Notes and Comment Blog

Spreading faster than efforts to control it

Aug 2nd, 2014 9:54 am | By

The WHO says Ebola is spreading faster than efforts to control it. That’s not good. We need it to be the other way around.

But it’s difficult. Poverty makes it more difficult. Poverty means lack of infrastructure, and that makes it more difficult.

Analysis: David Shukman, BBC science editor

Friday’s summit should provide the kind of international co-operation needed to fight Ebola but the battle against the virus will be won or lost at the local level. An over-attentive family member, a careless moment while burying a victim, a slip-up by medical staff coping with stress and heat – a single small mistake in basic hygiene can allow the virus to slip from one human host to another.

The basic techniques for stopping Ebola are well known. The problem is applying them. Since the virus was first identified in 1976, there have been dozens of outbreaks and all of them have been contained. Experts point to these successes as evidence that this latest threat can be overcome too.

But working against them are suspicions among local people and the unavoidable fact that this is an extremely poor part of the world, much of it still reeling from conflict. Deploying the right equipment in properly trained hands is always going to be a struggle, one that is now extremely urgent.

On the other hand – the death rate from malaria dwarfs that of Ebola at present.

According to the latest estimates, released in December 2013, there were about 207 million cases of malaria in 2012 (with an uncertainty range of 135 million to 287 million) and an estimated 627 000 deaths (with an uncertainty range of 473 000 to 789 000). Malaria mortality rates have fallen by 42% globally since 2000, and by 49% in the WHO African Region.

Most deaths occur among children living in Africa where a child dies every minute from malaria. Malaria mortality rates among children in Africa have been reduced by an estimated 54% since 2000.

That’s an emergency too, to say the least, but it’s a familiar, as it were domesticated emergency, and we don’t worry that it’s going to come and get us, so…we don’t think of it as an emergency.

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

Simon and David

Aug 1st, 2014 5:14 pm | By

Simon Davis talks to David Futrelle of Confused Cats Against Feminism and We Hunted the Mammoth (formerly Manboobz).

There’s a catharsis in saying “You know what? Your argument is based on ignorance. We’ve tried to explain this. We’re just gonna respond with a picture of a cat.” When you get into these discussions with these guys online, it becomes just like quicksand. Because you feel like you’ve fallen into this realm of “Wait a minute. The sky is blue, right?” It’s also just sort of nice to present something that I think the opponents of feminism just don’t know how to handle or don’t know how to react to. So when they see the cat pics, they can’t go into another regular one of their little rants because it’s a cat, and what’s being said is probably absurd. It sets them up for once.

Picture of a lolling lounging cat with the text: “I’m an anti-feminist because someone once told me that feminists hate male humans. I was too lazy to do any real research. Come on, I’m a spoiled, pampered cat! Why should I have to think for myself?”

You’ve said that mockery is the only appropriate response to certain men’s rights activists. What about people like Christina Hoff Sommers who aren’t in that category?

It is worth getting into issues where there are people who are making wrong, but—at least in some ways—intellectually honest arguments. Like take for instance the pay gap. There’s no denying that statistically there is a wage gap, the question is how do you explain that. In those cases it is worth engaging and to argue with them on an intellectual level. But it’s been disappointing to me that a lot of the so-called more reasonable opponents of these things have aligned themselves in so many ways with the more extreme folks. Like with Christina Hoff Sommers’s response to the “Women Against Feminism” thing was that she tweeted—and it was re-tweeted by all sorts of MRA’s—“these women are saying ‘no’ to feminism, do they [feminists] not think that ‘no means no’?”

[The exact quote is: "When young women say no to feminism, feminists don't accept that no means no."]

That’s problematic on so many levels. You don’t have to get someone’s consent to disagree with them. You absolutely do have to get their consent to have sex with them and it’s just very disappointing to see someone like Christina Hoff Sommers who presumably knows better conflating those two in that way.

Exactly how I feel. Mind you, it’s a “joke” of sorts, but it’s a mean joke, and a cheap shot. Sommers does that shit all the time. It’s why I keep pointing out that she used to be an academic, a philosopher, and what a hack she has become now. And she’s become it for the sake of anti-feminism. Ugh.

And then they get to the heart of it.

What prompted you to focus on the men’s rights movement when you started Manboobz (now called

It was basically that I was arguing with men’s rights activists on Reddit with somewhat silly arguments. I was trying to engage with the arguments and what happened is that after I started the blog, which I didn’t expect to turn into what it’s turned into, I discovered that I had really underestimated the amount of just sheer misogyny that was out there. It wasn’t just people that were a bit misguided or myopic or whatever. It was people who were really driven. It gave me an idea of some of the harassment that outspoken women get, and they’re getting it worse because these guys really hate women. That kind of spurs me on. I hadn’t recognized it for the problem it really is.

