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.

Bishops as experts on “liberty”

Apr 12th, 2012 2:16 pm | By

The Catholic bishops have released another Declaration of Theocracy.

Sarah Posner reports

As expected, it’s basically a rehash of the same arguments the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty has been making for almost a year. This document, though, is even more pointed and hostile than previous statements, expressing disdain for (and even a refusal to acknowledge) court rulings against the Bishops, vowing not to obey “unjust laws,” and pledging to deploy “all the energies the Catholic community can muster” to resist “totalitarian incursions against religious liberty” this summer.

In other words, theocracy. Disobey laws, disobey judges, do what the bishops say “God” says instead. That. is. theocracy.

The Bishops’ statement complains about the treatment of Christian students on college campuses, alleging that “the University of California Hastings College of Law has denied student organization status to only one group, the Christian Legal Society, because it required its leaders to be Christian and to abstain from sexual activity outside of marriage.” The CLS requires members and those wishing to hold leadership positions in the club to be professing Christians and to disavow “unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle.” To gain official club status, the group requested an exemption from the school’s anti-discrimination policy, which the school denied, thus denying CLS official student organization status. In 2010, though, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the law school’s denial of official status to the group did not violate its free exercise rights. Yet the Bishops persist in claiming that this denial infringes on Christian student rights.

As the ACLU’s Paul Cates noted when the case was pending before the Court in early 2010:

If the court were to accept CLS’s claim that religious beliefs trump the need to abide by non-discrimination rules, all non-discrimination laws—the laws we have put in place to guarantee everyone an equal opportunity to earn a living, find housing and to obtain access to critical services including health care—would be in jeopardy.

And we would be living under a theocracy. That would be bad. Resist the bishops.

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

Let’s ban stuff

Apr 12th, 2012 12:14 pm | By

Let’s reverse all trends toward greater freedom in order to attract more rabid reactionaries. What a good plan!

A London University may become the first in the country to ban alcohol from part of its campus to attract more Muslim students, its Vice Chancellor has said.

It could ban women from part of its campus, too, or it could ban just women with naked heads, or it could split the difference and ban just women not in burqas. Would that be a good plan?

London Metropolitan University is considering banning the sale of alcohol from some parts of the campus because a “high percentage” of students consider drinking “immoral,” Prof Malcolm Gillies said.

One-fifth of the University’s students are Muslim, and of those the majority are women. It is an issue of “cultural sensitivity” to provide drink-free areas, Prof Gillies told a conference, adding he was “not a great fan of alchol on campus”.

It’s likely that a high percentage of students consider bans on alcohol immoral, too. Four fifths of the University’s students are not Muslim; is there an issue of “cultural sensitivity” to refrain from banning alcohol in places where it’s currently allowed?

Professor Gillies said the University was “much more cautious” about the portrayal of sex on campus than universities had been 30 or 40 years ago, the Times Higher Education reported.

Many of its female Muslim students “can only really go to university within four miles of home and have to be delivered and picked up by a close male relative”, he said.

“Now we’ve got a younger generation that are often exceedingly conservative, and we need to be much more cautious about [sex] too.”

Power to the conservatives! Let’s everybody go backward! Soon no women will be allowed to do anything unless accompanied by a close male relative. Utopia!


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

Jessica with a friend

Apr 11th, 2012 5:19 pm | By

Rebecca took it.

It’s nicer than that stinking letter.

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

Christian love

Apr 11th, 2012 5:16 pm | By

What Jessica Ahlquist got in the mail.

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

Look out, it’s a bishop

Apr 11th, 2012 3:26 pm | By

Another purveyor of candy warns that without candy everyone will turn to heroin.

Another producer of slasher movies warns that without slasher movies people will start driving their cars up onto the sidewalks.

Another executive of a tobacco company warns that without cigarettes everyone will weigh 800 lbs and all the chairs will break.

Another bishop warns that without Christianity you get Stalin and Hitler, and the Telegraph solemnly reports it as if it were both important and true.

