Notes and Comment Blog

Just another “honor” killing

Mar 4th, 2014 9:27 am | By

A horror story from Kurdistan Region.

A photograph of two bodies being dragged out of a pond with chains has caused even a greater outcry in Iraqi Kurdistan than the murder of the two young sisters involved.

“We intend to visit the Ministry of Internal Affairs to ask them about it,” says Parwa Ali, an MP in the Kurdistan parliament for the Change Movement (Gorran), the second-largest Kurdish party.

“This is too terrible. It is clear that the police from top to bottom needs training.”

The bodies of two sisters (aged 16 and 18) were found in a pond in the Iraqi Kurdish town of Said Sadiq, some 50 kilometers from Sulaimani, Kurdistan’s second-biggest city. They had been missing for two weeks, after appearing in court to fight their family’s opposition to marrying men they had chosen themselves.

The police used chains to pull the bodies out of the water.

“That is what you would use for a cow, not a human!” protests Ali, who was told the police resorted to this because of the state of the bodies, and for lack of better equipment.

What the hell? The issue isn’t how the corpses were treated, the issue is how the two girls were treated before they were dumped in that pond.

The picture of the girls, floating face down, was shared on Facebook, which led to reactions of shock and disgust.

“It shows the low value (that) is given to women,” someone commented. The condemnations of the way the bodies were handled overshadowed those protesting the deaths.

Ali suggests that was possibly because the case was seen as just another probable murder of women in Kurdistan, or so-called “honor killings.” On the same day, a girl of 16 was killed by her father, after the shelter where she had sought refuge handed her over to her uncle.

“Honor killings” are a common feature in Iraqi Kurdistan, where women who are deemed to have dishonored the family by associating with men who are not immediate relatives are killed by a relative. Every year, there are hundreds of such murders, with victims often set on fire or forced into committing suicide.

That’s the real horror.

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

“We meant you no harm”

Mar 3rd, 2014 6:17 pm | By

The CBC reports a student union leader at the University of Ottawa, Anne-Marie Roy, was anonymously sent screenshots of a Facebook conversation about her among five male students who are also student leaders. It was an unpleasant conversation from her point of view.

The online conversation — a copy of which was obtained by The Canadian Press — included references to sexual activities some of the five individuals wrote they would like to engage in with Roy, including oral and anal sex, as well as suggestions that she suffered from sexually transmitted diseases.

“Someone punish her with their shaft,” wrote one of the individuals at one point. “I do believe that with my reputation I would destroy her,” wrote another.

After confronting a member of the conversation in person, Roy said she received an emailed apology from all five men which emphasized that their comments were never actual threats against her.

“While it doesn’t change the inadmissible nature of our comments, we wish to assure you we meant you no harm,” the apology, written in French, read.

Ohhhhh you know what? Fuck you. The comments are the harm. They’re in writing.

Roy decided she would bring it up at a Feb. 23 meeting of the student federation’s Board of Administration, which oversees the affairs of the student union.

Her plan was to distribute copies of the conversation to the board’s members while asking the board to move a motion to “condemn” those who engaged in the discussion, two of whom were board members. The other three were involved with organizing campus events.

After learning of Roy’s plan, four of the five individuals sent her a letter warning her that the conversation was a private one and that sharing it with others would amount to a violation of their rights.

A violation of their rights! They threatened her to make her shut up about their conversation about her – their conversation about her that degraded her. Their rights. Great godalmighty.

The one participant in the conversation who is not threatening legal action said the entire incident has been a huge learning experience.

“There was some conversation with some pretty violent, like, some pretty demeaning words,” said Pat Marquis. “I didn’t say much in that conversation, but I didn’t stop it either.”

Marquis was a vice-president in the student union until he resigned this weekend, reportedly after receiving hate mail and threats related to the conversation. He said he planned to meet with Roy to “discuss ways to move forward.”

“There’s a lot of boys’ talk and locker room talk that can seem pretty normal at the time, but then when you actually look back at it, it can be offensive,” he said.

“I would never say that kind of thing out in the public but when it was a private conversation I guess it slipped my mind that that’s really not acceptable.”

It’s good that he learned, at least.

He gave himself a helpful clue: he would never say that kind of thing out in the public. Well why not? Think about that for a minute and it might become clearer why it’s not acceptable in private either.

