Notes and Comment Blog

You’d go out—bang!—just like a candle!

Dec 6th, 2014 5:22 pm | By

About this business of all of us being just manifestations of PZ – Russell Glasser wittily quoted an apt bit of Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll.

Here she checked herself in some alarm, at hearing something that sounded to her like the puffing of a large steam-engine in the wood near them, though she feared it was more likely to be a wild beast. ‘Are there any lions or tigers about here?’ she asked timidly.

‘It’s only the Red King snoring,’ said Tweedledee.

‘Come and look at him!’ the brothers cried, and they each took one of Alice’s hands, and led her up to where the King was sleeping.

‘Isn’t he a LOVELY sight?’ said Tweedledum.

Alice couldn’t say honestly that he was. He had a tall red night-cap on, with a tassel, and he was lying crumpled up into a sort of untidy heap, and snoring loud—’fit to snore his head off!’ as Tweedledum remarked.

‘I’m afraid he’ll catch cold with lying on the damp grass,’ said Alice, who was a very thoughtful little girl.

‘He’s dreaming now,’ said Tweedledee: ‘and what do you think he’s dreaming about?’

Alice said ‘Nobody can guess that.’

‘Why, about YOU!’ Tweedledee exclaimed, clapping his hands triumphantly. ‘And if he left off dreaming about you, where do you suppose you’d be?’

‘Where I am now, of course,’ said Alice.

‘Not you!’ Tweedledee retorted contemptuously. ‘You’d be nowhere. Why, you’re only a sort of thing in his dream!’

‘If that there King was to wake,’ added Tweedledum, ‘you’d go out—bang!—just like a candle!’

‘I shouldn’t!’ Alice exclaimed indignantly. ‘Besides, if I’M only a sort of thing in his dream, what are YOU, I should like to know?’

A profound question, I’m sure you’ll agree.

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

The only male cheerleader

Dec 6th, 2014 4:55 pm | By

Oh, no.

Ronin Shimizu, a 12-year-old boy in California, killed himself after he was bullied for being the only male cheerleader on an all girl team. Does “after” mean “because” here? It’s impossible to know for sure, even if he left a note saying so, but…being bullied doesn’t generally make kids happier.

‘I heard that people called him gay because he was a cheerleader,’ one of his teammates told CBS Sacramento at the vigil.

Ronin was the only male cheerleader with the Vista Junior Eagles Cheer Team.

Contempt for girls hurts boys as well as girls. It hurts everyone. It sucks. It’s not healthy that it’s just normal for half of all human beings to be held in contempt.

He liked cheerleading. He thought it was fun.

Shock: Some friends say they were stunned he was so unhappy because he always had a smile on his face

That’s heartbreaking.

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

Welcome to Kansas City

Dec 6th, 2014 1:01 pm | By

A horrifying event in Kansas City, Missouri.

Friends of a Muslim teenager who was run down and killed in a crash that’s being investigated as a possible hate crime said they had been alarmed in recent weeks by someone driving around with anti-Islamic messages painted on a vehicle.

Police say they don’t know if there’s any connection.

Ahmed H. Aden, 34, of Kansas City, was charged Friday in Jackson County with first-degree murder and armed criminal action in the crash that fatally injured 15-year-old Abdisamad Sheikh-Hussein on Thursday night at the center. Funeral services for Abdisamad are scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday at the Islamic Society of Greater Kansas City.

According to a probable cause statement, Aden was driving the sport utility vehicle that hit the teen as the boy got into a car Thursday evening. A witness reported seeing the teen “fly through the air” before the SUV ran over him. The teen’s legs were nearly severed, and he died in a hospital of his wounds.

But Aden was perhaps not just a random guy who happened to be driving past.

In the weeks before the crash, worshippers said they saw a black SUV painted with threatening messages at the center and cruising around a nearby shopping area. One of the messages was “Islam Is Worse Than Ebola,” said Mohamed Ahmed, 13, of Kansas City.

“I would have thought the police would have taken care of it, but they didn’t,” he said.

Mohamed Farah, a 50-year-old friend of the boy’s family, said he called police more than once in October about a suspicious man who was coming around the center.

The driver’s behavior was not…random.

