Notes and Comment Blog

Bangladesh’s only Nobel prize winner

Oct 24th, 2013 9:26 am | By

The first duty of a desperately impoverished nation most of which is under water is to find somebody or something that is unIslamic and pitch a fit.

After being accused of “sucking blood” from the poor, Bangladesh’s only Nobel prize winner Muhammad Yunus faces a new state-backed hate campaign seeking to paint him as un-Islamic and a spreader of homosexuality.

Following years of attempts to discredit his legacy as a pioneer of micro-finance – since copied the world over as a development tool – the hounding has turned more personal and dangerous.

The perceived crime of the 73-year-old was to sign a joint statement along with three other Nobel laureates in April 2012 criticising the prosecution of gay people in Uganda.

Little remarked at the time, it has since been seized on by the Islamic Foundation, a government religious body, and amplified through tens of thousands of imams on its payrolls.

Protests have been held, leaflets calling him “an accomplice of Jews and Christians” have been distributed, and a “grand rally” has been called for October 31 in the capital Dhaka to denounce him.

What a disgusting conglomeration of bad reasons and bad actions and bad thinking, not to mention bad governance. When in doubt, whip up hatred at somebody who objects to the whipping up of hatred. The first duty is to hate some people for no good reason.

The hate-object used to be my friend Taslima.

“How can a state-run organisation run a campaign of criminal intimidation? It’ll instigate violence against professor Yunus,” Sara Hossain, a top lawyer and rights activist, warned in an interview with AFP.

The harassment has echoes of another movement against feminist writer and religious critic Taslima Nasreen who was forced to flee the country after being denounced like Yunus.

“It’s unfortunate that he’s facing the kind of campaign that I faced in 1994,” Nasreen told AFP. “I was forced to leave the country because of the campaign by the fundamentalists, which the then government actively supported.”

Don’t do this, Bangladesh.


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

At a court hearing she was too sick to attend

Oct 23rd, 2013 5:23 pm | By

A horror I didn’t manage to catch up with last week -

Glenda Xiomara Cruz was crippled by abdominal pain and heavy bleeding in the early hours of 30 October 2012. The 19-year-old from Puerto El Triunfo, eastern El Salvador, went to the nearest public hospital where doctors said she had lost her baby.

It was the first she knew about the pregnancy as her menstrual cycle was unbroken, her weight practically unchanged, and a pregnancy test in May 2012 had been negative.

Four days later she was charged with aggravated murder – intentionally murdering the 38-to-42 week foetus – at a court hearing she was too sick to attend. The hospital had reported her to the police for a suspected abortion.

After two emergency operations and three weeks in hospital she was moved to Ilopango women’s prison on the outskirts of the capital San Salvador. Then last month she was sentenced to 10 years in jail, the judge ruling that she should have saved the baby’s life.

Ten years in prison.

That’s appalling.

Xiomara’s father describes the conviction as a “terrible injustice”.

He testified in court that his daughter had endured years of domestic violence at the hands of her partner. And yet the prosecution – which sought a 50-year jail term – relied heavily on this man’s allegation that she had intentionally killed the foetus.

Xiomara has not seen her four-year-old daughter since the miscarriage.

El Salvador is one of five countries with a total ban on abortion, along with Nicaragua, Chile, Honduras and Dominican Republic. Since 1998, the law has allowed no exceptions – even if a woman is raped, her life is at risk or the foetus is severely deformed.

That’s just outright, frank, unabashed hatred of women.

More than 200 women were reported to the police between 2000 and 2011, of whom 129 were prosecuted and 49 convicted – 26 for murder (with sentences of 12 to 35 years) and 23 for abortion, according to research by Citizens’ Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion. Seven more have been convicted since 2012.

The study underlines that these women are overwhelmingly poor, unmarried and poorly educated – and they are usually denounced by public hospital staff. Not a single criminal case originated from the private health sector where thousands of abortions are believed to take place annually.

That sounds like Ireland, where poor women were locked up in the Magdalene laundries and poor children were locked up in industrial not-schools.