In a statement issued on Saturday, the University of Ottawa said it was “appalled” by the online conversation which it said demonstrated attitudes about women and sexual aggression that had “no place on campus, or anywhere else.” It said it was working with Roy to develop “an appropriate response.”

The entire incident has at least one observer saying it’s clear universities need to have a more open discussion about how students talk about each other, even in private.

“I do think it’s a form of cyberbullying even though she wasn’t a direct recipient of those messages on Facebook,” said Wanda Cassidy, associate professor at Simon Fraser University who researches cyberbullying in schools and universities.

“There needs to be a lot more conversation around those kinds of behaviour and comments that are made demeaning towards women.”

The footprint that such comments can leave on the Internet should also make individuals think twice before sending demeaning or hurtful messages, she said.

“Whereas 20 years ago those guys might have been out sitting around having a beer and talking in that way, it is quite different when you’re putting in print, because it’s there as a record.”

Yes it is, and yes it is.


Another report says the students dropped their legal threats and resigned their posts as student representatives.

Marquis, Larochelle, Giroux and Fournier-Simard were all elected student representatives who resigned from their posts over the weekend after a mounting outcry from their peers. Tremblay volunteered on occasion with the university’s Faculty of Arts student association but was not an elected member.

The University of Ottawa said it was “appalled” at the conversation and is working with Roy on “an appropriate response.”

After a brief conversation with the university’s president on Monday, Roy said the institution was considering a campus audit on issues related to student safety.

Good. This shit isn’t ok.

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

How different history would have been if

Mar 3rd, 2014 5:37 pm | By

Another great who will be at Women in Secularism 3 in a few weeks:

Katha Pollitt.

Photo: ~Russian Bear

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


Mar 3rd, 2014 5:20 pm | By

It’s annoying when someone you’re arguing with (yes, on social media, not in actual [shudder] real life) says “I’m just being pedantic.”

No, you’re not being pedantic, you’re being wrong. I’m being pedantic, not you.


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

Exam questions redacted

Mar 3rd, 2014 4:58 pm | By

News from the British Humanist Association:

The British Humanist Association (BHA) has expressed alarm after a Freedom of Information (FOI) request has revealed that Ofqual, OCR and other exam boards have been reaching agreements with at least one and seemingly several state funded ‘faith’ schools to allow them to black out exam questions on evolution, where such questions are deemed incompatible with the schools’ religious ethos.

If a “school” has a “religious ethos” that is incompatible with teaching about evolution then it’s not a “school”; it’s a religious institution of some kind. It’s not education, it’s not teaching, it’s not a school, if there is a religious filter on the content.

The information came to light after Yesoday Hatorah Senior Girls School, a state-maintained Charedi Jewish secondary school in Hackney, was found last October to have blacked out a question on evolution in pupils’ GCSE science exams. An FOI request found the exam board in question, OCR, writing to Ofqual, the Office for Qualifications and Examinations Regulation: ‘In our deliberations we have reached the conclusion the most proportionate and reasonable approach would be to come to an agreement with the centres concerned which will protect the future integrity of our examinations – by stipulating how, when and where the redactions take place – but at the same time respect their need to do this in view of their religious beliefs. We believe we need to be mindful of the fact that if we do not come to an agreement with the centres we could be seen as creating a barrier to accessing the examinations for the candidates.’

There shouldn’t be any official “respect” for “beliefs” that forbid teaching the best scientific knowledge.

This is one time when some abrupt tweets from Richard Dawkins would be suitable.

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

Allowed to resign

Mar 3rd, 2014 12:20 pm | By

Via Marcus Ranum: Pro Publica reports that guards may be responsible for half of prison sexual assaults.

new Justice Department study shows that allegations of sex abuse in the nation’s prisons and jails are increasing — with correctional officers responsible for half of it  — but prosecution is still extremely rare.

The survey also shows a growing proportion of the allegations have been dismissed by prison officials as “unfounded” or “unsubstantiated.” Only about 10 percent are substantiated by an investigation.

But even in the rare cases where there is enough evidence to prove that sexual abuse occurred, and that a correctional officer is responsible for it, the perpetrator rarely faces prosecution. While most prison staff shown to be involved in sexual misconduct lost their jobs, fewer than half were referred for prosecution, and only 1 percent ultimately got convicted.

