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.

How dare you enforce the law

Oct 27th, 2011 4:40 pm | By

Stewart sent more links today. I’m still catching up. So…where were we? Oh yes -

Womens’ rights groups and organizations opposing religious coercion have demonstrated against the segregation. Jerusalem councilwomen Rachel Azaria of the Yerushalmim (Jerusalemites) faction and Laura Verton (Meretz) petitioned the High Court of Justice against the practice.

Well guess what. Guess what happened to Jerusalem councilwomen Rachel Azaria. She got an award from the Secular Lawyers’ Guild? No. She got fired. That’s right: fired.

Mayor Nir Barkat has dismissed Rachel Azaria from Jerusalem’s coalition government, but the city denies he did so because Azaria is against gender segregation in the ultra-Orthodox Mea She’arim quarter. It says loyalty to city council policy is the issue.

Members of the Haredi community were delighted by Azaria’s dismissal. A headline on a popular ultra-Orthodox website, B’hedri Haredim, declared: “A joyous holiday in Jerusalem: Barkat fires the provocateur.”

The Jewish Daily Forward blog The Sisterhood comments.

Jerusalem City Council Member Rachel  Azaria quickly paid a high price for standing up for what she believes in.  On October 17, Jerusalem Mayor  Nir Barkat stripped her of her portfolios on the city council that concern  community councils and early childhood issues. She was being punished for petitioning  Israel’s High Court of Justice to enforce a previous ruling that ordered  police to prevent gender segregation on the streets of the Haredi Jerusalem  neighborhood Mea Shearim.

In an exclusive telephone interview with The Sisterhood later the day she  lost her portfolios, she said that less than 24 hours after the Court  issued its ruling in her favor, she received an email from one of Barkat’s  assistants on behalf of the mayor stating that “because you went to the High  Court of Justice, I am relieving you of your duties.” Barkat did not personally  contact Azaria to inform her of this. But his office sent out another email  announcing the change minutes later to all 31 members of City Council.

She was fired for enforcing a legal ruling. So adhering to the law is a firing offence in the Jerusalem city government?

Azaria said she was buoyed by how seriously the judges of the Court,  especially its president, Dorit  Beinish, regarded her petition. “There was a very ideological discussion in  the Court. Beinish herself said how important it was to have this discussion.  She brought in Jerusalem’s chief of police, and really tried to find solutions  that would be implementable,” Azaria said.

“The Haredim know that it’s illegal. Really it’s just a small segment of that  community that thinks that they can just keep doing what they want and that the secular and more liberal religious people will just get tired and give up,” the  religiously observant Azaria said. “But I won’t give up on such an important  issue.”

Theocrats are busy everywhere you look, thinking they can just keep doing what they want and the rest of us will just get bored and give up. This is why the world needs gnu atheists. Gnu atheists don’t get bored and give up. We refuse. We just get more pissed off and stubborn.

The Sisterhood says women are disappearing from public life in Jerusalem.

Haaretz reported  recently that there is a glaring lack of women on billboards and in local  Jerusalem newspaper and magazine ads.

“Believe me, this is real,” said Ayalon. “I am out there every day counting  the dwindling number of women seen in advertisements.” He is not talking about “women in bikinis on cars,” which Ayalon stresses that he and Yerushalmim are,  like the Haredim, opposed to. Rather, he is talking about the complete absence  of respectably dressed women in ads in which they used to appear in Jerusalem — and still do in other parts of the country. Suddenly there are a whole lot of  images of men selling food, furniture, and other home-related products. Men’s being more focused on domesticity can, of course, be a good thing — but not at  the expense of women’s civil rights.

That sounds like Hollywood movies, which almost all star three or four men these days, as if only men existed. I guess we need gnu feminists, too.


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

Shoving people off the sidewalk, again

Oct 27th, 2011 11:41 am | By

Stewart sent me a couple of interesting items last week. I was having technical issues and am catching up.

Israel High Court upholds ban on Sukkot gender segregation in Jerusalem.

Oh yes? There was gender segregation?


During this year’s Sukkot celebrations, police gave ultra-Orthodox leaders of Mea She’arim’s Toldos Aharon community permission to erect a barrier dividing the street by gender, despite the fact that, last year, the High Court ordered community leaders to revoke the segregation they imposed on women on Sukkot.

Large billboards posted throughout the capital’s ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods last week forbade women to enter Mea She’arim Street during the Sukkot celebration.

This is a public street, you understand. It’s not private property, it’s not the grounds of a synagogue, it’s a public street.

Last year, community leaders put up tarpaulin partitions along the sidewalks on Strauss and Mea She’arim streets, creating a narrow path on one side for women to walk on, and women were forbidden to walk on certain sidewalks and streets during Sukkot’s intermediate days.

Womens’ rights groups and organizations opposing religious coercion have demonstrated against the segregation. Jerusalem councilwomen Rachel Azaria of the Yerushalmim (Jerusalemites) faction and Laura Verton (Meretz) petitioned the High Court of Justice against the practice.

The Jerusalem Post also reported.

Separation barriers erected in the streets of Mea She’arim designed to prevent male and female intermingling during Succot have been ordered dismantled.

At a hearing of the High Court of Justice on Sunday, Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch ordered the police to remove the separation barriers and also ordered the police to remove private security personnel enforcing the gender separation.