Court documents said Aden crashed the SUV and got out of the vehicle with a knife. Occupants of the car told officers they followed Aden, and they pointed him out to police. One witness said the suspect swung what appeared to be a baseball bat at people, and another witness reported that Aden pulled out a handgun and said to “Stay there” as he tried to get away.

Aden initially told authorities that he lost control of his vehicle and that there was an accident. He later said he struck the teen because he thought he looked like a man who had threatened him several days earlier, the probable cause statement said.

Federal agents are assisting in the investigation and “also have opened this matter as a federal civil rights investigation as a potential hate crimes violation,” according to FBI spokeswoman Bridget Patton. Patton said she couldn’t release any information on why the case could be considered a hate crime.



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

“Nice try, PZ, with those last two paragraphs”

Dec 6th, 2014 12:41 pm | By

Comedy interlude.

A comment on my piece titled What should we do? at the Freethinker:

  1. Blueshift Rhino says:

    Nice try, PZ, with those last two paragraphs, but you simply can’t have it both ways.

    You cannot continue to use the derisive label of “Dear Muslima” when someone argues that there are more important issues than the horror of being invited for coffee in an elevator or – even – the outrage of people disagreeing with you on the internet. Either it’s as black-and-white – we at FTB know which issues matter and which don’t, and everyone else needs to shut and listen to us – as you have been claiming for years, or it really is nuanced as Dawkins was saying and everyone who hasn’t drunk your Koolaid has been trying to explain to you since then.

    Why you are incapable of saying that you’ve made a mistake (in the past) and/or simplified matters too much is beyond me. Just take back your response to Dear Muslima and embrace what you, yourself, wrote in the first three-quarters of this column: some problems are worse than others and everyone is entitled to his or her opinion on the rank-ordering. Oh, and while you’re at it, head over to Michael Nugent’s biog and apologize for your indefensible public smears against him,l so that maybe we all can move onwards.

Maybe you’re thinking PZ wrote a long comment on my piece, one with more than two paragraphs, and that Blueshift Rhino is responding to that? Hahaha no, PZ didn’t comment on my piece. I have no idea why Blueshift Rhino calls me PZ, unless it’s because his simmering rage makes it hard for him to read names.


The confusion is compounded. Blueshift Rhino comments again:

As O.B. knows, my previous comment was retracted and a request that it be deleted was clicked before anyone other than O.B. saw it. The dishonesty of not mentioning this is unsurprising. The inability to understand that a quick retraction is the correct thing to do when a mistake is made is also unsurprising.

With that said, my main point still stands. Using “Dear Muslima” as a slur is not only simplistic or ignorant, but often hypocritical.

Oy. One, I hadn’t said anything about the PZ comment there, so what “dishonesty”?

Two, no I don’t know – how would I know?? How on earth would I know his previous comment was retracted and a request that it be deleted was clicked before anyone other than me saw it? What am I, magic?

Oh good grief, does he think The Freethinker belongs to me? Does he think I’m the editor and webmaster? Does he think it’s this extra blog I have?

Lordy. The Freeth is the oldest surviving freethought publication in the world. It was founded by G W Foote in 1881. The editor is Barry Duke. I write a monthly column for it.

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

Police interest

Dec 6th, 2014 11:57 am | By

Los Angeles police have opened an investigation into one woman’s claims that Bill Cosby molested her.

Los Angeles police opened an investigation on Friday into a woman’s claims that Bill Cosby molested her when she was 15 years old, a department spokeswoman said.

The investigation was opened after Judy Huth, who is suing Cosby for sexual battery, met with Los Angeles police detectives for 90 minutes.

Los Angeles Police Officer Jane Kim said the department opened its investigation after the meeting. (more…)

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

Protests are rare in Vietnam

Dec 6th, 2014 11:40 am | By

Saudi and Iran arrest bloggers for being rude about “the prophet”; Vietnam arrests bloggers for being rude about the government.

An award-winning Vietnamese writer has been arrested, reportedly for publishing criticism of the Communist government on his blog.

Nguyen Quang Lap was taken into custody after police searched his home in the city of Ho Chi Minh on Saturday.

His wife and his brother said police had accused him of publishing articles that went against the authorities.

Mr Lap is the second prominent blogger to have been detained recently, in an apparently renewed attack on dissent.