The Rt Rev Mark Davies used his Easter Homily to express anxiety at the consequences of undermining Britain’s religious heritage.

He cited the recent history of Europe to voice fears extremism would fill the void if Christianity was [sic] weakened.

“It has, indeed, been the experience of this past century, as both Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have observed[,] how the most poisonous ideologies have arisen within the Christian nations of Europe,” he said.

JP and Ben aren’t the only ones who have observed that poisonous ideologies arose in Europe. Lots of people noticed that. It was kind of hard to miss. It’s the bit about Christianity being the preventive that’s tricky.

“If Christianity is no longer to form the basis and the bedrock of our society then we are, indeed, left at the mercy of passing political projects and perhaps even the most sinister of ideologies.”

Who says? On the basis of what? Christian Germany didn’t stop Nazism, and secular Sweden isn’t at the mercy of the most sinister of ideologies.

Bishop Davies became the latest influential religious leader to warn of the consequences of increasing secularisation.

And to be dutifully and naggingly quoted by the Telegraph. The Telegraph is really big on this “more theocracy please or else everything will explode” line of chat. I wonder if it’s being held hostage by a bishop.


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


Apr 11th, 2012 11:35 am | By

So now they’ve started arresting women

An Idaho woman arrested for inducing her own abortion is taking her case to federal court. Jennie Linn McCormack was charged last year under an obscure Idaho law for ending her pregnancy with RU-486.

McCormack won’t talk about the day she had an abortion. She’s following her attorney’s advice. But here’s what the public record says.

In late 2010, McCormack learned she was pregnant. The father was out of the picture. Her youngest was barely two and she was living off child support checks.

Getting an abortion would have cost at least $500 and required multiple trips back and forth to a clinic hours away. So, McCormack turned to the rising number of Internet suppliers of abortion pills.

Now, this is where the story gets more complicated. RU-486 is medically recommended only within the first nine weeks of pregnancy. It turns out that  McCormack was way past that although she said she didn’t realize it at the time.

After she aborted the fetus she was horrified by how far along it seemed. Possibly as much as 20 weeks. McCormack confided in a friend. It was this friend’s sister that tipped off the police.

The police, who knocked on the door…


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

A chance

Apr 11th, 2012 11:14 am | By

Remember the baby girl in Bangalore whose father punched her because he wanted a boy?

Well, she died.

For nearly a week, the three-month-old fought as hard as she could in hospital, despite a father who established through brute force that she was unwanted. This morning, Baby Afreen died 30 minutes after a cardiac arrest in a government hospital – the third that she visited in the last seven days with her teenaged mother. She was buried later in the day.

Baby Afreen’s father, Umar Farooq, was arrested on Sunday for allegedly assaulting his only child. He has reportedly confessed to the police that he hit his only child because he had wanted a son. Afreen’s mother, Reshma Bano, is 19 years old. She has offered conflicting accounts of how often her husband hit the baby.

But last week, with her baby bruised and bitten, Reshma rushed to hospital.  Afreen arrived at Bangalore’s Vani Vilas hospital three days ago, with bleeding and swelling in her brain. This morning, doctors say, she slipped into a coma after a series of convulsions that began last evening.  Doctors have been circumspect about revealing the details of the physical abuse she suffered, but they say she had bite marks and burns.

Her parents say Farooq had a record of beating Reshma. Policemen dissuaded them from registering a complaint. “Give him a chance, let them work it out,” was the advice they allegedly offered to Reshma’s father, Abdul Karim.

Give him a chance to what? Hit harder? Hit more often? Bite? Burn?

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

Leo Igwe

Apr 10th, 2012 5:03 pm | By

There’s a very good article about Leo Igwe in South Africa’s Mail and Guardian.

The heated face-off between Igwe and Ukpabio’s followers that took place in July 2009 is part of a continuing battle for the country’s soul. In the one camp, there are people like Igwe, a humanist who fights superstition because of the savage effect it has on the country’s children. Ukpabio and a growing horde of pastors just like her, such as David Oyedepo and Celestine Effiong, make up the other group. They are the ever-growing number of evangelists whose fame and fortune comes from irrational beliefs and their livelihood is dependent on the hysterical fear associated with witchcraft that exists in Nigeria’s fundamentalist, Christian south.

