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.

Uganda is still pushing that bill

Nov 25th, 2012 10:24 am | By

Jeff Sharlet said on Twitter a couple of hours ago that the New Yorker did bad, lazy journalism in reporting that Uganda had dropped the death penalty from its anti-gay bill. He said The Family had spoon-fed Peter Boyer that information and that he hadn’t checked it. He said they had another “prayer breakfast” just today and that Inhofe sent them a friendly message. I don’t have any other source for this, so I’m just telling you what Sharlet said. He’s been on this story for years, though, so I figure he has sources and knows what he’s talking about.

At any rate, the Huffington Post did report yesterday that the bill is going ahead and that it’s still bad and scary.

A bill proposing that gay and lesbian Ugandans be executed is coming back to Uganda’s Parliament – it could pass at any moment. Worse yet, rumours are suggesting that the bill has been changed in committee and we may not have a chance to see it before it is rushed through.

President Museveni once promised that he would not sign this bill into law. With pressure mounting on him to support the bill, only a massive global outcry – along with our friends in Uganda – will make him keep his promise.

So sign this. And share it.

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

Mushraks have no concept of cleanliness

Nov 24th, 2012 5:15 pm | By

You thought Rush Limbaugh was unpleasant – check out Rubina Nasir, a presenter on Leeds based Radio Asian Fever.

She said that homosexuals should be ‘beaten up’ and that a Muslim marrying a non-Mulslim was on ‘the straight path to hellfire’.

The presenter, known as ‘Sister Ruby’, said: “What should be done if they do it? [practise homosexuality].

“If there are two such persons among you, that do this evil, the shameful act, what do you have to do? Torture them; punish them; beat them and give them mental torture.”

“Allah states, ‘If they do such a deed [i.e. homosexuality], punish them, both physically and mentally.

“Mental punishment means rebuke them, beat them, humiliate them, admonish and curse them, and beat them up. This command was sent in the beginning because capital punishment had not yet been sent down.”

Compassion is at the heart of every great religion.

In a broadcast the following day she focused her attention on another Qur’anic verse and said it was critical of mixed-faith marriages.

She said: “What happens when a Muslim man or woman get married to a Mushrak [a follower of another religion).

“Listeners! Marriage of a Muslim man or woman with a Mushrak is the straight path to hellfire.

“Have my sisters and brothers, who live with people of bad religions or alien religions, ever thought about what would become of the children they have had with them – and the coming generation?

“Where the filth of shirk (the sin of following another religion) is present, where the dirt of shirk is present, where the heart is impure, how can you remove apparent filth. How many arrangements will you make to remove the apparent filth?

“We are saying that Mushraks have no concept of cleanliness and uncleanliness.”

This is on a station called Asian Fever. What, one wonders, do for instance Hindu listeners think of Sister Ruby? Atheists? Buddhists? Jains? Do they all listen happily while she calls them filth? Do they consider it all part of their interfaith work?


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

In which I annoy everyone all at once

Nov 24th, 2012 3:47 pm | By

There’s apparently a lot of discussion on Twitter about something Richard Dawkins said yesterday (on something – a debate with Mehdi Hasan? is that right? – that will be on Al-Jazeera in December). I’ve seen some of it, but also references to more, which I haven’t seen. The origin was a tweet (isn’t it always?) -

Tonight, Dawkins argued that teaching a child about hell is worse than a child being sexually abused, which he said ‘she might feel was yucky’.

Some people pointed out that he said the same thing in The God Delusion, and even supplied the page, so I looked it up.

Here’s the thing. I agree with people who are outraged by the “worse than a child being sexually abused” part, but I agree with Dawkins that the badness of teaching children that hell is real is terrible and that that gets neglected.

I think this means I’ve irritated everyone. So it goes.

I think it’s a big mistake, and especially so for Dawkins and at this stage of the game, to compare it with anything else, and to minimize child sexual abuse. (TGD came out before the Ryan Report. I would guess Dawkins has read the Ryan Report. I think it was front and center at the time of the protests against the pope’s visit. If he has, it seems odd that he’s still arguing that priestly child sexual abuse isn’t always a big deal. He may be right that for some children it really isn’t, but it’s a very dubious thing to argue, especially when the church is still trying to brush it under the carpet.) I think he should just separate the two, and then leave the other one strictly alone. Focus on hell, and leave the child abuse issue alone; that’s my advice.

I do agree with him though that the idea of hell is really really bad. What he was talking about in TGD (starting on page 317) was a letter from “an American woman” who was raised Catholic and had both experiences at age 7 - priestly abuse and terror about hell. A priest fondled her, and a Protestant friend of hers died and went to hell – or so she’d been taught to believe. The second item was “by far the worst.”

Dawkins quotes from the letter.

Being fondled by the priest simply left the impression (from the mind of a  7 year old) as ‘yucky’ while the memory of my friend going to hell was one of cold, unmeasurable fear. I never lost sleep because of the priest – but I spent many a night being terrified that the people I loved would go to Hell.