Yeah. That.

What about for outright opponents of feminism though?

The best way to move forward on this is to try to get the opponents of feminism to develop a little more empathy. To think of the experiences of people other than themselves. It may be that Confused Cats Against Feminism is the way to get them to do that. Cats are very self absorbed. Maybe the blog can sort of suggest, “Maybe you want to think of more than just yourself.” “Maybe I don’t need feminism but part of the reason women are able to speak out on these things today is because of feminism.”

Hey, we’re back to empathy again.

Well yes. Defective empathy has been at the core of this all along. Dear Muslima was defective empathy and Zero bad was defective empathy. Empathy matters.

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

Tap that latent brainpower

Aug 1st, 2014 4:02 pm | By

So, cool idea for a movie – if we used 100% of our brains we could eat a mountain for breakfast, and memorize The Tale of Genji while brushing our teeth, and get from Seattle to Stockholm in a single bound. Except that we couldn’t, because we already do, and we can’t.

The fact is, people use all of their brains. Brain imaging research techniques such as PET (positron emission tomography) scans and fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) clearly show that the vast majority of the brain does not lie unused. Although certain activities may use only a small part of the brain at a time (for example, watching reality TV shows), any sufficiently complex set of activities will use many parts of the brain.

Hey, when I watch reality tv shows, I use all my brain – wondering which contestant is going to cut off her thumb and bleed all over Bobby Flay.

So where did this 10 percent myth come from? Psychologist Barry Beyerstein of Simon Fraser University researched the urban legend for a chapter in the book “Mind Myths: Exploring Everyday Mysteries of the Mind and Brain” (Wiley, 1999), and traced the tall tale back to at least the early part of the 20th century.

In some cases people misunderstood or misinterpreted legitimate scientific findings, but the myth was really popularized by the self-help movement. Self-improvement writers such as Dale Carnegie, author of the classic book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” (first published in 1936, by Simon & Schuster) and groups such as those promoting transcendental meditation and neurolinguistic programming referenced the myth. They promised to teach people methods of getting ahead in life by tapping latent brainpower.

And all those strange people on off-season PBS? The monologists who pace around a stage telling the audience how to manage their money or be healthier than god or exploit their brain’s plasticity – are they still saying there’s 90% lying around unused? I don’t  know because when they’re on I always change the channel to something with Bobby Flay in it.

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

Guest post: Stop the ”Witch Slapping” Bishop Oyedepo from Preaching in London

Aug 1st, 2014 10:52 am | By

Guest post by Leo Igwe

UK authorities should take measures to stop controversial Nigerian pastor, David Oyedepo, from bringing his witch hunting ministry to Europe. Oyedepo with his Pentecostal church the Winners Chapel and his own fleet of private jets is reputedly the richest pastor in Nigeria. Oyedepo is scheduled to preach at the European Winners Convention to be held in London in August. There are numerous reasons why the UK authorities should not allow him to feature at this event. Here are just a few.

Not too long ago, Bishop Oyedepo assaulted a girl at one of his ministration events in Nigeria. He accused the girl of being a witch. But the girl denied this saying she was a ‘witch for Jesus’. And in reaction, Bishop Oyedepo slapped her. Oyedepo is not alone in the business of witch hunting and child abuse. Many branches of his Winners Chapel are involved in this violent campaign.


In August last year, a branch of Winners Chapel was one of the Pentecostal churches which the President of Cameroon, Paul Biya, ordered to have closed down due to ‘criminal practices’. According to a CNN report, a 9 year old girl collapsed and died during a prayer session at the Winners Chapel branch in Bamenda, Cameroon. The pastor accused the girl of being possessed by numerous demons and whilst he was ‘casting out’ the demons the girl fainted and died.

Pentecostal pastors like David Oyedepo are engaged in an effort to spread their ministry to Europe. They are re-exporting an Africanized Christianity with an emphasis on demon possession, exorcism and witch hunting. They are targeting African immigrant communities. Some of these churches already have established branches in many European countries. The harmful effects of their violent brand of Christianity are already being seen in many parts of Europe. European authorities must not allow the situation to worsen .

There is strong evidence of the links between cases of witchcraft related abuse of children and the activities of Pentecostal churches in Black communities in the UK. It is most distressing that Pentecostal churches have been allowed to spread this gospel of hate and incitement in Britain.

