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.

That’s what she said

Jan 10th, 2012 12:36 pm | By

Josh Rosenau has tweeted and done a post about how stupid I am to think beliefs aren’t a matter of identity*. Well that would be somewhat stupid if I had just stated it like that, but I didn’t. As is typical of Rosenau, he ignored all the qualifying language that would have made it clear that I wasn’t just stating it like that, and quoted 15 words as if they were all I had said.

Rosenau’s version:

beliefs aren’t actually a matter of identity and shouldn’t be treated as if they were.

With his commentary:

This claim seems so obviously false that I can’t really imagine how she could have written it.

The version I actually wrote:

What if there are people whose New Age or “alternative” beliefs feel like commitments and part of their identity?

Well there are such people, and there are also their cousins who are that way about their religious beliefs. So actually articles about whacked beliefs can draw a lot of heat, and can make people feel very outraged.

That’s a kind of category mistake, in my view, because beliefs aren’t actually a matter of identity and shouldn’t be treated as if they were.

That’s one way to make the distinction that Eric asks about, but it won’t be as satisfactory to people who do think of their beliefs as their identity as it may be to us.

Ironically, or something, Rosenau ends the post with a paragraph that says pretty much what I was saying.

What was the point of truncating what I said so drastically, do you suppose? Just a friendly gesture?

*And Chris Stedman agrees with him. Surprise!

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

Ajita Kamal

Jan 10th, 2012 10:25 am | By

This is a bad day. Ajita Kamal has died – in “an incident” in Tamil Nadu, which sounds as if he was killed, which seems different from just dying. Anyway he’s gone, which just sucks.

He founded Nirmukta. He was an inspiration to a lot of people.

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

When certain Muslims voiced their offense

Jan 10th, 2012 8:28 am | By

The Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society at University College London is the object of attempted censorship by the university’s student union because the former used an image from Jesus and Mo on its Facebook page, and that, of course, is “offensive.”

 Citing a “number of complaints” regarding both the depiction of Muhammad and the fact that the image shows him with a drink that looks like beer, the union contacted the ASHS president demanding that he remove the image as soon as possible…Pointing out that UCL was the first university in Britain to be founded on secular principles, the ASHS have refused to remove the Jesus & Mo image and have launched an online petitionto defend free expression at the university. The petition, which you can sign, includes the following statement:

“In response to complaints from a number of students, the University College London Union has insisted that the UCLU Atheist, Secularist & Humanist Society remove the following image from a Facebook event advertising a pub social. It has done so on the grounds that it may cause offence to Muslim students.

This is a gross infringement on its representatives’ right to freedom of expression taken by members of the first secular university in England. All people are free to be offended by any image they view. This does not give them the right to impose their beliefs on others by censoring such images.
We the undersigned urge the University College London Union to immediately halt their attempts to censor the UCLU Atheist, Secularist & Humanist Society and uphold its members’ right to freedom of expression.”

And then there’s an unpleasant little update:

Update: one of the Islamic societies at UCL, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Students Association, has put out a statementarguing that the ASHS is wrong to refuse to take down the image from Jesus & Mo. The author argues that there is a difference between freedom of speech and freedom to insult, and suggests that once something has offended someone, it should be withdrawn:

“Once a particular act is deemed to be offensive to another, it is only good manners to refrain from, at the very least, repeating that act. In this particular case, when at first the cartoon was uploaded, it could have been mistaken as unintentional offense. When certain Muslims voiced their offense over the issue, for any civil, well-mannered individual or group of individuals, it should then be a question as to the feelings of others and the cartoons should then have been removed.”


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

The monks at Belmont Abbey College knew

Jan 9th, 2012 5:56 pm | By

NPR’s Barbara Bradley Hagerty haz a sad about the war on religion in the US.

If you’re looking for evidence that the Obama administration is hostile to faith, conservatives say, the new health care law is Exhibit A. The law requires employers to offer health care plans that cover contraceptives. Churches don’t have to, but religiously affiliated charities, hospitals and colleges do. That doesn’t sit well with the Catholic monks at Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina.

“When the government said to them, you’re going to have to fund contraception, sterilization, in violation of your deeply held religious convictions, the monks at Belmont Abbey College knew that they just couldn’t do that,” says attorney Hannah Smith at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

Oh the poor poor poor martyrs. How dare the evil gumbint force their colleges to offer health care plans that cover contraceptives? They have deeply held religious convictions which tell them that they – monks – get to prevent people from separating sex from conception. How evil of the gumbint to interfere with their convictions just because the disgusting secular harlots want contra hissssssssss ception.

Religious conservatives see an escalating war with the Obama White House. One Catholic bishop called it “the most secularist administration in history.” Another bishop says it is an “a-theocracy.” Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., who heads the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ new Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, believes the First Amendment is clear: The government cannot make people choose between obeying the law and following their faith.

Oh yes? What if “following their faith” means having sex with children or murdering rebellious daughters?

The piece goes on and on and on in this vein, with a very brief interlude to hear from Rob Boston of Americans United. It’s…tawdry.

