Notes and Comment Blog

A strict policy of segregated seating between males and females

Apr 16th, 2013 9:43 am | By

The University of Leicester had a gender segregation problem too, also in connection with Hamza Tzortzis.

The talk, entitled Does God Exist?, featured a guest speaker Hamza Tzortzis as part of an Islamic Awareness week. Seating at the event was segregated, with different entrances into the lecture theatre for men and women.

In Leicester, more than 100 students attended the segregated event, which took place last month. A photograph passed to the Guardian shows signs put up in a university building, directing the segregation.

A message on the group’s website says: “In all our events, [the society] operate a strict policy of segregated seating between males and females.” The statement was removed after the Guardian contacted the society.

The university responded but they’re confused in the same way UCL was.

A spokesman for Leicester said: “The University of Leicester does not permit enforced segregation at public events. The university will investigate whether entrances to the hall for this event were segregated by the society and will ensure there is no recurrence of this.

“The University will not interfere with people’s right to choose where to sit. If some people choose to sit in a segregated manner because of their religious convictions then they are free to do so. By the same token, if people attending do not wish to sit in a segregated manner, they are free to do so.”

But if some people choose to sit in a segregated manner then other people will have to comply or the segregation will stop being segregation. It doesn’t work to allow both. In any case the University shouldn’t want to, for the obvious reasons: suppose the segregation is whites and non-whites, or Muslims and kuffar, or Muslims and Jews.

Universities need to develop a backbone on this subject.

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said: “Gender segregated seating contravenes the equal opportunities and anti-discrimination policies of universities and student unions. Students and staff should not be subjected to sexist segregationist policies.

“Universities are supposed to be places of enlightenment, tolerance, liberalism and human rights. It is shocking the way some student Islamist societies are being allowed to force women to sit apart from men, sometimes with the connivance of the university authorities, who take a hands-off approach. Some universities are doing very little to ensure that the campus is a safe and equal place for all students.”

Exactly. They need to stop talking waffle about people “choosing” to segregate.

Dan Flatt, an officer for Leicester Students’ Union, said: “The Students’ Union does not believe in enforced segregation. We trust in our societies’ ability to conduct their events in accordance with the principles of the union.”

But Rupert Sutton, from the campus watchdog Student Rights, has claimed there is “consistent use of segregation by student Islamic societies across the country”.

He wrote: “While this may be portrayed as voluntary by those who enforce it, the pressure put on female students to conform and obey these rules that encourage subjugation should not be underestimated.”

No waffle about “enforced” segregation please.



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

Beaten, kidnapped and drugged by her family

Apr 16th, 2013 7:34 am | By

Amina Tyler has told us (via Femen) where she’s been and what’s been done to her.

…she was beaten, kidnapped and drugged by her family after posting pictures of herself baring her breasts online.

The 19-year-old was also forced to endure a humiliating “virginity test” in the aftermath of her protest, which inspired women’s movement Femen to organise a“topless jihad” in support of her.

Speaking to Femen leader Inna Shevchenko from an undisclosed location via Skype, she told her harrowing story, but was adamant she will continue her struggle for women’s rights in the Muslim country.

Assuming she can. Her relatives seem to be determined to treat her like a piece of livestock.

Amina, who was threatened with stoning after posting the images with the words “Fuck your morals” written across her chest to the Femen-Tunisia page, told how she was beaten by her uncle and cousin and taken to a remote village where she was given powerful sedatives.

She spoke of being examined by her aunts in the family kitchen to see if she was still a virgin – describing it as a “horrible” experience, “against my freedom”.

She added: “Every day they were teaching me morals. They forced me to read the Koran. I am an atheist.

“They put their hands on my head and started to read the Koran over my head, that was horrible.”

She tried to escape once but they caught her.

Inna Shevchenko of Femen wrote a reply to Muslim Women Against Femen.

You say we talk about you because we are irritated only by bearded men who pray five times per day.

We have enough bearded bastards in our part of the world, the beard of Russian patriarch Kirill [a Russian Orthodox bishop who is a supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin] would win a competition of ‘holy beards’ and some people even say that he is so connected to the God so he is praying 30 times a day.

Sisters, we don’t care how many times your men are praying, but we care a lot what do they do in between.

And then they get to the internationalist part.

You claim that we bring you our idea from our part of the world and you don’t need it.

The idea of freedom doesn’t have anything to do with nationality or colour of skin.