It has to stop

Preventing ‘witch slapping’ Bishop Oyedepo from preaching at the European Winners Convention is not, as some may claim, an act of racism. It is not an infringement on his right to freedom of religion but an essential step in combatting abuse in the name of religion and to helping bring an end to witch hunting in Africa and in the black communities world wide.

I urge the UK authorities to deny entry to ”child-assaulting” Bishop Oyedepo. He must not be granted an entry visa. He must not minister at the European Winners Convention in August. By denying him entry, the British government will be sending a very strong message to all African witch hunting pastors and churches, that they are not welcome in this country. It will help to shine a light on the dangers of these violent campaigns in Africa and within the European black communities.

UK authorities should closely monitor the activities of the branches of Winners Chapel and ensure that the criminal goings on at some of the branches in Africa are not tolerated in this country.

All non-governmental organisations and concerned individuals should register their support for the campaign against witch hunting and related atrocities by sending letters to the Home Office urging the Ministers not to allow Bishop Oyedepo into the country for this convention. If Muslim clerics who make hateful and inciteful speeches are not allowed entry into the UK then surely child abusing witch exorcizing pastors like David Oyedepo should also not be allowed in. Witch hunting must stop. Witch hunting pastors and churches must be stopped.

Related Links
European Winners Convention
Laughing on his private jet – the £93m pastor accused of exploiting British worshippers
Cameroon’s president orders Pentecostal churches closed

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

The Great Cause

Aug 1st, 2014 10:19 am | By

Christina Hoff Sommers seems to have only one thing to say. (She’s a hedgehog not a fox.) That thing is: feminism sucks!!

A sample from her Twitter output.

Christina H. Sommers @CHSommers · Jul 29
It’s not the patriarchy, but third-wave feminism, that undermines young women’s freedom. Great read by @ashtenthinks

There are rules of evidence & anyone worth taking seriously must abide by them–including feminists.@LadyGirlPerson @GodDoesnt @ashtenthinks

Wash Post & TNR just had weak posts on gender pay gap. For high-powered thinking on topic, check out these 2 guys.

Due process has no lobby. Republicans & Dems do the bidding of gender warriors. Not a word about falsely accused. …

Malicious and dishonest headline
alert! …

ICYMI:Watch this smart Yale undergrad politely demolish 20 years of phony research on sexism in science & tech. …

She used to be an academic, and she’s become a party hack – and all for the sake of attacking feminism for a right-wing think tank.

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

Or there’s Confused Bird Against Feminism

Aug 1st, 2014 10:02 am | By

Birds Rights Activist knows.

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


Aug 1st, 2014 9:08 am | By

A real world-shaker from women against feminism.

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

Secular Woman introduces

Aug 1st, 2014 8:48 am | By

Secular Woman has a new project: meet Secular Woman Salon.

Secular Woman is incredibly pleased and excited to announce the start of a new project that will add to the growing number of incredible voices writing on issues of concern to secular women, and that project is the Secular Woman Salon! The Salon is a new outlet on our website for the latest in opinion, think pieces, and news for secular women, as well as anyone interested in advancing the cause of social justice with a secular lens.

Through this project we hope to, quite literally, advance our mission of amplifying the voices of secular women by establishing a dedicated space where the causes, issues, and thoughts of such women will be foregrounded. Here you can expect to find articles, opinions, and discussions with an intersectional, feminist sensibility that are nuanced, intelligent, and sometimes angry. In this space we’ll be working to ensure that the voices and issues of import to women and other marginalized groups are front and center.

To ensure this we have put together a salon that is comprised of a fantastic group of writers who are as excited to be participating in this new endeavor as we are to have them. They come from a wide array of backgrounds with many interests and areas of expertise, and we couldn’t be more pleased that they have chosen to join us!

- See more at:


Go there and check it out.

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

Public property

Jul 31st, 2014 5:14 pm | By

I was on a bus a couple of hours ago; a woman got up to be ready to get off at the next stop, and a guy sitting in one of the face-sideways seats started hassling her for not smiling. “Everyone else is smiling but you!” he informed her.

Nuh uh. I wasn’t, for one. I think there were others who weren’t.

He went on grumbling at her – sort of “joking” but in a pain in the ass way. She was certainly not amused.

It just reminded me, yet again, how odd it is the way women are considered a kind of public property, subject to being told what facial expression to have by total strangers and then hassled if they don’t comply. It would be so odd to do that to a man, but to a woman? Meh – it’s maybe a little rude, but it’s normal.


