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.

A modest proposal

Oct 26th, 2012 3:56 pm | By

Boy, that Mourdock fella is a real prize. He’s got his career plans wrong though. He wants to be a bishop, not a legislator.

He had a chat with some newspaper people in southern Indiana Wednesday, and there he elaborated on his thoughts about god and rape.

The wide ranging interview covered all topics, but the highlight came when a reporter asked if he believed God intended women to be raped:

“Personally I think that the closer you are to God, the less likely you are to run into something like that,” Mourdock responded, “Some of these women – if they had been more faithful to the Lord, if they had just prayed a little harder – then they wouldn’t have found themselves in that situation.”

So………in other words, “God” allowed them to be raped because they hadn’t been “faithful” enough and hadn’t prayed hard enough. They were slutting around on God and neglecting to tell him how great he is.

“I’ve seen marriages break up and friendships drift apart because someone wasn’t right with the Lord. I think the same is true in any situation. With Jesus Christ on your side, only good things will come.”

He then went on to propose a unique anti-rape measure:

“And in the case of rape Christ has a specific remedy. Studies have shown that if you pray for at least 20 minutes before any big date, your partner is 93% less likely to rape you.

“Scientists say prayer can create a ‘rape halo’ around a woman’s body which instantly renders a potential rapist impotent. I’m not sure how it works exactly. I think its pheromones.

“So I don’t think God wants a woman to get raped. He offers her a choice. The rape halo is only a prayer away. If she’s too lazy to get on her knees and ask for it, that’s her fault.”

Wait. Seriously?

No! It’s a satire. But it’s pretty convincing until you get to the halo.


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

50 facts

Oct 26th, 2012 1:18 pm | By

Soraya Chemaly presents 50 facts about rape.

Republican Representative Richard Mourdock’s recen “misspeaking”  is unexceptional. Despite what he may have meant when he said “even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape that… is something God intended to happen,” he is unexceptional.  He’s not an outlier. Not a radical. In no substantive way different from his conservative peers in this regard (see below if you disagree).  Indeed, he and others, like Todd Akin and Paul Ryan, are part of an age-old tradition of men with power defining when women are raped.

Yes I see a lot of that, also men with or without power defining when women are threatened, when women are harassed, when women are cyberstalked…I see that a lot.

The 50 facts are interesting.

Some people are offended by frank conversation about violence, especially sexualized violence.  I’m offended by tolerance for these assaults, scientific denialism, entertainment at the expense of people’s safety and bodily integrity, and shame-infused legislation that hurts children and women and is based on the belief that all men are animals at heart.

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

The pledge is in court again

Oct 26th, 2012 12:23 pm | By

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has agreed to hear an appeal challenging a state law mandating the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools.

The plaintiffs claim daily classroom affirmation that the nation is “under God” violates state constitutional prohibitions against religious discrimination.

Which it is. It absolutely is. It’s revolting. It not only shouldn’t be mandated, it shouldn’t be allowed. Forcing children to make a daily god-assertion in public schools is outrageously coercive.

The plaintiffs brought the case through the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center. The SJC on Thursday approved the petition for direct appellate review of the case, which means a lower court will not have to first consider the appeal.

“Public schools are defining patriotism and loyalty on a daily basis by exalting one religious group and stigmatizing humanists and other non-theists. Of course that’s discrimination,” said American Humanist Association Executive Director Roy Speckhardt. “We feel confident that a fair hearing will result in a finding that the state law requiring this discriminatory practice violates the state’s equal rights amendment.”

Public schools are also telling students that the US is “under god,” which is a nonsensical, impertinent, intrusive thing for schools – especially but not exclusively public schools – to tell children. The US isn’t “under god.” There is no god for the US to be under, and if there were a god, who is to say we should agree to be under it? What if the god is evil?

And then, announcing that the US is “under god” risks implying that other countries are not. This is the “god is on our side” idea and it’s a bad, dangerous one.

Massachusetts law requires public school teachers to begin each day with a classroom recitation of the Pledge. The suit claims that daily affirmation that the nation is “under God” in the context of an exercise designed to promote national loyalty “directly contradicts the religious beliefs and principles of the plaintiffs” and effectively defines patriotism in terms of God-belief, thereby marginalizing plaintiffs and contributing to existing prejudices against nonbelievers.

Forcibly promoting national loyalty is a crappy idea anyway. The loyalty should be reasoned and freely adopted, not instilled via daily forced repetition.

Religious interest groups have intervened in the case to defend the daily “under God” recitation. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty represents the Knights of Columbus and a family that supports the “under God” wording.

For religious liberty? How do they have the face? Liberty is the very opposite of what this is. It’s mandated. That’s not liberty. How can it be a matter of religious liberty to have the state forcing students to say “under God” every day?

It can’t.