There is no set of human rights for Europeans and another for Arabs or Americans, it’s universal. And we are going to keep fighting for all of us, for our right for freedom.

We are going to fight with you, with Arab women, like Aliaa Elmahdy, [Egyptian internet activist], like Amina and I hope like you.

Just what I said. Human rights are universal; that’s the whole point of them. That’s not “imperialism.”


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

And yet they still speak

Apr 15th, 2013 4:41 pm | By

Alex has a post about the god panel at QED, which he attended, along with a lot of other people I know and a lot of people I don’t know.

Yesterday on QED’s second and last day, Carrie Poppy of Oh No, Ross and Carrie! fame (her talk on anecdotes, by the way, was excellent) moderated the ‘God Panel’, a discussion between Mitch Benn, Richard Dawkins, Mike Hall and Lawrence Krauss and the programme’s one specific atheist event. When a question was posed about mistakes our movement had made, the first example given – I think by Mitch Benn, though it might have been Mike Hall – was Atheism Plus, an answer audience members seemed to like and onto which other panellists piled.

Mitch Benn (again, it may have been Mike Hall) said A+ makes atheism into more than non-belief.

I can interject here to clarify, because Mitch Benn tweeted at Rhys and me to explain that he has no problem with the principles, only the name. Oh well then! I’m not invested in the name, and not sure I like it either. That’s that sorted.

Lawrence Krauss said a ‘PC’ ‘orthodoxy’ now clamps down on people who say the wrong things.

Richard Dawkins called A+ an ‘obvious example’ of atheists doing things wrong, and bemoaned the use of the word ‘douchebag’ in reference to people deemed sexist. (It wasn’t the accusations of sexism to which he objected, so far as I could tell, but the word ‘douchebag’ specifically.)

PC orthodoxy in a pig’s eye. Yes, when people call me a cunt then I consider that sexist bullshit and I say so. If Lawrence Krauss doesn’t agree then I think he’s wrong, politically wrong, politically “incorrect” if you like. I wish people like Krauss (and others, I’m looking at you M_____l S_____r) would stop saying things like that. I wish they would accept it and move on. They don’t approve of racists screaming about “niggers” outside school buildings do they? Why should sexist epithets be any different?

Alex’s later posts will be about the great things at QED, of which there was obviously far more than this small item.

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

219 children in an unmarked grave

Apr 15th, 2013 11:54 am | By

The Protestants were in on the “imprison the children” routine too. That’s nice. Very ecumenical, very interfaith.

Abuse survivors of the Protestant Bethany Home care institution are to accuse the State of being complicit in the manslaughter of 63 children at the home when they meet Justice Minister Alan Shatter on Tuesday.

The manslaughter charge now being made by the Protestant survivors represents a major escalation in their battle with the Government for inclusion in the State’s redress scheme for abuse victims.

Bethany Home was a Protestant evangelical institution for unmarried mothers to give birth, before being forced to abandon their children, and was a place of detention for Protestant women on remand, or convicted of crimes from petty theft up to infanticide.

In 2010 it was discovered that 219 Bethany children were buried in unmarked graves in Mount Jerome Cemetery.

The usual. Neglect, indifference, neglect.

Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act include inspection reports from the time that now reveal the appalling conditions children at the Bethany Home were in. Survivors had been told back in 2000 by the Departments of Health and Education that documents relating to the abuse suffered by victims at the Bethany Home didn’t exist.

However, on foot of pressure from the survivors, documents have since emerged which reveal how reports were censored in the Forties to prevent some of the more damning findings from emerging.

It has been established how a report was altered to remove mention of a child that was dying. “This baby appeared to me to be in a dying condition. As I knew the baby was suffering I had the dispensary doctor telephoned to ask him to call to see the child,” it had said.

The documents show how the reference to dying was amended later by an official to read: “The baby appeared to me in a very low condition. It was dirty and neglected and sore and inflamed from a filthy napkin, which cannot have been changed for a very long time.”

Compassion is at the heart of every great religion.


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

The pope still hates “radical feminists”

Apr 15th, 2013 11:24 am | By

Oh whew, what a relief, Pope Frank isn’t going to relax the discipline on those pesky radical feminist nuns who are giving the Vatican such a splitting headache. Thank you, Mr Pope!

Pope Francis has reaffirmed the Vatican’s criticism of a body that represents U.S. nuns which the Church said was tainted by “radical” feminism, dashing hopes he might take a softer stand with the sisters.