Can you imagine? Walking on a public street and having private security personnel forcing you behind a partition because you’re a woman?

The decision, also heard by Justice Asher Dan Grunis and Justice Hanan Melcer, comes following a petition filed by Jerusalem City Councilwoman Rachel Azariah on Friday, demanding that last year’s high court ruling, which affirmed that gender separation is illegal, be enforced.

“Succot has arrived and once again there is illegal segregation [of men  and women],” Beinisch stated during the hearing. “There has been a  takeover of public places by a minority in the neighborhood… The private-security personnel and the canvas partitions should be removed  now and beginning at the end of Succot, and from then on, there should be no segregation in Mea She’arim [in the future].”

“The court established today once again that segregation in the public domain on the basis of gender is illegal and has to be acted against,” said Azariah in response to the decision. “There is a long way to go  until we reach equality between men and women, but… if Rosa Parks  succeeded in the racist period of US history in the 1950s, then we in  the democratic State of Israel of 2011 will also succeed.”

Let’s hope so.

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

For a free and secular Middle East and North Africa

Oct 27th, 2011 9:49 am | By

76 secularists and human rights campaigners, including Mina Ahadi, Nawal El Sadaawi, Marieme Helie Lucas, Hameeda Hussein, Ayesha Imam, Maryam Jamil, Maryam Namazie, Taslima Nasrin, Farida Shaheed, Fatou Sow, and Stasa Zajovic have signed on to a Manifesto for a Free and Secular Middle East and North Africa.

In light of the recent pronouncements of the unelected Libyan Transitional Council for ‘Sharia laws’, the signatories of the manifesto vehemently oppose the hijacking of the protests by Islamism or US-led militarism and unequivocally support the call for freedom and secularism made by citizens and particularly women in the region.

Secularism is a minimum precondition for a free and secular Middle East and for the recognition of women’s rights and equality.

We call on world citizens to support this important campaign by signing on to our petition.

We also ask that supporters click ‘like’ on our Facebook page to support this important campaign and Tweet: #freesecularMENA in support of a free and secular Middle East and North Africa.

Manifesto for a Secular Middle East and North Africa

The 2009 protests in Iran followed by the Arab Spring have the potential to herald a new dawn for the people of the region and the world. The protests have clearly shown that people in the region, like people everywhere, want to live 21st century lives.

We, the undersigned, emphasise their modern and human dimension and wholeheartedly welcome this immense and historical development. We are vehemently opposed to their hijacking by Islamism or US-led militarism and support the call for a free and secular Middle East and North Africa made by citizens and particularly women in the region.

Secularism is a minimum precondition for the freedom and equality of all citizens and includes:

