn’t. Blogging is a way to record this kind of seeing so that others may be able to see it too.

You know? For instance you’re reading something about neuroscience and morality, and you’re also re-reading a novel by George Eliot. There can be echoes and parallels that you wouldn’t see if you weren’t reading both at roughly the same time – i.e. one in the morning and the other in the evening. And any combination of that kind is going to be unique, and it’s not usually the kind of thing that finds its way into finished, polished, published writing, because it’s too scrappy and bitty and small. Blogs are perfect for the scrappy and bitty and small!

Or you can be reading about the gendered society (in The Gendered Society by Michael Kimmel) in parallel with a startlingly witty, acerbic novel republished in the 80s by Virago, The Pastor’s Wife by Elizabeth von Arnim. Honey, there are some echoes.

In The Pastor’s Wife for instance there’s a brisk, throwaway bit from the pov of the protagonist’s father the Bishop of Redchester.

For there was the constant irritation going on of the affairs of the diocese getting into a more hopeless disorder. All that time she was away guiltily gadding, and now all this time she was not away but unavailable until she should have utterly repented, his letters were piling themselves up into confused heaps, and his engagements were a wilderness in which he wandered alone in the dark. The chaplain and the typist did what they could, but they had not been with him so long as his daughter and were not possessed of the mechanical brainlessness that makes a woman so satisfactory as a secretary. His daughter, not having what might be called actual brains, was not troubled by thought. [p 97]

Cross-fertilization, you could call it. Eric calls it word salad – but hey, from cross-fertilized word salad you eventually get enriched thinking, and the process is interesting to watch. That’s my view anyway.

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

You’ll never believe

Mar 20th, 2013 6:05 pm | By

Aw. I got a present. A surprise present. It came in the mail.

Cupcakes! Fancy gourmet cupcakes from a fancy gourmet cupcake place.

As a surprise!

In the mail!


Who sent me a present as a suprise in the mail unexpectedly as a surprise?

“Everyone at Skepchick”

Are they the best or what?!

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

What’s on in London

Mar 20th, 2013 3:36 pm | By

A thing you should do if you’re in London. (There are a lot of such things. Well it’s London. London hogs all the things, or not quite all but a lot of them. That’s good. I do turn pale with envy sometimes thought.) You can have drinks with Nahla Mahmoud. I know this via Maryam.

I just wanted to remind you of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain’s evening drinks with Nahla Mahmoud this Friday 22 March from 6:30-8:00pm.

Nahla Mahmoud is a Sudanese atheist, researcher and human rights activist. In January 2013, an interview on Channel 4 featuring her as an ex-Muslim and a secularist opposing Sharia law triggered a heated debate within the Sudanese diaspora. She received numerous threats and has been declared a ‘Murtada’ and ‘Kafira’ on the official website of
the ‘General Administration of the Sudanese Armed Forces’.

Come hear the wonderful Nahla speak. There will be ample opportunity to mingle and meet up with like-minded individuals and friends as well as other members and activists of the Council of Ex-Muslims. The
location of the event is as follows:

The George on the Strand, 213 Strand, London WC2R 1AP:

Entry is £3; £1 for unwaged, which can be paid at the door.

All are welcome.

You really should do that. I would love to do that. If I were in London I would go like a shot. If I had to walk all the way from Balham or Muswell Hill, I would.

That’s Friday evening taken care of, and then on Monday you have to go hear Leo Igwe. (See what I mean about London?)

Leo Igwe, Nigeria’s most prominent humanist, and a human rights activist, will be giving a very welcome talk on ‘Breaking the Taboo of Atheism in Black Communities’ during a short visit to London to attend the NSS Secularist of the Year event before returning to Africa to continue his research into witchcraft. Humanists and secularists ’of all hues’ are encouraged to show their interest and support for this area of work as black non-believers, in London and elsewhere, start to become more confident and active in openly challenging the over-bearing presence of religion within their families and communities and its negative social, financial and educational consequences.
This talk is part of increasing efforts to encourage black atheists, humanists and secularists to ‘come out from the woodwork’, to find a supportive environment when dealing with family and social reactions, to voice their opinions and be more proactive in the humanist, secularist and atheist movements. To paraphrase the African saying “It takes a village to raise a child. It takes all of us to change this religious BS”.
Mr. Igwe, in partnership with the JREF, is working to respond to harmful and growing superstitious beliefs throughout Africa, including belief in psuedoscientific “medicine,” and witchcraft, which result in heinous murders of adults and children alike. A recent poll showed that about 55% of people living in Africa still believe in witchcraft and that this is correlated, unsurprisingly, with a lack of science education. Inevitably, this has had ramifications in London with its substantial African diaspora communities.
Leo Igwe reports regularly on the state of superstition and paranormal belief in Africa at, with his column, Skeptical Africa and is the author of the new A Manifesto for a Skeptical Africa, a call to arms for African skeptics, science advocates, humanists and secularists. The manifesto aims to promote skepticism in Africa and to help save lives. The manifesto has been endorsed by a number of leading figures, including prominent names in science and skepticism throughout Africa and globally.
Date: Monday 25th March
Time: 6.30pm
Cost £5 / £3 unwaged/students
Venue: The Attic, Hackney Picture House,
270 Mare Street London E8 1HE
Don’t miss it.