Roughly one-third of staff caught abusing prisoners are allowed to resign before the investigation comes to a close, the report concludes, meaning there’s no public record of what exactly transpired and nothing preventing them from getting a similar job at another facility.

Why, that sounds exactly like the Catholic church and its way with priests who rape children. Huh. What a coincidence.

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

Livin’ the scandal

Mar 3rd, 2014 11:52 am | By

Speaking of our grotesque rates of incarceration in the US – here’s a guy in California who was legally growing legal marijuana for a collective of medical marijuana dispensaries, who has been sentenced to two years in the slammer.

Robert Duncan moved from Los Angeles to Northern California in 2010 to manage marijuana growing operations for a collective of medical marijuana dispensaries. Although California voters legalized medical cannabis more than 17 years ago, the plant remains illegal under federal law, and the Obama administration launched a renewed crackdown on marijuana in California in 2011.

That October, Duncan’s grow house was raided. A few months later, U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner indicted him and others involved in the dispensary business on the grounds that it had grown too large. Despite California’s struggle with prison overcrowding, and despite new federal guidelines that say size should no longer be considered in prosecution decisions, Duncan, 31, was sentenced to two years in prison. He is scheduled to report to Mendota Federal Correctional Institution near Fresno, Calif., on Monday afternoon.

What is wrong with us?

Duncan reports his version:

I honestly had some stereotypes of what I expected to see when I got into the business — people who probably really didn’t need marijuana for medicinal purposes. But I was actually quite surprised to see people who were battling cancer, in wheelchairs, suffering from chronic pain from car accidents. It was quite justified. We had thousands and thousands of members of our cooperatives.

We hired lawyers from day one. We were entirely compliant with state law. It was shortly after the federal government said it would not intervene if people followed state law. We wanted to abide by the rules. None of us had criminal backgrounds. We’re all regular guys. The only reason we got into this was because the federal government said they wouldn’t intervene.

One of our stores in Sacramento, Medizen, was broken into once, and robbed once. Both times the police responded and police reports were filed, proving we were interacting with law enforcement like any other business would.

What’s the thinking here? Jobs for prison guards make this kind of thing totally worth it?

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

People take literature seriously, especially in moral philosophy

Mar 2nd, 2014 6:41 pm | By

There’s an interview with Rebecca Goldstein in the Atlantic. She’s a speaker at Women in Secularism 3.

[pause for inward tap dance; inward so as not to alarm Cooper who is asleep]\

From the intro:

At a time when advances in science and technology have changed our understanding of our mental and physical selves, it is easy for some to dismiss the discipline of philosophy as obsolete. Stephen Hawking, boldly, argues that philosophy is dead.

Yes, and Richard Dawkins, absurdly, demands why philosophy didn’t think of natural selection before Darwin.

How early do you think children can, or should, start learning about philosophy?

I started really early with my daughters. They said the most interesting things that if you’re trained in philosophy you realize are big philosophical statements. The wonderful thing about kids is that the normal way of thinking, the conceptual schemes we get locked up in, haven’t gelled yet with them. When my daughter was a toddler, I’d say “Danielle!” she would very assuredly, almost indignantly, say, “I’m not Danielle! I’m this!” I’d think, What is she trying to express? This is going to sound ridiculous, but she was trying to express what Immanuel Kant calls the transcendental ego.

It doesn’t sound ridiculous.

You’re not a thing in the world the way there are other things in the world, you’re the thing experiencing other things—putting it all together. This is what this toddler was trying to tell me. Or when my other daughter, six at the time, was talking with her hands and knocked over a glass of juice. She said, “Look at what my body did!” I said, “Oh, you didn’t do that?” And she said, “No! My body did that!” I thought, Oh! Cartesian dualism! She meant that she didn’t intend to do that, and she identified herself with her intentional self. It was fascinating to me.

There’s a book there. She should write that book.

What changes in philosophy curriculum have you seen over the last 40 years?

One thing that’s changed tremendously is the presence of women and the change in focus because of that. There’s a lot of interest in literature and philosophy, and using literature as a philosophical examination. It makes me so happy! Because I was seen as a hard-core analytic philosopher, and when I first began to write novels people thought, Oh, and we thought she was serious! But that’s changed entirely. People take literature seriously, especially in moral philosophy, as thought experiments. A lot of the most developed and effective thought experiments come from novels. Also, novels contribute to making moral progress, changing people’s emotions.