A tireless champion of critical thinking, Igwe works to help bring relief to the victims of superstitious crimes. He also helps children who are abandoned in Nigeria because they are identified as witches.

A year after Igwe was attacked by Ukpabio’s followers, the “lady apostle” herself took him to court along with members of local government and the police. Ukpabio was seeking $1.3-million because, she alleged, Igwe and the state was infringing on her freedom to practice religion. Ukpabio was seeking “an order of perpetual injunction” restraining Igwe and his fellow respondents from stopping her church’s “right to practice their religion and the Christian religious belief in the existence of God, Jesus Christ, Satan, sin, witchcraft, heaven and hellfire.” The judge dismissed Ukpabio’s application.

Their “right to practice their religion” – so they try that game in Nigeria too.

At times, the union has had to petition the Nigerian government to get the police to stop harassing Igwe and his family because of the work the humanist does. Online, you will find numerous websites libelling Igwe because he openly challenges Ukpabio, who preys on the weak with her practice of “witchcraft deliverance”. This is a process of exorcism during which Ukpabio expels demonic spirits from the possessed.

In the region of Akwa Ibom, a small girl was said to be possessed by a demon a few years ago. The child was a five-year-old by the name of Esther, whose mother had died. In this particular region, an illness is often said to be instigated by the curse of a neighbour, or more tragically, by a child in the family. Esther became the demon who was cast out.

“I rescued her twice when she was about five years old after she was accused of killing her mother,” said Igwe. “She was driven out and went to live in the local market. A man of about 40 took Esther back to his home and was having sex with her. I was shocked when I heard about it. I took this girl and I handed her over to the government. Later, I found out that Esther had fled because the government doesn’t take proper care of these children.”

I published Leo’s article about rescuing Esther for the second time, including heart-rending photographs that he took. It’s sad that she fled.


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

Vile Brendan O’Neill

Apr 10th, 2012 4:13 pm | By

Vile smug sneery mind-reading Brendan O’Neill, who sees through everyone’s fake right-on poses and spots the self-flattery underneath – according to him, anyway.

now it is positively fashionable, bang on trend, for everyone from top American politicians to Ivy League students to wear a hoodie to show that they “care for Trayvon”. Yet far from being an indication of deep moral sensitivity, all this hoodie-wearing looks to me like a modern, PC version of “blacking up”, with the respectable classes pulling on the garb of black America in order to send a message about their own inherent goodness.

That’s what everything looks like to him. People who support same-sex marriage look to him like people doing something “in order to send a message about their own inherent goodness.” It’s as if he’d just had that first eye-opening class with Professor Iconoclast who explains to woolly undergraduates that what looks like public spirit or dedication is actually sadism or displaced masturbation or a chocolate-substitute.

And here’s a news flash for Brendan and his idiotically complaisant editors: he doesn’t know that. He doesn’t know why people do what they do. Freud didn’t know, Nietzsche didn’t know, and he doesn’t know. He certainly doesn’t know why all the people who wear hoodies as a Trayvon-statement do so. Sure, maybe he’s right, maybe there’s an element of vanity in it for a lot of people; there usually is, with most things we do; so the fuck what? What about the element of vanity in Vile Brendan’s vile posts? We don’t think he does those out of sheer disinterested public spirit do we? Doesn’t he think he’s a devilish handsome fellow, looking up at us in that dashingly “you can’t fool me” way?

And then read the comments under his vile post. That’s the kind of person who likes his stuff. Vile smug sneery mind-reading git.

H/t Kevin Anthoney.

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

The talk

Apr 10th, 2012 2:20 pm | By

Elspeth Reeve at the Atlantic Wire gives a lot of background on John Derbyshire’s…erm…views on race.