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

Good news on Malala

Oct 26th, 2012 11:07 am | By

Wow. I’ve been checking the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for updates on Malala every day, and the update has always said just that she continues to make progress. It now seems that they were understating it a little. She’s been able to talk since Wednesday, and they seem much more confident now that there’s no brain damage. All signs of infection are gone, she’s walking with very little help, and her short term memory is fine. Dr Dave Rosser talks to the press:

Her parents and brothers arrived in Birmingham today, and her father also talks to the press:

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

Defining misogyny

Oct 25th, 2012 4:47 pm | By

Comment is Free held a little discussion of “what is misogyny?” the other day.

An Australian dictionary has changed its definition of misogyny to reflect the fact that it is now used to mean ‘entrenched prejudice against women’, not just hatred of them. Six feminists tell us what the term means to them.

Ok wait a minute. Is “entrenched prejudice against” really all that different from hatred of? Isn’t entrenched prejudice against one way of saying “hatred”? It’s not clear to me that the two are completely different.

I’ve been seeing people trying to claim that misogyny is hatred of all women, so that being married to a woman demonstrates freedom from misogyny. That’s not right. It’s never meant that as far as I can remember (and that’s well into the 14th century). One, married people can hate their spouses, but two, misogyny can encompass men who have one or a few exceptions.

Misogyny is contempt, dismissal, hostility, disregard. It’s not just shouting “I hate all women!”

Naomi Wolf said sexism is not misogyny and we need both words. But.

Julia Gillard used “misogyny’ perfectly accurately. She said that Tony Abbott described abortion as “the easy way out” and cited his political campaign against Gillard involving posters asking voters to “ditch the witch”. The latter, especially, is a time-honoured tradition of true misogyny – stirring up atavistic hatred of the feminine – that goes back to witch-hunts against powerful women in the New World. Her critics, for their part, are asking us to water down our awareness of real woman-hating and accept it as normal in political discourse.

“Misogyny” often surfaces in political struggles over women’s role, and you can tell because the control of women becomes personalised, intrusive and often sexualised. Misogyny has the amygdala involved – the part of the brain involved in processing emotional responses – there is contempt and violence in it. A public figure who tolerates the systemic under-prosecuting of rape is guilty of serious and unforgivable sexism; making rape jokes or explaining away the damage of rape in public as Congressman Todd Akin did recently in the US, or legislating, as over a dozen US states are now doing, transvaginal probes that are medically unnecessary, simply to sexually punish women for choosing abortion – well, that is misogyny.

Martin Pribble wrote a piece on the subject.

“Misogynist” is a term which is thrown about these days as a synonym for “sexist” or “social conservative” in many cases, and I must say, often I have found it to be used almost too freely when describing people, policy or situations…

The new “misogyny” is any act or attitude that doesn’t take into account women in their lives, in society and in cultures. The usage of the word has become so common in its new guise that it has taken on this meaning, while the linguistic pedants are waving their hands about claiming the destruction of the English language. If the new meaning has done anything, it has taken a once powerful and very succinct word and expanded the meaning to include any act against the well-being of women. It has lessened the power of the word, for what word do we now use for the real “hatred of women”, and not the ingrained sexist attitudes that pervade modern society?

I don’t think I’ve heard (or read) the word used that way. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard (and read) it used to name hatred, hostility, contempt toward women as a class. I certainly don’t think it should be used to mean “social conservative” – that would be very confusing. Maybe this is some special Australian thing that I’m not aware of.

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

The power of ignorance

Oct 25th, 2012 3:32 pm | By

Shehrbano Taseer – daughter of Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab who was shot to death by his own bodyguard because he supported a Christian woman accused of blasphemy – on Malala Yousafzai.

(By the way the daily update from the hospital says what it’s said every day for a week – she continues to make progress.)

For months a team of Taliban sharpshooters studied the daily route that Malala took to school, and, once the attack was done, the Tehrik-e-Taliban in Pakistan gleefully claimed responsibility, saying Malala was an American spy who idolized the “black devil Obama.” She had spoken against the Taliban, they falsely said, and vowed to shoot her again, should she survive.

I don’t think it is falsely – didn’t she say she liked to fantasize about being challenged by them and responding by smacking them in the faces with her sandal? – and her doing so is what makes her so heroic. If anybody deserves to be spoken against, it’s the Taliban. The Taliban is evil.

And what’s with the black devil nonsense? They dislike Obama’s race on top of everything else?

The power of ignorance is frightening. My father, Salmaan Taseer, was murdered last January after he stood up for Aasia Noreen, a voiceless, forgotten Christian woman who had been sentenced to death for allegedly committing blasphemy. My father, the governor of Punjab province at the time, believed that our country’s blasphemy laws had been misused; that far too frequently, they were taken advantage of to settle scores and personal vendettas.

In the days before my father’s murder, fanatics had called for a fatwa against him and had burned him in effigy at large demonstrations. His confessed shooter, a 26-year-old man named Mumtaz Qadri, said he had been encouraged to kill my father after hearing a sermon by a cleric, who, frothing at the mouth, screeched to 150 swaying men to kill my father, the “blasphemer.” Qadri, a police guard, had been assigned to protect my father. Instead, on the afternoon of Jan. 4, my brother Shehryar’s 25th birthday, he killed my father, firing 27 bullets into his back as he walked home.