We have blogger privilege here in the relatively non-suppressive part of the world.

The one-party state is often criticised by rights groups for its intolerance of dissent.

Protests are rare in Vietnam and the mainstream media are state-run and heavily regulated.

However, the internet has emerged as a forum for criticising the authorities.

The press freedom group, Reporters without Borders, says Vietnam has 34 bloggers in prison.

34 too many.


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

Jim feels loved again

Dec 6th, 2014 11:08 am | By

James Watson’s Nobel medal sold for a large sum yesterday. $4.1 million, to be exact, not counting the auction house’s cut.

Dr. Watson, 86, watched the auction open-mouthed from the back of the room with his wife and one of his sons as the bidding, which began at $1.5 million, rose steadily by $100,000 increments, eventually coming down to two phone bidders who pushed the price above $4 million.

He said before the sale that he wanted to give much of the proceeds to educational institutions that had nurtured him, to “support and empower scientific discovery.”

After the sale, he said: “I’m very pleased. It’s more money than I expected to give to charity.”

The sale also became symbolic of a quest for redemption after he became what he called an “unperson” in the scientific community seven years ago; he had told The Sunday Times of London Magazine in an interview that he was pessimistic about Africa because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours, whereas all the testing says not really.”

So unfair, isn’t it, for people to decide they don’t want to pay attention to James Watson after he said a stunningly racist thing. We’re supposed to overlook it when Our Major Geniuses say things like that.

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

Jehovah’s Witnesses leaders don’t call police

Dec 6th, 2014 10:30 am | By

It’s the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ turn.

Two people who say that as children they were sexually abused by a leader in a Hillsboro Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation filed a $10.5 million lawsuit Monday – among the first in Oregon to accuse the religious organization of hiding decades of sexual abuse.

Attorneys for Velicia Alston, 39, and an unnamed man said the Jehovah’s Witnesses leadership continues to cover up sexual abuse against children by leaders. They say it is more than a decade behind other organizations, such as the Catholic Church, that have been forced to address their problems through many years of civil litigation.

Let me guess – they summoned Jehovah as a witness and he didn’t show?

“There is a crisis of silence in the Jehovah’s Witness organization,” said Irwin Zalkin, one of several attorneys representing Alston and the man. Zalkin described the religious organization as “more concerned about protecting its reputation than it is about protecting its children.”

For example, Zalkin said the seven men who make up the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Governing Body have a policy requiring a confession from the perpetrator or two eyewitnesses to the abuse before leaders will take any action.

Ahh that policy – the one that guarantees that leaders will take no action.

“Even if they do disfellowship a perpetrator, they don’t tell the congregation why,” Zalkin said during a news conference Monday in Portland. “No one but the elders can ever know that there is a child predator lurking in that congregation.”

Zalkin said Jehovah’s Witnesses leaders don’t call police. Rather, Zalkin said, they take the position that although Oregon law defines clergy as mandatory reporters of child abuse, they don’t need to report the abuse because it was a privileged religious communication.

Say WHAT?? Sexual abuse of a child by a “leader” is a privileged religious communication? “Privileged” in a legal sense, like that between lawyer and client? In what universe?

Zalkin, an attorney from San Diego, said this is the first case of its kind that he knows of in Oregon. His firm has 14 active cases against the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization in other states that include California, Connecticut and New Mexico. Several others also are pending in the U.S.

Another item to watch.

The suit alleges that Daniel Castellanos, who held the equivalent position of a baptized ordained minister in the North Hillsboro Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, molested Alston in 1986 or 1987 when she was 11 or 12 years old. The suit claims Castellanos also molested a boy, described only as John Roe in the suit, when the boy was 8 to 10 years old.

Alston said she chose to use her name and speak to reporters Monday because she wants to give victims a voice. She said filing civil litigation in hopes of changing the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ policies did not amount to committing an act against God, even though her attorneys say the Jehovah’s Witnesses might shun her for doing so.

“I know that there are other victims,” said Alston, who now lives in San Diego. “I know that you’re scared because you’re worried about being punished by God. But God would never do something like this. So it’s OK to say something. Because if you don’t say something it’s going to keep happening.”