You see in that tweet above it looks as if “yucky” is Dawkins’s word, and a damn silly one, but in fact he was quoting.

I think he shouldn’t compare the two, especially now, but I do think he’s right about hell.

I look forward to your letters, as Craig says.

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

A mark of the beast

Nov 24th, 2012 9:39 am | By

A Texas high school wants its students to carry ID cards with microchips, so that it can tell where they are.

ID badges containing radio tags started to be introduced at the start of the 2012 school year to schools run by San Antonio’s Northside Independent School District (NISD). The tracking tags gave NISD a better idea of the numbers of students attending classes each day – the daily average of which dictates how much cash it gets from state coffers.

I can’t help thinking it would be better if schools were small enough so that they could have a handle on how many students were attending just by eyeballing the classroom, but hey, I know that would cost more money and education of other people’s children isn’t a priority. So are these badges with tags ok? I don’t know; they seem intrusive to me, but then I don’t have a huge factory full of teenagers to run.

But one student refuses to wear the things because they’re of Satan.

Hernandez refused to wear the tag because it conflicted with her religious beliefs, according to court papers. Wearing such a barcoded tag can be seen as a mark of the beast as described in Revelation 13 in the Bible, Ms Hernandez’s father told Wired magazine in an interview.

That’s not a good reason. If that’s a reason, then another student could say that homework can be seen as a mark of the beast. If something that “can be seen as” whatever is a valid reason for refusal, then anything can be a valid reason for refusal. Hence the need for secularism. Once you can just paste the word “religious” on whatever you want to do or refuse to do, we’re screwed.

The Rutherford Institute said the NISD’s suspension violated Texan laws on religious freedom as well as free speech amendments to the US constitution.

But if “religious freedom” covers everything, then we’ll get paralysis.

The court’s willingness to grant a temporary restraining order is a good first step, but there is still a long way to go – not just in this case, but dealing with the mindset, in general, that everyone needs to be monitored and controlled,” said John Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute in a statement.

Mr Whitehead said student tagging and locating projects were the first step in producing a “compliant citizenry”.

“These ‘student locator’ programmes are ultimately aimed at getting students used to living in a total surveillance state where there will be no privacy, and wherever you go and whatever you text or email will be watched by the government,” he said.

But that’s a different argument. It’s a different kind of argument. It’s got nothing to do with a mark of the beast. I think he has a point, but it’s a secular point. They should make that point, and leave Revelation 13 out of it.


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

Cognitive dissonance

Nov 24th, 2012 7:05 am | By

Bjarte Foshaug did a toon. It made me laugh.

Embedded image permalink

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

Those things that we all have in common

Nov 23rd, 2012 4:02 pm | By

Another Very Young Girl spots the unfairness in gender stereotyping in the toy department.

A six-year-old girl wrote Hasbro to let them know they only have bros (HIGH FIVE!) in their game, Guess Who. You know, the game that’s like memory but all the characters have googly eyes, dodgy mustaches, and bad toupees? Well, guess who’s not in the game? Women. Actually, no, that’s not fair, there are five girls and nineteen boys. Five girls and nineteen boys.

What is it with that? I swear, I think there are actually people who think women are a small fraction of the population.

Her letter is short and to the point.

Dear Hasbro,

My name is R______. I am six years old. I think it’s not fair to only have 5 girls in Guess Who and 19 boys. It is not only boys who are important, girls are important too. If grown ups get into thinking that girls are not important they won’t give little girls much care.

Also if girls want to be a girl in Guess Who they’ll always lose against a boy, and it will be harder for them to win. I am cross about that and if you don’t fix it soon, my mum could throw Guess Who out.

My mum typed this message but I told her what to say.

Check out what Hasbro replied.

Dear R___,

Thank you for your email. Please find below an explanation which I hope your mummy will be able to explain to you.

Guess Who? is a guessing game based on a numerical equation. If you take a look at the characters in the game, you will notice that there are five of any given characteristics. The idea of the game is, that by process of elimination, you narrow down who it isn’t, thus determining who it is. The game is not weighted in favour of any particular character, male or female. Another aspect of the game is to draw attention away from using gender or ethnicity as the focal point, and to concentrate on those things that we all have in common, rather than focus on our differences.

Omigod did Chris Stedman get a job with Hasbro?!?!

Seriously. That is so fucking weaselly. The idea is to draw attention away from gender so that little pests like you won’t notice that we think there should be five times as many boys as there are girls in our game.

Yes, and another aspect of the game is to draw attention away from using money or power or class or status as the focal point, because some of us have a lot more of those than others, because we have rigged things that way, so kindly concentrate on those things that we all have in common, rather than focus on our differences, before we call Homeland Security.

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

Very young real housewives of Malibu

Nov 23rd, 2012 3:14 pm | By

This is from two years ago, but so what – it’s still on point.

One wonders why the video that has a FEATURED label at the top of the right hand column is the one titled Anti Feminist, which features someone who 1. calls herself Trish 2. appears to be imitating a Barbie doll 3. says “like” every third word. It’s funny the way people who aren’t good at talking think it’s a good idea to make vlogs.