1. Complete separation of religion from the state.

2. Abolition of religious laws in the family, civil and criminal codes.

3. Separation of religion from the educational system.

4. Freedom of religion and atheism as private beliefs.

5. Prohibition of sex apartheid and compulsory veiling.


1.Mina Ahadi, Spokesperson, International Committees against Stoning and Execution, Iran/Germany
2.Marieme Helie Lucas, Sociologist, Founder and former international coordinator of Women Living Under Muslim Laws and founder of Secularism Is A Women’s Issue, Algeria/France
3.Maryam Namazie, Spokesperson, Equal Rights Now – Organisation against Women’s Discrimination in Iran, Iran/UK
4.Shahla Abghari, University Professor, Iran/USA
5.Siavash Abghari, Esmail Khoi Foundation, Iran/USA
6.Ahlam Akram, Palestinian Peace and Human Rights Writer and Campaigner, Palestine/UK
7.Sargul Ahmad, Women’s Liberation in Iraq, Iraq/Canada
8.Mahin Alipour, Coordinator, Equal Rights Now – Organisation against Women’s Discrimination in Iran, Iran/Sweden
9.Reza Alkrami, Human Rights Activist, Iran/USA
10.Farideh Arman, Coordinator, Committee to Defend Women’s Rights, Iran/Sweden
11.Sultana Begum, Regional Gender Adviser, Diakonia Asia, Bangladesh
12.Djemila Benhabib, Writer, Algeria/Canada
13.Codou Bop, Journalist and Director of GREFELS, Dakar, Senegal
14.Ariane Brunet, co-founder Urgent Action Fund, Québec, Canada
15.Micheline Carrier, Sisyphe, Québec, Canada
16.Patty Debonitas, Iran Solidarity, UK
17.Denise Deliège Femmes En Noir, Belgium
18.Equal Rights Now – Organisation against Women’s Discrimination in Iran, Sweden
19.Fanny Filosof, Femmes en Noir, Belgium
20.Mersedeh Ghaedi, New Channel TV Programme host, Iran/Norway
21.Groupe de recherche sur les femmes et les lois, Dakar, Senegal
22.Laura Guidetti, Marea Feminist Magazine, Italy
23.Zeinabou Hadari, Centre Reines Daura, Niger
24.Anissa Hélie, Historian, Algeria/France/USA
25.Rohini Henssman, Human Rights Activist, India
26.Hameeda Hossein, Chairperson Ain o Salish Kendra, Dhaka, Bangladesh
27.Khayal Ibrahim, Women’s Liberation in Iraq, Iraq/Canada
28.Leo Igwe, Founder, Nigerian Humanist Movement, Nigeria
29.Ayesha Imam, Women’s Human Rights and Democracy Activist, Nigeria/Senegal
30.International Campaign in Defence of Women’s Rights in Iran, Sweden
31.International Committee against Execution, Germany
32.International Committee against Stoning, Germany
33.Iran Solidarity, Iran/UK
34.Maryam Jamil, Women’s Liberation in Iraq, Iraq
35.Sultana Kamal, Executive Director, Ain o Salish Kendra and Chairperson Transparency International, Bangladesh
36.Abbas Kamil, Unity Against Unemployment in Iraq, Baghdad, Iraq
37.Harsh Kapoor, South Asia Citizens Web, India
38.Akbar Karimian, Human Rights Activist, Iran/UK
39.Cherifa Kheddar, President of Djazairouna, Algeria
40.Monica Lanfranco, Marea Feminist Magazine, Italy
41.Houzan Mahmoud, Representative of Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, Iraq/UK
42.Nahla Elgaali Mahmoud, Biologist, Sudan/UK
43.Anwar Mir Sattari, Human rights Activist, Iran/Belgium
44.Amena Mohsin, Professor, Dept. International Relations Dhaka University, Bangladesh
45.Khawar Mumtaz, Director Shirkat Gah, Lahore, Pakistan
46.Taslima Nasrin, Writer and Activist, Bangladesh
47.U. M. Habibun Nessa, President, Naripokkho, Bangladesh
48.Partow Nooriala, Poet, Writer and Human Rights Activist, Iran/USA
49.Asghar Nosrati, Human Rights Activist, Iran/Sweden
50.One Law for All, UK
51.Pragna Patel, Southall Black Sisters, UK
52.Fariborz Pooya, Iranian Secular Society, Iran/UK
53.Protagora, Zagreb, Croatia
54.Hassan Radwan, Activist, Egypt/UK
55.Mary Jane Real, Women’s Human Rights Coalition, Manila, The Philippines
56.Edith Rubinstein, Femmes en Noir, Belgium
57.Nawal El Sadaawi, Writer, Egypt
58.Fahimeh Sadeghi, Coordinator, International Federation of Iranian Refugees, Iran/Canada
59.Gita Sahgal, Director, Centre for Secular Space, UK
60.Nina Sankari, Secularist and Feminist, Poland
61.Secularism Is A Women’s Issue (International Network)
62.Aisha Lee Shaheed, London, UK
63.Farida Shaheed, Shirkat Gah, Lahore, Pakistan
64.Siba Shakib, Filmmaker, Writer and Activist, Iran/USA
65.Sohaila Sharifi, Women’s Rights Campaigner, Iran/UK
66.Issam Shukri, Head, Secularism and Civil Rights in Iraq, Iraq/Canada
67.Southall Black Sisters, UK
68.Fatou Sow, Sociologist CNRS, Dakar, Senegal
69.Afsaneh Vahdat, Coordinator, International Campaign for Women’s Rights in Iran, Iran/Sweden
70.Lino Veljak, Professor of Philosophy, Zagreb University, Croatia
71.Fauzia Viqar, Director Advocacy and Communications, Shirkat Gah Women’s Resource Centre, Lahore, Pakistan
72.Anne Marie Waters, One Law for All, UK
73.Vivienne Wee, anthropologist, feminist and human rights activist, Singapore and Hong Kong, China
74.Women In Black, Belgrade, Serbia
75.Sara Zaker, Theatre Director, Bangladesh
76.Stasa Zajovic, spokesperson Women in Black, Belgrade, Serbia

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

It could turn out like Iran

Oct 27th, 2011 9:41 am | By

Middle-class women in Tunisia are not thrilled about the win of the “moderate” Islamist party.

In Sunday’s election Tunisia, birthplace of the “Arab Spring” uprisings,
handed the biggest share of the vote to Ennahda, a moderate Islamist party that was banned under decades of autocratic, secularist rule.

“We’re afraid that they’ll limit our freedoms,” said Rym, a 25-year-old
medical intern sitting in “Gringo’s”, a fast-food outlet in Ennasr.

“They say they won’t but after a while they could introduce changes step by
step. Polygamy could come back … They say they want to be like Turkey but it
could turn out like Iran. Don’t forget, that was a very open society too.”

Not to mention the fact that Turkey is getting more Islamist, not less so. These “moderate” Islamists are only as “moderate” as they’re forced to be. As soon as they can, they go stricter.

Many of them do not trust assurances from Rachid Ghannouchi, Ennahda’s
leader. He says he will model his approach on Turkey’s moderate ruling AK Party, will not impose Islamic values on anyone and will respect women’s

Nadia Khemiri, a 39-year-old former public relations executive who is now a
housewife, says it is not Ghannouchi that worries her, but the message his win
will send to the streets.

A few days before the election, Khemiri was handing out leaflets in support
of a rival party with other women activists.

“There were some men who looked at us and said: ‘You keep doing what you’re
doing. But it’s not going to last long. Soon you’ll be staying at home’,”
Khemiri recalled in an interview on Tuesday.

“We have seen incidents that justified our fears of excesses from certain
people, who are now going to feel stronger, and that they can get away with

Just so. As soon as they can, they will.

Ennahda’s victory means Tunisia will finally have a leadership who share the
values and Muslim identity of the majority of the population.

“It’s men not looking you in the eye; talking to your husband, not you,” said
another woman, who did not want to be named. “I have a daughter and I worry
about her.”