Munoz has worked with 29 of the incarcerated women, helping secure the early release of eight. “Only one intentionally induced an abortion, the other 28 suffered natural obstetric complications but were jailed for murder without any direct evidence,” he says.

Last year when Maria Teresa Rivera suffered a miscarriage, she was sentenced to 40 years in jail for aggravated murder.

Like Xiomara, Teresa, 28, had no pregnancy symptoms before sudden severe pain and bleeding, and was reported to police by the public hospital where she had sought emergency help.

The scientific evidence was flimsy, according to Munoz who will soon lodge an appeal, and the prosecution relied heavily on a colleague of hers, who testified that Rivera had said she “might be” pregnant a full 11 months before the miscarriage.

A textile factory worker, she was the family’s only breadwinner and her eight-year-old son is now living in dire poverty with his grandmother.

There’s much more. Read the whole thing. The BBC does do a good job of reporting on subjects like this. Outrages like this.

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

Cupcakes? Dumplings? For real?

Oct 23rd, 2013 12:05 pm | By

There’s a Facebook group called Misogyny Overheard at Oxford University. It’s an open group, so its content is public. (Our Alex is a member, because he’s been an Oxford student.)

It has this poster, which has appeared at university poster sales.

First things first, eh?

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

Then again

Oct 23rd, 2013 11:46 am | By

A UN Human Rights Council resolution against child marriage is only that, but it is a start. But not everyone even agreed to that much. Want to know one country that refused? India. Yes, the world’s largest secular democracy said No.

India, the world’s child marriage capital, has once again failed its under-age brides.

The country has refused to sign the first-ever global resolution on early and forced marriage of children led by the UN.

The resolution was supported by a cross-regional group of over 107 countries, including almost all countries with high rates of child marriage—Ethiopia, South Sudan, Sierra Leone, Chad, Guatemala, Honduras and Yemen.

Almost all? That doesn’t look like almost all to me. Nowhere near almost all.

Brides Not Wives provided the list:

The States presenting the resolution were: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Armenia, Albania, Algeria, Andorra, Angola, Belgium, Benin, Bolivia, Bosnia, Botswana, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Chad, Congo, Cuba, Czech Republic, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Djibouti, DRC, Egypt, El Salvador, Eritrea, Estonia, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Equatorial Guinea, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Ghana, Guinea, Haiti, Hungary, Honduras, Iceland, Italy, Ireland, Ivory Coast, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lebanon, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Malta, Moldova, Monaco, Morocco, Mozambique, Maldives, Montenegro, Namibia, Netherlands, Norway, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Palestine, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Rwanda, Senegal, Serbia, Singapore, South Sudan, Sierra Leone, Slovakia, Slovenia, Somalia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Timor Leste, Togo, Tunisia, Thailand, Turkey, United Kingdom, Uganda, United States of America, Uruguay, Venezuela, Yemen, Zambia. 

Missing? Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Mali, Algeria to name a few.

The Centre for Reproductive Rights says governments in the South Asia region have failed to enact and enforce adequate laws that prohibit child marriage.

“The practice persists with impunity. In South Asia, 46% of women between ages 20-24 report having been married before age 18 in 2010. This translated to 24.4 million women in the region. Estimates project that from 2010 to 2030, 130 million more girls in the region will be married.”

“Child marriage does not constitute a single rights violation – rather, every instance of child marriage triggers a continuum of violations that continues throughout a girl’s life. Child marriage endangers the survival and well-being of women and girls by exposing them to forced initiation into sex and sexual violence as well as to early, unplanned and frequent pregnancies. Further, women and girls married as children are often denied educational opportunities, are isolated from society and face a lifetime of economic dependence,” the Centre said.

And so far there’s not even official government-level agreement that that’s a bad thing.

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

44% of girls are married before the age of 18 in Sierra Leone

Oct 23rd, 2013 11:31 am | By

Last month the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution calling for the elimination of child, early and forced marriage to be considered in the post-2015 development agenda. This is a first.