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

What we talk about when we talk about woo

Jan 9th, 2012 10:36 am | By

Eric asked, on the last thread,

When, say, Muslims say that, if we speak of their religion is such and such ways, they simply get angry and can’t see our point, what response do we give? For that’s what so many people have been saying about the new atheism. They’ve been calling it strident and shrill and things like that, and we’ve been accused of writing about religion in ways that simply offend the religious instead of engaging with them. Is there are clear way to make the distinction between the first point about taboo words, and the second about ways of expressing our distaste for, or our criticism of, certain ideas?

I had some related thoughts while these posts were gestating yesterday.

Part one is the thought that any discussion that features claims or assumptions that people of a particular type or group are inherently inferior is not going to remain on the level of reasoned inquiry, at least not if the people in that group are part of the discussion. (That’s one reason ingroups can be so sinister.) Reasoned inquiry is easier when you’re talking about something that doesn’t make you the fool or the loser or the subordinate or the horrible female genitalia. Ben Radford’s article wouldn’t have drawn such heat if it had been about the Loch Ness monster.

Or would it? What if there are people whose New Age or “alternative” beliefs feel like commitments and part of their identity?

Well there are such people, and there are also their cousins who are that way about their religious beliefs. So actually articles about whacked beliefs can draw a lot of heat, and can make people feel very outraged.

That’s a kind of category mistake, in my view, because beliefs aren’t actually a matter of identity and shouldn’t be treated as if they were.

That’s one way to make the distinction that Eric asks about, but it won’t be as satisfactory to people who do think of their beliefs as their identity as it may be to us. Then again, we could always undertake to avoid epithets when discussing their beliefs. Could I do that? Hmm…would I have to abandon the word “woo”? I’m not sure I could manage that.


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

The uses of commitment

Jan 8th, 2012 3:24 pm | By

As I was saying… in free inquiry one doesn’t want taboos, to put it mildly. In political commitments, however, one does (in a sense).

What sense? Maybe the most basic one, the one you learn slowly as a child: that other people have minds too, and they are different from yours, and you can’t treat them just any old how.

Or maybe Google’s is a better version: don’t be evil. Or that of the Hippocratic Oath: first, do no harm. Or the first clause of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

That’s a commitment rather than a fact, and everything depends on it, and it implies some taboos. To make equal rights of all humans a reality as opposed to a pretty phrase, it’s necessary to make certain kinds of behavior and discourse taboo. Calling people “niggers” or “wogs” wasn’t taboo at all a few decades ago, and now it is. I had thought that calling people “cunts” or “twats” was taboo now, but it turns out to be not as taboo as it ought to be (not as taboo as “nigger” or “kike” for instance).

That’s a taboo much more than it is a matter of free inquiry. I don’t think that by itself is a genuine problem for free inquiry (does free inquiry need to call people cunts? No.), but other taboos can be. There are subjects that are notoriously minefields, and that is obviously inimical to free inquiry into those particular subjects.

But I don’t conclude from that that therefore atheists/freethinkers who have egalitarian commitments are doing their atheism or free thinking wrong. It would be the other way around. Atheists and freethinkers who had no egalitarian commitments would in my view be the wrong kind of atheists and freethinkers, however good (tightly argued, carefully thought through, eloquently expressed) their atheism and free thought might be. They would still be atheists and freethinkers, certainly, but I wouldn’t want them as comrades. That’s all the more the case if and when they become active in their freedom from egalitarian commitments – when they take to sneering at the very idea of feminism (i.e. at the very idea of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family including women).


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

Free inquiry v commitment to equality

Jan 8th, 2012 11:56 am | By

Ron Lindsay wrote a post about freedom of expression and critical inquiry a couple of days ago, prompted mostly by the controversy over Ben Radford’s post (this is getting too meta already – so often the case) about pink toys and sexism.

Ron said:

The cornerstone of our mission is freedom of expression and critical inquiry. We see freedom of expression and critical inquiry as indispensable tools for arriving at an accurate understanding of just about any issue of importance, including, but not limited to, the truth of religious or fringe science claims.


There is a trope out there (this is nothing to do with Ron Lindsay) that goes something like: the “radical feminism” of a subset of atheists is a disgrace in people who claim to value critical inquiry and free thinking.

I think that’s wrong but not obviously wrong – or to put it another way, there’s some truth in that but it can’t and shouldn’t be helped. (Well, I don’t think there’s some truth in the claim that it’s “a disgrace,” but the claim isn’t always made in those terms. I think there’s some truth in the claim that there’s a tension or a difficulty.)

The trouble is, there are two categories in play here: the epistemic and the political. The two are inherently in at least potential conflict…and I don’t think that can be helped; I think all we can do is be aware of the tension, be honest about it, point it out if others seem to be missing it, and the like. I don’t think we can do away with it.

Free inquiry is one kind of thing, and commitment to equality is another.