Anyway. Anita Sarkeesian, before all the Iago syndrome.

Update: before all the Iago syndrome that prompted misogynists to do everything they could to degrade and silence her, was what I meant.

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

This cannot be revoked

Nov 23rd, 2012 12:23 pm | By

The news from Egypt is appalling. The Islamist Morsi has granted himself the power to do anything he wants to do without any hindrance from courts.

President Mohamed Morsi issued a decree on Thursday granting himself broad powers above any court as the guardian of Egypt’s revolution, and used his new authority to order the retrial of Hosni Mubarak.

Mr. Morsi, an Islamist and Egypt’s first elected president, portrayed his decree as an attempt to fulfill popular demands for justice and protect the transition to a constitutional democracy. But the unexpected breadth of the powers he seized raised immediate fears that he might become a new strongman.

Ya think?

“An absolute presidential tyranny,” Amr Hamzawy, a liberal member of the dissolved Parliament and prominent political scientist, wrote in an online commentary. “Egypt is facing a horrifying coup against legitimacy and the rule of law and a complete assassination of the democratic transition.”

It’s so…basic. It trashes the whole point of being “Egypt’s first elected president” and talk of “a constitutional democracy.” This fancy idea of “electing” people? It’s supposed to entail accountability, and limits on power, and stuff like that.

Nathan J. Brown, a scholar of the Egyptian legal system at George Washington University, summed up the overall message: “I, Morsi, am all powerful. And in my first act as being all powerful, I declare myself more powerful still. But don’t worry — it’s just for a little while.”

The BBC reports that Morsi is saying there there there it will be fine.

President Mohammed Mursi has appeared before supporters in Cairo to defend a new decree that grants him sweeping powers.

He told them he was leading Egypt on a path to “freedom and democracy” and was the guardian of stability.

He was speaking as thousands of opponents gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and offices of the president’s party were attacked in several cities.

The decree says presidential decisions cannot be revoked by any authority.

What could possibly go wrong?

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

Iago syndrome

Nov 23rd, 2012 11:10 am | By

Oh good grief – Iago syndrome strikes again.

So this odd tweet flies by me:

Jeremy Stangroom Ed Rybicki speaks out about the consequences of the vile bullying he received at FtB:

8:52 AM – 23 Nov 12

#FTBullies. Honestly. Jeremy Stangroom is still regularly using that stupid hashtag, the darling of the obsessive under-motivated frothing haters who rave about the same five or six people day in and day out. You’d think it would be beneath him, but Iago-syndrome prevents.


What vile bullying he received at FtB? Rybicki doesn’t mention any in the cited article. None. He mentions hostile reactions in general, and comments on his story itself, but he doesn’t cite any “vile bullying” at FTB. He simply arbitrarily mentions the label at the end, apropos of nothing.

So where am I, now?  Well, pretty much in the same place I was in prior to early November, 2011, because I have stopped reading Hatespace: that’s right; I no longer bother to check in on the circle-jerk that FtB had obviously become.  I also got good news which completely distracted me from the bullshit: my long-shot effort at getting my 30-year dream project funded struck gold, and yes, the wonderful person who walked into my office and asked “Does anyone here know anything about viruses?” and I will be exploring oceanic viromes (thank you, Maya!).

So – all I can say is that I am wiser (but not sadder); that while as an atheist, humanist and liberal, the FtB blogs would look like they were made for me – they can Fuck.  Right.  Off.

That looks as if he’d already cited FTB earlier in the piece, but in fact he didn’t; those are his first mentions. So…what vile bullying? What, exactly, is Jeremy Stangroom talking about?

PZ points out that Rybicki’s article was widely criticized, not to say rebuked; it was far from being a Freethought blogs exclusive.

It was a not-very-good piece that relied on sexist stereotypes for a crutch. It gets a very thorough going over in the comments section there — a great many people were appalled that such a “tongue-in-cheek” exercise in perpetuating falsehoods about women could get published, even as fiction, in a science journal. It also got slapped down by Jacquelyn Gill, who compiled a huge list of negative responses, such as this one by Anne Jefferson. This wasn’t an FtB-led rejection — it was a massive, science-internet-wide gag reflex that puked all over poor Ed Rybicki’s story. Dana Hunter was our local huntress spearing the wild Rybicki, with follow-ups that included Ophelia Benson.

But to claim it was “bullying” or that FtB was responsible…well, that’s typical Jeremy Stangroom, not letting the evidence cloud his hatred of everything on this network.

Typical Iago syndrome.

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

Iago and Hippolytus

Nov 22nd, 2012 5:27 pm | By

Ever read Euripides’s Hippolytus?

It’s interesting because Hippolytus is very like a Taliban dude. He loves Artemis and hates Aphrodite, and he keeps telling everyone how pure he is. In short, he hates sex.

It has this one speech of his, starting at line 617…

Oh, Zeus! Why did you bring woman into the light of the sun? Woman, this impure, this evil destroyer of mortals! If you wanted to sow the seeds for the mortal race you should not have done it through women but a price.