Nah. Don’t worry about that. Nobody’s going to take any kind of softer stand with any sisters, because that’s where it all stops. If men ever give up the right to tell the sisters to stfu, then it’s all over – the very principle of arbitrary hierarchy and dominance and superiority will be at risk, and if there’s anything we can’t have it’s that. Why? Because little boys have to be able to pump up their egos as they grow up by constantly reminding themselves and each other that at least they’re not girls. Because big men need to keep doing the same thing because hey, it’s always nice to have a little ego boost. Because let’s face it: male stands for strong and brave, and female stands for weak and chickenshit, so obviously there can be no compromise or “softer stand.”

We just have to have it, don’t you see? We have to hang onto the “male better than female” principle for dear life because without it we might ultimately find ourselves with no way to put other people down at all, and then what? Hell on earth, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Francis’s predecessor, Benedict, decreed that the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), a group that represents more than 80 percent of the 57,000 Catholic nuns in the United States, must change its ways, a ruling which the Vatican said on Monday still applied.

Last year, a Vatican report said the LCWR had “serious doctrinal problems” and promoted “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith”, criticizing it for taking a soft line on issues such as birth control and homosexuality.

You may be wondering what on earth “radical feminist” means in that context. Well what does it ever mean? Anything more than the vote and equal pay for equal work, pretty much. It means, basically, thinking there’s anything wrong with treating the female half of the population as an afterthought.

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

Meet Leo

Apr 15th, 2013 10:59 am | By

Leo Igwe’s talk in London last month, courtesy of London Black Atheists. (Which by the way is for all atheists; it’s “Black” to help more Black atheists come out, but not to limit it to them.)

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

Blasphemy on Twitter

Apr 15th, 2013 10:17 am | By

Another artist convicted of a non-crime in Turkey.

A Turkish court has convicted pianist and composer Fazil Say of blasphemy and inciting hatred through a series of comments he had made on Twitter last year.

According to his lawyer, Meltem Akyol, the musician was given a suspended 10-month jail term. Akyol also said that his client would have to serve the term if he committed a similar offense within the next five years.

Ten months in jail for saying something “blasphemous” on Twitter! Suspended, but not suspended if he does it again in the next five years. “Blasphemous” for fuck’s fucking sake – a non-existent “crime” against a non-existent “deity” who is supposed to be all-powerful and all-knowing which if it is why would it give the tiniest damn in the world about one human being saying something? Why would it want that human being punished for saying it?

[Fazil] went on trial for denigrating Islam last October for a series of tweets earlier that year. In one of his messages he had retweeted a verse from a poem by Omar Khayyám in which the 11th-century Persian poet attacks pious hypocrisy: “You say rivers of wine flow in heaven, is heaven a tavern to you? You say two huris [companions] await each believer there, is heaven a brothel to you?” In other tweets, he had made fun of a muezzin (caller to prayer) and certain religious practices.

And for that the authorities in Turkey think he should get ten months in jail, unsuspended if he does it again.

Artists and intellectuals have repeatedly been targeted in Turkey for voicing their opinions, and the case against Say has renewed concerns about the Turkish government’s stance towards freedom of expression. The composer has been a vocal critic of the ruling AK party and the Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“Concerns”? The time for “concerns” is past. The Turkish government’s stance towards freedom of expression is obvious: it thinks there should not be any.

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

Sevan Nisanyan gets a lot of death threats

Apr 14th, 2013 5:46 pm | By

Guest post by Torcant Torcant.

Sevan Nisanyan is a Turkish citizen of Armenian origin, living in Turkey, who is openly Atheist. He is also a public figure, an activist, an historian, a conservationist, an etymologist and more.

He spares no words when it comes to Islam and religion in general. He has many published books, is active on Facebook, twitter, and has a blog.

Of course he gets a lot of death threats.

But this video against him is especially interesting:

The guy in this video is not widely known. He is not an especially learned person (even in the religious sense). But that is exactly what makes him important. Because there are so many of these guys in Turkey.

The video expresses some characteristics that are commonplace in Turkey:

The speaker first starts by saying that the name Sevan Nisanyan is completely foreign to him (which shows the narrowness of his social circle-the name is so typically an Armenian name) and hasn’t heard of before (which shows his intellectual narrowness) and he can’t even guess if the writer of the article is a male or female (which again shows his cultural circle is very isolated).