We keep finding ourselves in slow motion train wrecks because of this fact. Greta posts something uncontroversial about a new podcast by Rebecca Watson on Facebook and promptly gets a slew of hostile comments; she posts about the absurdity of that, and promptly gets more hostile comments. Specifically, she gets comments from a guy who says he is just “disagreeing” with her…

And that’s where the wheels come off. Maybe he is. But given all the background noise, that claim can be hard to believe at this point – and that’s a distortion. It’s a kind of bias. But that doesn’t make it false! Weird, isn’t it. Both can be true: we (we feminist atheists) are acting like trigger-happy paranoiacs, and the people who claim to be just “disagreeing” are actually expressing hostility to the idea that women should be treated as equals. It could be true that we’re right to act like trigger-happy paranoiacs, because what we think about the people who are “disagreeing” with us in a certain way is accurate, yet at the same time there we are acting like trigger-happy paranoiacs, which can’t be good for our critical thinking skills.

But it can’t be helped. It can be, I think, compensated for, but it can’t be just ended. That’s because that’s how it is with discussions that have a bearing on equality. They tend to mix the empirical and the political. Think the Bell Curve. Think Larry Summers. Think James Watson.

But the problem with this of course is that it creates taboos, and in free inquiry one doesn’t want taboos, to put it mildly. In political commitments, however, one does (in a sense).

These two things don’t go together well.

To be continued.

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

Justice delayed

Jan 7th, 2012 5:46 pm | By

Last night the CBC’s the fifth estate reported on the murder nearly 12 years ago of Jassi Sidhu, and the fact that her mother and uncle are suspected of having arranged the murder but have never been arrested.

You’ll already know from that what kind of murder it probably was. When Jassi was 2o her family wanted her to marry a man in India who was 40 years older and a stranger to her. She didn’t want to. She married someone else instead, because she liked him, but he wasn’t rich (or 60) and he drove a rickshaw.

Her mother and uncle have been arrested.

A B.C. woman and her brother have been arrested in connection with the 2000 slaying of the woman’s daughter, Jassi Sidhu, and the attempted murder of the young woman’s husband in India in what has been described as an honour killing.

Malkit Kaur Sidhu, 63, and Surjit Singh Badesha, 67, Jassi Sidhu’s uncle, were arrested Friday in the Vancouver suburb of Maple Ridge.

The two were taken into custody after the B.C. Supreme Court issued arrest warrants under the Extradition Act and will be held pending an extradition hearing, said Cpl. Annie Linteau.

Jassi Sidhu had met her future husband during a visit to the Punjabi village where her parents were born, but according to court testimony, the man had no money, no property and his only income came from driving a small taxi called an auto rickshaw.

The fifth estate reported that Sidhu knew that her wealthy Canadian family would never approve of her choice of husband, so the couple married in secret, enraging some members of her family.

As always with these things, I can’t get my head around it. They were displeased with her choice of husband – that’s not hard to understand. It’s the next step that’s so odd. They were displeased with her choice of husband, so they wanted her to be dead? This is the woman’s daughter we’re talking about. I’m used to small pedestrian comprehensible things – anger, alienation, quarrels, yelling, tears, silence. I’m not used to the idea of taking that next step. I can never grasp it.


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

The women have taken over!!11!

Jan 6th, 2012 6:00 pm | By

You have got to be kidding, Beeb.


Do politicians ignore the ‘men’s vote’?

Listen to the Westminster political debate in recent months and you will hear one group regularly given special attention: women.

Ed Miliband has accused the government of introducing changes in areas such as social security that are “hitting women twice as hard as men”.

Meanwhile, David Cameron says that, with government initiatives like lifting over a million people out of paying tax, “it is mostly women who benefit”.

But what you will not hear is the opposite – top politicians saying they have policies specifically directed at male voters, or “male issues”.

You’re joking. You’re joking. Please tell me you’re joking.

But some men say they feel increasingly alienated from politicians who seem to talk less about their concerns.

Glen Poole is strategic director of the Men’s Network based in Brighton, which recently held a national conference to raise awareness among other men’s groups and policy-makers about their agenda.

You have got to be kidding!

They don’t talk about “their concerns” because they take them for granted because men are the assumed sex and women are the weird pathetic aberrations who need special frowning worried mention. This is not because women are stealing all the things!

This goes back a long way. From the moment women achieved the vote in the 1920s, political campaigners have targeted them and what are categorised as “women’s issues” – family, for example, or household spending.

Or baby food, or how to get the floor sparkling clean, or shoes, or The Shopping Channel. The kind of shit women pay attention to.


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

A “cultural traitor” and “uppity wog” on Hitchens

Jan 6th, 2012 11:34 am | By

Rushdie on Hitchens is simply…unbetterable.

I have often been asked if Christopher defended me because he was my close friend. The truth is that he became my close friend because he wanted to defend me.

The spectacle of a despotic cleric with antiquated ideas issuing a death warrant for a writer living in another country, and then sending death squads to carry out the edict, changed something in Christopher. It made him understand that a new danger had been unleashed upon the earth, that a new totalizing ideology had stepped into the down-at-the-heels shoes of Soviet Communism. And when the brute hostility of American and British conservatives (Charles Krauthammer, Hugh Trevor-Roper, and Paul Johnson) joined forces with the appeasement politics of sections of the Western left, and both sides began to offer sympathetic analyses of the assault, his outrage grew. In the eyes of the right, I was a cultural “traitor” and, in Christopher’s words, an “uppity wog,” and in the opinion of the left, the People could never be wrong, and the cause of the Oppressed People, a category into which the Islamist opponents of my novel fell, was doubly justified. Voices as diverse as the Pope, the archbishop of New York, the British chief rabbi, John Berger, Jimmy Carter, and Germaine Greer “understood the insult” and failed to be outraged, and Christopher went to war.