Right—a recent study shows how reading literature leads to increased compassion.

Exactly. It changes our view of what’s imaginable. Commercial fiction that didn’t challenge people’s stereotypes about characters didn’t have the same effect of being able to read others better, but literary fiction that challenges our views of stereotypes has a huge effect. A lot of women philosophers have brought this into the conversation. Martha Nussbaum really led the way in this. She claimed that literature was philosophically important in many different ways.

See for instance The Fragility of Goodness; an extraordinary book.

I gotta go, I gotta do an external tap dance. Just a few weeks until Women in Secularism 3!



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

Blog Baedeker

Mar 2nd, 2014 5:31 pm | By

A tour around FTB…

From the newest blog, On the Margin of Error, Kaveh talks about the fetish for uncertainty.

…we are not certain if there is an alien species or not. But if someone says that he knows aliens have their asses on their heads and every time they fart their eyes pop out, then we can be certain that person is wrong, and our certainty is not dogmatic, but only rational.

I have that thought often. There could be a First Cause, or a Whatever, or another cosmos in which this cosmos is just an atom, along with a cosmos in every atom of this cosmos…But none of that has anything to do with all the nonsensical specificity about Mr God and his Inflatable Knees.

Taslima has some thoughts on the burqa.

All India imam council’s Vice President claims burqas are for women’s protection, but fitting burqas or designer’s burqas attract rapists. It means, not really burqas, but the embroidery works on burqas make men’s penises erected and they can not control their desire to rape the persons hiding under embroidered burqas.

Muftis are allowed to issue fatwas. So the fatwa is, women should not wear nice looking burqas, they should wear plain burqas without embroidery designs.

These fatwabaz men are very busy thinking about women. But obviously their brains don’t think, their penises think. All they can think is how to fuck women. They dream of fucking women. They like embroidery design, so they have to fuck.

Maryam has the terrible news that Iran stoning case Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani attempted suicide in Tabriz prison.

After several days she was transferred back to the prison’s clinic and remains in terrible physical and psychological state.

The Islamic regime of Iran must release Sakineh now.

Ask Rouhani: Why don’t you release Sakineh now!

At Nirmukta, Anish Nair has a piece on that annoying article by Jakob de Roover that I blogged about the other day – so now I will cut the tour short so that I can read Anish’s piece.

A very short tour, a very tiny sample, but quite impressive. It occurs to me that this is not a bad little blog network we have here.




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

Many surviving women have been excluded from the redress scheme

Mar 2nd, 2014 12:46 pm | By

The Sinn Féin website reports what its Deputy Leader said at the Glasnevin Flowers for Magdalene event. (Sinn Féin is, as I understand it, quite pro-church itself, so much of this may be political. That doesn’t make it untrue though.)

One year after Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s apology to the Magdalene survivors, Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald TD has called on the government to introduce the long awaited Restorative Justice Bill.

Speaking after the annual Flowers for Magdalene event in Glasnevin today, Deputy McDonald said:

“A year ago Taoiseach Enda Kenny made an emotional address to survivors from the Magdalene laundries in Ireland.

“The apology was a historic recognition to the women survivors of the abusive Magdalene Laundry regime.

“Despite the Taoiseach’s apology many surviving women have been excluded from the redress scheme and just a fifth of the eligible women have received their payments.

“Pensions, medical care and the other provisions recommended by the Quirke report and signed off on by government have been delivered on. Confusion still remains for the small number of women living outside the state who wish to access medical services where they currently live.

“These delays are of deep concern given the age of the women with many in declining health. Sadly, we know of at least three of the women have passed on in the year since the apology.

“It is to this government’s great shame that it has failed to prioritise the Restorative Justice legislation and we are today calling on the Justice Minister to publish the bill as a matter of urgency.

“It must also be noted that the government’s provision of compensation and benefits is in no way a substitute for establishing the truth of what happened in the laundries.

“The nuns have still not apologised, nor will they contribute to the compensation fund.

“The lives of the women survivors have been and continue to be characterised by psychological suffering, poverty and stigma. They should not have to suffer further due to additional delays in the restorative justice process.”

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

To honor the memories of those women and girls

Mar 2nd, 2014 12:35 pm | By

And just today, a few hours ago, at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin, the third annual Flowers for Magdalenes event, to remember the women who died in the Magdalene Laundries.