Khemiri said she was shocked to see separate queues for men and women at
polling stations in areas where Ennahda is strong.

“In some working-class districts, when you go to pay the gas or electricity
bill, there are men who come with their wives and try to enforce separate queues…”

Not good.

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

Wubete and 100,000 more

Oct 26th, 2011 12:48 pm | By

Ever seen Nova’s “A Walk to Beautiful“? I was sure I’d posted about it at ur-B&W but I didn’t find such a post so I guess I didn’t. It was repeated on one of the local PBS stations last night so I saw it for the third time.

It rips my guts out every time. It’s about a hospital in Addis Ababa that repairs fistulas in women, which means it’s about a hospital that receives women who are outcasts, miserable, isolated, lonely, and repairs them. Everything about it is moving.

The real killer is Wubete, who is there for the third time, because the first two didn’t work. They tell her to do exercises and she’s in despair, because she’s been doing them and they don’t work…and she doesn’t want to go home because they all reject her there. Her father forced her to marry as a child – she kept refusing, she kept running away, but finally she got pregnant so she had to stay. She was 11 or 12. It wouldn’t have happened, she says miserable, if her mother had been alive. Then having the stillborn baby destroyed her bladder – and the hospital can’t fix it. Tears roll down her cheeks, and the nurse tells her (very kindly – they’re all very kind at that place) not to be so broken-hearted. Later Wubete goes to the head nurse and says she doesn’t want to go home, is there any way she could stay on? She’s so forlorn. I know how it comes out for her and still it just about kills me to watch it. (*Spoiler)

I always wish I were Bill Gates when I watch it; I would like to give that hospital $1 billion, so that they could repair more than a tiny fraction of the women who need it. But much better would be if Ethiopians and others would stop marrying off girls who are way too young and small to bear children. (One of the saddest things about the Ethiopian women is that they start doing hard labor very young, so they don’t have enough calories to grow, so they are small.)

*It comes out well.

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

Disseminate the word

Oct 26th, 2011 10:46 am | By

JT Eberhard of the Secular Students Alliance and Freethought Blogs says spread the word. What word? This word.

1. Like the SSA Facebook page. You do not need to be a student to do this, you need only support our cause.
2. Upvote the reddit article to push back against all the Christian down votes.
3. Become a member of the SSA ($35/year, $10/year for students) and/or donate to the SSA. You do not need to be a student to become a member! The upcoming generation of secular activists requires the support of the previous generation! And you know that we’re a 501(c)(3), so this shiz is straight up tax deductible, homie.
4. Spread the word even further! Tweet about it. Facebook it. G+ it. Shout it from the mountain tops. Get a pic. Do a blog! Tell them the taaaaaaaaaaaaale!

They got a big bounce from being on the front page at Redditt but then the religious types rushed in to downvote and there is a a $20,000 matching offer at stake so they need the word spreaded.

Thank you for your attention in this matter.

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

Way back

Oct 26th, 2011 9:38 am | By

I’ve been following (and doing what I could to share and draw attention to) Maryam’s work for a long time – since 2004. I did a search at the ur-B&W and had to click “previous entries” a lot of times to get to the first ones.

One of the first ones is The Politics Behind Cultural Relativism, an International TV Interview that Maryam did with Fariborz Pooya and Bahram Soroush.

Bahram Soroush: You are absolutely right. When you talk about the West, it is accepted that there are political differentiations, that people have different value systems, that there are political parties. You don’t talk about one uniform, homogeneous culture. But why is it that when it comes to the rest of the world, suddenly the standards change? The way you look at society changes. It doesn’t make sense. But it makes political sense. We are living in the real world; there are political affiliations; there are economic ties; there are very powerful interests which require justifications. For example, how can you roll out the red carpet for the Islamic executioners from Iran, treat them as ‘respectable diplomats’ and at the same time dodge the issue that this government executes people, stones people to death, carries out public hangings, and that this is happening in the 21st century. It’s a question of how to justify that. So, if you say that cultures are relative; if you say that in Iran they stone people to death and they veil women because it is their culture, your conscience then is clean. This is the reason that we are seeing that something that doesn’t really make sense to anyone, and which they would not use to characterise anyone else in the Western world, they use it to characterise people from the third world. In fact it is very patronising, eurocentric and even racist to try to divide people in this way; to say, it’s OK for you. For example, to say to the Iranian woman that you should accept your fate because that’s your culture. This is part of the larger discussion of what lies behind this sort of thinking, but the motive is very political.

Maryam Namazie: You hear this also from the progressive angle as well. People who like what we say – for example, that we are standing up against political Islam – immediately assume that we are ‘moderate Muslims’. In the interview that you Bahram Soroush gave on the incompatibility of Islam and human rights for example, you clearly said that you were an atheist. But it just doesn’t seem to register, even among progressives. Why is that? I understand the political interests of Western governments, but why do even progressives have that opinion of us?

August 2004, that is.

In 2005 the NSS named Maryam Secularist of the Year.

Maryam Namazie received a standing ovation when the time came to reveal her as the winner. Introducing Maryam, Keith Porteous Wood, NSS executive director said: “Maryam is an inveterate commentator and broadcaster on rights, cultural relativism, secularism, religion, political Islam and many other related topics. The present revival of Islam has heightened interest in Maryam’s work, and at last her writings are gaining a mainstream audience. She has spoken at numerous conferences and written extensively on women’s rights issues, particularly violence against women.”