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

Vulcans can’t argue

Jul 31st, 2014 1:09 pm | By

I’m still getting Vulcans telling me that the only rational thing to do is to argue everything using Logic and Reason while totally excluding emotion.

So what you get is people explaining about rape using what they take to be Logic and Reason while totally ignoring the fact that rape tends to be an emotive subject.

You can’t have a reasoned discussion about moral issues that excludes emotion not just as part of the discussers’ equipment but even as part of the subject matter.

Robotic arguments about slavery or child marriage or school for girls or rape or genital mutilation can’t get off the ground, because robots don’t give a damn either way.

Moral issues depend on emotion. If no one cares about them, there’s nothing to argue about.


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

The mother should die instead

Jul 31st, 2014 11:54 am | By

Something else I do sometimes? Laugh in public. Omigod – the blasphemy of it.

Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç says that’s not allowed.

Speaking during an Eid el-Fitr meeting on July 28, Arınç described his ideal of the chaste man or woman, saying they should both have a sense of shame and honor.

“Chastity is so important. It is not only a name. It is an ornament for both women and men. [She] will have chasteness. Man will have it, too. He will not be a womanizer. He will be bound to his wife. He will love his children. [The woman] will know what is haram and not haram. She will not laugh in public. She will not be inviting in her attitudes and will protect her chasteness,” Arınç said, adding that people had abandoned their values today.

People needs to discover the Quran once again, Arınç said, adding that there had been a regression on moral grounds.

“Where are our girls, who slightly blush, lower their heads and turn their eyes away when we look at their face, becoming the symbol of chastity?” he said.

Yeah where are they, our girls who used to act like affected timid simpletons instead of human beings like other human beings? God it’s such a tragedy that we can’t just have one sex that’s grown up and sensible and competent and another one that’s childish and fragile and helpless.

Turkish women are laughing at Bülent Arınç. In public.

Twitter in Turkey broke into a collective grin on Wednesday as hundreds of women posted pictures of themselves laughing.

They weren’t just happy. They were smiling in defiance of the deputy prime minister, Bülent Arinç, who in a speech to mark Eid al-Fitr on Monday said women should not laugh in public.

“Chastity is so important. It’s not just a word, it’s an ornament [for women],” Arinç told a crowd celebrating the end of Ramadan in the city of Bursa in an address that decried “moral corruption” in Turkey. “A woman should be chaste. She should know the difference between public and private. She should not laugh in public.”

On Wednesday thousands of women posted pictures of themselves laughing out loud, with the hashtags #direnkahkaha (resist laughter) and #direnkadin (resist woman) trending on Twitter.

Turkish men also took to social media to express their solidarity. “The men of a country in which women are not allowed to laugh are cowards”, tweeted one user.

Besides, who the hell is going to laugh at men’s jokes if women can’t?

Kidding, kidding. Totally kidding. Where’s your sense of humor?

Other opposition figures pointed out that Arinç’s comments highlighted the dismal state of women’s rights in Turkey. Calling on people to protest against massive violence towards women at a demonstration next week, Melda Onur, an Istanbul MP for the main opposition Republican People’s party, wrote on Twitter: “We would have left Arinç to his fantasies and wouldn’t even have laughed about it, but while so many murders are being committed he makes [women] a target by stressing the need for chastity.”

A 2009 report commissioned by the Prime Ministry Directorate on the Status of Women found that more than 40% of Turkey’s female population have suffered domestic violence. More than 120 have been killed since the beginning of this year alone, mostly by their partners or other family members.

Can’t we get Christina Hoff Sommers to come along and tweet that that’s all a myth? Or is it only feminism west of the Bosporus that prompts her to do that.

Mehtap Dogan of the Socialist Feminist Collective – who was among the women who posted pictures of herself laughing – said that Arinç’s statements were not an isolated incident of misogyny.

“His words perfectly illustrate his and the [ruling] AK party’s attitude towards women,” she said. “In their eyes, women should not have any rights, they treat us like a separate species.”

It was certainly not the first time the government of Erdogan – infamous for his admission that he did not believe in equality between men and women – has provoked outrage with discriminatory remarks.

Dogan added: “Using moralism to hide behind, they defend violence, rape, and sexism.”

In 2012, when the government tried to massively curb the right to abortion, Ankara mayor Melih Gökcek said on public television: “Why should the child die if the mother is raped? The mother should die instead.”

Meaning, she should have the child first, and then die?

Nice plan.

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

Accused of posting a blasphemous picture to Facebook

Jul 31st, 2014 11:36 am | By

I sometimes post blasphemous pictures or news links or remarks on Facebook. Probably more than sometimes. You could probably say I do that quite often. It’s possible that I do it several times a day. I don’t keep track, but that’s possible.