Derbyshire doesn’t say that black people, especially women, are pathetically stupid people doomed to live on the dole (For a good example of that, check out the 1941 Looney Tunes cartoon Coal Black and the Sebben Dwarfs.) Instead, he says that the black women who work at the DMV are mean and stupid because they’re genetically destined to be so. From his recent essay:

The mean intelligence of blacks is much lower than for whites. The least intelligent ten percent of whites have IQs below 81; forty percent of blacks have IQs that low… There is a magnifying effect here, too, caused by affirmative action. In a pure meritocracy there would be very low proportions of blacks in cognitively demanding jobs. Because of affirmative action, the proportions are higher. In government work, they are very high… “The DMV lady“ is a statistical truth, not a myth.

Derbyshire does not call Obama a hustler who has hoodwinked gullible whites. Instead, when he implies Obama is a product of Affirmative Action, he presents it as a sendup of uppity liberals consumed by white guilt. On Obama’s background, November 5, 2008:

He was a red-diaper baby, offspring of a love-the-world, hate-America sixties gal and an African socialist in the Mugabe mould, raised by leftish grandparents addled with “Uncle Tim” racial guilt, and mentored by a hard-Left labor radical.

There’s a lot more.

And then underneath there’s a whole slew of racist comments.


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

Hey kid get a haircut

Apr 10th, 2012 1:42 pm | By

This too is from last month. You probably already know about it. I saw a headline or two, but didn’t follow it up. Dozens of Iraqi teenagers with emo haircuts were stoned to death.

Pictures below the fold.

Iraqi activists said this picture belongs to a teenager who was brutally killed by religious police for having an “emo” hairstyle. (Courtesy of Al Tahreer News)

Activists told the Lebanon-based al-Akhbar daily that at least 90 Iraqi teenagers with “emo” appearances have been stoned to death by the Moral Police in the country in the past month. The violent crackdown against “emo” Iraqi teenagers came after the Iraqi interior ministry declared them as “devil worshippers.”

“The ‘Emo phenomenon’ or devil worshiping is being probed by the Moral Police who have the approval to eliminate it as soon as possible since it’s detrimentally affecting the society and becoming a danger,” according to a statement by the interior ministry.

And by “eliminate it” they mean “smash the teenage boys with rocks.” That kind of interior ministry; that kind of Moral Police.

H/t Małgorzata

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

Ceci n’est pas une femme

Apr 10th, 2012 1:35 pm | By

This is from last month, but I missed it. Egypt’s Islamists want to do away with the category “women” and replace it with “families.”

A women’s conference organized by the dominant Islamist bloc in the Egyptian parliament has called for a council for families to replace the existing National Council for Women, a state-owned daily reported on Friday.

The conference, held Thursday on International Women’s Day, also condemned the 1978 U.N. convention against gender discrimination saying it was “incompatible with the values of Islamic sharia” law, the Al-Ahram newspaper reported.

Great. Faaaaantastic. One, forget all about women, there are no women, there are only families. Two, forget all about equal rights for women, equal rights for women are incompatible with the values of sharia.

That should just about take care of it!

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

Free Hamza Kashgari

Apr 9th, 2012 5:07 pm | By

And another thing:

Sign the petition if you haven’t already.

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

It’s a ploy

Apr 9th, 2012 4:31 pm | By

Andrew Copson was on BBC News to say what he thought about the cardinal’s yips about religious freedome and Wearing the Cross. He said it very nicely, but the cardinal won’t like it any better for that.

Andrew’s bit starts at 2:14.

H/t Author.

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

And the award goes to

Apr 9th, 2012 2:26 pm | By

The Southern Poverty Law Center reports on misogyny websites and blogs. It lists twelve of them, including In Mala Fide and the subreddit Men’s Rights.