They can do that. All it takes is a gun and the opportunity. Ignorant, stupid, unthinking people can kill thoughtful people if they decide to. Ignorant vicious clerics can work them up to do so.

What the attack on Malala makes clear is that this is really a battle over education. A repressive mindset has been allowed to flourish in Pakistan because of the madrassa system set up by power-hungry clerics. It’s a deeply rooted indoctrination, and it sickens me to see ancient religious traditions undermined by a harsher form of religion barely a generation old. These madrassa, or religious schools headed by clerics, are the breeding ground of Islamic radicalism. The clerics don’t teach critical thinking. Instead, they disseminate hate. These clerics are raising merchants of hatred who believe in a very right-wing and radical Islam, to hail people like Osama bin Laden and Mumtaz Qadri as heroes. They train children how to use guns and bombs, and how not to live but to die.

That’s all it takes. There’s such a thin membrane between relatively normal life and children taught to be suicide bombs.

Encouraged by her father, Ziauddin, a schoolmaster, Malala quickly became known as she spoke out on the right to an education. Ziauddin had two sons also, but he told friends it was his daughter who had a unique spark. She wanted to study medicine, but he persuaded her that when the time came she should enter politics so she might help create a more progressive society—at the heart of which was education for all. In Pakistan, 25 million children are out of school, and the country has the lowest youth literacy rate in the world.

As Ziauddin explained his motivation at one point: “Islam teaches us that getting an education is compulsory for every girl and wife, for every woman and man. This is the teaching of the holy Prophet,” he said. “Education is a light and ignorance is a darkness, and we must go from darkness into light.”

Ziauddin “has given Malala a love, strength, and confidence that’s rare,” agrees Samar Minallah Khan, a Pakistani journalist and filmmaker who knows the family. “She has an incredible spirit and a mind of her own because of the confidence he has given her.”

In three short years, Malala became the chairperson of the District Child Assembly in Swat, was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize by Desmond Tutu, was the runner-up of the International Children’s Peace Prize, and won Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize. More recently she started to organize the Malala Education Foundation, a fund to ensure poor girls from Swat could go to school.

Now that’s a genuine tall poppy.


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

Your Wiki back

Oct 25th, 2012 12:19 pm | By

In another part of the forest – weirdness at Wikipedia. Susan Gerbic has been monitoring Paul Kurtz’s Wikipedia page since his death was announced, and sure enough, there has been weirdness.

So when I learned about Paul Kurtz’s death yesterday I went over to his Wikipedia page to make sure there was no vandalism, and to make sure it was in great shape so that when the media started to access the page to find out more about this amazing man, they would find something worth looking at.  In the back of my mind I was worried about someone with a agenda saying that he had converted to XYZ religion on his deathbed, then the media picking up on that and the next thing you know it is on the front page of some newspaper. 

First thing I noticed was that two people had spent a couple hours taking up a big chunk of the page to showcase his last project, The Institute for Secular Human Values.  Personally I don’t think that an organization that has only existed for 2 years should get more prominence on the page than CSICOP which has been around for 30+ years.

Another objection, on the Talk page, is that the ISHV is just a website. It’s a notional sort of institute, as opposed to a bricks and mortar one.

The second thing that concerned me was this sentence.  “Upon being forced out of the Center for Inquiry, by the board and management for power and control of the vast network and holdings he had envisioned, developed, managed and maintained for decades, he launched the Institute for Science and Human Values as a separate entity.”

Jim Lippard commented on that.

While this sentence is essentially true, it is somewhat tendentious and incomplete in its description of the facts. The “forced out” part was a democratic process, for example, and the person left in charge as Kurtz’s successor, Ron Lindsay, is someone Kurtz had supported to be his successor.

What a world, what a world.



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

With anger, he killed his sister

Oct 24th, 2012 5:18 pm | By

Life in a remote corner of Pakistan. Two women killed in “honor” killings.

On the condition of anonymity, one villager confirmed the news that the girl was attacked by her brother and killed – the brother believed that his sister had developed an illicit relation with another man, and the brother caught them in an ‘objectionable situation’. With anger, he killed his sister while the man succeeded in running away.

In a second incident of honor killing in another remote location of same Kachho area – Taluka Johi, district Dadu, an uncle (Mama) killed his niece in the pretext of [h]onor killing. Sources closed to victim family revealed this story but never shared name of the woman. They described the woman as married and alleged that she was also caught in an ‘objectionable stiuation’.

Well there you go. Two sluts, both found in an ‘objectionable stiuation,’ both killed by heroic male relatives; honor restored. That’s that then.



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

Pusillanimous and unprincipled

Oct 24th, 2012 5:02 pm | By

Popehat has definitely decided not to take Mo the Rutabaga to the UK. It’s sad for Mo, but it just wouldn’t be safe, not under present conditions.