Girls Not Brides reports:

The Ambassador of Sierra Leone, Yvette Stevenes, introduced the resolution to the Human Rights Council, stating that “efforts [to end child marriage] need to be strengthened to address this breach of human rights of some of the most vulnerable groups in society”. According to UNICEF, 44% of girls are married before the age of 18 in Sierra Leone; 18% before the age of 15.

The resolution also stresses the value of empowering and investing in women and girls for “breaking the cycle of gender inequality and discrimination, violence and poverty” and for bringing about “sustainable development and economic growth.”

It acknowledges the multi-faceted impact of child, early and forced marriage on the “economic, legal, health and social status of women and girls” as well as “the development of the community as a whole”.

The Human Rights Council is the leading UN body responsible for the promotion and protection of human rights around the world. The resolution calls for a panel discussion on the issue of child, early and forced marriage at an upcoming session of the Human Rights Council in 2014.

A resolution is only that, but it’s a step.

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


Oct 23rd, 2013 11:01 am | By

Good news for the people of Turkey: they now have access to a halal online sex shop. W00t!

Yes that’s right, a halal sex shop. A shop where the sex products are halal as opposed to haram. Good eh? Reassuring. If only everything in life were halal as opposed to haram. How much more tidy everything would be.

The website describes its products as completely safe and halal according to Islamic rules.

When Internet users enter the online shopping site, there are two different links for men and women that lead visitors to separate sections for male and female products.

Well all right! That makes it halal right there all by itself – strict separation of women and men. That’s the only kind of halal sex there is: the kind where women and men are kept strictly separate. Women and men are halal when they’re separate, but put them in proximity and oh no, they get more and more haram the closer together they get. Quick, somebody fetch the walls and the body-tents!



That’s a beautiful graphic, don’t you think? The man looking kind of gloomy and limp, wondering where his next halal shag is going to come from, and the woman looking not there at all, but merely represented by an empty hood.

There are also other sections on the website that discuss sexual intercourse in terms of Islam.

Oh, I know this one! It goes like this:

  1. ——->
  2. <——

Repeat if necessary.




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

Sultan of Brunei gung ho on stoning to death for adultery

Oct 22nd, 2013 5:58 pm | By

Yes that’s right – it’s not some horrible joke.

The Sultan of Brunei introduced tough Sharia-law punishments on Tuesday including death by stoning for crimes such as adultery, hailing what he called a “historic” step toward Islamic orthodoxy for his country.

Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah — one of the world’s wealthiest men — said a new Sharia Penal Code in the works for years was officially introduced on Tuesday in the tiny, oil-flush sultanate and would be phased in beginning in six months.

Based on individual cases, punishments could include stoning to death for adultery, severing of limbs for theft, and flogging for violations ranging from abortion to alcohol consumption, according to a copy of the code.

The code applies only to Muslims.

“By the grace of Allah, with the coming into effect of this legislation, our duty to Allah is therefore being fulfilled,” the sultan, 67, said in a speech.

Fuck Allah. Fuck you. Fuck everyone who perpetrates this evil punitive murderous vengeful shit.


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

Still on the job

Oct 22nd, 2013 5:36 pm | By

Just in case you were thinking Boko Haram was taking a break…it’s not.

Two days ago:

Militants wearing army uniforms have killed 19 people at checkpoints on a road in Nigeria’s Borno state.

The armed men reportedly stopped motorists on the road and ordered them out of their cars before shooting them or hacking them to death.

The latest attack happened early on Sunday morning near the town of Logumani, not far from the Cameroon border.

Survivors said the gunmen were dressed as soldiers and were riding motorcycles before they ambushed their victims.

“We were asked to get out of our vehicles and lie face down by nine men dressed as soldiers who blocked the road,” one man, who gave his name as Buba, told the AFP news agency.

“They shot dead five people and went about slaughtering 14 others before someone called them on the phone that soldiers were heading their way,” he said.

God is great.

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

From the Kuffars

Oct 22nd, 2013 5:27 pm | By

Via Imad Iddine Habib, who translated.


The Jihadist: “it’s Haram to eat UN Food, it’s from the Kuffars.”
The woman: “what about the bomb you’re holding?! Isn’t it made by the Kuffars, too?!”