Speakers included Mary Lou McDonald TD (Sinn Féin), Claire McGettrick (Justice for Magdalenes), Lynn Boylan (Sinn Féin) and Martina Keogh (Survivor of the Magdalene laundries).


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

The deceitful tale it told itself of a kindly and compassionate social order

Mar 2nd, 2014 12:30 pm | By

Meet Mari Steed.

Mari Steed was two-years-old when she was adopted from Ireland by a family from Flourtown, PA. Years later, her search for her birth mother turned up the Magdalene Laundries’ terrifying legacy, and Steed is widely credited for her campaign for justice and the Irish Government’s apology to the Magdalene survivors.

Mari is the daughter of a Magdalene survivor. She was taken from her mother and sent for adoption in America at eighteen months old.

She might never have gone looking for the woman who relinquished her had fate not brought her a great empathy for her mother’s experience. In her senior year of high school, Steed became pregnant by her boyfriend. Her parents sent her to St. Vincent’s, a home in Upper Darby for unwed mot­hers. On rare visits home to Flourtown, young Mari was kept indoors, lest her growing bump may attract neighborhood gossip.

Mari was reunited with her birth mother, who is now known as Josephine Bassett, through her campaign with Justice for Madeline Survivors. Josephine was one of the thousands of women who worked for years in the Magdalene laundries system before the last one closed in 1996. Her mother’s life, Steed told The Irish Voice in 2013, is a “kind of testament to the shadow side of Ireland and the deceitful tale it told itself of a kindly and compassionate social order.”

Cognitive dissonance on a national scale, that.

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

Farewell to Mainok

Mar 2nd, 2014 11:53 am | By

Boko Haram struck again yesterday.

The attackers – believed to be from the Boko Haram group – destroyed the entire village of Mainok, about 50km (30 miles) west of the city of Maiduguri.

The incident took place late on Saturday, hours after two bomb blasts killed at least 50 people in Maiduguri.

Boko Haram has been conducting a four-year violent campaign to demand Islamic rule in northern Nigeria.

The morning after the latest attack, bodies were lying in front of the mosque waiting to be buried and buildings in Mainok were still on fire, the BBC’s Will Ross reports from Lagos.

An eyewitness described how the attack unfolded: “They started shooting everywhere, they started burning all the houses in the village.

“I don’t think that there is any house that is standing in the village and they have killed at least 39 people in the village.”

CNN reports as of half an hour ago that dozens of people have been killed in three attacks. The first casualties were in a village bombed by a military plane trying to bomb Boko Haram camps on Friday night.

Dozens of attackers in military uniforms stormed the village of Mainok on Saturday evening, riding four-wheelers and motorcycles, as residents were preparing for evening prayers.

“They came in around 7 p.m. and opened fire indiscriminately with RPGs (rocket propelled grenades), explosives and AK-47 rifles,” said Mainok resident Yahaya Umar. “They killed 39 people who were buried this morning and destroyed the whole town.”

The attack on Mainok came soon after two explosions in Maiduguri, 50 kilometers away.

“We were just lamenting the twin blasts in Maiduguri at the soccer viewing center when the Boko Haram gunmen arrived and started firing volleys of RPGs and guns,” Abdullahi Gana said. The Mainok resident added that some of the victims were burnt in their homes while others were shot as they tried to flee.

More corpses for Allah.


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

Watch that “all”

Mar 2nd, 2014 10:50 am | By

Oh lordy. Again. I should just add a little sub-blog or something: Dawkinswatch.

This time he’s trying his hand at making authoritative pronouncements about religion versus atheism on Twitter, and…well, I cringed.

Some good people are religious. Some good people are atheists. All who fight stem cell research & evolution teaching are religious.

Some good people are religious. Some good people are atheists. All who bomb abortion clinics & all who mutilate clitorises are religious.

Some atheists are bad. But all stoners, hand-choppers, abortion clinic bombers, evolution deniers, gay-persecutors are religious.

Some atheists do good, some bad. But atheism drives nobody to do bad. Raligion drives some people to do bad because they think it’s good.

Oh gawd. Somebody stop him.

I think I know what he’s trying to say; I think he’s trying to make the point that religion supplies certain kinds of motivation that are absent from atheism. But those blurts are not that point! And they’re wrong.