It’s a good thing for me that I don’t live in Lahore.

The New York Times reports on what happens to people who do when there’s a whisper about “blasphemy” somewhere in the neighborhood.

A woman and two of her young granddaughters were burned to death Sunday night in the eastern city of Gujranwala after a member of their Ahmadi minority sect was accused of posting a blasphemous picture to Facebook, the police said.

The mob of roughly 1,000 people began rampaging through an Ahmadi neighborhood after being alerted to the photograph, setting houses on fire and injuring at least eight other people, according to the police.

A picture on Facebook.

A fucking picture on Facebook.

So a woman and two little girls were burned to death.

Whoever that god is supposed to be? It’s a mistake to worship it.


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

The sooner you go to the treatment centre the better chance you have of surviving

Jul 31st, 2014 11:04 am | By

Tulip Mazumdar reports on the Ebola crisis in Guinea for the BBC.

This is the final resting place of the latest victim of Ebola: a four-month-old baby boy called Faya.

He caught the virus from his mother, who died a few weeks earlier.

His is the 20th anonymous grave in this dark and lonely clearing.

“I was there with him just before he died,” says Adele Millimouno, a Medicines Sans Frontieres (MSF) nurse recruited from a nearby village.

“I had been feeding him milk. I stepped away, just for a short break, but then I was called back and he was dead. I was totally devastated.”

There is confusion and fear, and sometimes resistance to health workers.

Tarik Jasarevic, from the World Health Organization, says unclear messages from health workers about the virus at the start of the outbreak is partly to blame for villages closing their doors.

“People heard there is no vaccine or treatment for Ebola so many thought ‘why would we go to a treatment centre if there is no treatment?’

“Then people who did eventually go, some of them died. So there was a perception that if you are taken from your village it means a certain death.

“We didn’t put enough emphasis on the fact there are survivors and the sooner you go to the treatment centre the better chance you have of surviving, and you are not risking the health of your family. Because those taking care of sick people are exposed the most.”

Go to the treatment centre.

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

Guest post: Feminism is full of seriously brain-stretching rationality

Jul 30th, 2014 4:10 pm | By

Originally a comment by Maureen on Let’s sit down and discuss that proposition itself.

Richard Dawkins claims to be struggling against the forces of darkness – however defined – in order to have a logical and rational discussion on sensitive subjects. In order to do that, though, you would need facts. I don’t see that he even mentions facts, let alone informed opinion, let alone research.

No-one, not even intellectual super-stars, can be expected to conduct such a discussion as a pure intellectual exercise, nor would a wise man choose Twitter as the forum. How do you have a dialogue when you don’t know to whom you are talking or what knowledge or preconceptions they bring to the imaginary table?

Curiously enough, I have been having logical and rational discussions – some intense, some more relaxed – for a good fifty years on all these “sensitive” subjects but every last one of them informed by knowledge and experience, developing knowledge and experience not 140 characters plucked out of thin air. One is tempted to ask, “Richard Dawkins, where have you been all these decades?”

To take just one example, Dawkins takes it as read (and Brave Sir Brendan in the Telegraph rushes to his aid) that, of course, a rape by a stranger who threatens with a weapon just must be worse than a rape by someone you know. Of course it must be because neither of them sees a person there – just a hole being penetrated with a degree of force. Hooray for fact-free logic!

Except that it’s not getting us very far, is it? Maybe it’s not getting us anywhere because neither of those men can see the woman, perhaps with small children, trapped in an increasingly abusive relationship without a means of escape. Nor do they see the person totally betrayed by someone they’ve grown up with, the family friend who’s always been around who suddenly turns and rapes them. Because we are not talking holes, gentlemen, we are talking people and your first step towards a rational discussion would be to acknowledge their experience, draw on their understanding. Not something you can do on a whiteboard or a computer but a necessary first step.

Do you all remember Sandra Fluke the first time we saw her, fighting to give evidence to a Congressional Committee? Then berated by all and sundry for the dastardly crime of understanding the human reproductive system rather better than Rush Limbaugh? Or the woman member of of a state legislature, thrown out of the chamber for using the word vagina when the subject under discussion was – wait for it! – compulsory intra-vaginal ultrasounds. And all the many hearings down the years where we have laughed at one row of elderly men earnestly taking evidence from a matching row of elderly men? Or watched them take evidence from celibate clerics but refuse to hear from women, even women specialists in the subject? And no matter that in all the cases I list the health and well-being of women were at stake.