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

That we owe a duty of help to those who are suffering under terrible oppression

Oct 22nd, 2013 5:14 pm | By

Eve Garrard wrote about Norm Geras for the Guardian last Sunday. She’s a colleague and friend of his, and one of the editors of Thinking Towards Humanity.

His interests were rich and varied, but his thought and writings form an integrated whole. He was centrally and always a man of the left, but one who became a scourge of those parts of left/liberal opinion which, in his view, had slid away from commitment to the values of equality, justice and universal rights, and in so doing ended up by excusing or condoning racism and terrorism.

And sexism – the most godawful sexism on the planet.

From his perspective, the response to the events of 11 September 2001 was appalling. He found the readiness of many to blame the US for bringing the terrorist attack down on its own head to be intellectually feeble and morally contemptible. He argued that this section of the left was betraying its own values by offering warm understanding to terrorists and cold neglect to their victims. He detested the drawing of an unsupported and insupportable moral equivalence between western democracies and real or proposed theocratic tyrannies in which liberty of thought and speech, and the protection of human rights, would play no part. Norm wanted to engage in this debate and not just with academics. So he went online, to provide himself with a space in which he could express these and other views, and Normblog was born.

It was a runaway success. Thousands of readers all over the world were drawn by Norm’s mixture of serious political and philosophical reasoning, and more lighthearted pieces on cricket, Manchester United, country music, films, books – whatever he was currently interested in. The most striking feature of the blog was Norm’s distinctive arguing style: independent, rigorous, fair to adversaries, exceptionally clear, always (well, almost always) civil – and that in a blogosphere noted for widespread vituperation and insult.

I was one of those thousands, right from the beginning.

Norm’s original area of research was Marxist political theory and he produced some highly influential books in this area, including The Legacy of Rosa Luxemburg (1976) and Marx and Human Nature (1983), in which he argued, rather against the progressive orthodoxy of the time, that there is such a thing as a determinate human nature, and that Marx himself had recognised this. His work inspired a generation of Marxist scholars. His concern about human nature, especially its darker elements, led him to explore the Holocaust: he was among the first to examine this terrible event from within the discipline of political theory.

Out of this research came his book The Contract of Mutual Indifference (1998), in which he argued that we owe a duty of help to those who are suffering under terrible oppression. He contrasted this duty with the practice of so many who observed the Nazis’ genocidal activities and did nothing, suggesting that what we actually believe in is something like a contract of mutual non-assistance: I won’t help you in your desperate straits, and I won’t expect any help from you either. This, as Norm argued, is morally intolerable: our common humanity makes claims on us, to protect each other from catastrophe, if we can.

Yes. That is what I think too.


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

A higher tribunal

Oct 22nd, 2013 12:41 pm | By

Russell D Moore, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, tells us that government prayer-fests aren’t sectarian at all because they’re all over the place.

Conservative evangelicals don’t want government support for our faith, because we believe God created all consciences free and a state-coerced act of worship isn’t acceptable to God.  Moreover, we believe the gospel isn’t in need of state endorsement or assistance. Wall Street may need government bailouts but the Damascus Road never does.

In fact, most of us support voluntary public prayer not because we oppose the separation of church and state but because we support it.

After all, at issue in this dispute, is the supposed “sectarian” nature of these public prayers. Few suggest that any invocation at all is unconstitutional — especially since invocations have been going on in such forums since the Founding Era. The problem is that these prayers are specifically Christian or specifically Jewish or specifically Jewish or specifically Wiccan, or what have you.

Notice the calm majoritarian confidence of that dismissal of people who do suggest that any invocation at all is unconstitutional, and the breezy citation of longstanding practice as if it justified anything (hello slavery, hello footbinding, hello genital mutilation).

When we allow evangelicals to pray as evangelicals, Catholics to pray as Catholics, Muslims to pray as Muslims, Jews to pray as Jews, we are not undermining political pluralism in our democracy, we’re upholding it.

That’s why these prayers are not an establishment of religion. The clergyperson offering the invocation isn’t an extension of the government. His or her prayers aren’t state-written or state-approved.