And it does matter, because he’s taken to be an atheist authority figure by many many many people, atheists and non-atheists alike. As a mouthy atheist myself, I’m getting increasingly restless about being “represented” by crude slogans like the above.

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

Some of the students’ bodies were burned to ashes

Mar 1st, 2014 5:57 pm | By

Boko Haram is still slaughtering people as if they were fleas or bedbugs. On Tuesday they murdered FIFTY NINE CHILDREN at a boarding school in Yobe state.

Gunmen from Islamist group Boko Haram shot or burned to death 59 pupils in a boarding school in north-east Nigeria overnight, a hospital official and security forces said on Tuesday.

“Some of the students’ bodies were burned to ashes,” police commissioner Sanusi Rufai said of the attack on the federal government college of Buni Yadi, a secondary school in Yobe state, near the state’s capital city of Damaturu.

Bala Ajiya, an official at the Specialist Hospital Damaturu, said the death toll had risen to 59. “Fresh bodies have been brought in. More bodies were discovered in the bush after the students who had escaped with bullet wounds died from their injuries,” he said.

Rufai, who had given an earlier estimate of 29 killed, said all those killed were boys. He said the school’s 24 buildings, including staff quarters, were completely burned to the ground.

So their name – Education Forbidden – is very literal.

Militants from Boko Haram, whose name means “western education is sinful” in the northern Hausa language, have frequently attacked schools in the past. A similar attack in June in the nearby village of Mamudo left 22 students dead.

They have killed more than 300 people this month, mostly civilians, including in two attacks last week that killed around 100 each, one in which militants razed a whole village and shot panicked residents as they tried to flee.

Killing as an end in itself. No shining path, no when the state has withered away, no nothing to lose but your chains; just murder murder murder murder.

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

A question answered

Mar 1st, 2014 12:22 pm | By

That question the CBC asked in The Fifth Estate yesterday? “When does a group’s right to religious freedom get trumped by society’s obligation to protect children?” Republican legislators in Idaho have answered it with “not when it’s a matter of life and death.”

Republican legislators in Idaho struck down a proposed law aimed at preventing the deaths of children whose parents eschew medical treatment in favor of prayer.

Boise’s KBOI reported on announcement by state House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rich Wills (R), who said that House Speaker Scott Bedke (R) said there is no room on the legislative agenda to debate the bill. Bedke declined to comment, however, as to why the measure is being left off of the legislative slate.

Democratic state Rep. John Gannon proposed the measure after the deaths of several children whose parents attend Followers of Christ churches in the state. Officials estimate that some 144 children are buried in a Followers of Christ cemetery overlooking the Snake River.

Republicans like Rep. Christy Perry fought Gannon’s bill on the grounds that forcing Followers of Christ parents to take their sick and injured children to the doctor would infringe upon their religious liberty.

“This is about religious beliefs, the belief God is in charge of whether they live, and God is in charge of whether they die,” Perry said earlier this year. “This is about where they go for eternity.”

Preventing parents from letting their children die of treatable diseases would infringe upon the parents’ religious liberty (not the children’s), so let those children die.


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

Why didn’t a microbiologist perform Swan Lake?

Mar 1st, 2014 12:02 pm | By

Oh the hell with it. I was going to confine my kvetching on this one to Facebook, but the hell with it – it’s too annoying to leave.


Richard Dawkins @RichardDawkins Feb 28

Superb lecture in Oxford last pm by @sapinker Why didn’t a historian write The Better Angels of Our Nature? Why did it take a scientist?

Michael Shermer @michaelshermer Feb 28

@RichardDawkins @sapinker Same reason it was a scientist-Jared Diamond-who finally explained why civilizations developed as they did.

Oh yeah? Well why didn’t a scientist write Hamlet? Why didn’t a physicist write the “Ode to a Nightingale”? Why didn’t a chemist paint Las Meninas? Why didn’t a biologist compose The Trout Quintet?

Just stop asking stupid smug self-admiring questions, will you? Let the disciplines enrich each other, let people do multidisciplinary work, let different fields learn from each other, let a thousand flowers bloom, and stop with the ridiculous neener-neeners. It’s not a good look.