She’s a star.

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


Oct 25th, 2011 4:50 pm | By

Here’s some Maryam, so that you can see why it’s good news that she’s joining FTB.

Iran Solidarity Stall at Frankfurt Book Fair 12-16 October

It is quite unbelievable that a regime that brutally kills off free expression
and those who use it, that forbids women to sing in public, a regime that bans
and censures books, films and the media in the tradition of the vilest
dictatorships will be able to freely spread their views and propaganda at the
fair. No doubt this will be done displaying a show of civility that the Islamic
regime hardly shows to its own people. In the name of representing ‘Iranian
culture’ we will see some well dressed, smiling henchmen of the very regime that has just honoured Iranian actress Marzieh Vafamehr with 90 lashes and one year in prison for playing in the film ‘My Tehran for sale’ which was first given permission (yes, films need to be approved by the regime) but subsequently banned. Inside Iran, the regime imprisons writers, journalists and directors – abroad it takes part in the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Multiculturalism Conference must oppose all forms of fascism – including Islamism

On Saturday 15 October 2011 a National Conference to Celebrate Diversity and Multiculturalism is being jointly held in London by One Society Many Cultures and Unite Against Fascism. The conference describes its aims as opposing Islamophobia and racism.

One Law for All condemns racism and hatred unequivocally, and rejects the racist and violent politics of groups such as the English Defence League (EDL). We also reject the far-right hatred of Islamist groups such as Hizb ut Tahrir and Muslims Against Crusades and reject attempts to silence criticism of Islamism under the guise of multiculturalism or Islamophobia.

We are concerned that the practice of multiculturalism, as it is being manifested in Britain today, allows a blind eye to be turned to the human rights abuses often perpetrated against people within minority communities; in particular the oppression and mistreatment of women and girls. Sharia law, forced marriages, female genital mutilation and the increased forced veiling of women and girls must be condemned as human rights abuses and not legitimised in the name of culture or pluralism.

FTB roolz.

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

Good news!

Oct 25th, 2011 4:24 pm | By

Maryam Namazie is joining FTB.

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

The not just making it up community

Oct 25th, 2011 2:59 pm | By

That thing about drawing the boundaries in a different place, again.

Julian drew them as:

  1. science
  2. everything else, especially the humanities and looking at a painting

I want to draw them as:

  1. science and all other kinds of inquiry that are constrained by reality
  2. storytelling
  3. the arts, aesthetic experience, appreciation

I think we both put religion in a separate category, and both think it overlaps with the arts, storytelling and the like. I think we both think it’s in conflict with our respective 1s, but I think Julian muddled the issue by not including all other kinds of inquiry that are constrained by reality in his 1.

I think it’s good to emphasize the fact that many kinds of inquiry that are not strictly science are nevertheless constrained by reality. If they’re not they become pseudo-whatever it is. David Irving, who falsifies his evidence, does pseudo-history.

This is the bit that Rational Inquiry doesn’t name, and the reason I wanted (and still kind of want) a new name. It’s what Ron Susskind pointed up with the famous line from the Bush admin official about not having to bother with “reality-based” thinking. It’s the really important difference between theist thinking and whatever the word is for my 1 – reality-constrained inquiry is what I mean, but it’s a clunker of a phrase. The important difference is (to spell out the obvious) the difference between just making it up and knowing that just making it up won’t do.

Just making it up is fine for some purposes. It’s what my 2 is all about. It’s compatible with my 3. But for my 1, it’s the kiss of death; it’s the one thing you must not do. If you’re trying to find out the truth about anything, including something as trivial as where you put the dog’s leash, just making it up will do you no good. Educated guesses may do you good, intuitions may get you started, but just making it up will thwart your purposes.

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

Iphigenia in America

Oct 24th, 2011 5:20 pm | By

Vyckie Garrison reviews a Quiverfull classic, Me? Obey him?

I am no less rational than my (ex)husband.  He also is gifted with a strong intuition and emotional intelligence.  Convinced as we were that I was more susceptible to Satanic deception, our family was deprived of my reasonable input in decision making.  My intelligence was squelched, my intuition was distrusted and my feelings were denied.  My husband developed an artificially inflated sense of his own powers of logic.  I can’t count how many times he said to me, “What you are saying sounds reasonable, but how do I know that Satan is not using you to deceive me?”  I had no good defense.  According to the Scriptures, we had every reason to believe that I was indeed being used to lead my husband astray.

What a horrible, sad, tragic way to live. How heart-breaking that Vyckie was convinced that she was susceptible to Satanic deception.

But it gets even more so.

When a concerned friend reported our family to Child Protective Services, my ex-husband lost custody of the children due to his abuse.  The social worker told me that I was guilty of “failure to protect.”  The only thing that prevented me from having my parental rights terminated and my children placed in foster care was my willingness to submit to a full psychological evaluation, undergo individual and family counseling, and cooperate with random unannounced home visits by Social Services.

My older children rightfully blame me for not protecting them against their father’s abuse.  Even though they know that I was influenced by books such as “Me? Obey Him?” to believe that it was God’s will to submit to the abuse, my children cannot be fooled into thinking that I was not really responsible for their suffering.  I have apologized for my neglect.  Most of my children have forgiven me — still, the damage is done and some things can’t (and shouldn’t) be forgotten.

Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum. (That was about a parent abusing a child too. Iphigenia.)