If this is the case, why even bother with invocations, from multiple religious voices, in an increasingly diverse American public square? Such invocations serve to remind us that we are more than extensions of the state. Our consciences are accountable to a higher tribunal than any government. It’s that sense of conscience and human integrity that has led this country to support minority rights, respect for opposing viewpoints, and a limit on the power of government.

He’s claiming that reminding us of “a higher tribunal” is not an establishment of religion. He’s wrong; that’s exactly what it is.

If a belief in a “higher tribunal” were what’s required, why would slavery have lasted so long, or gotten started at all? Why would minority rights have been so very unsupported for so very long? What does Russell Moore think he’s talking about?



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

Such a deep chord

Oct 22nd, 2013 12:18 pm | By

Kimberly Winston looks at why atheists got so het up about Oprah’s casual aspersions on atheists. (Well one reason is just that it’s something to do. If someone mentions us, we talk about it. If someone mentions it – atheism – we talk about it. But besides that.)

Why has this struck such a deep chord? Ryan Cragun, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Tampa who studies atheists, said it may be because atheists are beginning to be more public about their lack of belief, seeing this as an opportunity to express their difference, their presence and their rights — much like the gay community has done before.”

Well yeah. That’s what I said – we talk about it. Mention us or it, and we’ll talk about it.

Marcia Z. Nelson, author of “The Gospel According to Oprah,” agreed, saying Winfrey may be exhibiting more unawareness than intolerance.

“As I see it, Oprah was being her spiritually and professionally curious self,” Nelson said. “The problem atheists have is partly one of language; the God and religion people have been working on refining their descriptive languages for millennia. Oprah was actually doing atheists a favor by quizzing Nyad. Atheists need to concentrate more on expressing awe and less on taking hyperbolic offense where none is intended.”



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

Women ____________________

Oct 21st, 2013 5:03 pm | By

No doubt you’ve heard about the Google search item.

Here’s a simple and powerful campaign idea from UN Women using real suggested search terms from Google’s autocomplete feature. Campaign creator Christopher Hunt, head of art for Ogilvy & Mather Dubai, offers this summary: “This campaign uses the world’s most popular search engine (Google) to show how gender inequality is a worldwide problem. The adverts show the results of genuine searches, highlighting popular opinions across the world wide web.” Each ad’s fine print says “actual Google search on 09/03/13.” While Google users in different countries are likely to get different results, a quick test shows that several of these suggested terms definitely come up in U.S. searches. Since its creation, autocomplete has become a popular device for social debate and even inspired a recent epic visual from xkcd, but these ads do a stellar job driving home the daunting fact that enough people around the world share these vile opinions that Google has come to expect them.

So I tried, and sure enough. Of course some of them will be people like me looking for nasty bullshit, but all the same.

Check out the article for what the campaign did with some. Here are the ones I harvested.




Women should not put up with this crap.

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

Not to sit on the fence and bleat “balance”

Oct 21st, 2013 3:51 pm | By

Rachael Dunlop wonders why the hell media stories about medicine include bullshit for “balance.”

There’s a term to describe giving more time to opposing view points than the evidence actually supports – false balance.

So okay, my “feelpinions” might get hurt, but does it really matter otherwise? Well yes, it turns out it does.

A recent study reports that stories about vaccines that include false balance are actually more dangerous than those that are purely anti-vaccine. Yes, you read that correctly. Stories that offer both sides of the coin can have a greater negative influence on people’s decision to not vaccinate than those that are purely anti-vaccine.

Why? Perhaps because they give an impression of genuinely divided opinion among experts.

The Australian media, to their credit, have moved away from false balance in vaccine stories over the last few years. I like to think that grassroots campaigning has contributed to that, even if only a little. Certainly, I personally have made an effort to explain why false balance is bad and in some cases I’ve even declined to participate in stories if journalists insist on including anti-vaccine campaigners.

I now know of a couple of mainstream media outlets who have policies of not speaking to anti-vaxers at all when they do science based vaccine stories, which is a fantastic result. Indeed, one prime time magazine-style programme issued this statement on their Facebook page following a complaint from a viewer about an appearance I made on the show to discuss a measles outbreak.