1. Surprised: (There are such people and they also dare to talk?)
Sevan Nisanyan, in his article, mocks the Judeo-Christian God and talks about Mohammed as “the guy who claims to be the messenger of Allah. (Allah by the way is the very same God of Abraham. According to Muslims, Christians and Jews got the faith and doctrine wrong in some places and distorted them in others. Moses, Jesus and Mohammed (the very last one) are all prophets of Allah.) The guy in the video receives this article as a viewer’s question and is asked to comment. It’s really comical that he starts by repeating the article’s points and finally says “What he really writes, what he really does is denying God!” as if he suddenly realizes the point just at that moment. Later the punch line comes: “People can criticize other people, but how can you criticize Allah?” Suddenly I was left speechless; did he or not get that Nisanyan does not believe in the existence of God?

2. Unbelief in unbelief: (There must be something sinister behind it!)

Then he says that “I feel someone is playing a sinister game here, someone is trying to provoke issues so that somebody will go and shoot him.” Well, let me first say that such conspiracies do happen in Turkey. Therefore, in that sense, this is not such a fringe claim. But of course it is not true in this case.

The unbelief in unbelief is very common. Their faith is so deeply engrained in people’s minds that they find it very difficult to grasp an unbeliever’s position. They always resort to thinking “oh, he is just a provocateur, the imperialist west is trying to stir up trouble in our country, he is just a tool in the hands of powerful bad countries.” No, he is just an intellectual saying bluntly what he thinks.

As I said before, Sevan Nisanyan gets a lot of, I mean a lot of death threats. Even on twitter, there are open traceable death threats sent to him. On a lucky day, he gets some very graphic insults and curses. On a bad day, he gets graphic, descriptive death threats.

But apart from them, one of the twitter messages exemplifies the mindset so clearly: “You smart ass, you want to get murdered so that you will be a hero, right?”

Nobody actually can get their brains around the fact that there is a person who thinks God doesn’t exist and says so openly, believes that he has the right to do so no matter what, and does all this just for the sake of truth.

3. Look around, how did all this come about! (with American creationist propaganda added as a bonus)
Then comes the fun part. He says “We must counter this with wisdom. We must prove to him that Allah does exist. In order to do this we have to ask him how did the universe came to being, how did a fly or an apple came to being?” How is that? Funny isn’t it? Then he continues “We have to ask him to prove that Allah doesn’t exist!” LOL! In order to prove God to someone, we have to ask that person to prove the non-existence of God! That’s really clever!

Now comes the imported, “Made in USA” part: The protein! Yes, the protein! Do you know how unlikely a protein molecule is? Yet we have protein everywhere! (Despite the abundance of protein, his brain may be suffering from a protein deficiency!) Evangelical Christians should rejoice! Their efforts to promote creationism, serves Islam also. They must be proud!

4. They should be silenced (but murdering them is problematic)
Wanting to silence is absolutely typical and commonplace. Respect for freedom of expression is not a particularly strong point among Turkish people.  Moreover anti-god, anti-religion thinking is considered an insult, that should have consequences. Even the very moderate will still think that this type of rhetoric should be silenced at least because it hurts the feelings of believers and causes unnecessary trouble.

But this guy is no moderate. He is just a typical fundamentalist that gently waits for his time to come; patience is one of the highest tenets of Islam after all!

In the final part, he repeats that these thoughts should be countered by wisdom and then goes on to say “Although it is legitimate to murder him according to Islamic law-if he doesn’t repent-, we cannot do this for now… Iran issued a fatwa for Salman Rushdie. Although they didn’t kill him, they made him suffer so much that he is still in hiding” (Which is not true. But he is not being dishonest; just ignorant!) He repeats himself again, and says “Iran had the governmental power to do so. For now, under current circumstances, we have to put up with him and counter with wisdom.

According to the ideology (or faith) of this guy,  the only thing that keeps him murdering Nisanyan is secular democratic tradition (which is fading fast), and western pressure. Although the “kill the unbeliever” rhetoric is not publicly and openly expressed, it is there, waiting for the moment to come.

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

Coat-trailing as only Brendan can

Apr 14th, 2013 5:39 pm | By

Robin Ince wrote up his version of what that panel was about. “The journalist” is his coy name for Brendan O’Neill.

I attempted to explain to the journalist that the world we live in has never been more complex or filled with things that require work and patience to understand. Though democracy lovers may shiver at the idea, the penalty for living in the civilisation we currently walk through is that we must sometimes accept our ignorance and defer to others. We can hope that they might be trusted, that the heart surgeon is sober and the climate scientists isn’t swayed by the desire for fame on the front cover of Vanity Fair kissing a Polar Bear.