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

The advertisement depicts this nation as Sodom and Gomorra

Mar 20th, 2013 2:11 pm | By

Fabulous. More religious interference with public health – religious leaders in Kenya squawked, so a public service tv ad promoting condom use has been withdrawn. Thank you baby Jesus and thank you Mo.

Christian and Muslim clerics said the advert encouraged infidelity, rather than safe sex to curb HIV/Aids.

In the government-sponsored advert, a woman in an extra-marital affair is advised to use condoms.

Dr Cherutich told the BBC the advert had been launched because up to 30% of married couples had other partners.

Never mind that. The important thing is to monitor other people’s sex lives and punish them for doing it wrong, not to prevent fatal transmissable diseases.

The Kenyan Anglican Church’s Bishop Julius Kalu said the advert, shown on free-to-air TV stations at peak audience times, had promoted extra-marital affairs and sex among school pupils, Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper reports.

“There are better ways of passing useful information to society. This one has certainly failed,” he is quoted as saying.

“It openly propagates immorality, especially when all family members are gathered before television sets, waiting to watch news,” Bishop Kalu said.

Wouldn’t that be a perfect time for the mature members of the family to give its preferred view of sexual morality?

Kenya’s Muslim religious body, the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya (CIPK), also condemned TV stations for showing the one-minute-long advert.

“The advertisement depicts this nation as Sodom and Gomorra and not one that values the institution of marriage and family,” Sheikh Mohammed Khalifa, CIPK’s organising secretary, told Kenya’s Business Daily newspaper.

But even people who have sex outside of marriage need to be safe. Start with that.

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

The Earth’s first interstellar species

Mar 20th, 2013 11:13 am | By

Phil PlaIt tells us that Voyager 1 has apparently left the solar system. Wo.

The spacecraft Voyager 1, launched on Sep. 5, 1977, has apparently left the solar system.

A new paper has just been released showing that Voyager 1 has definitely breached the edge of the Sun’s heliosphere, the huge region around the solar system dominated by the Sun’s solar wind. This is essentially confirmation of what had already been announced in December 2012, so this isn’t exactly new news, but given the paper has been peer-reviewed and accepted for publication, this makes it official.

Still apparently, but official. I like the inclusion of “apparently” – it nudges us outsiders into grasping that this isn’t like seeing Elvis leave the building.

So where is it now? Well, we have to be careful. This is literally unexplored territory. Most models of how the heliosphere works have a fuzzy boundary between inside and outside (though Voyager 1 is definitely outside). There could be another region outside of that, for example, though no one is sure. More data from Voyager 1 may be able to clear that up over time.

But either way, it has slipped the surly bounds of the Sun’s influence and is still moving with enough velocity to carry it out into the galaxy. Our proxy, our envoy, is now amongst the stars, where it belongs.

Exciting. Plus I like the friendly shout-out to Surly Amy.

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

Already covered

Mar 20th, 2013 10:41 am | By

Michael DeDora gives us a report by Dr. Elizabeth O’Casey on the EU’s resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on Freedom of Religion or Belief.

At the end of last week, the European Union (EU), supported by the South American group, tabled a resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on Freedom of Religion or Belief. Now, whilst any resolution that highlights the importance of protecting every individual’s right to freedom of religion or belief is always extremely welcome, what is shamefully inadequate about this resolution is that it expressly excludes any concern regarding discrimination and violence against non-believers.

O’Casey and others tried to get more explicit language about protecting non-believers into the resolution, and the EU replied with the “almost flippant” statement that

non-believers are already covered in the resolution, by the ‘right to belief.’

Oh dear – not necessarily. You can’t trust everyone to treat non-belief as protected by the right to belief, because some people really do consider non-belief a negation of belief and thus not protected.

Or as O’Casey puts it,

what the EU representative and her colleagues have failed to understand is the importance, within the context of this type of resolution, of expressly underlining the institutionalised persecution and discrimination that non-believers are subjected to globally, as well as making explicit ‘non-believers’ as a category of persons who come under the protection of any right to freedom of religion or belief. The necessity to make this fact plain is demonstrated through the apparent ignorance of it by so many governments across the world; an ignorance manifested through, for example, the use of the death penalty as a potential punishment for atheism in seven countries, and the effective criminalisation of atheism in many more.

She’s being tactful. I doubt it’s ignorance; I think it’s more likely disinclination.

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