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

Yet another pool of underage girls for The Boss

Mar 1st, 2014 11:22 am | By

You’re wondering who Shlomo Helbrans is, unless you followed the link. The link was to last night’s episode of The Fifth Estate, which was about yet another of these pretend religions that are really just games of “let’s go back to the far far past and play at being old-fashioned people with old-fashioned customs” combined with an excellent system for giving one man lots of nooky. This one is sort of kind of hyper-Orthodox Jewish, but only sort of kind of, and the more official hyper-Orthodox Jewish authorities frown on it with disdain. But meh – I don’t see how theirs is any better just because it’s not new. But still, the cult in question is the personal creation of Shlomo Helbrans.

Life in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community of Lev Tahor is supposed to be simple: the rules for dress, diet, schooling, marriage and worship are clearly defined and closely followed. But last November, in the middle of the night, about 200 members of the sect fled their homes in Quebec to start a new community in Chatham, Ontario, amid allegations of child neglect.  Now the sect is fighting to keep more than a dozen children that a Quebec court ordered removed from their families. Recently released search warrants show Quebec provincial police have been investigating allegations of unlawful confinement and physical abuse of children within the sect, as well as marriage of underage girls to much older men.

Does that sound familiar? Hell yes it sounds familiar.

Their ongoing legal battles are raising an old dilemma: when does a group’s right to religious freedom get trumped by society’s obligation to protect children?

Every time.


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

The best wheeze ever

Mar 1st, 2014 11:06 am | By

Micah J Murray tells us what it was like growing up in Bill Gothard’s homeschool cult.

I remember saying, more seriously than joking, “If this is brainwashing, it feels good to be brain clean.”

But as I spiraled closer and closer to to the center, the realization began to sink in. The jokes became real.

“Cult-like”, sure. I’d call it that. Authoritarian, legalistic, overbearing. But not a real cult.

The worst thing about brainwashing is that you can’t see it for what it is. You never think you’re in a cult when you’re in a cult.

Now Gothard is in the news because – surprise surprise – there are allegations of abuse. What a coincidence: it turns out that an organization run by One Big Man may have been funneling fresh young bodies into the happy hands of that One Big Man. Who knew that Big Men liked to exploit their power to get juicy young bodies to play with?

People ask me what I think about it. What can you say? I grew up in a cult led by an alleged sexual predator.

Do I believe the allegations? Absolutely.

During my two years working at the Cult center after highschool, I saw a system of absolute authoritarianism – designed to protect “leaders” and silence “rebellion”. I saw an organization built on the “special insights” and the idiosyncratic whims of an old man with way too much money and power.

They say that he groomed young women, selected the vulnerable and the hurting, told them it was God’s will for them to come work for him. They say that he made them feel special. That say he took advantage of their naivety - naivety instilled through the teachings and culture he created.

I believe these stories, because I saw the edges.

When we were at the Training Center, we joked about Gothard’s “harem”. We all knew there was a certain physical “type” of woman that he liked to be close to him, working for him.

I saw him pick out young women who were obviously vulnerable and hurting – but also very attractive. I heard him promise them they’d be right at the center of the next big thing he was planning. Those plans never came to pass, but I saw the girls come and go.

Amazing, isn’t it? A brand new thing under the sun? Charismatic dude in charge of a cult turns out to be a goat with a stable of fragile young girls – well knock me down with a 2 by 4.

How did we wind up here, the tens of thousands who were fooled, deceived, led astray? The thousands that still are?

I can tell you how I did: I was raised in it. It was the only world I ever knew. It was my normal.

And it was a “normal” that was protected with principles that taught us not to question authority. They taught us that being different from everybody else meant we were morally superior, that we were “special”. They taught us that if the system didn’t work for us, it was because we weren’t trying hard enough.

It’s such a good wheeze. All Mr Big has to do is preach the usual authoritarian principles that go along with fanatical monotheism, and hey presto, he can fuck any girl he wants to with total impunity. Hello Warren Jeffs, hello David Koresh, hello Jim Jones, hello Shlomo Helbrans.

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

Ag gag

Mar 1st, 2014 10:29 am | By

Mother Jones has a long and informative piece on whistle-blowing in the agriculture industry, and a campaign to pass laws criminalizing it.

PETA was urging prosecutors to go beyond plea agreements for farmworkers; they wanted charges against farm owners and their corporate backers, to hold them responsible for crimes committed by undertrained, overburdened employees.