But the people! The people, I tell you!

The journalist suggested this was the kind of fascistic thinking that held up women’s suffrage and the education of the poor. My belief that we are not always equipped to make the best decisions is apparently the alibi that has always been used by people like me who wish to oppress “the common man”.

In the next breath (or on the next panel) he’ll tell you what a great idea the House of Lords is, and what a mess of trendy whiney liberal individualists are the people who say otherwise. It’s what he does.

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

Four horsemen emergency

Apr 14th, 2013 4:08 pm | By

Bad idea of the moment – a tweet -

Only three horsemen left. Who’s feet are big enough to fill Hitchens’ shoes? #atheism

Dear god what a stupid question (even if it had been “whose”). It’s like asking “what shall we call people who were just too young to fight in WWII that’s not ‘the greatest generation’?” Or “what shall we call the new atheists now that some time has passed?” It’s taking a dopy media cliché and treating it as somehow meaningful.

And then, even if it weren’t ridiculous to take the dopy media cliché seriously, why take it seriously in that way? Who cares whether there are four?

And then, if you want to say Hitchens left a gap, say that, but don’t talk sycophantic (and risible) nonsense about filling his shoes.

But much more, what is this pathetic craven belly-crawling need for Bosses or Leaders or Heads or motherfucking Horsemen? Why are people such suckups? Why are they not just suckups, but not even embarrassed to be suckups?

Atheism doesn’t need any leaders. Leaders are not automatically a good thing. Get over it.

And by the way least of all does atheism need male leaders, or a mindless belief that we need male leaders. Of all people you would think atheists could manage to figure that out, because what is it that we don’t share with most people? Belief in a mysterious supernatural hidden male boss of all the bosses, that’s what.

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

Thank you “Muslimah Pride”

Apr 14th, 2013 11:44 am | By

Well thank something for Kunwar Khuldune Shahid and his blistering retort to “Muslimah Pride.” Thank Abhishek Phadnis for sending me the link.

What the ignorant world does not realise is that once you have the permission of your husbands, fathers, brothers, uncles, the approval of your neighbours, in-laws, their relatives and the consent of your spiritual guardians, their God and their scriptures, you can be quite the rebels.

It takes a lot of courage to ridicule something that is already taboo where you live. It takes volumes of bravery and valour to bow down to the status quo, and toe the lines that have been forced upon you. It takes unbelievable amounts of gallantry to act out a script that someone else has written for you.

All the more so if you dress it up with rebel-like noises about colonialism and Orientalism and “Western” liberalism. Yeah! That’s what the left has always been for: encouraging women to be more obedient to theocratic rules. Utopia looks amazingly like life under the Taliban.

Who on earth are those damn Europeans to try to steal your voice? Do they not realise that your lives were defined a million-and-a-half ago by the Arabs, who protected your rights and guarded your modesty by ensuring that you don’t have much of a say in most things? Who are those unabashed infidels to protest on your behalf? Do they not realise that you are not allowed to express, let alone clamour in favour of, anything that contradicts the ostensibly divine scriptures? Who are those shameless activists to try and liberate you? Do they not realise that you can’t be liberated without the permission of your mehrams?

Exactly! Down with solidarity! Down with internationalism and giving shit about people far away! The noble thing to do is just say “it’s their culture” about everything ugly and brutal. It also leaves one delightfully free to go to the mall.

Dear ‘feminist’ Muslimaat, thank you for being a ray of hope for bacon-eating vegetarians, god-fearing atheists and peace-loving terrorists. Thank you for reiterating the fact that your mehrams choose to overlook the divine orders and allow you to think freely and take your own decisions. Thank you for citing your personal example to highlight how you wear the hijab by your own choice, ignoring the fact that an overwhelming majority of Muslim women are coerced into doing so. Thank you very much for making the whole debate about you, when it was always about the torment and suffering that most of the Muslim women are going through.

Oh dear. Just as I did, Shahid is saying that “feminist” and “Muslim” are not easy to combine or reconcile. That’s heresy in some circles.