He and I found ourselves describing our ideas, without conferring, in almost identical terms. I began to understand that while I had not chosen the battle it was at least the right battle, because in it everything that I loved and valued (literature, freedom, irreverence, freedom, irreligion, freedom) was ranged against everything I detested (fanaticism, violence, bigotry, humorlessness, philistinism, and the new offense culture of the age). Then I read Christopher using exactly the same everything-he-loved-versus-everything-he-hated trope, and felt … understood.



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

Benefit of the doubt

Jan 6th, 2012 10:35 am | By

About Julian’s latest Comment is Free post.

For aspiring-to-be-rational heathens like myself, texts such as Pope Benedict’s Christmas address to the Roman Curia are often used as target practice for sharpening our critical thinking skills and BS radars. How easy it is to take a sentence like, “Only faith gives me the conviction: it is good that I exist,” and reply, “Speak for yourself, mate.”

That’s not a good start. It’s one of those “statements we doubt were ever stated” items. I don’t think it’s true that for people like Julian, texts like the pope’s Xmas chat are often used as target practice for sharpening our critical thinking skills. I think that’s a covert dig at Those Other Atheists disguised as a dig at people like himself. I think few aspirers-to-be-rational really think that papal chats are useful for sharpening critical thinking skills, because (as Julian promptly says) it’s too easy. I think atheists and other critics take the time to contradict the pope for other reasons, the chief of which is that he’s hardly an obscure figure that no one pays any attention to.

But if we look more charitably, the pope’s speech provides an important insight into the limits of rationality.

But why should we look “more charitably” at the pope’s speech? The pope is not giving a paper in a seminar, the pope is The Pope. He’s talking the usual churchy bullshit, for churchy reasons, and I don’t see why his talks should be read “more charitably” when there are already millions of people who read them obediently, unquestioningly, slavishly. They’re not philosophical argumentation, they’re doctrinal recitation. Why should they be read extra charitably? Fairly, accurately, honestly, yes, but why more charitably? Would it make sense to read the speeches of, say, Robert Mugabe more charitably? Charitably rather than fairly and honestly? Is it ever a good idea to read the discourse of powerful men who have an agenda more charitably? I don’t think it is.

The first key sentence is, “Only if God accepts me, and I become convinced of this, do I know definitively: it is good that I exist.” On this, I think he is pretty much right. Of course secular humanists believe that it is good that human beings exist. But catch one on a bad day and she’ll probably admit the world is a pretty screwed up place and it isn’t obvious that it would have been better if our particular cosmic accident hadn’t happened. Believe a good God created us, however, then although it’s pushing things to say you “know definitively” (not much humility about human limitations in that assertion), your belief that it is good we are here is nearly as strong as your belief in the creator.

Why? I don’t see it. I don’t see why “God” isn’t vulnerable to the same thoughts as those the secular humanist had. The world is still screwed up; if a god created it that way that’s more scary than one that turned out that way, not less.

I can see it as a protective or comforting illusion that works provided you don’t think about it…But the issue is already thinking about it: the issue is what the secular humanist will admit on a bad day, which implies “after thinking about it in that light.” So I think the claim is at least overstated. (And I’m not being finicky. It’s hardly a secret that the idea of a good god is always vulnerable to how we think on bad days.)

This leads to the second key sentence: “Where doubt over God becomes prevalent, then doubt over humanity follows inevitably.” Again, I think he is right. Humanism is faced with the bind that its existence depends on maintaining a tension between finding what is good and worth celebrating in the human and having the intellectual integrity to see our species warts and all, which means being open to the possibility that we are not as great as we’d like to think we are. No self-respecting humanist can fail to have “doubt over humanity”, and although that need not occlude all the light, it is a dark cloud we have to live under.

But as before, the same thing applies to god, only more so, because god is supposed to be better. God is always vulnerable to the thought “humans can be absolutely horrible – but god made us that way – what a horrible thing to do.” As Hitchens liked to say, god made us sick and commanded us to be well. There’s a dark cloud to live under, if you like.

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

Boko Haram murder more Christians

Jan 5th, 2012 5:10 pm | By

They warned them. They said get out in three days or we’ll kill you. Totally fair.

Gunmen have stormed a church service in Nigeria, killing six people and wounding 10, the church’s pastor said, the latest in a string of attacks that has raised fears of sectarian conflict in Africa’s most populous nation.

“It was around 7:30 pm (1830 GMT),” Pastor John Jauro told AFP news agency of Thursday’s attack in the city of Gombe.

“I was leading the congregation in prayers. Our eyes were closed when some gunmen stormed the church and opened fire on the congregation. Six people were killed in the attack and 10 others were wounded.”

He said there was confusion as worshippers sought to flee at the Deeper Life Christian Ministry Church.