In Mala Fide This blog, whose name translates from the Latin as “In Bad Faith,” describes itself in its mission statement as “[a]n online magazine dedicated to publishing heretical and unpopular ideas. Ideas that polite society considers ‘racist,’ ‘misogynistic,’ ‘homophobic,’ ‘bigoted’ or other slurs used to shut down critical thinking and maintain the web of delusions that keep our world broken and dying.” The unifying idea is this: “Feminism is a hate movement designed to disenfranchise and dehumanize men.” The site carries ads for such offerings as the HardKnight “male enhancement system,” PolishLasses (“Over 5,000 … candid photos”), and the racist 1922 classic The Revolt Against Civilization by Lothrop Stoddard.

Reddit: Mens Rights A “subreddit” of the user-generated news site Reddit, this forum describes itself as a “place for people who feel that men are currently being disadvantaged by society.” While it presents itself as a home for men seeking equality, it is notable for the anger it shows toward any program designed to help women. It also trafficks in various conspiracy theories. “Kloo2yoo,” identified as a site moderator, writes that there is “undeniable proof” of an international feminist conspiracy involving the United Nations, the Obama Administration and others, aimed at demonizing men.

A Voice for Men A Voice for Men is essentially a mouthpiece for its editor, Paul Elam, who proposes to “expose misandry [hatred of men] on all levels in our culture.” Elam tosses down the gauntlet in his mission statement: “AVfM regards feminists, manginas [a derisive term for weak men], white knights [a similar derisive term, for males who identify as feminists] and other agents of misandry as a social malignancy. We do not consider them well intentioned or honest agents for their purported goals and extend to them no more courtesy or consideration than we would clansmen [sic], skinheads, neo Nazis or other purveyors of hate.”, an affiliated website that vilifies women by name who have made supposedly false rape allegations (among other crimes against masculinity), is one of Elam’s signature “anti-hate” efforts. “Why are these women not in prison?” the site asks.

It’s all become so horribly familiar.



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

A very different intellectual tide. Not.

Apr 9th, 2012 1:12 pm | By

Nicholas Kristof spots a trend.

A few years ago, God seemed caught in a devil of a fight.

Atheists were firing thunderbolts suggesting that “religion poisons everything,” as Christopher Hitchens put it in the subtitle of his book, “God Is Not Great.” Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins also wrote best sellers that were scathing about God, whom Dawkins denounced as “arguably the most unpleasant character in fiction.”

Yet lately I’ve noticed a very different intellectual tide: grudging admiration for religion as an ethical and cohesive force.

Lately? He hasn’t been paying much attention, has he. It’s not ”lately”; it’s been all along; it’s been simultaneously and before that and for the past 30 centuries or so.

I mean honestly, does he think the horseguys were the only people talking? Does he think the admirers of religion shut up or went away during The Time of the Thunderbolts? Does he think overt atheists had things all their own way for awhile? Is he out of his mind?

There were pro-religion books being published before, while, and after Dawkins and Hitchens published theirs. Pro-religion books overwhelmingly outnumber anti-religion books. A ferocious and usually mendacious backlash against overt atheism started the instant Harris’s book hit the shelves, and it’s still going strong. There’s no new “intellectual tide” of grudging admiration for religion; it’s the same boring old tide that’s been surging in and out all along.

The standard-bearer of this line of thinking — and a provocative text for Easter Sunday — is a new book, “Religion for Atheists,” by Alain de Botton. He argues that atheists have a great deal to learn from religion.

“One can be left cold by the doctrines of the Christian Trinity and the Buddhist Eightfold Path and yet at the same time be interested in the ways in which religions deliver sermons, promote morality, engender a spirit of community, make use of art and architecture, inspire travels, train minds and encourage gratitude at the beauty of spring,” de Botton writes.

“The error of modern atheism has been to overlook how many aspects of the faiths remain relevant even after their central tenets have been dismissed,” he adds, and his book displays an attitude toward religion that is sometimes — dare I say — reverential.

Oh you dare say all right: it’s very reverential; a good deal too reverential.

Pantheon sent me a copy the other day, slightly to my surprise, so I’ve been reading it. I dislike it a lot more than I expected to – I figured I would find much of the religion-flattery irritating, but I also figured it would be lively and interesting. Now I’m wondering why I figured that. Reputation, I guess; people seem to think de Botton is good at lively and interesting, so I vaguely assumed they were right.