Here’s the pusillanimous and unprincipled attitude of the RUSU and its sad ilk, offered in their own words:  modern university students should not do anything to give offense, and if anyone claims offense, they should stop whatever they are doing immediately.

Kara Swift, Kath Davey, Richard Silcock, and Ceri Jones are heir to great ideas forged in mighty minds.  They are heirs to Shaw:  “all great truths begin as blasphemies.”  They are heirs to Burke: “The true danger is when liberty is nibbled away, for expedience, and by parts.”  They are heirs to Orwell:  “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they don’t want to hear.”  But they reject that inheritance, choosing instead a life of petty bureaucratism and insipid, infantilizing “civility.”  Offered an opportunity to treat both speakers and listeners as adults, they treat them as children instead — children whose words must be curtailed until they do not offend even the most intolerant and overly sensitive child in the class.

A nation run by the Swifts, Daveys, Silcocks,and Joneses of the world will be weak and dull-witted and crabbed and pointless.  Such people exist in every place; it’s up to us whether we will put up with them or call them out.  I prefer calling them out.  So write about things like this.

Yes do!

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

Heeeeeere’s NSC

Oct 24th, 2012 11:29 am | By

Remember I’ve been dropping all those tantalizing hints about the new blogger in our future?

Well allow me to introduce -

Non Stamp Collector



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

Rebecca’s article at Slate

Oct 24th, 2012 10:28 am | By

Rebecca has an article in Slate about misogyny among the skeptics. That should blow some windows out.

When I first got involved with the skeptics, I thought I had found my people—a community that enjoyed educating the public about science and critical thinking. The sense of belonging I felt was akin, I imagine, to what other people feel at church. (I wouldn’t exactly know—like most skeptics, I’m an atheist.) I felt we were doing important work: making a better, more rational world and protecting people from being taken advantage of. At conventions, skeptic speakers and the audience were mostly male, but I figured that was something we could balance out with a bit of hard work and good PR.

Then women started telling me stories about sexism at skeptic events, experiences that made them uncomfortable enough to never return. At first, I wasn’t able to fully understand their feelings as I had never had a problem existing in male-dominated spaces. But after a few years of blogging, podcasting, and speaking at skeptics’ conferences, I began to get emails from strangers who detailed their sexual fantasies about me. I was occasionally grabbed and groped without consent at events. And then I made the grave mistake of responding to a fellow skeptic’s YouTube video in which he stated that male circumcision was just as harmful as female genital mutilation (FGM). I replied to say that while I personally am opposed to any non-medical genital mutilation, FGM is often much, much more damaging than male circumcision.

The response from male atheists was overwhelming.

And not in a good way. That was June 2010.

Thinking the solution was to educate the community, I started giving talks about the areas where feminism and skepticism overlap. I encouraged audiences to get involved with issues like ending FGM, fighting the anti-woman pseudoscience of the religious right, and aiding those branded as “witches” in rural African villages.

Then it was June 2011. Dublin. Her talk; the hotel bar; that guy, that elevator, that invitation to his room for “coffee” at 4 a.m.

That video.

What I said in my video, exactly, was, “Guys, don’t do that,” with a bit of a laugh and a shrug. What legions of angry atheists apparently heard was, “Guys, I won’t stop hating men until I get 2 million YouTube comments calling me a ‘cunt.’ ” The skeptics boldly rose to the imagined challenge.

Even Dawkins weighed in. He hadn’t said anything while sitting next to me in Dublin as I described the treatment I got, but a month later he left this sarcastic comment on a friend’s blog

And by doing so, emboldened countless shits to come pouring out of the woodwork.

Dawkins’ seal of approval only encouraged the haters. My YouTube page and many of my videos were flooded with rape “jokes,” threats, objectifying insults, and slurs. A few individuals sent me hundreds of messages, promising to never leave me alone. My Wikipedia page was vandalized. Graphic photos of dead bodies were posted to my Facebook page.

Twitter accounts were made in my name and used to tweet horrible things to celebrities and my friends. (The worst accounts were deleted by Twitter, but some, such as this one, are allowed to remain so long as they remove my name.) Entire blogs were created about me, obsessively cataloging everything I’ve ever said and (quite pathetically) attempting to dig up dirt in my past.

And you know what? They’re still doing it! Notice the present tense – the Twitter accounts are allowed to remain, and to continue harassing Rebecca and others still today now, a year and a half after that world-shaking “guys, don’t do that.”

One creep tweeted that if he encountered Rebecca in an elevator at TAM he was “totally copping a feel” – which is a cute way of saying “sexually assaulting.” (That’s interesting, isn’t it. “Copping a feel” doesn’t sound like “sexually assaulting,” does it. Why is that? I suppose because it’s from the pov of the copper/assaulter. It’s just boys will be boys, hahaha.)

The organizers of the conference, the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF)—the organization started by the person who first introduced me to skepticism—allowed the man to attend the conference and did nothing to reassure me. I attended anyway and never went anywhere alone.