Local police spokesman Ahmed Muhammad confirmed the attack, but declined to say how many people the gunmen killed and wounded.

The attack comes after a purported spokesman for Islamist group Boko Haram on Sunday issued a three-day ultimatum for Christians living in Nigeria’s mainly Muslim north to leave the region or they would be killed.

There was, however, no claim of responsibility for the attack.

God is great.

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

Reputation, Iago

Jan 5th, 2012 3:45 pm | By

One for the Annals of Brazen Effrontery – Andrew Wakefield sues the BMJ for claiming his MMR study was fraudulent.

In a complaint filed to a district court in Texas, lawyers acting for Wakefield claim that articles, editorials and other statements that appeared in the BMJ were “false and make defamatory allegations” about the doctor.

The lawsuit names Fiona Godlee, the BMJ’s editor-in-chief, and the British investigative journalist Brian Deer, who has covered the controversy over the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, which led to a drop in MMR vaccination rates to dangerous levels.

In a statement, the BMJ and Deer said they awaited formal service of the papers, but stood by the articles and had instructed lawyers to defend the claim vigorously.

Wakefield has taken legal action against Deer before. He sued the journalist, along with Channel 4 and 20/20 productions, over a documentary on MMR in 2004, but later dropped the action and agreed to pay legal costs.

Ah, so he’s not a newbie to the Annals of Brazen Effrontery.

Wakefield’s case before the General Medical Council lasted 217 days, making it the longest in the regulator’s history. The GMC panel found Wakefield guilty of serious professional misconduct in May 2010 on several charges relating to research involving 12 autistic children published in the Lancet medical journal in February 1998.

The regulator said Wakefield abused his position, subjected children to invasive procedures that were not justified or ethically approved, and brought the profession into disrepute. The study, which linked the MMR vaccination to autism and bowel problems, was retracted by the Lancet in light of the GMC judgement.

Fears over a possible link between the MMR jab and autism led to a substantial drop in take-up of the vaccine. In 2004, only 80% of children received the triple jab, far short of the 95% required to achieve the “herd immunity” that prevents disease taking hold in a community.

Yet he is suing. People are strange.

In a statement, the BMJ said: “The BMJ is on notice that Andrew Wakefield has issued defamation proceedings, not in London as might be ordinarily expected as concerns a predominately English publication, but in Texas, USA, where he now lives.

“Following the findings of the British General Medical Council’s Fitness to Practice Panel and Mr Wakefield’s history of pursuing unfounded litigation, any action brought against the BMJ and Mr Deer in London would have been immediately vulnerable to being struck out as an abuse of process.”

The statement continued: “Despite the findings of the GMC’s Fitness to Practice Panel and his co-authors having publicly retracted the causation interpretation put forward by the Lancet Paper, it would appear from the Claim filed at court that Mr Wakefield still stands by the accuracy of the Lancet paper and his conclusion therein, thereby compounding his previously found misconduct.”

That’s interesting, isn’t it. He’s compounding his previously found misconduct. Man, people are strange.

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

Token women

Jan 5th, 2012 11:54 am | By

Oh lordy, it just never ends.

Staks Rosch did an Atheist of the Year contest at the Examiner, asking his readers to nominate candidates and giving them two days to do it. And the nominees are -

  • Dave Silverman
  • Ricky Gervais
  • Hemant Mehta
  • Matt Dillahunty
  • George Takei

Lisa Ridge did a Facebook post gently wondering why there were quite so few women, as in, none. I read the post and Staks Rosch’s comments and a post he’d written on the subject, and got somewhat warm under the collar. From the post:

I started with an open nomination process in which people could suggest nominations and make a case for their nominations. I would then take that into account in finding five actual nominees. Four nominees because pretty clear early along, but I didn’t have my fifth yet. I noticed however that I didn’t have a token black candidate or a token female candidate.


Seriously? Seriously? I’m reminded of these unfortunate traffic stops that Mel Gibson keeps having, or of Michael Richards going overboard with the “edgy” thing. Doesn’t everybody know by now that it’s a tad insulting to attach the words “a token” to the words “black” and “female” automatically like that, as if it were simply obvious and universally acknowledged that a black and a woman couldn’t possibly be qualified? Doesn’t everybody? Because I do. It seems to me I learned that some decades ago. Why didn’t everybody else? Too busy being so happy to be someone who would never have the words “a token” attached to his label that he couldn’t manage to keep up?

Or to put it another way…what a rude dismissive contemptuous entitled thing to say. Newsflash: it is not the case that there are no black atheists or female atheists or black female atheists who are good enough to be nominated as Atheist of the Year. It is not the case that any black or woman so nominated would be a worthless talented zero who was nominated solely as a “token” of good will. It is the case that implying otherwise is deliberately insulting.

Neil deGrasse Tyson is an obvious and well deserved black nominee and if I had six spots to fill, I would have definitely picked him. But should I put him in just to have a token black guy or should I leave him out and hope that he continues his efforts and makes it next year?

Oh, poor Neil Tyson, not quite good enough to measure up to Ricky Gervais. How does that work? What “efforts” would Tyson have to “continue” to be good enough for Rosch’s list?