This prospect scared industrial-scale meat producers into organizing a coordinated pushback. Recognizing that, in the era of smartphones and social media, any worker could easily shoot and distribute damning video, meat producers began pressing for legislation that would outlaw this kind of whistleblowing. Publicly, MowMar pledged to institute a zero-tolerance policy against abuse and even to look into installing video monitoring in its barns. And yet last summer, at the World Pork Expo in Des Moines, MowMar’s co-owner Lynn Becker recommended that each farm hire a spokesperson to “get your side of the story out” and called the release of PETA’s video “the 9/11 event of animal care in our industry.”

As overheated as likening that incident to a terrorist attack may seem, such thinking has become woven into the massive lobbying effort that agribusiness has launched to enact a series of measures known (in a term coined by the New York Times‘ Mark Bittman) as ag gag. Though different in scope and details, the laws (enacted in 8 states and introduced in 15 more) are viewed by many as undercutting—and even criminalizing—the exercise of First Amendment rights by investigative reporters and activists, whom the industry accuses of “animal and ecological terrorism.”

You know…if there’s any industry you don’t want protected by gag laws, it’s agriculture. You know? Food? Food that you put into your body? Food that you put into your children’s bodies? Food that schools put into children’s bodies? You don’t want that veiled in secrecy. You know enough about the industry to know that. We all do. You don’t want them bulking up the product with floor-sweepings and no one the wiser.

The release of the MowMar Farms video could have been a gut-check for the industry, a moment to reflect on whether the runaway growth had led to conditions unsafe for man or beast, perhaps even an opening for dialogue with animal welfare advocates. Instead, Julie H. Craven, the spokeswoman for Hormel, went on the offensive against PETA, criticizing its practice of methodically building cases over a period of months in order to demonstrate patterns of abuse. “If they are truly concerned about animal welfare,” she said, “they should release information when they obtain it.”

It marked a transition in the industry’s strategy: Where once it had pushed back against journalists and whistleblowers after their videos ignited public outrage, now they were looking for a way to prevent such exposure in the first place. Soon afterward, meat industry lobbyists dusted off a long-dormant piece of model legislation crafted by a conservative think tank that would not only make it harder to release undercover video but would criminalize obtaining, possessing, or distributing it to anyone—including journalists or regulators.

Cindy Cunningham, spokeswoman for the National Pork Board, told me she thought such legal protections could be appropriate. “I liken it to somebody walking into your living room and taking video,” she said. “If you’re at a cocktail party and somebody shoots video of you from behind a candle—like they did to Mitt Romney—is that legitimate?”

When you’re one of two candidates for president of the US? Yes. When you produce food for sale? Yes.

BACK IN SEPTEMBER 2003, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) released a piece of model legislation it called the Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act. Like so many bills drafted by the free-market think tank, AETA was handed over, ready made, to legislators with the idea that it could be introduced in statehouses across the country with minimal modification. Under the measure, it would become a felony (if damages exceed $500) to enter “an animal or research facility to take pictures by photograph, video camera, or other means,” and, in a flush of Patriot Act-era overreaching, those convicted of making such recordings would also be placed on a permanent “terrorist registry.”

A felony to go into an animal facility to take pictures. Wow – that’s not very freedom.

…in what some animal rights activists have called an “evolutionary change” in strategy, Missouri and Nebraska lawmakers introduced bills that include provisions for what is termed “quick reporting”—a concept ostensibly intended to protect animals, but that de facto makes it impossible for journalists or activists to build a convincing case of sustained abuse. Under some of these new provisos, activists or whistleblowers would be required to submit written reports of any signs of abuse they witnessed and all supporting evidence to authorities within a matter of hours—or face criminal charges themselves. Whistleblowers would not even be allowed to keep any copies of materials they submitted to authorities. Critics say the measures are a cynical warping of so-called good Samaritan measures that require reporting child abuse or sexual assault. Only in this case, by analogy, a teacher who later came to suspect child abuse could be prosecuted for not reporting the first bump or bruise.

“It’s absurd,” said Amanda Hitt at the Government Accountability Project. She said she couldn’t believe that an industry that has been so regularly recorded breaking the law “would then have the audacity to come to any state legislative body and say, ‘Hey, we’re sick of getting caught doing crimes. Could you do us a favor and criminalize catching us?’”

And yet they do, and not only that, but some state legislative bodies are replying, “Why certainly, we’d be glad to.”


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