We are not irrational because we are feminists or because we are women. Feminism is full of seriously brain-stretching rationality. Nor do we need to start such discussions – on bodily autonomy, on birth control, on sexual identity, whatever – from scratch. They have been going for two, three hundred years. They have involved both men and women and the literature is vast. The handful of texts I own would take even an Oxford professor a week to read. And I have read several times that amount but remain an amateur.

So the question is not will we stop reacting to wild and ill-informed Tweets which serve only to inflame. The question is, rather, will you come down off your kyriarchal pedestal and join as an equal in the logical, rational and fact-based discussions which have been going on since before you were born?

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

Let’s sit down together and discuss that proposition itself

Jul 30th, 2014 11:10 am | By

The title of Dawkins’s new post asks a question: Are there emotional no-go areas where logic dare not show its face? The first paragraph re-words the question.

Are there kingdoms of emotion where logic is taboo, dare not show its face, zones where reason is too intimidated to speak?

My answer is yes, of course there are. Not the ones he has in mind, necessarily, but there are some. There are plenty of situations where reason just isn’t wanted, only sympathy or affection or solidarity or just warm-bodiedness will do. There are others where only joyous abandon is wanted.

But that’s interpersonal; RD is talking about public discourse. That’s different. Discourse by definition rests on at least minimal reason and logic. But does that mean emotion must be banished?

He talks of thought experiments and hypothetical worlds, of questions about genetic superiority of races, cannibalism, abortion, eugenics, torture.

There are those whose love of reason allows them to enter such disagreeable hypothetical worlds and see where the discussion might lead. And there are those whose emotions prevent them from going anywhere near the conversation. Some of these will vilify and hurl vicious insults at anybody who is prepared to discuss such matters. Some will pursue active witch-hunts against moral philosophers for daring to consider obnoxious hypothetical thought experiments.

That’s too simplified. I don’t think it’s just a love of reason that motivates people to pursue the discussion where it might lead – I think it also has to do with wanting to get the morality right. And that is partly emotional. People who love intellectual puzzles for their own sake are less interested in moral questions than in technical ones, I think.

But more to the point, it isn’t just random daft meaningless “emotion” that makes people wary of discussions of, say, abortion. It’s emotion about things like consequences and experience and the difference between being someone vulnerable to the harm under discussion and being someone who is not vulnerable to it.

So we could have another discussion about the morality of trying to discuss moral issues that have huge impacts on one kind of people but no impact on you. Does that make a difference? Should it make a difference? Is it possible that, for instance, a very rich person who has always been very rich and has no personal experience at all of what it’s like to be poor – that such a person would have a shallow understanding of the consequences of, say, a wage cut for bottom-tier workers in a company? Should very rich people be the only people deciding what wages get paid? Is that a question about reason and logic, or emotion, or both?

I say it’s both. Emotion is relevant to discussions of that kind, and it’s rational to accept that. It’s not automatically irrational to take emotions into account.

So this is the part I most disagree with:

I believe that, as non-religious rationalists, we should be prepared to discuss such questions using logic and reason. We shouldn’t compel people to enter into painful hypothetical discussions, but nor should we conduct witch-hunts against people who are prepared to do so. I fear that some of us may be erecting taboo zones, where emotion is king and where reason is not admitted; where reason, in some cases, is actively intimidated and dare not show its face. And I regret this. We get enough of that from the religious faithful. Wouldn’t it be a pity if we became seduced by a different sort of sacred, the sacred of the emotional taboo zone?

You need both.

For an example: suppose you get a group of prosperous comfortable well-fed men having a rational logical discussion of rape. Is it excessively emotional to point out that a group like that would be simply talking over the heads of the people most vulnerable to rape? I don’t think it is. I don’t think it’s excessively emotional to point out that there’s something blood-chilling about seeing people who are safe talk calmly detachedly and in the abstract about the risks or tragedies faced by people who aren’t like them.

Some subjects are fraught, and it makes a difference who is talking about them, and to whom. This is what Richard is objecting to, and concerned about – the existence of taboo subjects. He explains that that’s why he chose rape to illustrate his point about logic: because it’s fraught.

I think rationalists should be free to discuss spectrums of nastiness, even if only to reject them. I had noticed indications that rape and pedophilia had moved out of the discussion zone into a no-go taboo area. I wanted to challenge the taboo, just as I want to challenge all taboos against free discussion.

Nothing should be off limits to discussion. No, let me amend that. If you think some things should be off limits, let’s sit down together and discuss that proposition itself. Let’s not just insult each other and cut off all discussion because we rationalists have somehow wandered into a land where emotion is king.