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

Cooking people is wrong

Oct 24th, 2011 4:30 pm | By

I saw a thing on tv a few days ago about a “spiritual retreat” in which some people looked for spiritual whatevers via a sweat lodge, and three of them died.

The “self-help guru” who ran the show was convicted of negligent homicide last June. He could have been convicted of manslaughter but that required ruling that he knew the sweat lodge was potentially fatal, beyond a reasonable doubt.

I was glad I didn’t have to be on that jury, because I would have been sorely tempted to convict, for legally bad reasons. I would have thought that if he didn’t know a sweat lodge could be dangerous, he should have. I thought the same thing about that “therapist” who suffocated a child to death in a crack-brained “rebirthing” exercise in 2000. Candace Newmaker, was the child’s name.

Mr Sweat Lodge.

Before the disastrous ceremony outside the New Age playground of Sedona, Ray had been on a rapid ascent in the rarefied, $11-billion industry of self-help gurus. Thousands attended the free lectures he gave around the country, and many of them later ponied up thousands of dollars to enroll in one of his many workshops.

Propelled by an appearance in a 2006 documentary called “The Secret,” about rules for success, he had appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and “Larry King Live.” His business, based in Carlsbad, Calif., brought in $10 million annually and was growing fast, according to Inc. magazine.

During the trial, witnesses testified about the chaotic, two-hour event in the steam-filled sweat lodge. It ended with dozens of clients being dragged from the building. In addition to the deaths, more than 20 people were hospitalized.

Self-help gurus shouldn’t go around putting people in physical danger. That’s not asking too much, is it?

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

Scraping the barrel

Oct 24th, 2011 4:14 pm | By

Some fella says Richard Dawkins is bad and stupid and cynical and anti-intellectual because he refuses to debate William Lane Craig.


Well not the bad and stupid part, no, that’s my paraphrase, but it’s not far off; and the rest of it, yes, really.

Richard Dawkins is not alone in his refusal to debate with William Lane Craig. The vice-president of the British Humanist Association (BHA), AC Grayling has also flatly refused to debate Craig, stating that he would rather debate “the existence of fairies and water-nymphs”.

Yes, and? Are they required (morally though not legally) to debate anyone who asks? Are they not allowed to choose?

Given that there isn’t much in the way of serious argumentation in the New Atheists’ dialectical arsenal, it should perhaps come as no surprise that Dawkins and Grayling aren’t exactly queuing up to enter a public forum with an intellectually rigorous theist like Craig to have their views dissected and the inadequacy of their arguments exposed.

Oh, I see; it’s  intellectually rigorous theists that they’re not allowed to refuse to debate. Well there might be something to that, but what makes Daniel Came (he is the fella in question, the one who wrote the Comment is Free Belief piece) think Craig is intellectually rigorous? From what I hear he’s not a bit; what he is is a practiced debater, not a rigorous intellectual.

In his latest undignified rant, Dawkins claims that it is because Craig is “an apologist for genocide” that he won’t share a platform with him. Dawkins is referring to Craig’s defence of God’s commandment in Deuteronomy 20: 15-17 to wipe out the Canannites.

I am disinclined to defend the God of the Old Testament’s infanticide policy. But as a matter of logic, Craig is probably right: if an infinite good is made possible by a finite evil, then it might reasonably be said that that evil has been offset. However, I doubt whether Craig would be guided by logic himself in this regard and conduct infanticide. I doubt, that is, that he would wish it to be adopted as a general moral principle that we should massacre children because they will receive immediate salvation.

No, but he would defend it in the case of “God,” thus defending what ought not to be defended. As for infinite good, since no one can possibly know anything about such a thing,  it’s not very useful as a reason to say “oh well ok then” to wiping out a tribe or a nation. Dawkins is right to be indignant and Daniel Came is wrong to palter in this way.

As a sceptic, I tend to agree with Dawkins’s conclusion regarding the falsehood of theism, but the tactics deployed by him and the other New Atheists, it seems to me, are fundamentally ignoble and potentially harmful to public intellectual life. For there is something cynical, ominously patronising, and anti-intellectualist in their modus operandi, with its implicit assumption that hurling insults is an effective way to influence people’s beliefs about religion. The presumption is that their largely non-academic readership doesn’t care about, or is incapable of, thinking things through; that passion prevails over reason.

That claim might make some sense if Dawkins refused to debate anyone, but of course he does no such thing. He refuses to debate Craig, largely, I believe, because Craig is a dogmatic apologist, not a rational inquirer. You don’t go to William Lane Craig if you’re after thinking things through.

H/t Eric.

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

Arms linked

Oct 23rd, 2011 3:17 pm | By

PZ notes that atheists and gays “often find themselves fighting on the same side in battles against the Religious Righteous.” Indeed, and also some wrangles with the let’s-all-get-alongists, who want to unite with absolutely everyone…except those pesky atheists or those pesky gays.

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

What to call it

Oct 23rd, 2011 3:06 pm | By

We need a better word for…

Well for this. Start with what Julian said in that article.

Atheism does not own the scientific method, and nor does good, secular thinking reduce to scientific reasoning. What is too often forgotten is that modern atheism was born in a humanistic way of thinking that drew as much on arts and humanities as it did natural science, if not more so.