Seriously – if you’re going to believe in a god, don’t believe in one who smiles approvingly on grownup men molesting little girls and boys.


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

“You ain’t seen harassment yet, darling”

Dec 5th, 2014 5:03 pm | By

An anti-abortion “activist” was found guilty of harassing the head of a Belfast clinic last month.

One of Ireland’s most prominent anti-abortion activists has been found guilty of harassing the head of Belfast’s Marie Stopes clinic.

A judge at the city’s magistrates court warned the Precious Life director Bernadette Smyth that she could face jail for her protests against the former Progressive Unionist party leader Dawn Purvis and the clinic.

The deputy district judge Chris Holmes said the campaign of harassment had been carried out “in a vicious and malicious fashion”.

Smyth was told she would have to pay compensation and would be barred from the area around the clinic on Great Victoria Street in Belfast.

The clinic has been picketed often since it opened two years ago.

In a scathing ruling, the judge said: “I want to make it absolutely clear that I do not feel it is appropriate for anyone to be stopped outside this clinic in any form, shape or fashion and questioned either as to their identity or why they are going in there and being forced to involve themselves in conversation at times when they are almost certainly going to be stressed and very possibly distressed.”

Well that’s the point, isn’t it – to make them feel worse and worse and worse.

Giving evidence in the case, Purvis said she was left frightened for her safety following two incidents.

During an exchange with protesters on 9 January this year, the clinic director said she had put her hand up and asked them to stop harassing her. Smyth was said to have replied in an exaggerated drawl: “You ain’t seen harassment yet, darling.”

Religion as hatred and malice. So pretty.

Smyth left court without making a comment, but her solicitor Aidan Carlin described the verdict as “a disappointment for Christians worldwide”.

For malicious shits, he means. I don’t believe all Christians are like his client.


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


Dec 5th, 2014 4:34 pm | By

Tell us more about Abort67, you ask.

Wikipedia has information.

Abort67 is a pro-life protest group in the UK known for using hardline tactics such as holding protests outside of abortion clinics, counselling people going in or out of the clinics, and displaying graphic images of aborted fetuses. Such tactics are considered unusual and extreme in the UK, although they are more common in the US. Abort67 receives financial support from US anti-abortion groups,[1] and the graphic images which they use in protests also come from the US.[2]


Of course it does and of course they do. I hate my country sometimes. It feels very disgraceful to be part of it sometimes – well, make that often.

They have a Facebook page. Content note: graphic images. The comments on the page are not admiring.

There’s a petition urging them to stop trying to intimidate women outside clinics.

Abortion Rights belives that women should be able to access information and abortion services free from intimidation and harassment so that they can make their own decisions on the termination of their pregnancy.

Abort67 appear to be trying to shut down these services by intimidating staff, service users and local residents.

‘We the undersigned support the provision of local abortion services for women across London.

We are appalled by a campaign by anti-abortion extremists – and Abort67 in particular – who are systematically attempting to prevent NHS-funded abortion services being available to local women in Southwark.

We condemn those who protest outside abortion clinics showing graphic images of aborted foetuses, with the intent to intimidate and harass women as they access advice and support about an unplanned pregnancy, or a pregnancy they cannot continue with.

We believe that women should be able to freely access abortion services and their private choices should be respected.

We feel that having banners waved in their faces or being confronted by those who know nothing of their circumstances is harassment.

Healthcare providers should be able to offer women support and care free from intimidation.

One in three women will have an abortion in her lifetime. We stand by the women of London who will need that care and the doctors and nurses who provide it.’

That’s Abort67.

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

A pregnant passerby

Dec 5th, 2014 4:01 pm | By

Ben Quinn in the Guardian has details of Sunny’s encounter with the protesters and what happened next.

A video in which protesters picketing a London abortion clinic are challenged by a pregnant passerby has gone viral after being posted on YouTube.

The incident, involving protesters from the controversial Abort 67 group, was filmed by the commentator and pro-choice activist Sunny Hundal and had been watched nearly 2m times by Friday afternoon.

Hundal said he had been threatened with legal action by one of the protesters, who was brandishing his own camera and was accused of filming women coming and going from the clinic.

After Hundal himself confronted the protesters, who have been heavily criticised for displaying graphic imagery outside abortion clinics, an unnamed woman who had been listening nearby told the demonstrators: “You are wrong in what you’re doing”.