Men should be able to just go to some temple or other, put there some piece of bronze or iron, or even some gold –whatever their means would allow- and with that price paid, pick themselves the son they want. Take him home with him and there, the two men could live out their lives, in their house without a woman to be seen anywhere! As it is now, even before we want to bring this… this curse, into our house, we must squander away our whole estate! And here’s what I mean by this. Here’s the clear proof of it: The woman’s father, the man who had begotten that beast and who had raised her -that poor man, not only has to lay a dowry out for her but he must also send her away, so he can shed from himself this unbearable burden!

And then, her husband, the other poor creature, the one who has brought this… fake statue, into his house, this ruinous beast, her husband, the moment he gets her into his house, he begins to happily decorate her! He begins the little game of cajoling her with pretty clothes! Fancy clothes for a worthless, vile statue! And there, you see, there goes, bit by little bit, all the wealth of his estate! And then come the unavoidable choices of his constrains. Either his in-laws are so good that he accepts the burden of having to endure a rotten and painful marriage, or it’s the other way around: he gets a great wife but rotten and painful in-laws, in which case, he’ll need to content himself with the thought that, the good part of this marriage cancels out the rotten part. But the man who gets it the easiest is the one who brings into his house a woman who is totally useless. A nothing. A zero. A simple, simple- minded woman. A useless woman.

But I hate the smart ones! I simply loathe that sort! Oh, Zeus, spare me! I hope I’ll never end up with a woman in my house who’s cleverer than women should be!  Aphrodite plants a lot more evil schemes in the minds of those clever ones! The dumb ones are kept on the straight and narrow because of their… rather diminutive wit. And, if you do get a wife, give her no slave. Instead, give her animals. Give her dumb brutes for companions. Wild beasts that you can’t talk to and they can’t talk back. Give a bitch of a wife a servant and what have you got? The two talk together inside, hatch up all sorts of evil plans and then the servant goes off and carry those plans outside the house!

Source. Translation by George Theodoridis.

It made me think of Iago, so I read the opening scenes of Othello again – and my jaw kept dropping with amazement. I’d forgotten how incredibly raw it is, and I didn’t even know before how familiar it is.

In the first scene, Iago and Roderigo come in in mid-conversation, and a strikingly sleazy conversation it is. They both dislike Othello and they talk about it for awhile, then…

RODERIGO What a full fortune does the thicklips owe

If he can carry’t thus!

IAGO Call up her father,

Rouse him: make after him, poison his delight,

Proclaim him in the streets; incense her kinsmen,

And, though he in a fertile climate dwell,

Plague him with flies: though that his joy be joy,

Yet throw such changes of vexation on’t,

As it may lose some colour.
RODERIGO Here is her father’s house; I’ll call aloud.

IAGO Do, with like timorous accent and dire yell

As when, by night and negligence, the fire

Is spied in populous cities.

RODERIGO What, ho, Brabantio! Signior Brabantio, ho!

IAGO Awake! what, ho, Brabantio! thieves! thieves! thieves! Look to your house, your daughter and your bags! Thieves! thieves!

BRABANTIO appears above, at a window

BRABANTIO What is the reason of this terrible summons? What is the matter there?

RODERIGO Signior, is all your family within?

IAGO Are your doors lock’d?

BRABANTIO Why, wherefore ask you this?

IAGO ‘Zounds, sir, you’re robb’d; for shame, put on your gown;

Your heart is burst, you have lost half your soul;

Even now, now, very now, an old black ram

Is topping your white ewe. Arise, arise;

Awake the snorting citizens with the bell,

Or else the devil will make a grandsire of you: Arise, I say.

BRABANTIO What, have you lost your wits?

RODERIGO Most reverend signior, do you know my voice?

BRABANTIO Not I what are you?

RODERIGO My name is Roderigo.

BRABANTIO The worser welcome:

I have charged thee not to haunt about my doors:

In honest plainness thou hast heard me say

My daughter is not for thee; and now, in madness,

Being full of supper and distempering draughts,

Upon malicious bravery, dost thou come

To start my quiet.

RODERIGO Sir, sir, sir,–

BRABANTIO But thou must needs be sure

My spirit and my place have in them power To make this bitter to thee.

RODERIGO Patience, good sir.

BRABANTIO What tell’st thou me of robbing? this is Venice;

My house is not a grange.

RODERIGO Most grave Brabantio,

In simple and pure soul I come to you.

IAGO ‘Zounds, sir, you are one of those that will not serve God, if the devil bid you. Because we come to do you service and you think we are ruffians, you’ll have your daughter covered with a Barbary horse; you’ll have your nephews neigh to you; you’ll have coursers for cousins and gennets for germans.

BRABANTIO What profane wretch art thou?

IAGO I am one, sir, that comes to tell you your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs.

BRABANTIO Thou art a villain.

IAGO You are–a senator.