Let’s. That’s what I’m doing here. I’m saying why I think some subjects need care in discussing.

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

They are afraid

Jul 30th, 2014 9:00 am | By

Oh no. Richard Dawkins has another post on the “mild rape is less bad than ferocious rape” paradigm he’s been using to illustrate Logic lately. It’s not going to calm the heaving waters.

For now I’ll just quote the last paragraph.

It is utterly deplorable that there are people, including in our atheist community, who suffer rape threats because of things they have said. And it is also deplorable that there are many people in the same atheist community who are literally afraid to think and speak freely, afraid to raise even hypothetical questions such as those I have mentioned in this article. They are afraid – and I promise you I am not exaggerating – of witch-hunts: hunts for latter day blasphemers by latter day Inquisitions and latter day incarnations of Orwell’s Thought Police.

Oh dear. It’s really too bad that he included the “and I promise you I am not exaggerating” – because of course he is doing just that. No, they are not afraid of witch-hunts or hunts for blasphemers by inquisitions or incarnations of Orwell’s Thought Police. Saying that is, indeed, exaggeration. It’s the same kind of exaggeration as comparing feminists to Nazis or the Stasi.

They are afraid of noisy, vehement, harsh criticism. I get being afraid of that. It can be alarming and overwhelming to have a torrent of criticism dumped on you. Absolutely. But it still doesn’t tie you to a stake and set fire to a bunch of damp wood piled at your feet (damp to make it burn slowly and thus prolong the agony). It doesn’t lock you up or send you to a Gulag. It isn’t comparable to witch-hunts or inquisitions or Orwell’s Thought Police.

[As yesterday: reasoned discussion; no epithets, no insults.]

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

No shelter for you

Jul 30th, 2014 8:29 am | By

Golly, now there’s a new twist on dear old gender segregation – in Israel, a “men only” bomb shelter.

While people all around Israel have spent the past two weeks scrambling for cover during rocket attacks, it seems that in some places, only men’s lives are considered worth protecting. In the Ashdod rabbinate building, the bomb shelter has a sign on it reading “For men only,” and women who happened to be in the rabbinate during recent raids were not allowed into the bomb shelter.

Thus reports MK Stav Shaffir, whose staffer happened to be at the rabbinate this week when all this was taking place.

Orit, an Ashdod resident who was also in the rabbinate this week with her husband, told Yediot Ahronot about the “insult of trying to impose gender segregation on us even at times like this,” and her shocked discovery that the “women’s” shelter was just a regular room, with windows and plaster walls and no indications of protection from rocket attacks. Her husband added that gender segregation has reached “insane proportions, and are now at the point of risking women’s lives. The rabbinate is basically saying that it’s important to them to save men’s lives, but women can die or pray or hope for a miracle. It’s just unbelievable”.

MK Stav Shaffir complained to the Religious Affairs Ministry, which said no no that’s all wrong, that was a loose cannon who made a mistake.

“It was a local initiative of an employee acting without formal authority,” they responded. “The rabbinical court views such attempts at gender segregation in a very severe light and will take serious actions against those involved.”

I suppose the rabbinic court’s attempt to distance itself from this series of events is a good thing. After all, that means that there exist some voices of reason and sanity even within the growing gender-extremism in the religious Jewish world. On the other hand, the fact that someone somewhere thought that it was okay and normal to put a “Men Only” sign on a bomb shelter is in an indication of deeply entrenched misogyny. It seems like it’s almost a knee-jerk reaction for some people to simply create “Men Only” spaces, as if this is natural and normal and perhaps even expected, to such an extent that no consideration is given whatsoever to real lives of women, to the actual consequences and implications of not allowing certain people into safety.

Well that’s misogyny for you. It’s dangerous to women. I keep saying that.

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

How apt

Jul 30th, 2014 6:46 am | By

Via RH Reality Check.


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

The doctor died

Jul 29th, 2014 5:41 pm | By

Very bad news: the doctor who was leading Sierra Leone’s fight against the worst outbreak on record has died from the virus.

The death of Sheik Umar Khan, who was credited with treating more than 100 patients, follows the deaths of dozens of local health workers and the infection of two US medics in neighbouring Liberia.

Ebola is believed to have killed 672 people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone since the outbreak began in February, according to the World Health Organisation. The contagious disease has no known cure. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhoea and internal and external bleeding.

Khan, 39, hailed as a “national hero” by the health ministry, had been moved to a treatment ward run by the medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières in the far north of Sierra Leone.