As it turns out I’m more irritated by the style than the substance. I’m irritated by it because there isn’t any – the writing is smooth and utterly devoid of character. It’s weirdly careful, or cautious - as if he’d drained it of character on purpose. Why? It’s not an academic book, so where was the need to drain it of character?

I think you can see what I mean even in the short extract that Kristof provided. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s like a dead fish. It just lies there. I’ll give you another, longer extract, where the stiffness and deadness is particularly conspicuous. It’s from the chapter called “Kindness,” which is about his claims that religion is good at teaching morality; in this section he is talking about role models, such as saints.

In addition, Catholicism perceives that there is a benefit to being able to see our ideal friends around the house in miniaturized three-dimensional representations. After all, most of us began our lives by having nurturing relationships with bears and other animals, to whom we would talk and be addressed by in turn. Though immobile, these animals were nevertheless skillful at conveying their consoling and inspiring personalities to us. We would talk to them when we were sad and were comforted when we looked across the bedroom and saw them stoically enduring the night on our behalf. Catholicism sees no reason to abandon the mechanics of such relationships and so invites us to buy wood, stone, resin or plastic versions of the saints and place them on shelves or alcoves in our rooms or hallways. At times of domestic chaos, we can look across at a plastic statuette and inwardly ask what St Francis of Assisi would recommend that we say to our furious wife and hysterical children now. The answer may be inside us all along, but it doesn’t usually emerge or become effective until we go through the exercise of formally asking the question of a saintly figurine. [pp 93-5]

See what I mean? That passage really didn’t have to be so bad.

Let’s take a look at what’s wrong with it. For a start, there’s “Catholicism perceives,” which is a trope he uses throughout and which gets more irritating the more you read it. It’s irritating because it’s inaccurate and sloppy, and since he rests a huge proportion of his argument on it, that’s a real problem. It’s meaningless to say “Catholicism perceives” anything, and it’s not really clear what he means by it. Who exactly is it who perceives what he claims Catholicism perceives? All Catholic clerics throughout history? One particular cleric who invented the idea of statuettes of saints? I don’t know. He attributes this kind of agency to “religion” and “Judaism” and “Christianity” and similar large abstractions throughout the book, thus making them all sound very intelligent and sympathetic and human-oriented and caring, which is a way of putting a heavy thumb on the scales.

So there’s that, which is substance as well as style, and then right after that there’s a string of needlessly formal words by way of introducing the subject of soft toys. Then there’s a syntactical train wreck, caused by the needlessly and annoyingly formal “to whom we would talk” – he forgot what he was doing and ended up with “to whom we would talk and be addressed by in turn.” Say what? Oh the messes caused by that idiotic pseudo-rule against ending a sentence or clause with a preposition. Not to mention his claim that stuffed animals answer when we talk to them. They do?

And then there’s the hilarity of “Though immobile, these animals were nevertheless skillful at conveying their consoling and inspiring personalities to us.” “Though immobile” – ha! And then “nevertheless skillful” – again, say what? Does he mean it, or has he lost track of what he’s saying again, or what? It’s hard to tell, but either way, it’s a disaster. And then the bit about stoically enduring the night on our behalf – and what are they doing across the room? If you want the damn bear, take it to bed with you, ffs! Except of course you don’t want to be taking resin or plastic statuettes of Assisi Frank to bed with you, so I suppose he had to leave Pooh across the room. That’s the trouble with a complicated simile that you lose control of which.

And then you get a marital quarrel complete with furious wife and hysterical children, and marital guy looking at a statuette of Assisi Frank for help (which is off, since Frank was fonder of animals than he was of wives and children), and then to make it all complete there’s the assertion that we usually can’t figure these things out “until we go through the exercise of formally asking the question of a saintly figurine.” Oreally?