See what I mean? Racism and misogyny in the crudest possible terms. It’s vile stuff, and meant to be. Iago is one of the most horrible characters Shakespeare ever came up with, and he reveals him as such right at the beginning. But doesn’t it sound familiar? Iago would have loved Twitter. Think of all the high school girls he could have bullied into suicide.

But what an opening for a play, eh?


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

His wife had left the international airport

Nov 22nd, 2012 4:18 pm | By

Another new wrinkle in the project to make sure that women are kept under ferocious control at all times no matter what – Saudi Arabia has now arranged things so that when a woman leaves Saudi Arabia, her male “guardian” gets a test message saying “Hey! Did you know your slut has crossed the border?”

Since last week, Saudi women’s male guardians began receiving text messages on their phones informing them when women under their custody leave the country, even if they are travelling together.

Manal al-Sherif, who became the symbol of a campaign launched last year urging Saudi women to defy a driving ban, began spreading the information on Twitter, after she was alerted by a couple.

The husband, who was travelling with his wife, received a text message from the immigration authorities informing him that his wife had left the international airport in Riyadh.

Women are not allowed to leave the kingdom without permission from their male guardian, who must give his consent by signing what is known as the “yellow sheet” at the airport or border.

This of course is to make sure that they don’t run around naked begging foreigners to fuck them.

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

Steve Moxon goes to Parliament

Nov 22nd, 2012 12:42 pm | By

From the C of E we drift over to the Houses of Parliament in all their Victorian Gothic splendor. What’s going on there? An influential committee is taking advice on women from Steve Moxon. Victoria would be proud – she hated feminists.

Women are biologically unfit to rise to the top in business, according a self-described academic speaking before an influential parliamentary committee.

Steve Moxon, author of ‘The Woman Racket’, appeared at the business select committee on Wednesday as part of an inquiry into “women in the workplace”.

A  self-described academic? What’s that? Self-description isn’t what determines who is an academic. It’s more external and objective than that.

Moxon, ranked one of the ten most powerful people in ‘men’s rights’ by website ‘theantifeminist’, was dropped as a UKIP candidate in local elections for expressing sympathy with Norwegian mass-killer Anders Breivik on his blog earlier this year, and has also described claims against Jimmy Savile as “hysteria”.

Just the right sort of person to tell an influential parliamentary committee what’s what when it comes to women in the workplace. Or to put it another way, huh? What were they listening to him for?

Giving evidence to the committee he said males were in a “dominant hierarchy” from toddlerhood.

“You can pretend that the sexes are all the same but if you go looking … females form what is generally dubbed a personal network,” he said.

“There’s no surprise that women have difficulty in the work place, not only do they have difficulty but they don’t want to be there in the first place!” he said.

He then claimed that the gender pay gap should be bigger, telling MPs “there must be referencing for it to be as small as it is.”

It’s an outrage.

In his written submission to the inquiry, Moxon suggests women may not even want “to climb the workplace hierarchy”, adding that the push toward gender equality risked producing discrimination “against men.”

Ah yes, I’ve been seeing people claim that lately – that feminism doesn’t want equality, it wants discrimination against men. I think that comes from men who think it’s discriminatory to expect men to do an equal share of housework.


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

For theological reasons

Nov 22nd, 2012 11:59 am | By

A member of the General Synod of the Church of England explains about the vote not to allow women bishops.

The legislation we voted on needed to achieve two outcomes: the ordination of women to the episcopate; and sufficient provision for those who, for theological reasons, find this innovation unacceptable.

For theological reasons – that’s important, you see. They can’t be political reasons or moral reasons or we just don’t like them reasons. Why? Because it looks bad. But theological reasons – ah now that’s a whole different kettle of bullshit. That gets a pass, and a wide berth, and a deep bow, and a determined looking in the other direction.

You can do a lot with theological reasons. You can drone about how the bishop is supposed to be a Jesus-substitute, and pretend that that means the bishop has to be A Man, while the bishop doesn’t have to be Jewish, or a carpenter, or an Aramaic-speaker, or a whole list of things that Jesus had or was. All the variables can vary except just this one thing, and that one can’t be touched not nohow. The bishop can be different from Jesus in more ways than anyone can count, as long as the bishop too is A Man.

In other words, the Church of England wanted women bishops but within the framework of an inclusive church, where people could disagree about the ordination of women yet remain loyal Anglicans and united around the good news of Jesus Christ.

An “inclusive” church that includes people who think women are inferior, but not people who think churches shouldn’t make rules that apply to everyone while excluding half of everyone from the rule-making jobs.

Voting no was a vote for equality in the church; equality that stems not from what we do, but from what God has done for us; God created each one of us and Christ paid the same price for each one of us, so we are free to serve one another without reference to role or status. Leadership in the Church is surely modelled on the Son of Man.

Word salad. The church makes rules for all its members, but excludes half its members from the top decision-making jobs. That’s not some special fancy goddy kind of equality.