Still, there is no female nominee. There were a few that I thought might be good candidates, but they would only be token candidates rather than making it in on their merits. I always love Greta Christina for example, but her accomplishments in 2011 don’t particularly stand out. I thought about Rebecca Watson, but her only claim to fame this year was Elevatorgate and that hardly is worthy of atheist of the year.

What? What?? What? Greta Christina would be a token candidate because all that public speaking and writing wasn’t merit enough? Especially compared to the enormous merit of Ricky Gervais and George Takei? Rebecca Watson’s only claim to fame was Elevatorgate because all that public speaking and writing and podcasting wasn’t?

I really don’t want this to become Elevatorgate II: Electric Boogaloo especially since I consider myself a feminist for the most part. But I really didn’t think I should throw in token nominees. In the comments section, Greta Christina made a case for the token nominee and that is something I will have to consider next year. Unfortunately, many of the comments on Blag Hag seem to be from people who aren’t interested in discussing the issue rationally and just want to yell and scream about male privilege. There is certainly male privilege in the world and in the atheist community and I don’t want to ignore that, but at the same time I don’t just want to have a token female nominee.

Wonderful. Brilliant. “Token nominee” three times in one paragraph. Perfect. Never let anyone say The Atheist Movement™ is not friendly to women. On the other hand maybe The Atheist Movement¸™ I’m part of isn’t all that friendly to Staks Roschs. I suspect it isn’t.


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

Who made that rule?

Jan 4th, 2012 11:30 am | By

Fresh Air yesterday did an interview with science writer Kitty Ferguson, who has written a biography of Stephen Hawking. There was one bit where Ferguson was summarizing Hawking on how it all began (to put it as crudely as possible) and mentioned his saying that ‘god’ wasn’t necessary for it to begin. Terri Gross paused to discuss this idea, and Ferguson rebuked Hawking for mentioning it.

He was out of his depth, she said. It’s not his subject. He’s not “an expert.”


Who is “an expert” on this subject? What makes anyone an expert on this subject? What is the expertise involved?

I really don’t know. I don’t know what she thought she meant. Do people think there’s an actual body of knowledge that people have that qualifies them to say god is or is not needed? Does she just mean philosophers who understand the difficulties of causality?

If it’s the second, though, it seems dubious, because surely causality is central to what Hawking does. But if it’s the first it’s just nonsense.

This is one of the last resorts of the defenders of theism and the delicate feelings of theists: the idea that amateurs don’t get to say they see no reason to believe in god. But amateurs do get to go to church and become clerics and tell everyone what to do. Who made that rule?

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

That beacon of human rights, Iran

Jan 4th, 2012 10:14 am | By

Check out the list of OIC countries in order of population. Ask yourself if you want to take advice on human rights from those countries.








Saudi Arabia?



Some are better than that, certainly, but many of them are also dubious as “Islamic states” even if you accept (as I don’t) the idea that a majority Muslim state is an “Islamic state.” Nigeria, Uganda, Mozambique? And anyway “better than Syria” isn’t much to boast of.

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

Recognizing the valuable contribution

Jan 4th, 2012 9:27 am | By

Eric provides the text of Resolution 16/18. I don’t find it all that reassuring.

Recognizing the valuable contribution of people of all religions or beliefs to humanity and the contribution that dialogue among religious groups can make towards an improved awareness and understanding of the common values shared by all humankind,

The valuable contribution of people of all beliefs? That’s just gibberish. The contribution of people of some beliefs – and not rare ones – is the opposite of valuable. Lots of people have beliefs that women are both inferior and evil-rebellious, and thus have to be ferociously controlled and even more ferociously punished if they ever evade that control. That’s not valuable.

Ok it’s just a bit of boilerplate and they have to say crap like that…but that’s the point, isn’t it. Erecting special protections for religion and religion alone involves saying all religious beliefs are valuable, and that’s why it’s a bad idea to erect special protections for religion and religion alone.

Expresses deep concern at the continued serious instances of derogatory stereotyping, negative profiling and stigmatization of persons based on their religion or belief, as well as programmes and agendas pursued by extremist organizations and groups aimed at creating and perpetuating negative stereotypes about religious groups, in particular when condoned by Governments;

Well that depends on what they mean by “stereotyping,” doesn’t it. It’s all too easy (and common) to call any kind of criticism “stereotyping.”

Notes the speech given by Secretary-General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference at the fifteenth session of the Human Rights Council, and draws on his call on States to take the following actions to foster a domestic environment of religious tolerance, peace and respect

The world doesn’t need lessons from the Secretary-General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference on how to be more tolerant and peaceful. The Organization of the Islamic Conference is not a liberal or rights-respecting organization. The OIC considers human rights to be subject to sharia.