Anti-vaccination is a fringe opinion. For every 5 doctors who oppose vaccination there are 95 who support it. We are not obliged to provide equal time and space to unscientific and dangerous viewpoints.

But not everyone is that level-headed, and it matters.

Recently, WIN television were reported to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) for including false statements from a prominent anti-vaccine lobbyist in a news story about a measles outbreak. Media Watch’s Jonathan Holmes didn’t mince his words when he said:

There’s evidence and then there’s bulldust. It’s a journalists job to distinguish between them, not to sit on the fence and bleat balance, especially when people’s health is at risk.

Holmes’ last point really highlights the crux of the issue. In recent years in Australia, several babies have died from whooping cough as a result of outbreaks in areas where levels of vaccination are dangerously low. The media was also partly blamed for contributing to another measles epidemic in Swansea, Wales that persisted for eight months, resulting in a total of 1,219 cases and the death of one person.

Large numbers of children in the 10-18 age bracket had not received their scheduled measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccines, partly due to significant, uncritical coverage by the British media of false claims about the safety of MMR in 1998. The vaccine/autism claims were initiated by Andrew Wakefield who was subsequently struck off the medical register, his scientific study scratched from the record, and has gone onto be named by Time magazine as one of the “great science frauds” of modern history.

Whilst no one gets hurt if you ask a flying carpet salesman questions about commercial flight, the consequences of people not vaccinating are real and potentially tragic. With vaccination, there is not debate. The science is in and the benefits far outweigh the risks. No balance required.

Disagreeing over what flavor of ice cream to have for the party? Go for balance. Vaccinations? Do not go for “balance.”


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


Oct 21st, 2013 3:22 pm | By

A news item from Florida last week:

Police on Monday arrested two girls, ages 14 and 12, in connection with the death of Rebecca Sedwick, who jumped from the top of an abandoned concrete plant last month.

Authorities said the 14-year-old girl was Rebecca’s chief tormenter, and the girl posted a taunting message Saturday on the Internet about what had happened.

“Yes IK I bullied REBECCA nd she killed her self but IDGAF,” the Facebook post read.

What a horrible sentiment, if it’s hers or if it’s someone else’s pretending to be hers.

According to Judd, the girl was upset that Rebecca had once dated her current boyfriend and began bullying and harassing her more than a year ago when they were both students at a Florida middle school.

In addition to sending harassing messages over the Internet, the girl physically attacked Rebecca at least once, Judd said. She also recruited the girl’s former best friend — the 12-year-old charged Monday — to bully her, Judd said.

Ironically enough, that Judd is Sheriff Grady Judd, who’s done some bullying of his own.

Among the online messages that drove Rebecca to jump to her death were, “You should die” and “why don’t you go kill yourself?” Judd said.

The night before Rebecca killed herself, authorities say, she messaged a boy she had befriended online, writing, “I’m jumping. I can’t take it anymore.”

Judd, clearly upset about the incident, expressed frustration that neither girl’s parents were willing to bring them in for questioning. He said he was astonished to find out that the 14-year-old in the case was still being allowed to post to the Internet after what had happened.

Dude, free speech.

Norman said she blamed the parents of the two girls and the staff at the middle school. She and Rebecca reported the bullying to the school, she said.

While bullying was not in itself against the law, Judd said, the girls’ actions allegedly harassing Rebecca in school and online formed the basis for the stalking charge. He did not expect any other charges would be filed.

Clearly the school didn’t manage to do anything about it.

First, do no harm. Second, try to prevent harm you can see happening.


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

It’s our word and you can’t use it

Oct 21st, 2013 12:16 pm | By

Last week a Malaysian court ruled that people who aren’t Muslims can’t call their god “Allah” because that name is just for Muslims.

The appeals court said the term Allah must be exclusive to Islam or it could cause public disorder.

People of all faiths use the word Allah in Malay to refer to their Gods.

Christians argue they have used the word, which entered Malay from Arabic, to refer to their God for centuries and that the ruling violates their rights.