To be called to be a bishop is a calling to serve God’s family. The Church is not a workplace, with a hierarchy to climb, but a family in which each member has different responsibilities but is equally valuable. To be called to be a bishop is not to be called to be a CEO but to be a father to the church family. The bible teaches us that fathers are called to lay down their lives in self-sacrificial service by taking responsibility for the spiritual welfare of their family. Of course, the Church needs mothers, too, but I believe they have a different, equally self-sacrificial and equally valuable role to play.

No. It’s not “equally valuable.” If women are officially excluded from the top of the hierarchy, that is not any kind of equal. It is profoundly dishonest to pretend it is.



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

Ancient sexist notions

Nov 21st, 2012 1:40 pm | By

Jesus and Mo are also discussing the C of E vote to say no women bishops. Jesus is quite frank about it.


The new book makes a great Xmas present. It gots a foreword by Dawkins.

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

As set forth

Nov 21st, 2012 1:27 pm | By

Teresa MacBain tells us about a disturbing law in Kentucky.

On August 17, 2012, the Kentucky Supreme Court refused to hear a motion for discretionary review, brought by American Atheists and local plaintiffs, to a state law that makes it mandatory that the Commonwealth and its citizens give credit to Almighty God for its safety and security.  This request was denied in a single line that said that the “…Petition for Discretionary Review is denied.”  Signed, Chief Justice, Kentucky Supreme Court. The law states, “The safety and security of the Commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon Almighty God as set forth in the public speeches and proclamations of American Presidents, including AbrahamLincoln’s historic March 30, 1863, presidential proclamation urging Americans to pray and fast during one of the most dangerous hours in American history, and the text of President John F. Kennedy’s November 22, 1963, national security speech which concluded: “For as was written long ago: ‘Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.’”

How farking crazy is that? “As set forth in the public speeches and proclamations of American Presidents” – what, because US presidents have the magical ability to create reality with their public speeches and proclamations? What they say becomes True as soon as they say it, because they say it?

I hope American Atheists and local plaintiffs win.

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

Prioritizing agreement

Nov 21st, 2012 11:44 am | By

Let’s try this again. I keep seeing discussions of Chris Stedman and his new book that complain of how personal and hostile and unfair the criticisms of him are. Let’s see if I can spell out my dissent without sounding (or even being) personal and hostile and unfair. Religion News Service has an interview with him, so that provides an occasion.

On the blog NonProphet Status, and now in the book, Stedman calls for atheists and the religious to come together around interfaith work. It is a position that has earned him both strident — even violent — condemnation and high praise. Stedman talked with RNS about how and why the religious and atheists should work together.

One. Calling for atheists and the religious to come together around interfaith work seems to me (and others) to be a strange project, because it seems to be a rejection of the very idea of basic disagreement. On the one hand, atheists and the religious already do unite to work together in various contexts, because that’s just how these things work. People work on various things without interrogating each other about beliefs and world views. There’s no need to stipulate that atheists and theists work together; they’ll do that on their own. On the other hand, if he does mean that people should make a big thing about being one or the other and getting together around some kind of work – then I really don’t see why I have to. I’m happy to shut up about my atheism and do things with other people who shut up about their theism. I’m not happy to do a big “let’s weave the two together” dance.

Am I getting too personal and hostile and unfair already? Maybe. Maybe. I think that’s because I never can manage to grasp exactly what Stedman has in mind. I don’t understand why he’s not satisfied with the fact that atheists and theists do naturally work together all the time, just as liberals and conservatives do, women and men do, gays and straights do, tall people and short people do. I don’t understand why he wants to take that first step of having everyone identify as one or the other – atheist or theist – and then make a big deal of working together.

That first step is what makes the whole thing so dubious. If theism and atheism are just left aside, then we can work together. If they’re made central – then I have disagreements, dammit, and no I’m not willing to suppress them.

And then there’s interfaith work. Again: no. Work, yes; interfaith work, no. Why does it have to be interfaith work? Why can’t it just be work?

Two. This is the interviewer’s doing, not Stedman’s. Violent is the wrong word to use. It’s offensively wrong. Strong, even strident disagreement with Stedman isn’t violent.

Q: What does the term “faitheist” mean? Is it a positive label or a derisive one?
A: It’s one of several words used by some atheists to describe other atheists who are seen as too accommodating of religion. But to me, being a faitheist means that I prioritize the pursuit of common ground, and that I’m willing to put “faith” in the idea that religious believers and atheists can and should focus on areas of agreement and work in broad coalitions to advance social justice.

Ok. Here’s where we differ. There already is plenty of common ground. But there is also substantive disagreement, and that had been as it were de-prioritized for a long time before the recent renaissance of outspoken atheism. It is only in the last few years (at least in the US) that it has become somewhat normal for atheists to say how and why they differ from and disagree with theists. I think that’s a healthy shift, and I find it unfortunate that other atheists already think it necessary to “prioritize” what was already the conformist majoritarian approach, which was not so much the pursuit of common ground as the dominance of one view at the expense of the other. Prioritizing the pursuit of common ground, in a country where the vast majority is religious and where religion is in some ways compulsory, is really just prioritizing the continued dominance of the majority view.