CFI issued a statement on December 27 applauding the agreement as an improvement on previous versions, but also expressing concern:

While CFI denounces the advocacy and incitement of violence, discrimination, hatred, and hostility, we remain concerned that the resolution’s broad language could allow room for laws that persecute religious dissidents, religious minorities, and nonbelievers. The resolution can be interpreted expansively to provide citizens with a “right” to not be insulted in their religious feelings, and a “right” to respect for their religious beliefs. These supposed rights have no grounding in international human rights law, nor do they align with the concept of an open, secular society. International law guarantees freedom of religious exercise, not freedom from insult. It guarantees nondiscrimination for individual believers, not respect for belief systems. The UN should work to protect individual religious believers from discrimination, but it should do so without leaving room for laws that shield religious belief systems from criticism and threaten the rights of religious dissidents, religious minorities, and nonbelievers to express opinions that are unpopular with the majority.


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

Orthodoxy v freedom

Jan 3rd, 2012 3:44 pm | By

Jonathan Turley was on the case in the Los Angeles Times in December.

This week in Washington, the United States is hosting an international conference obliquely titled “Expert Meeting on Implementing the U.N. Human Rights Resolution 16/18.” The impenetrable title conceals the disturbing agenda: to establish international standards for, among other things, criminalizing “intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of … religion and belief.” The unstated enemy of religion in this conference is free speech, and the Obama administration is facilitating efforts by Muslim countries to “deter” some speech in the name of human rights.

Although the resolution also speaks to combating incitement to violence, the core purpose behind this and previous measures has been to justify the prosecution of those who speak against religion. The members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, or OIC, have been pushing for years to gain international legitimacy of their domestic criminal prosecutions of anti-religious speech.

And liberals and secularists have been pushing back – like the IHEU and CFI last March:

This week the Center for Inquiry joined the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) in opposing blasphemy laws at a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.

CFI holds special consultative status as a non-governmental organization, or NGO, under the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Both CFI and the IHEU have been active in recent years opposing so-called blasphemy laws, which aim to suppress criticism and free speech about religious beliefs.  Such laws have been used to persecute nonbelievers, religious minorities and religious dissidents.  In some countries, including Pakistan, the “crime” of blasphemy carries the penalty of death.

CFI drew up a joint statement, which was delivered before the Human Rights Council.

We welcome the report of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief [A/HRC/16/53] and note that violence in the name of religion is apparently growing in many counties. For example, the recent murders in Pakistan of Governor Salman Taseer and Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti have shocked us all.

In this context, we note the excellent statement by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, released on 2 March [1] in which she condemned the assassinations and went on to call on the Pakistan Government to declare a moratorium on the application of the blasphemy laws.

We recognise the problems faced by governments around the world, including Pakistan, in confronting extremism, but the extremists must be confronted, Mr President.

The Pakistani assassins reportedly gave their victim’s opposition to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws as the reason for their murders, so it is incorrect to argue that the murders cannot be linked to the blasphemy laws – as the distinguished representative of Pakistan did here last Thursday.

For many years the OIC has argued for the criminalisation of defamation of religion, thereby providing legitimacy for their infamous blasphemy laws – infamous, because it is only in Pakistan and certain other States that blasphemy carries the death penalty.

It’s appalling that the Obama administration seems to be going in the other direction.

This year, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton invited nations to come to implement the resolution and “to build those muscles” needed “to avoid a return to the old patterns of division.” Those “old patterns” include instances in which writers and cartoonists became the targets of protests by religious groups. The most famous such incident occurred in 2005 when a Danish newspaper published cartoons mocking the prophet Muhammad. The result were worldwide protests in which Muslims reportedly killed more than 100 people — a curious way to demonstrate religious tolerance. While Western governments reaffirmed the right of people to free speech after the riots, they quietly moved toward greater prosecution of anti-religious speech under laws prohibiting hate speech and discrimination.

The OIC members have long sought to elevate religious dogma over individual rights. In 1990, members adopted the Cairo Declaration, which rejected core provisions of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights and affirmed that free speech and other rights must be consistent with “the principles of the sharia,” or Islamic law. The biggest victory of the OIC came in 2009 when the Obama administration joined in condemning speech containing “negative racial and religious stereotyping” and asked states to “take effective measures” to combat incidents, including those of “religious intolerance.” Then, in March, the U.S. supported Resolution 16/18′s call for states to “criminalize incitement to imminent violence based on religion or belief.” It also “condemns” statements that advocate “hostility” toward religion. Although the latest resolution refers to “incitement” rather than “defamation” of religion (which appeared in the 2005 resolution), it continues the disingenuous effort to justify crackdowns on religious critics in the name of human rights law.

At that rate – we could all be prosecuted, or at least shut down. Good idea? No, I don’t really think so.

The OIC has hit on a winning strategy to get Western countries to break away from their commitment to free speech by repackaging blasphemy as hate speech and free speech as the manifestation of “intolerance.” Now, orthodoxy is to be protected in the name of pluralism — requiring their own notion of “respect and empathy and tolerance.” One has to look only at the OIC member countries, however, to see their vision of empathy and tolerance, as well as their low threshold for anti-religious speech that incites people. In September, a Kuwaiti court jailed a person for tweeting a message deemed derogatory to Shiites. In Pakistan last year, a doctor was arrested for throwing out a business card of a man named Muhammad because he shared the prophet’s name.