Wrong on so many levels, she says. She’s fierce.

Ann Furedi, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said last month that it had started calling for “buffer zones” or “safe havens” around clinics, because women had said they felt intimidated by the protesters.

“We have previously contacted the churches who support the people who gather outside clinics and asked them to reconsider their stance – but to no avail; in repeated meetings with police around the country officers have told us they do not have the powers to tackle the problems these people cause; and attempts to use public order legislation have failed,” she said.

Bizarro-world side-note: Ann Furedi is married to Frank Furedi, and a contributor to spiked. She’s part of that RCP-Living Marxism-Institute of Ideas crowd that includes Brendan O’Neill. One can’t get away from them.


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

So fuckin wrong

Dec 5th, 2014 3:49 pm | By

Sunny Hundal catches a great challenge to anti-abortion protesters outside a clinic. The video has gone viral.


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

Host to an uptick

Dec 5th, 2014 3:41 pm | By

Rose Eveleth at the Atlantic reports on Twitter’s new moves to improve its practices on harassment. (Rose Eveleth herself got considerable harassment from people enraged at the objections to Matt Taylor’s shirt.)

It’s no secret that Twitter is currently playing host to an uptick in targeted harassment. The site has long provided an easy way for people to lob hostile and threatening messages into someone’s timeline, but things seem to be getting worse, not better. Gamergate targets like Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian, and Breanna Wu have all been inundated with death and rape threats that have forced them to cancel talks and flee their homes. After her father’s death, Zelda Williams—Robin Williams’s daughter—quit the social network after sustained harassment. A recent Pew study found that half of women have been sexually harassed online.

Twitter is doing a couple of tiny tweaks, with possibly more to come.

Twitter says in its blog post that the updates, for most users, will be rolling out in a few weeks. A spokesperson from Twitter declined to comment on the record for this story.

Well it’s all very hush-hush, you see. The Nazis might overhear.

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

A tradition that is frequently overlooked

Dec 5th, 2014 3:05 pm | By

James Croft writes – in a guest post at Friendly Atheist – about atheism and humanism and

  1. their failure to do enough about racism
  2. what some humanists have been doing about racism

He thinks they should be doing more, and that what the humanists are doing is important.

I stress our engagement because it is representative of a long tradition of Humanist passion for social justice — a tradition that is frequently overlooked even by Humanists themselves. While many of us can reel off the names of a few prominent individual activists who have been Humanists, few know that there is a history of organized social justice work that is explicitly Humanist, motivated by Humanist values and supported by Humanist organizations.

This tradition is particularly strong within Ethical Culture. Our founder, Felix Adler, was a member of the Civil Liberties Bureau, which eventually became the ACLU — so he played a part in the founding of one of this country’s most significant civil rights organizations. Ethical Humanists played a pivotal role in founding the NAACP: Henry Moskowitz, then an Associate Leader of the New York Society for Ethical Culture, was a founding member alongside W. E. B. Du Bois. It was the Ethical Movement that created the Encampment for Citizenship, a prominent interracial summer camp dedicated to training young people in the skills to be effective civic activists, an operation supported by Eleanor Roosevelt and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It’s worth knowing about this tradition.

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


Dec 5th, 2014 12:09 pm | By

The New Republic has abruptly disintegrated, NPR reports.

We have more news today on The New Republic, which on Thursday announced that it was cutting its publication schedule, moving its headquarters from Washington, D.C., to New York and rebranding as a digital media company – decisions that prompted the departure of editor Franklin Foer and longtime literary editor Leon Wieseltier.

The majority of the magazine’s masthead resigned today, including senior editors Julia Ioffe, Noam Scheiber, executive editors Rachel Morris and Greg Veis, and contributing editors Anne Applebaum and Jonathan Chait. (You can find the full list over at Politico.)

It has emerged that Foer resigned after discovering that TNR’s owner, Chris Hughes, had already hired Gabriel Snyder, who previously held senior jobs at Bloomberg, The Atlantic‘s website and Gawker, as his replacement.

Politico reported that late Thursday several staffers gathered at Foer’s Washington residence for what was described as “a funeral” for the magazine.