In other words I don’t want to focus on areas of agreement, because that was all that was available to me for years and years until quite recently. Saying that people with differing views should focus on areas of agreement frankly amounts to an endorsement of whatever the status quo majority view is. It’s a way of saying hide your dissenting views. It’s that dressed up as being kinder than other people. I have problems with all of that.

Some people have suggested I think atheists shouldn’t critique harmful religious beliefs, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

But that doesn’t work. Saying that “religious believers and atheists can and should focus on areas of agreement” is saying that atheists shouldn’t critique harmful religious beliefs. The areas of agreement obviously rule out things like criticism of harmful religious beliefs.

Maybe Stedman doesn’t realize that. Maybe he doesn’t recognize a tension between his avowed project and a commitment to open criticism of harmful religious beliefs. There is such a tension.

Q: You write that the atheist community is often defined by the “New Atheists” and their aggressive stance against religion. Isn’t the term atheist a negative by definition?

A: When I first became active in the atheist movement, I was taken aback by the degree of hostility I saw directed toward religion and, in many cases, religious believers. It has often felt to me that atheism and anti-theism are treated as synonyms by many segments of the atheist community, when they are in fact different.

You see there it is again. Hostility toward religion is and ought to be permitted. Stedman dislikes it. Ok but then he ought to admit that, and realize that he does indeed think atheists shouldn’t critique harmful religious beliefs.

Q: If atheists by definition don’t have faith, why should they seek to be included in interfaith work?

A: Interfaith work seeks to humanize religious diversity and erode tribalistic divisions. It promotes religious literacy and freedom of expression and conscience, and if atheists don’t participate, we risk not being included in interfaith efforts’ vision for a pluralistic world. The term “interfaith” may be imperfect, but in my experience it does not exclude atheists — and when it does, that’s something we should work to change.

But if what you’re talking about is actually pluralism, then it would be better to call it that.

There. My attempt to be impersonal, non-hostile, and fair.

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

Mabus re-arrested and re-released

Nov 21st, 2012 10:55 am | By

Tim Farley’s eagerly-awaited post on desperately tracking Mabus.

This post is the story of how those posts once again led to Markuze’s arrest by the Montreal Police. As in 2011 it took quite a bit of work to make this happen. Tedious, painstaking, often thankless work.  But this is the type of work skeptic activists need to be ready to do in order to get results.

Really – incredibly tedious and painstaking. I find it tedious just taking a screenshot; the thought of tracking down endless IP addresses makes me want to run away and join the circus. Thank you Tim. (Remember – Tim also did the tedious work of finding and talking to the guy who sent me those two weird emails last June. [You know: the ones that included, at the end of the second one, a prediction that I would be shot at TAM; the part that Justin Vacula left out on his podcast when he poured scorn on the idea that I had received any threats at all.] I have good reason to be grateful to him.)

Tim goes through the details, and then arrives at the outcome, last May.

Markuze Pleads Guilty on May 22, 2012

Because of the sparse communication from Montreal, we had no idea that these YouTube posts in May were coming just days before Markuze was scheduled to appear in court on Tuesday, May 22, 2012.  And again we heard nothing about that until an article appeared in the Montreal Gazette on Friday, June 1st titled “St. Laurent man pleads guilty to issuing threats.”  I’d link to the article, but it is no longer available online. (Yet another reason newspapers continue to get trounced by new media – they keep trashing or paywalling content like this that could be bringing people to their site).

The gist was that Markuze pled guilty to eight counts of “uttering threats,” and was given a suspended 18-month sentence as a result. He was ordered to “abstain from particpating in a social network, blog and discussion forum” as part of the sentence.

Ordered to, but that turned out to mean…nothing much. Nobody made sure he obeyed, and by golly, he didn’t.

Needless to say, many of us were disappointed in this outcome, and particularly that we had to learn about it from the newspaper.  We wanted to ensure that Markuze would get good treatment and supervision, which he clearly needs. This report doesn’t give one confidence that was going to happen.

Supervision, so that he wouldn’t…you know…put the threats into action.

So…he went back to his old habits, and Tim did lots more tedious work to help the police see what he was doing, and finally he was arrested again.

I got a call from Paul Cherry, who told me that Markuze had been arrested on Friday November 16, 2012, arraigned on Saturday and released on Monday pending a hearing. You can read the rest of the details in his account in the Gazette.

There are other news accounts including Ars Technica, CTV News Montreal, Canadian Civil Liberties Association and of course Doubtful News.

On Tuesday morning I got a call from the detective. She thanked me for my help but apologized a bit for the court’s decision to release him.  She said, “I’m a little bit discouraged” by the court’s decision.  I hope this is not a sign we are headed down the same path again.

Sigh. Yes. And then there’s Eschaton, just up the road.

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

Refusing to mtfo

Nov 20th, 2012 4:45 pm | By

Meanwhile, from the guys in purple shirts – the general synod of the Church of England has voted against allowing the appointment of women as bishops.