That’s bad. I don’t remember if I knew that or not. I think I must have, because I was certainly following the subject closely at the time, but I don’t remember knowing it.

Meanwhile, other skeptical women are being bullied out of the spotlight and even out of their homes. My fellow writer on Skepchick, Amy Davis Roth, moved after her home address was posted on a forum dedicated to hating feminist skeptics. In September, blogger Greta Christina wrote that “when I open my mouth to talk about anything more controversial than Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster recipes or Six More Atheists Who Are Totally Awesome, I can expect a barrage of hatred, abuse, humiliation, death threats, rape threats, and more.” And Jen McCreight stopped blogging and accepting speaking engagements altogether. “I wake up every morning to abusive comments, tweets, and emails about how I’m a slut, prude, ugly, fat, feminazi, retard, bitch, and cunt (just to name a few),” she wrote. “I just can’t take it anymore.”

This is how we live now.

Rebecca says she expects a new torrent in response to this article, but she wrote it anyway

because I strongly believe that the goals of skeptics are good ones, like strengthening science education, protecting consumers, and deepening our knowledge of human psychology. Those goals will never be met if we continue to fester as a middling subculture that not only ignores social issues but is actively antagonistic toward progressive thought.

I also believe that old line about sunlight being the best disinfectant. Ignoring bullies does not make them go away. For the most part, the people harassing us aren’t just fishing for a reaction—they want our silence. They’re angry that feminist thought has a platform in “their community.” What they don’t get is that it’s also my community.

And mine. And ours.


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

A million gods

Oct 24th, 2012 9:22 am | By

Say hello to a new arrival at FTB: Avicenna.

He tells us a little about himself.

I am Avicenna (named after the islamic golden age Doctor) and I am terrifyingly weird and am a giant nerd. I am a british indian medical student doing my clinical rotations in India. I basically qualify in a year and a bit and then I plan to continue to work for charity here before I go back home and have a career. However to keep sane I started blogging. And it kind of got out of hand…

I am (naturally) an Atheist (otherwise me joining here would probably win the “biggest misunderstanding” award) but Hinduism is the religion I don’t believe in. All my old gods are crazy as fuck. Good for stories or inspiration for metal bands but not so good for normal life.

This is going to be good.

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

Ed Miliband supports the Libel Reform Campaign‏

Oct 23rd, 2012 4:06 pm | By

Catching up. From Sense About Science a few days ago -

Dear Friends

We told you yesterday that the Libel Reform Campaign would be meeting with the Leader of the Opposition, Ed Miliband, with Simon Singh, performer Dara Ó Briain and representatives from Index on Censorship, Sense About Science and English PEN.

Ed Miliband, Dara and Simon:

The meeting was a great success with Ed Miliband backing our call to add a new public interest defence to protect scientists and bloggers into the government’s Defamation Bill.

Ed Miliband told us: “The key to a healthy democracy is the right to free speech. But to defend this we need a modernised defamation law that protects citizens and honest discussion from the stifling threat of legal action. That’s why it’s so important that we grasp this once in a generation opportunity to update our defamation laws. I commend the work of the Libel Reform Campaign who are fighting so hard for the reform of our outdated defamation laws and it’s crucial the government heeds their concerns. There’s still time to mould this into a successful Bill – and that includes a new public interest defence – otherwise this opportunity risks being wasted”

Ed Miliband also said more needed to be done to stop corporations suing individuals for libel and asked his Justice Team in the House of Lords to investigate this.

Your support has helped us achieve this. It’s now for the government to listen to the increasingly important voices calling for a strengthened public interest defence, and act.

You can see photos from the meeting on our Flickr account here:

Thank you to the more than 500 of you who generously donated following Simon Singh’s appeal and helped us reach our target. This and all further donations make a huge difference to what we can do at this crucial point for libel reform. Please do still donate if you haven’t yet:

Best wishes

Mike and Sile

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

Just a shy kid with holes in his socks

Oct 23rd, 2012 11:37 am | By

Oh dear oh dear oh dear oh dear – there’s an excerpt from Chris Stedman’s much-dreaded new memoir Faitheist at Salon, and it’s as maddening as I’d expected, if not more so.

The excerpt is, of course, on the ever-popular subject of The Awfulness of atheists. That’s not what’s so skin-crawling about it though. What I really, really can’t stand is his shameless style of self-presentation – his unbearable self-regard and self-display. It’s worse because it’s dressed up as its own opposite – it’s all about how humble and shy he is. I want to say that doesn’t work, but sadly I know from experience that it will work all too well: lots of people will take him as he presents himself, and be hugely impressed and touched. They’ll think what a sweet awkward shy boy from the provinces, with a heart as big as all outdoors, trying so hard to wring a little compassion from the cold hard prosperous atheists.

Here’s how he does it.

I had never heard the word “faitheist” before, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t a compliment.

I blushed and ran my hands through my short hair — a nervous habit — and cleared my throat, asking if it was intended to be an insult.

“Yes,” he said without inflection. “There’s nothing worse than a ‘faitheist.’”