That’s very unfortunate. TNR had moved a good deal too far to the right for my liking, but it did some quality work, especially in book reviews.

NPR quotes a public Facebook post by Ioffe today:

Today, I did something I thought I’d never do and quit The New Republic. It has been, hands down, the happiest, most satisfying, most intellectually stimulating place I’ve ever worked and my colleagues were, hands down, the most competent, talented, and decent people in the business.

The narrative you’re going to see Chris and Guy put out there is that I and the rest of my colleagues who quit today were dinosaurs, who think that the Internet is scary and that Buzzfeed is a slur. Don’t believe them. The staff at TNR has always been faithful to the magazine’s founding mission to experiment, and nowhere have I been so encouraged to do so. There was no opposition in the editorial ranks to expanding TNR’s web presence, to innovating digitally. Many were even board for going monthly. We’re not afraid of change. We have always embraced it.

As for the health of long-form journalism, well, the pieces that often did the best online were the deeply reported, carefully edited and fact-checked, and beautifully written. Those were the pieces that got the most clicks.

Also, TNR’s digital media editor Hillary Kelly resigned today. From her honeymoon. In Africa. Consider that.

But enough polemics about the cowardly, hostile way Frank and Leon and the rest of us were treated. We’ve done some incredible work in the last 2.5 years and I’m proud of every day I ever worked there. I loved The New Republic, and, more than that, I love my colleagues. They are exceptional, earth-movingly good people. I will miss working with them every day.

If it were National Review I wouldn’t care, but it’s not. It has a much longer and much more substantive history.



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


Dec 5th, 2014 11:31 am | By

The Washington Post has done a big investigation into the Rolling Stone account of a gang-rape at the University of Virginia and has found a lot of discrepancies and holes in the story.

A lawyer for the University of Virginia fraternity whose members were accused of a brutal gang rape said Friday that the organization will release a statement rebutting the claims printed in a Rolling Stone article about the incident. Several of the woman’s close friends and campus sex assault awareness advocates expressed doubt about the published account, and the magazine’s editors also apologized to readers for discrepancies in the story.

Naturally Sommers is rejoicing.

The Post continues.

Will Dana, Rolling Stone’s managing editor, also released a statement with new doubt. “In the face of new information, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account, and we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced,” he said in a statement.

A group of Jackie’s close friends, who are sex assault awareness advocates at U-Va., said they believe something traumatic happened to Jackie but have come to doubt her account. They said details have changed over time, and they have not been able to verify key points of the story in recent days. A name of an alleged attacker that Jackie provided to them for the first time this week, for example, turned out to be similar to the name of a student who belongs to a different fraternity, and no one by that name has been a member of Phi Kappa Psi.

Red meat for the MRAs.

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

Big blue dot

Dec 5th, 2014 10:56 am | By

Orion took off and went 3,600 miles up and orbited twice and came back, dropping into the Pacific 600 miles off the coast of California. It sent some snaps.

The view from up there:

Embedded image permalink
Here’s Earth as seen from #Orion during its flight out to a peak altitude of 3,600 miles away from the planet.

There’s also a very cool (very meta) snap of the ISS crew watching the launch.

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A snap on the way back down:

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

A pattern of impunity

Dec 5th, 2014 10:36 am | By

The BBC reports that some UN boffins have expressed worries about this pattern we seem to be developing in the US of failing to indict cops who kill unarmed people.

“I am concerned by the grand juries’ decisions and the apparent conflicting evidence that exists relating to both incidents,” UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Rita Izsak, said in a statement.

A trial process would ensure the evidence is considered in detail, she said.

“The decisions leave many with legitimate concerns relating to a pattern of impunity when the victims of excessive use of force come from African-American or other minority communities.”

They do, yes. The Eric Garner case, especially, is horrifying. He wasn’t rushing at anyone, he was suspected of the pettiest sort of “crime” one can imagine short of maybe a parking ticket, and he was tackled and choked as if he’d just murdered someone in front of the cops.