Damn. I heard him chat with a reporter while at the hospital last week, saying he was optimistic. I was hoping he would make it.

“It is a big and irreparable loss to Sierra Leone as he was the only specialist the country had in viral haemorrhagic fevers,” said the chief medical officer, Brima Kargbo.

Very bad news.

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

Guest post: Funny thing about the ‘Let there be no compulsion in religion’ verse

Jul 29th, 2014 4:46 pm | By

Originally a comment and another comment by Marwa Berro (who will be blogging here under her real name starting August 1!) of Between a Veil and a Dark Place on A Muslim woman is not allowed to marry a non-Muslim.

Funny thing about the ‘Let there be no compulsion in religion’ verse. It is almost always (quite conveniently) quoted out of context. It actually means the exact opposite, that you can’t be internally compelled to see the one and only Truth, but you sure as hell can be punished for being evil enough to refuse to see it. The rest of the verse and the one following it:

[ 2:256] Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things.

[ 2:257] Allah is the Protector of those who have faith: from the depths of darkness He will lead them forth into light. Of those who reject faith the patrons are the evil ones: from light they will lead them forth into the depths of darkness. They will be companions of the fire, to dwell therein (For ever).

The ‘Let there be no compulsion in religion’ verse turns out to be literally a preamble to explaining how/why anyone who believes otherwise is wrong, evil, and doomed to utter damnation.

Cuz that’s not normative or exclusionary at all.

Also, re: intermarriage in Islam. I’ve wanted to write about this so many times, not least because I have so many friends suffering from this problem. Obviously most of what I have to say is in the context of Lebanon, but you would have no idea what a huge, pervasive problem the struggle for interfaith marriage is in Lebanon. You know that we don’t have civil services for marriage so people can only follow religious laws to get married, and they can’t have legitimate public relationships without getting married either, and even when it’s not literally illegal for them to get married in Lebanon without their families agreeing to some roundabout conversion thing–which almost never happens because of all the governmental bureaucracy involved in conversion and shitty sectarian social politics– the stigma makes it even worse than Islam technically dictates.

Examples: I have a couple of atheist friends from Sunni and Shia families who after being disowned by their parents and struggling for years before finally getting parental permission to get married (another shitty prerequisite can you fucking believe it), have now spent years trying to find a shiekh who will agree to marry them. Every cleric they’ve gone to, even the ‘progressive’ ones, refuse because of fear of upsetting each other’s communities, especially as the woman is Saudi and the man is Lebanese and you gotta know the Shia-Sunni enmity is great between Hezbollah and the Saudi gov’t, so obviously this young couple can’t be married.

I have another couple of atheist friends, an Iraqi man from a Shia family and a woman from an Armenian Orthodox Lebanese family who have had to hide their relationship for almost a decade now, down to having to have home-abortions when accidents have happened, despite the fact that it’s technically legal for him to marry her in both Lebanon and Iraq. The stigma is just too great, and it’s very often Christian families who resist interfaith marriages because the only legal ones are Christian women marrying Muslim men, which means in their thinking their daughters are going to basically be inducted into her husband’s family, faith, and customs, and basically they will lose an entire branch of family from their community. It’s literally thought of in terms of those things. Ironically, Christian families seldom have problems with their sons marrying Muslim girls who convert, not only because men are less scrutinized in general but also because they would be bringing somebody into the fold that way; instead of losing a daughter, one is gained.

And I have had friends who struggled for years through solid interfaith romances before having to break up because they couldn’t keep up the secrecy or their families just kept giving them grief, and more often than not these romances have been Christian women with Muslim or Druze men, and Druze friends of all genders with non-Druze partners, because the Druze are even bigger sticklers about no interfaith marriages than Muslims are–they don’t allow it under any circumstances whatsoever. Just last year there was an honor crime in Lebanon where the family of a Druze woman who had eloped lured her and her husband back under pretense of accepting their marriage and castrated him. In fact, a sizable chunk of the honor violence in Lebanon has to do with interfaith romances.

Last Wednesday one of my short stories came out, and it deals with a Muslim-Christian romance in Lebanon–I won’t give the ending away, but after reading it one of my friends back home from a Druze family who’s had to hide her boyfriend from a Muslim family for years messaged me saying that she’s often considered doing what the couple in my story did to end up together.

The story is here, btw. Sorry for the shameless plug, but it’s really relevant, not just to the stigma of interfaith marriage, but to more general feminist issues, especially how rape cases are treated and handled in Lebanon as well (Article 522 of the Lebanese penal code exonerates a rapist who marries his victim):

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