It’s not all as bad as that, to be fair, but it is all that pointlessly stiff and dull and lifeless. I’m tempted to think that the gnu atheists cornered the market on lively writers.

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

The girl’s screams

Apr 9th, 2012 11:12 am | By

A horror story from India.

The girl’s screams were brittle and desperate. Neighbors in the suburban housing complex looked up and saw a child crying for help from an upstairs balcony. She was 13 and worked as a maid for a couple who had gone on vacation to Thailand. They had left her locked inside their apartment.

After a firefighter rescued her, the girl described a life akin to slavery, child welfare officials said. Her uncle had sold her to a job placement agency, which sold her to the couple, both doctors. The girl was paid nothing. She said the couple barely fed her and beat her if her work did not meet expectations. She said they used closed-circuit cameras to make certain she did not take extra food.

“Akin to” slavery? What? How could it be any more exactly slavery? She was sold; she was not paid; she was all but starved; she was beaten; she was imprisoned. That’s not “akin to” slavery, it’s slavery itself, and of the very worst kind – brutal, sadistic, exploitative.

Honestly, what a disgusting tale – and it’s commonplace in India, so we can’t console ourselves with the thought that it’s an anomaly. How disgusting that two adults with enough intelligence and discipline and good fortune to train as doctors could treat a child that way. Think about it. Project yourselves into those two people – starving a child day in and day out, while forcing her to do your shitwork, and beating her when she doesn’t do it to your liking. Did you project? What’s it like? What does it feel like? I tried it, and I can’t really do it. I can imagine starting to act like that, but I can’t imagine going on acting like it, because the horror and guilt would stop me. It’s pretty much that simple. What I don’t understand is, why didn’t it stop them? Why doesn’t it stop people like that?

I always have this problem. I have it when trying to imagine being a Nazi grunt in charge of herding people into the gas chamber; I have it when trying to imagine being a man throwing stones at the head of a woman buried up to her neck; I have it when trying to imagine being a Saudi employer torturing her Indonesian maid. I don’t have it when trying to imagine being an Eichmann, but I have it with the up close and personal savagery. I don’t understand how normal people – people normal enough to become doctors – can do it.

It’s depressing that so many people can do it. It’s the most depressing thing about human beings.

Indian law offers limited safeguards and limited enforcement to protect such children, and public attitudes are usually permissive in a society where even in the lowest rungs of the middle class, families often have at least one live-in servant.

“There is a huge, huge demand,” said Ravi Kant, a lawyer with Shakti Vahini, a nonprofit group that combats child trafficking. “The demand is so huge that the government is tending toward regulation rather than saying our children should not work but should be in school.”

Well that’s a non sequitur. The fact that “the demand” is huge isn’t a reason for the government to meet the demand. If there were a huge demand for fresh babies to serve in high-end restaurants, would the government tend toward regulation rather than saying our babies should not be eaten?

Mala Bhandari, who runs Childline, a government hot line for child workers, said India’s urbanization and the rise of two-income families were driving demand for domestic help. Children are cheaper and more pliant than adults; Ms. Bhandari said a family might pay a child servant only $40 a month, less than half the wage commonly paid to an adult, if such servants are paid at all.

Well yes; I think we all managed to figure that much out. I think we all grasp that children are “more pliant” than adults because they’re much smaller and weaker, and that they’re cheaper for the same reasons. We get that. That part is not what’s mystifying.

Societal attitudes toward servants are often shaped by ingrained mores about caste and class. Many servants, especially children, come from poor families among the lower Hindu castes or tribal groups, often from poor states like Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal.

Well, maybe that explains it. No doubt if I’d grown up convinced that certain people were from “lower castes” I would be able to brutalize a child the way the two doctors did. That is perhaps the best reason for saying egalitarianism should be the building block of all morality. (See the first article of the UDHR.)

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

Burn it

Apr 9th, 2012 9:50 am | By

Taslima is wasting no time. “What should women do?” she asks. “They should take off their burqas and burn them.”

That’s telling them!

So is her opening observation.