Elsewhere in the US several other racially sensitive cases appeared this week:

  • in Phoenix, Arizona, protesters demonstrated after a white police officer shot dead a black suspected drug-trafficker, after apparently mistaking a pill bottle in his pocket for a gun on Tuesday
  • in South Carolina, white ex-police chief Richards Combs was charged with murder over the 2011 shooting of an unarmed black man, Bernard Bailey
  • The justice department and the city of Cleveland, Ohio, agreed to overhaul city police after federal investigators found frequent use of excessive force caused deep mistrust, especially among black people.

But hey – there’s even worse racism in, say, Saudi Arabia, so maybe we should all focus on that instead?

I don’t think so. That too, but not that instead.

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

The men who had been sent just before her were caught and executed

Dec 5th, 2014 9:49 am | By

From A Mighty Girl:

At age 23, British secret agent Phyllis Latour Doyle parachuted into occupied Normandy in May 1944 to gather intelligence on Nazi positions in preparation for D-Day. As an agent for the British Special Operations Executive (SOE), Doyle secretly relayed 135 coded messages to the British military before France’s liberation in August. For seventy years, her contributions to the war effort have been largely unheralded but, last week, the 93-year-old was finally given her due when she was awarded France’s highest honor, the Chevalier of the Legion of Honour.

Doyle first joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force at age 20 in 1941 to work as a flight mechanic but SOE recruiters spotted her potential and offered her a job as a spy. A close family friend, her godmother’s father who she viewed as her grandfather, had been shot by the Nazis and she was eager to support the war effort however she could. Doyle immediately accepted the SOE’s offer and began an intensive training program. In addition to learning about encryption and surveillance, trainees also had to pass grueling physical tests. Doyle described how they were taught by a cat burglar who had been released from jail on “how to get in a high window, and down drain pipes, how to climb over roofs without being caught.”

She first deployed to Aquitaine in Vichy France where she worked for a year as a spy using the codename Genevieve. Her most dangerous mission, however, began on May 1, 1944 when she jumped out of a US Air Force bomber and landed behind enemy lines in Nazi-occupied Normandy. Using the codename Paulette, she posed as a poor teenage French girl. Doyle used a bicycle to tour the region, often under the guise of selling soap, and passed information to the British on Nazi positions using coded messages. In an interview with the New Zealand Army News magazine, she described how risky the mission, noting that “The men who had been sent just before me were caught and executed. I was told I was chosen for that area (of France) because I would arouse less suspicion.”

She also explained how she concealed her codes: “I always carried knitting because my codes were on a piece of silk — I had about 2000 I could use. When I used a code I would just pinprick it to indicate it had gone. I wrapped the piece of silk around a knitting needle and put it in a flat shoe lace which I used to tie my hair up.” Coded messages took a half an hour to send and the Germans could identify where a signal was sent from in an hour and a half so Doyle moved constantly to avoid detection. At times, she stayed with Allied sympathizers but often she had to sleep in forests and forage for food.

During her months in Normandy, Doyle sent 135 secret messages — invaluable information on Nazi troop positions that was used to help Allied forces prepare for the Normandy landing on D-Day and during the subsequent military campaign. Doyle continued her mission until France’s liberation in August 1944.

Following the war, Doyle eventually settled in New Zealand where she raised four children. It was only in the past 15 years that she told them about her career as a spy.


She kept that secret for 54 years??

If I’d done a tenth of that I’d have bragged about it so hard...


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

How do we decide?

Dec 4th, 2014 5:44 pm | By

My November column for The Freethinker is out.

It asks a question.

What do we do with the thought that some things are more important than others? Specifically, how do we deal with the awareness that some human problems are more urgent and pressing than others? How do we sort them, how do we rank them, how do we decide which ones we should pay most attention to?

I talk about the variety of things I discuss on my blog (hey that’s right here) and say that I don’t really know how to rank them, and don’t particularly want to.

I understand the thinking behind good-faith efforts to rank degrees of misery. There is such a thing as being spoiled, and failing to realize the magnitude of one’s good fortune and prosperity. There’s such a thing as shouting the house down about a tiny wrong done to oneself while ignoring massive injustices done to other people. There’s the fact that some of us prosper off the exploitation of others, and that we don’t do enough to find out about it and try to do something about it. There’s all of that and more. And yet – broadly speaking, I don’t think people should be chivvied or scolded for talking about, say, sexual harassment in the workplace when they could be talking about child marriage in Bangladesh.

Or vice versa.

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