It was my first experience with the atheist movement, and for at least a moment I thought it might be my last.

See? He blushed. He was nervous. The other guy wasn’t, and he spoke without inflection (ew, weird cold heartless dude!), and he ground poor shy blushing nervous Stedman into the floor.

The brusque brush-off occurred at a reception following a public discussion organized by a nonreligious group…I had gone with optimism and excitement…I pictured myself saying with a well-meaning grin, “Hey, I work with religious people every day and my atheism is stronger than ever!” I hoped I might even serve as a bridge between two communities that are so often pitted against one another, to offer my insights as a nonreligious person working in an interfaith environment.

Aw the poor kid. He meant so well, he was all excited – and he got a brusque brush-off! Those atheist bastards!

It’s also interesting that he admits that he pictures himself saying things with a well-meaning grin. I knew he did, because he would, but it’s funny that he admits it.

That aspiration was quickly curtailed. Throughout the program, religion — and religious people — were roundly mocked, decried, and denied. I’d arrived hoping to find a community bound by ethical and humanitarian ideals. Instead, I felt isolated and sorely discouraged.

I don’t believe it. I smell a Tom Johnson. I don’t believe that religious people were mocked, decried, and denied throughout the program. I don’t believe it because that’s not how it goes. Actions, institutions, people in leadership positions, yes, but just plain “religious people” as such, no – not throughout the program and not roundly.

Though I was disheartened by the event, I went to the post-panel reception, held at one of the panelists’ apartments…Also, as a thrifty graduate student, free dinner and drinks were hard to pass up!

…I scanned the crowd; I was easily the youngest person there and unfashionably underdressed (nothing new there). Looking down at my feet, I noticed there was a hole in each of my socks.

I sat down on the couch, carefully balancing a mint julep in one hand and a plate of hors d’oeuvres I couldn’t name in the other, intensely aware of how out of place I must have seemed.

The “carefully balancing” bit is clever. It extorts sympathy.

Next to me on the couch were a woman in her mid-40s with a shimmering peacock brooch and a man in his late 30s wearing a denim shirt and a tan corduroy vest. I introduced myself and asked what they’d thought of the panel. They raved: “Wasn’t it wonderful how intelligent the panelists were and how wickedly they’d exposed the frauds of religion? Weren’t they right that we must all focus our energy on bringing about the demise of religious myths?”

I’m reminded of Kingsley Amis, reading a novel he hated, constantly saying as he read, “No she didn’t, no they weren’t, no he didn’t, no it wasn’t like that.” I don’t believe a word of that paragraph. I don’t believe he remembers any brooch or tan corduroy vest – or their ages – or what they said – and certainly not that they said what he quotes.

I paused, debating whether I should say anything. My “Minnesota Nice” inclination warned me to let it be, but I had to say something. So I started small, asking them to consider that diversity of thought and background fosters an environment where discourse thrives, where ideas are exchanged, and where we learn from one another.

On the one hand, he’s such a nice kid. On the other hand, he knows everything and is there to gently lead these ignorant older people out of their deluded ways.

I was stonewalled: “We have the superior perspective; everyone else is lost,” said the woman with a flick of her hand that suggested she was swatting at an invisible mosquito.

No she didn’t. No you don’t remember that.

I mean – get real! He’s trying to tell us someone actually said to him, in all seriousness,  “We have the superior perspective; everyone else is lost”!

Our conversation continued, and I offered up petitions that the positive contributions of religious people be considered with equal weight alongside the negative.

“I understand what you’re saying,” I said, trying to weigh my words carefully, “but how can we discount the role religious beliefs played in motivating the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Mahatma Gandhi?”

So young, so shy, and yet so patronizing.

“Oh, I get it,” the man jumped in with a sneer. “You’re one of those atheists.”

I wasn’t sure what he meant, but it didn’t sound like a good thing. I shifted my weight from one side to another — another nervous habit — and picked at an hors d’oeuvre that I thought might be some kind of cheese.

Oh oh oh the poor little mite! The man sneered at him; he was nervous again; he was all at sea with these elitist hors d’oeuvre thingies.

“What do you mean, ‘one of those atheists?’”

“You’re not a real atheist. We’ve got a name for people like you. You’re a ‘faitheist.’”

No he didn’t. People don’t say things like that – not face to face, in real life. People don’t say “We’ve got a name for people like you.” That didn’t happen.

Not a real atheist. I’d heard words like that before — in my youth, when I was told I couldn’t be a real Christian because I was gay. Once again I didn’t fit the prescribed model, and I was not-so-gently shown the door.

Now, atheism is a bit different from Christianity in that atheism isn’t a belief system. It’s an identification marker that unifies a minority of Americans who do not believe in God. But the implication was clear: you’re at the wrong party, kid.

He must mean he was metaphorically shown the door, and yet we’re probably left half-thinking he really was shown the door, by the cold evil atheist snobs who tell the kid he’s at the wrong party.

Later in the piece, he recycles yet again his accusation that [gasp] PZ Myers once said this one thing.