We need a better word for “good, secular thinking” that includes science but is not limited to it. We need a word that encompasses law, history, forensics and detective work, critical thinking, using what one knows and understands to navigate relationships and work and the world. Reality-based inquiry? Evidence-based? Reason?

Whatever it is, it’s compatible with the arts – it’s not in tension with them – but it’s not compatible with most religion, except of the “I enjoy the music and the ritual and the community” variety. It has no problem at all with just enjoying beauty in slack-jawed wonder or bliss, but it does have a problem with trying to translate that into something both definite and vague that deserves the label “spiritual,” much less “god.”

Any suggestions?

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

Hearing from Tiresias

Oct 23rd, 2011 2:33 pm | By

Reposted from November last year, on The Woman Question again.

November 14, 2010

The old Tiresias trick comes in handy sometimes. The neurobiologist Ben Barres started out as Barbara, and he reports on what it’s like to be an intelligent woman.

The top science and math student in her New Jersey high school, she was advised by her guidance counselor to go to a local college rather than apply to MIT. She applied anyway and was admitted.As an MIT undergraduate, Barbara was one of the only women in a large math class, and the only student to solve a particularly tough problem. The professor “told me my boyfriend must have solved it for me,” recalls Prof. Barres…

Although Barbara Barres was a top student at MIT, “nearly every lab head I asked refused to let me do my thesis research” with him, Prof. Barres says. “Most of my male friends had their first choice of labs. And I am still disappointed about the prestigious fellowship I lost to a male student when I was a Ph.D. student,” even though the rival had published one prominent paper and she had six.

Well…women should just all do the transgender thing; problem solved. Right? Or would that be slightly inconvenient.

Some supporters of the Summers Hypothesis suggest that temperament, not ability, holds women back in science: They are innately less competitive. Prof. Barres’s experience suggests that if women are less competitive, it is not because of anything innate but because that trait has been beaten out of them.

“Female scientists who are competitive or assertive are generally ostracized by their male colleagues,” he says.

And called shrill strident bitches for good measure.


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

Yes but what should we do about it?

Oct 22nd, 2011 5:11 pm | By

Part 4 of the Heathen’s Progress is out. It’s about how atheists shouldn’t think science is their BFF, because it will stab them in the back sooner or later.

Julian is harsh about Sam Harris’s The Moral Landscape.

What’s worse, however, is when atheists talk of science as though it is the source of all the knowledge and wisdom we need to live. The most egregious recent example of this is Sam Harris’s The Moral Landscape, with its subtitle “How science can determine human values”. It’s hard to imagine a more hyperbolic claim about the power of science…

It is rather.

When Harris sounds convincing is when he is attacking the batty view that science has nothing to say about human values. Scientific evidence might indeed reveal morally important facts, such as that inequality as well as absolute levels of wealth affects wellbeing; that different “races” are not that different and not really races; that some animals do feel pain, and of what kind it is; and so on. Science can also reveal the physiological and neurological mechanisms that underlie the things we value in life, like achieving states of flow or avoiding pain. But science could never tell us what we should value, because when it tells us how things are, we are always left with the question, what ought we to do about it?

That link is in the original, and it was probably inserted by Andrew himself (which is a little shaming, since it goes to something he wrote). I can tell you that when I publish articles by other people on B&W the website, I don’t insert links to stuff I wrote. I would think that rude and intrusive.

However, since I’m writing this post, I will insert a link to something I wrote, because it’s pretty much exactly what Julian said. I expect he got it from me. (Joke!)

It’s from the review I wrote of Harris’s book for The Philosophers’ Magazine.

It’s easy to get people to agree that well-being is good; the hard part is getting them to agree on what that implies they should do, and getting them to do it.

Harris spends most of the book hammering home the point that morality is about the well-being of conscious creatures, which means he spends far too little time considering the difficult questions that arise even if everyone agrees on that.

See? Very like what Julian said.

The rapturous reception Harris’s book received from many atheists – though thankfully far from all of them – is a symptom of an unhealthy desire to raise science to the level of our saviour.

Actually I think it’s much more a symptom of excessive admiration for Harris himself combined with a total unfamiliarity with meta-ethics. Anyway, the effect was the same.

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

I thought things would certainly change

Oct 22nd, 2011 2:16 pm | By

Oh yay. One of many items I made a note to follow up from Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender was an essay by Sally Haslanger, a philosopher at MIT, “Changing the Ideology and Culture of Philosophy: Not by Reason (Alone),” from Hypatia, 2008. Then yesterday I happened on and re-read an article by Julian Baggini on the scarcity of women in philosophy, and how does it start?

Sally Haslanger is angry. “I entered philosophy about 30 years ago,” she told me at the American Philosophical Association’s Eastern Division meeting in Boston. “I had a budding feminist consciousness, and I thought then that there weren’t enough women on the reading lists in my classes or among my teachers. But I thought things would certainly change, given the importance of the feminist movement. I’ve been though the profession now and worked hard on the Committee on the Status of Women. I’ve worked hard in other forums like SWIP – the Society for Women in Philosophy  – that were trying to advance women’s interests. After 30 years I was seeing that there wasn’t really that much change, and that made me mad.”

So today I looked, figuring it would be unavailable online, but hey what do you know – it’s available. Probably everybody with any sense has already read it, but I missed it. I love that little thrill when you find something you expected not to find.