No because they stole the word. From Arabic. It’s not theirs and they can’t have it.

Upholding the appeal on Monday, chief judge Mohamed Apandi Ali said: “The usage of the word Allah is not an integral part of the faith in Christianity. The usage of the word will cause confusion in the community.”

The Herald editor Reverend Lawrence Andrew said he was “disappointed and dismayed”, and would appeal against the decision.

“It is a retrograde step in the development of law in relation to the fundamental liberty of religious minorities,” he said.

Plus it’s a frank admission that their god is a purely local god, not a universal one. That seems like shooting themselves in the foot, but whatevs.

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

“It just didn’t go the way we wanted it to go.”

Oct 21st, 2013 11:44 am | By

There’s this Evangelical church near Sacramento, Adventure Christian Church. Last weekend the church hosted a debate between David Marshall, a Christian author, blogger and founder/director of the Kuai Mu Institute for Christianity and World Cultures, and Phil Zuckerman, Professor of Sociology and Secular Studies, Pitzer College in Claremont, California, who reports how things went.

The question at hand: “What provides a better foundation for civil society, Christianity or Secular Humanism?” David Marshall took the Christian position, and I took the secular humanist position.

There was advance planning for months. They provided nice snacks.

I was repeatedly told — via e-mail, as well as in person — that not only would the debate be video’ed by their expert video team, but the video of the debate would be posted on vimeo soon after the debate.

And so we had the debate. And I won. Now, that’s not my opinion — its the opinion of Adventure Christian church, because they now refuse to post the video on-line.

Instead, what they’ve done is post a series of rebuttals to the debate — refutations and criticisms. But they won’t post the actual debate. And they’ve disabled my ability to even comment on their posted refutations.
When I called pastor Bryan, and asked him why they are refusing to post the video — even after repeated promises of doing so — he replied, “It just didn’t go the way we wanted it to go. We were not represented well.”

Thus neatly demonstrating that Christianity of the more absolutist variety (at least) is not good at doing civil society.

Does that sound familiar? Yes, it does. Two years ago, Jerry Coyne debated the theologian John Haught and then Haught refused to let the video be released. I did a post about it at the time.

Zuckerman is surprised and disappointed at Adventure Christian church, but not willing to tar all evangelicals with the same brush.

I don’t think all Evangelicals are like those at Adventure. I am sure that there are many, many evangelical Christians who keep their word, are open to debate and dialogue, and have the courage of their convictions.

But, unfortunately, that wasn’t my experience at Adventure Christian Church. They are indeed afraid to air the underling truth of my position: that no civil society can thrive if it does not exist upon a bedrock of democracy, and democracy is not a Christian value — it is not articulated anywhere in the Gospels, nor is it promulgated, in any way, by Jesus or Paul. Rather, democracy is a secular humanist ideal — something dreamed up and established by and for people.

But the good pastors at Adventure Christian church would you prefer not to know that!

There are Christians who claim – indeed, insist – that democracy is a Christian value and that we wouldn’t have it if it weren’t for Christianity. I think that’s bullshit, but counterfactuals are hard to rebut.

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

Still raw

Oct 20th, 2013 4:40 pm | By

A scorching comment from “Janis” on Erin Podolak’s post on not looking away from difficult embarrassing issues like sexual harassment.

It gratifies me beyond belief after leaving behind the career I’d wanted since I was 4 (and been more than qualified for) some two decades ago because the atmosphere was simply so poisonous I couldn’t get anything done, to see that this is finally being talked about.

It depresses me more than I can say that, twenty years later, it still needs to be said.

I am sick of the locker room.  I am sick of the “this is our space and you’ll play by our rules” attitude.  I’m sick of pathetic excuses being made for people who have achieved middle age and hence can be damned well expected to know when they are being unpardonably OBNOXIOUS.  A grown man who doesn’t realize that nonstop sexual conversation will make the young women around him cringe?  GMAFB — he’s not a toddler.  He damned well knows what he’s doing.