Stereotypes that are bolstered when prominent antitheists (individuals who are not merely nonreligious but outwardly antireligious — I’ll return to this distinction later in this book) such as PZ Myers say things like, “Come on, Islam … It’s bad enough to be the religion of hate, but to be the religion of cowardice ought to leave you feeling ashamed.” It is no wonder that many in the organized atheist community follow suit, lumping all religious believers together and shaming them as a uniformly condemnable bloc.

How many times has he repeated that now? The latest was just a few weeks ago, in the Huffington Post, but I’d seen it more than once before that. It’s not so outrageous that it merits that level of hostile attention.

In a culture that increasingly asks us to check our religious and nonreligious identities at the door — to silence the values and stories we hold most dear — the “New Atheist” brand of secularism isn’t helping.

It’s Tom Johnson again!

Well – you know what will happen. It will sell like hotcakes.

PZ has a post. So does Larry Moran.

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

Shame that girl

Oct 23rd, 2012 10:33 am | By

A familiar problem. A 15-year-old girl sends an entry to the Everyday Sexism project; it’s about the way looks trump everything else for girls (and, as she’ll find out, for women).

I always feel like if I don’t look a certain way, if boys don’t think I’m ‘sexy’ or ‘hot’ then I’ve failed and it doesn’t even matter if I am a doctor or writer, I’ll still feel like nothing…successful women are only considered a success if they are successful AND hot, and I worry constantly that I won’t be. What if my boobs don’t grow? What if I don’t have the perfect body? What if my hips don’t widen and give me a little waist? If none of that happens I feel like [sic] there’s no point in doing anything because I’ll just be the ‘fat ugly girl’ regardless of whether I do become a doctor or not.

And she’s right. She’s right, at least, that if the future is like the present there will always be people who will see her and all women in those terms.

Laura Bates sums up:

From the advertising industry and its narrow media ideal of female beauty to the normalised objectification of Page 3; from articles that deconstruct the outfits of female politicians to the programs teaching girls how to nip, tuck, change and disguise their bodies; these messages are everywhere, everyday. The pressure on women and young girls to conform to such stereotypes is overwhelming, and until it is tackled, it will continue to undermine attempts to convince young women like this teenager that she really can “be whatever I want to be”.

She forgot to mention mobs of bullies, stalkers, harassers, and wannabe shock jocks who spend much of their free time telling women and girls how ugly and repulsive they are.


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

The pineapple is to be disciplined

Oct 23rd, 2012 10:15 am | By

The student union at Reading University has informed the RU Atheist, Humanist and Secularist Society that it has come to the conclusion that the Society acted in breach of the behavioural policy. Its decision is that the Reading University Atheist, Humanist and Secularist Society should be referred to a disciplinary panel.

You remember what this is about, I trust. The RU Atheist, Humanist and Secularist Society had a table at the student fair; on the table it had a pineapple with the label “Mohammed.” Some students said it was offensive. The Society members were ejected from the fair.

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


Oct 22nd, 2012 4:30 pm | By

The BBC’s Panorama was just on, and Twitter lit up like a plane with a wing falling off. It was about Jimmy Savile and how the Beeb looked the other way for a few decades.

I haven’t seen the episode, but I saw a lot of tweets about it, and then the hashtag, which led to some very pungent comments. I gather the gist of it is, the Beeb couldn’t (or wouldn’t?) do anything about it, because the sources were

just the women.


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

Public figures who make their controversial opinions known to the world

Oct 22nd, 2012 12:58 pm | By

After all these somber and/or infuriating items, a funny one. Justin Vacula on Facebook.

A lengthy post I authored months ago concerning what certain Freethought Bloggers are calling ‘stalking’ and ‘cyberstalking’ is below. This is especially relevant considering Ophelia Benson’s recent post “It’s all trolling, when you come right down to it” in which she claims that the “pro-misogyny crowd” stalks bloggers “day in and day out.”

TL;DR – criticism, even when it is excessive, isn’t stalking or cyberstalking. Public figures who make their controversial opinions known to the world will get responses. Reductio ad absurdum: Major cable news networks must be stalkers for their coverage of Obama and Romney.

Well thank you! That is very flattering. I’m as important as Obama. Who knew?!

But let’s be real. I’m not a “public figure.” That phrase doesn’t mean people like me. It means truly public; famous. I’m not famous by any stretch of the imagination.

And then, saying that people “will get responses” doesn’t mean that all responses are fine, or that there is no reason to say some responses are more reasonable or acceptable than others. It’s just a factual statement, so obvious that it’s almost empty. It amounts to “if you say something, you might get replies.” It says nothing about whether some kinds of reply are intrusive or aggressive or stalker-like.

What about this claim that excessive criticism isn’t cyberstalking? I think it’s dead wrong. I think highly excessive – indeed, obsessive – criticism is indeed cyberstalking. It’s cyber because it’s not literally someone following you down the street, so it is less scary than literal stalking. It’s mostly a lot less scary than that. But it is stalkerish in being obsessive out of all proportion to anything actually done or said or otherwise perpetrated. Having people posting and tweeting about you every day, repeating the same meagre list of offenses over and over again, monitoring every word you say – yes, that is stalkerish.