Why there aren’t more women of my cohort in philosophy? Because there were very few of us and there was a lot of outright discrimination…In graduate school I was told by one of my teachers that he had “never seen a first rate woman philosoph[er] and never expected to because women were incapable of having seminal ideas.” I was the butt of jokes when I received a distinction on my prelims, since it seemed funny to everyone to suggest I should get a blood test to determine if I was really a woman.

My point here is that I don’t think we need to scratch our heads and wonder what on earth is going on that keeps women out of philosophy. In my experience it is very hard to find a place in philosophy that isn’t actively hostile towards women and minorities, or at least assumes that a successful philosopher should look and act like a (traditional, white) man.

Does that sound familiar? It does to me. An outspoken atheist simply has to be a (traditional, white) man, because women just don’t do outspoken and atheism. Women do shoes and feelings…at best; at worst they do bitchy cunt things.


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

One for you and three for me

Oct 22nd, 2011 1:11 pm | By

And here’s another one on the same theme. How women who play badminton really ought to do it in a skirt because…well you know.

May 7, 2011

What was that I was just saying about beauty pageants for little girls and hyper-sexualization of girls and women and the way that plays out in gymnastics and ballet and ice skating where men usually wear clothes while women always wear bathing suit equivalents?


The Badminton World Federation has made a new rule that women players have to wear skirts or dresses. Yes really – to play a sport, women have to wear skirts. Queen Victoria would so approve.

Scottish badminton player Imogen Bankier

The BWF has received feedback from various parties with regards to the introduction of Rule 19.2 of the General Competition Regulations which require female players to wear skirts or dresses for Level 1 to 3 tournaments. This specific regulation has its genesis in the extensive review into the marketing and events structure conducted by an external international marketing agency in 2009.

Well why stop there then – if it’s a matter of marketing, why not make a new rule saying women have to wear makeup and long flowing hair and V-neck halter tops and stiletto heels along with their skirts? Why not tell them to stop playing and do a pole dance instead?

The BWF has developed guidelines to go alongside the new Regulation, to ensure that it will not in any way discriminate against any religious or other beliefs and respects women. Players will continue to wear shorts if they wish but simply wear a skirt over the top of the shorts, as is often practiced already by some players.

Oh isn’t that kind and sensitive and liberal – all women have to do is add an extra, bulky garment that won’t disadvantage them in any way at all apart from interfering with their freedom to move. It won’t degrade them in any way at all except for pointlessly and stupidly sticking a Gender Label on them at the behest of a marketing agency. It won’t treat them as second-class in any way at all except by ordering them to put their Gender Identity ahead of their athletic goals.

Deputy president of the WBF Paisan Rangsikitpho says it’s “never been the intention of the BWF to portray women as sexual objects,” it’s just that they’re trying to get more people to pay attention to badminton and they figure this is the way to do it.

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

It’s all about a beautiful dress

Oct 22nd, 2011 1:09 pm | By

Re-posting a pre-FTB item as it’s relevant to the gender delusion theme.

May 1, 2011

Oh yes child (that is, girl) beauty pageants, one of my favorite things. It’s so obviously a good idea to train girls from infancy to act, move, walk, and look as much like prostitutes as possible. Australia had, in its innocence, forgotten to have such things, but they are now on their way their thanks to the helpful interventions of US pageanters.

The anti-pageant groups claim pageants sexualise children

But the pro-pageant people, absurdly, say they don’t. No no, it’s

a positive and fun-filled family occasion that will boost participants’ self-confidence.
Self-confidence at what? Attracting sexual attention? Why would anyone want to boost a six-year-old girl’s confidence at attracting sexual attention? If it’s so positive and fun-filled, why don’t they dress up little boys the same way?
Eden Wood.
I’ll tell you why. Because it’s degrading and slavish, that’s why, and it would be an outrage to train little boys to do something degrading and slavish, but it’s perfectly all right to train little girls to do that. Why is it? Well because that’s supposed to be their job, and it’s ok to start teaching to be good at it before they can read.

Annette Hill, owner of the Texas parent company Universal Royalty Beauty Pageant, who arrives in Australia a week before the pageant, said…”I don’t like golf but I am not going to go to a golf tournament and protest.”

Not relevant. It’s not about liking to do something oneself, it’s about doing things to very young children – very young girls.

”If you are looking at children in a sexual way, you should be ashamed of yourself and something is wrong with you. It’s all about a beautiful dress, a beautiful child with lots of personality performing on stage.”

Right, because the whole thing has nothing whatever to do with sex; the little girls are not dressed in a sexualized way, they are not loaded with makeup, they are performing on stage like any other child singing or reciting a poem.

However, Glenn Cupit, senior lecturer in child development at the University of South Australia, believes the young pageant participants are instructed to dress and behave in an adult way.

”The title is ‘child beauty pageant’ but if you look at the way the children are dressed and required to act, it’s actually a child sexualisation pageant,” he said. ”The children are put into skimpy clothes, they are taught to do bumps and grinds. It’s not looking at children’s beauty. It’s a particular idea of what beauty is, which is based on a highly sexualised understanding of female beauty.”

Exactly like the highly sexualized understanding of female beauty that mandates that female ballet dancers, gymnasts and ice skaters all have to wear the equivalent of bathing suits while male ballet dancers, gymnasts and ice skaters wear long tights and often long sleeves. Women have to look as naked and vulnerable as possible while men have to look as different from that as possible.

I’m off to play some golf.

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