Well you know how it is. It’s who wants to stand up and talk about it, go on shows about it, go to conferences and speak about it, who’s intellectually active about it; you know, it’s more of a guy thing. Women aren’t so good at that. Women prefer to sit down and not talk about it. They prefer to stay home and not speak about it and to be intellectually inactive about it. Women are timid and quiet and tongue-tied and lazy. They don’t make good bishops.

No, I’m playing silly buggers, that’s not it. It’s tradition. It’s conscience. It’s Jesus and the disciples. It’s beards. It’s throwing like a girl. It’s the voice of authority. It’s Real Bishops of Beverly Hills. It’s testosterone. It’s two thousand years of. It’s who would do the wifey part? It’s what if the baby cried in the middle of the sermon?

It’s all of those. Or one of them. Or something. Whatever it takes.

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

Not just Ireland

Nov 20th, 2012 4:18 pm | By

Dr Jen Gunter has a terrific post today on Savita Halappanavar – yes, another one. It starts with the fact that the hospital was checking fetal heart tones, not once, but several times a day. That’s a tell.

Fetal heart tones are not checked with any medical purpose in mind until viability (around 23-24 weeks). The presence of fetal heart tones was irrelevant because survival of a baby at 17 weeks with ruptured membranes and/or advanced cervical dilation is impossible. Ms. Halappanavar was not 22 weeks pregnant where there might be a 3% chance of survival (depending on weight, sex of the baby, gestational age, whether it is a singleton or a multiple gestation etc). At 17 weeks with ruptured membranes, regardless of cervical dilation, this pregnancy could only end in with a fetal demise. In a study from 2006, when membranes ruptured at 21 weeks or less the outcome was “dismal.” In fact, in this study there were no survivors when membranes ruptured between 18 and 19 weeks. Whether a fetus has cardiac activity at 17 weeks with ruptured membranes and a dilated cervix is simply not part of the medical decision making tree.

And then there’s the risk of infection. The hospital was checking the fetal heart when that was completely futile, while not doing what needed to be done about the infection that developed.

We know why. Catholic hospitals in the US do the same thing.

Jen Gunter continues.

I’m told that while Irish law technically allows abortion to save the life of the mother, many practitioners fear recrimination and exactly when the life of the mother is “at risk” is a murky question. I can easily argue that Savita’s life was at risk the moment her membranes ruptured at 17 weeks. However, does Irish law mean a different kind of risk? And if so, how would doctors judge that risk to be present? Ruptured membranes and fever? Shaking chills? Bacteria in the amniotic fluid? Positive blood cultures? Sepsis? Cardiovascular collapse? How sick must a pregnant woman be in Ireland be for a doctor to state that her life is at risk?

Whether the delay in Ms. Halappanavar’s care was fear of criminal repercussions or personal dogma, both of these scenarios are permitted to exist because of laws that trounce evidence based medicine. Her husband’s claim that Irish law played a role rings true because the team was checking for fetal heart tones when the only vital signs that mattered were Savita’s.

And it’s not just Irish law that does this. It’s the ”Ethical and Religious Directives” governing Catholic health care that do it in the US.

Hospitals are Required by Law to provide the Standard of Care, [6] Yet Hospitals Fail to do so Because of their Adherence to the Directives.

In some of the miscarriage cases described in the Ibis Study, the standard of care requires immediate treatment. Yet doctors practicing at Catholic-affiliated hospitals were forced to delay treatment while performing medically unnecessary tests. Even though these miscarriages were inevitable and no medical treatment was available to save the fetus, some patients were transferred because doctors could still detect a fetal heartbeat or required to wait until there was no longer a fetal heartbeat to provide the needed medical care. 

Italics added. That’s not Ireland, that’s the US.

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

He promised

Nov 20th, 2012 10:36 am | By

The Montreal Gazette reports on Dennis Markuze. The headline is good.

Man charged with threatening people using social media — again

Yes exactly: again. He was charged with it before, he was released on condition that he not do it again, he did it again. A lot.

A Saint-Laurent man has been charged, again, with abusing social media to  threaten people who express their views online.

Dennis Markuze, 40, faces three new charges, including one alleging he  violated the conditions of a sentence he received in May for the same offence.  He was also charged with threatening the Montreal police officer who was  investigating claims from several of Markuze’s past victims. Those victims  alleged that Markuze’s threats have intensified in recent months.

In May, Markuze received an 18-month suspended sentence after pleading guilty  to uttering threats toward eight people he believed to be atheists. The court  was told Markuze’s problems could be attributed to drug consumption, which  caused him to believe he was “the Voice of God.” As part of his sentence, he was  ordered to “abstain from participating in a social network, blog and discussion  forum.” But during the summer, several people contacted The Gazette to report  that Markuze appeared to be ignoring the court order.

Ignoring it as if it had never happened. Threat threat threat, threat threat threat threat threat threat.

Tim Farley told the cops this, and they said “what court order?”

But they get it now. They know there was a court order. They’re all over it.

Markuze appeared before a judge at the Montreal courthouse on Monday where he was released after agreeing to a series of conditions, including that he not  communicate with Farley.


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