I am also sick of the unsubtle message that’s communicated to women that there can be only one “girl” in the room at a time, because it sets us against one another if we’re all competing only for one spot.

And I am sick and tired enough to SCREAM over the lip-service being done to attracting women to STEM careers that glosses over the fact that this horseshit is a HUGE part of why women don’t go into or aren’t retained in STEM careers.

I am SICK AND TIRED of the chipper, cute little commentary about “telling girls it’s cool to be in science!” and the stupid interviews with women at NASA that always make sure to ask them, “Did you *gasp!* like math?” with the implication shoveled at girls — who are all completely incompetent at math, right? — not to worry, girls!  You can stink at math and still work at NASA!  I’ve never once read an interview with Mohawk Guy or Adam Steltzner that asks them, “So here’s your chance to say that you suck at math so men who can’t add two and two can still feel heartened that there’s a place at NASA for them.”

I’m tired of having the “problem” of women in STEM being equated to a problem with WOMEN.  They’re not confident enough! Their too scared at being thought uncool!  They’re too stupid at math and think they can’t work there!  They think it’s not girly pink-n-frilly enough!

Never once is the idea even floated that maybe, just maybe, they get treated like shit by the men there and often abandoned by the lone woman who’s afraid of losing her Queen Bee status as the only woman allowed in the room.

Not enough women in STEM?  Gosh, what’s wrong with them?

Here’s a possibility: NOTHING.  Maybe we can ask what’s wrong with STEM instead?

Sorry — that was quite a rant.  But after twenty years, this is still raw and leaves me sputteringly angry.  The older I get the angrier I get — age does not bring serenity when I see young girls and women still going through this fucking shit after I’ve started going grey.  Call me bitter, I don’t fucking care anymore.  I’ve spent the last two decades trying not to tell myself that Mother Nature made a mistake putting a brain like mine into the body of a creature destined to never be taken seriously, so if you call me bitter thinking it’s some conversational secret weapon that will make me collapse in a pile of little girly tears, you’re a fucking amateur.

Sorry for the profanity.

It was supposed to be better by now. Wasn’t it? I thought it was.


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

Not so fast, there, Syria – there’s more

Oct 20th, 2013 4:18 pm | By

Because things aren’t bad enough yet in Syria.

The World Health Organization says it believes polio has erupted in war-torn Syria, a dire development in the fight to eradicate the disease.

The Geneva-based agency says a cluster of more than 10 paralysis cases have been detected in Deir Al Zour province in eastern Syria, a contested area of the country.

The WHO’s senior official for polio eradication says initial tests indicate polio is the cause, and efforts to address what could be a crisis situation are being geared up.

Dr. Bruce Aylward says the potential exists for a large scale outbreak that will take some time to bring under control.

That’s because the collapse of health services during the civil war has meant there are young children in Syria who haven’t been vaccinated.

Where there’s misery, there will be more misery.

While polio remains endemic – meaning transmission has never been stopped – in only Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria, several countries this year have seen spread of polio resume as a result of imported viruses. Among them is Somalia, where polio vaccination efforts were abandoned for four years because of conflict in the southern part of the country.

Misery—>worse misery.

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

Occupational hazard

Oct 20th, 2013 4:06 pm | By

Some skeptical questions that are less than useful.

  • Why should I do no harm?
  • Why should I care what other people want?
  • If it’s fun for me to make fun of fat people on the bus, why shouldn’t I go ahead and do that?
  • If I can trick people into giving me all their money to “invest” why shouldn’t I do that?
  • If I enjoy sex with children why shouldn’t I have it?
  • If I’m a priest why shouldn’t I use that as a way to get access to children to have sex with?
  • Why should I inconvenience myself to help someone else?
  • Why should I worry about the working conditions in the factory where my inexpensive Tshirt was made?
  • Why should I care about the problems of people in Bangladesh or Somalia?

There’s an infinite number of questions of that type. They’re not skeptical in the sense of taking a hard look at pseudoscience or woo or fairy tales, but they’re skeptical in the philosophical sense.

This is probably one reason organized skepticism can attract a lot of assholes. It doesn’t always happen, but it’s a hazard.

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