That’s the thing. The OIC member states are not the ones to tell secular liberal democracies how to talk about religion. There’s not one secular liberal democracy in the OIC, unless we’re thinking of the transitional ex-dictatorships as potential secular liberal democracies in the making – which, given the way the Egyptian elections are going, would seem to be more than a little over-optimistic. That’s why it’s appalling that Clinton is helping them hold their meeting.

Although the OIC and the Obama administration claim fealty to free speech, the very premise of the meeting reveals a desire to limit it. Many delegates presuppose that speech threatens faith, when it has been religious orthodoxy that has long been the enemy of free speech. Conversely, free speech is the ultimate guarantee of religious freedom.

But not of religious orthodoxy, so…

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


Jan 3rd, 2012 12:04 pm | By

I don’t normally like to agree with Republican Representatives, but I’m afraid this one time I’m going to have to. Actually I think I’ll see his bet and raise it.

A US lawmaker has urged Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to push back against the “criminalization of speech deemed critical of Islam” at a meeting next week of the world’s largest Muslim body.

In a December 8 letter, Republican Representative Ted Poe pressed Clinton to use a December 12-14 meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Washington to address the issue.


What the fuck is Clinton doing having a meeting of the fucking OIC in Washington?!

When’s the last time Clinton held a meeting of the Organization of Christian Cooperation (formerly the Organization of the Christian Conference) in Washington? Oh that’s right, never, because there isn’t one.

Does Clinton have a clue what the OIC is? She must, being the Secretary of State…but then what the hell is the administration doing inviting it to Washington.

Remember the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam? There’s an examination of it in Does God Hate Women? Here’s a little refresher.

The Member States of the Organization of the Islamic Conference,

Reaffirming the civilizing and historical role of the Islamic Ummah which God made the best nation that has given mankind a universal and well-balanced civilization in which harmony is established between this life and the hereafter and knowledge is combined with faith; and the role that this Ummah should play to guide a humanity confused by competing trends and ideologies and to provide solutions to the chronic problems of this materialistic civilization.

Wishing to contribute to the efforts of mankind to assert human rights, to protect man from exploitation and persecution, and to affirm his freedom and right to a dignified life in accordance with the Islamic Shari’ah…


(a) All human beings form one family whose members are united by submission to God and descent from Adam. All men are equal in terms of basic human dignity and basic obligations and responsibilities, without any discrimination on the grounds of race, color, language, sex, religious belief, political affiliation, social status or other considerations. True faith is the guarantee for enhancing such dignity along the path to human perfection.

(b)All human beings are God’s subjects, and the most loved by Him are those who are most useful to the rest of His subjects, and no one has superiority over another except on the basis of piety and good deeds.

ARTICLE 9: (a) The question for knowledge is an obligation and the provision of education is a duty for society and the State. The State shall ensure the availability of ways and means to acquire education and shall guarantee educational diversity in the interest of society so as to enable man to be acquainted with the religion of Islam and the facts of the Universe for the benefit of mankind.

(b) Every human being has the right to receive both religious and worldly education from the various institutions of, education and guidance, including the family, the school, the university, the media, etc., and in such an integrated and balanced manner as to develop his personality, strengthen his faith in God and promote his respect for and defense of both rights and obligations.

Islam is the religion of unspoiled nature. It is prohibited to exercise any form of compulsion on man or to exploit his poverty or ignorance in order to convert him to another religion or to atheism.

ARTICLE 12: Every man shall have the right, within the framework of Shari’ah, to free movement and to select his place of residence whether inside or outside his country and if persecuted, is entitled to seek asylum in another country. The country of refuge shall ensure his protection until he reaches safety, unless asylum is motivated by an act which Shari’ah regards as a crime.

When it says “man” it means man, not human being. That’s one of the many ways the Cairo Declaration re-wrote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to make it sharia-compliant.

The Cairo Declaration is the work of the OIC.

It’s an outrage that Hillary Clinton held a meeting of the OIC.

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

If they get on a haredi bus

Jan 2nd, 2012 4:45 pm | By

But, to the surprise of no one, it is possible to find haredi women who think segregated buses are just fine. Well of course it is.

“If they get on a haredi bus, they should get on in the back, they need to respect us. They’re doing it just for the provocation,” said one woman who refused to give her name.

But it’s not a “haredi bus,” it’s a public bus. The word “bus” is short for “omnibus” which means, precisely, “for all.” It’s not a haredi bus so no one is obligated to get on in the back and no one needs to “respect” people who think they get to own particular public bus routes.

Others were  less passionate about the idea of separated buses, but resented the violent intrusion of secular activists into their community.

“Violent” – that’s nice. The secular activists beat people up did they? Spat on them? Pushed them? Stepped on their toes?

Not that I’ve seen reported.

“The [haredi] community doesn’t care [about separate buses], it’s not a problem,” said R.S. an  immigrant from Australia who lives in Ramat Shlomo. “Some people want it, others  don’t, but we accept the whole idea.”

On Sunday, as the bus wound through the streets of Geula, women continued to push through to the back, wrestling  with toddlers and strollers.

“The buses get extremely crowded, why should men and women be smashed up together?” asked R.S.

Because that’s how it is with public transportation, and mandating sex segregation is not the way to deal with it.


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