My mother used to wear a burqa with a net over her face. It reminded me of the meat safes in my grandmother’s house. Meat safe’s net was made of metal, my mother’s net was made of linen. But the objective was the same: keeping the meat safe.


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

Being good

Apr 8th, 2012 4:40 pm | By

Interesting post of PZ’s on being “good without god” and whether that’s a goal or slogan worth having.

The implication of “good” is thorough conformity. Has challenging an authority figure ever fit the definition of being good? When abolitionists broke the law by smuggling slaves into Canada, when suffragettes picketed to demand the vote,  when Stonewall erupted and Martin Luther King marched, when students protested the war in Viet Nam, were they being “good” in the general public’s understanding of the term? I don’t think so. They were being very, very naughty. Which was good. See what I mean? It’s an empty word that offers nothing but vague reassurances.

Yes I guess so. I admit I have been thinking all along that what “good” meant in that context was: not selfish, not ruthless, not brutal or predatory or greedy. I’ve been thinking it meant altruistic and generous as opposed to their opposites.

Now that PZ mentions it I’m not sure why I’ve been thinking that. It’s not self-evident, certainly. I suppose I’ve been assuming that what Christians in general mean by “good” is generous and altruistic…but is it? Am I just assuming that because I’m infected with the same anachronistic illusions that Karen Armstrong is? Am I assuming that because I’ve bought into modern goddy propaganda that religion simply equals compassion and related other-regarding virtues?

Well, but if there is modern goddy propaganda that religion simply equals compassion etc then Christians will have bought into it too, so I could still be right that that’s what they mean by the word.

I think they do, really – that’s my guess. For Quiverfull types and all the other flavors of lunatic it probably does mean obedience; it does for Mormons; but for more average Christians I think it means some variation on Charity, as in 1 Corinthians 13 type charity.

And that’s part of the appeal, for some, perhaps for many. That’s not really conformist. It’s not friendly to capitalism, for one thing. It doesn’t look with complacency on all social arrangements, because so many of them have not a damn thing to do with Charity or altruism or generosity.

One of the few persuasive things I’ve ever heard Karen Armstrong say – I think she’s the one who said it – was that real generosity is irrational, and that’s why religion is good at it. I think there’s something to that.

The two are not unconnected though. Challenging authority figures can partake of the same kind of irrational generosity. And then when you go that way you do find yourself flatly denying other people’s ideas of what is “good.” The pope and his friends for instance think the way to be extra special good and different from the selfish secular world is to be insanely concerned about human fetuses at the expense of adult female human beings. That’s the urge to be irrationally caring and generous run completely amok.

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

Update on Hamza Kashgari

Apr 8th, 2012 3:26 pm | By

Update: Maryam reports that it’s not reliable.

there have been some reports that 23 year old Hamza Kashgariwho faces execution in Saudi Arabia for his Tweets about Mohammad is now out of danger and is to be released imminently or that he is only being held ‘for his own safety’. But these reports are not true.

I just got two messages from a family member and a friend. One message said:

That’s not true, nothing has been confirmed so far, everything still foggy and in a gray area. We hear from him from one time to time informing us that he’s ok and that’s it.

So everything below is wrong or at least unconfirmed.

Via the Free Hamza Kashgari Facebook page. I can’t be sure how reliable it is, but for what it’s worth (and given the non-existence of any other sources): one of the admins of the page reported yesterday, just about 24 hours ago, that he had news via people close to Kashgari.

The sharia court accepted his explanation and his life is no longer in any danger. But they can not release him at the current time due to the great danger he is facing from the general public. His mother is allowed to visit him and under the circumstances Hamza is doing well. It is impossible at this time to predict how long they have to keep him there – he is now locked up for his own safety, not because he said what he said.

This is from a source close to Hamza and his family.

Good that his life is not in danger from the authorities, but horrendous that his life is in danger from maniacs in his country and that he has to stay in prison to be safe from them. Horrendous and infuriating that the Saudis didn’t just let him leave the country, but had to drag him back so that he would be in danger from maniacs.

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