Another thing. What we get isn’t “coverage.” It isn’t journalism, it isn’t reporting, it isn’t news. It’s a campaign of vilification. That’s all it’s about; that’s its only purpose. It never stops. I posted a lot about Chris Mooney during the summer of 2009 – but that was because he kept writing articles for major media outlets, attacking “new” atheists. I posted about those articles. He stopped writing them, and I stopped writing about them and about him. I didn’t latch onto him like a lamprey and never let go.

So, no. None of what he said is right. I’m not talking about disagreement and discussion. I’m talking about non-stop monitoring and lying and smearing. I’m not a public figure, much less Obama or Romney, so no, the same rules don’t apply.

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

Flip the terms

Oct 22nd, 2012 11:48 am | By

The New Yorker has an article on billionaires who’ve convinced themselves they’re “victimized” by Obama.

A hedge-fund billionaire called Leon Cooperman wrote an open letter to Obama which has been “widely circulated in the business community.”

Evident throughout the letter is a sense of victimization prevalent among so  many of America’s wealthiest people. In an extreme version of this, the rich  feel that they have become the new, vilified underclass. T. J. Rodgers, a  libertarian and a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, has taken to comparing Barack  Obama’s treatment of the rich to the oppression of ethnic minorities—an  approach, he says, that the President, as an African-American, should be  particularly sensitive to. Clifford S. Asness, the founding partner of the hedge  fund AQR Capital Management, wrote an open letter to the President in 2009,  after Obama blamed “a small group of speculators” for Chrysler’s bankruptcy.  Asness suggested that “hedge funds really need a community organizer,” and  accused the White House of “bullying” the financial sector. Dan Loeb, a  hedge-fund manager who supported Obama in 2008, has compared his Wall Street  peers who still support the President to “battered wives.” “He really loves us  and when he beats us, he doesn’t mean it; he just gets a little angry,” Loeb  wrote in an e-mail in December, 2010, to a group of Wall Street financiers.

Oh lordy – it’s so funny and so disgusting, both at once.

It’s familiar, certainly. I’m distantly acquainted with some rich people who talk that way. Aggrieved; resentful; embattled…in their huge SUVs and their 14 expensive houses.

It’s also familiar from the way MRAs and white supremacists and the Vatican talk. We are the real victims around here – we the rich, we the white, we the men, we the priests and cardinals and popes. We are not the bullies, we are the ones who get bullied.

Nick Hanauer is a Seattle entrepreneur and venture capitalist who was one of  the first investors in Amazon. In a book published this year, he argues that  since the Reagan era American capitalists have enjoyed a uniquely supportive set  of ideological, political, and economic conditions. Their personal enrichment  came to be seen as a precondition for the enrichment of everyone else. Lower  taxes for them were a social good, rather than a selfish perk.

“If you are a job creator, your fifteen-per-cent tax rate is righteous. If  you aren’t, it is a con job,” Hanauer told me. “The idea that the rich deserve  to be rich is a very comforting idea if you are rich.” Referring to Obama’s “You  didn’t build that” remark, at a rally in Virginia in July, which became a  flashpoint with the right, Hanauer said that “the notion that you built it  yourself is what you need to believe to feel comfortable with yourself and your  desire not to pay too much in taxes.”

I know people like that. They don’t just think all that, they even think everybody agrees with them. It’s bizarre.


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

Paul Kurtz

Oct 22nd, 2012 10:52 am | By

As you probably know already, Paul Kurtz is gone.

The Center for Inquiry marks with great sadness the passing of Paul Kurtz, founder and longtime chair of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, the Council for Secular Humanism, and the Center for Inquiry, who died at the age of 86. A philosopher, activist, and author, Kurtz was for a half-century among the most significant and impactful figures in the humanist and skeptic movements.

“Impactful”…ah well, I won’t do a fogeyism about it. Anyway yes, he was.

Kurtz’s legacy includes the above organizations, the creation of the skeptics’ magazine Skeptical Inquirer, the secular humanist magazine Free Inquiry, independent publisher Prometheus Books, and a library of books and scholarly articles that will continue to inform discussions of morality, ethics, reason, and religion for generations to come.

I knew him a little. I was at CFI Amherst for almost three weeks in 2007; I did a talk and hung out. PK was a fan of B&W at the time, and he was pleasant to me. He took a bunch of us to lunch one day and invited me to go in his car. We talked about B&W and he said (very flatteringly, so perhaps not truthfully) that he’d had thoughts of setting up a skeptical inquiry website but then decided it would just duplicate B&W so why bother.

Free Inquiry has been one of my favorite magazines for years and years, with Skeptical Inquirer close behind it. I have a lot of Prometheus books on my shelves. I’m not the only one.

I’m grateful for all of it. I’m not the only one.

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