Dear ‘revolutionary’ Muslimaat, thank you for ignoring the life threats that Amina Tyler and many others like her are facing, after choosing to protest against the harassment that they have to bear on a daily basis. Thank you for overlooking other lesser issues like terrorists attacking a 15-year-old schoolgirl; female genital mutilation; women being raped with judicial approval just so they don’t die virgins; two-year-old girls being forced to wear veils because the disgusting men in your country have no self-control; and fathers legally getting away with raping their daughters by paying a few riyals. Thank you very much for screaming bloody murder over half-naked women’s claim of representing you, but accepting rapists, pedophiles and sorry excuses for human beings as your state leaders and role models.



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

Real and substantial

Apr 14th, 2013 11:13 am | By

Michael McDowell, a former Irish Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, applies some actual legal expertise (sorry, Brendan) to the question of risk to the mother’s life and Irish abortion law.

The phrase “established as a matter of probability that there was a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother” is not without difficulty, as the evidence at the Galway inquest is demonstrating.

In my view, the phrase “real and substantial risk” does not mean that the mother is more likely than not to die.

It’s pretty staggering that lots of people in Ireland apparently think it does mean that and that that’s the standard and that if the risk is 50% then it’s just tough shit for the woman.

If, as may be unlikely, it could be established that a pregnant mother found herself in a condition that, say, three women out of 10 women in the same condition lost their lives, no one could doubt but that there was a real and substantial risk to her life, even if the statistical odds favoured her survival.

In my view, the requirement that the “real and substantial risk” must be established as a matter of probability simply means that there is no legal requirement to establish “beyond reasonable doubt” that the risk exists – not that the risk itself is quantified at more than 50 per cent.

In other words, in my view, what is legally required is that the doctors making a lawful decision to terminate a pregnancy in a manner that will end the life of the unborn must establish two things:

(a) as a matter of probability there is a risk to the life of the mother if the pregnancy is not terminated; and

(b) that the identified risk is a real and substantial risk, as distinct from a very small risk, that the mother will die.

Note that even on that interpretation the Irish Supreme Court ruled that women should be forced to take that very small risk.


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

The widespread belief that we need more expertise in politics

Apr 13th, 2013 4:56 pm | By

Brendan O’Neill posted what he says is a speech he gave at QED, and I guess is what he said on that panel. It’s a bizarro rant about expertise and what a bad thing it is. This is apparently because expertise is undemocratic.

So the idea that we need more expertise in politics is not actually a new one. It’s been around for a long time, and it has always been on the wrong side of the debate about democracy, in my view. Because it’s an idea which tends to depict ordinary people as not sufficiently enlightened for serious political debate, especially on really complicated matters like war or law and so on.

This outlook survives today, in the widespread belief that we need more expertise and less ideology in politics; more science, less passion; more cool-headed, educated people like David Nutt, and fewer nutters from the mass of the population who think they know everything but don’t actually know very much at all.

The only difference today is that where once it was fat old Tories and stiff American officials who said politics is better done by experts, today it is young rationalists and humanists who say politics needs more expert input and less playing to the public gallery, less populism, less ill-informed passion or wrongheaded ideology.

He’s mashing things together there, probably on purpose. Especially he’s mashing together the people or citizenry as a whole, and expertise in the process of government and administration. That’s ludicrous. It’s perfectly possible to include expertise in the process of government and administration without excluding the people or citizenry in general on the grounds of non-expertise.

What we have today is a situation where evidence and expertise are the main drivers of policy. For many complicated historical reasons, politicians no longer feel they have the moral or electoral authority to make judgements or decisions, and so they outsource their authority to scientists and other researchers. They call upon these people to provide them with authority, to provide them with a good, strong, peer-reviewed justification for taking a certain course of action, often a course of action they had already decided upon but felt too morally denuded to push forward.

When politics and science mix in this way, both of them suffer, I think. We end up with evidence-driven policy and policy-driven science, neither of which is a very good thing.

There see it’s that kind of thing that makes me think he doesn’t mean a word of anything he says, he just says it to create a stir. Come on. Evidence-driven policy is not a good thing? Policy should carefully exclude evidence?

I don’t believe him.


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

Not enough

Apr 13th, 2013 11:53 am | By

Even a consultant who is critical of the care that Savita Halappanavar received at University Hospital Galway is apparently ok with the refusal to speed up her miscarriage.

Dr Susan Knowles, consultant microbiologist at the National Maternity Hospital at Holles Street in Dublin, was critical of poor documentation at a critical time in Ms Halappanavar’s care at the Galway hospital on Wednesday, October 24th, last.

From 1pm on Wednesday, Ms Halappanavar received a high standard of care, the witness said.

Eileen Barrington SC, for Ms Halappanar’s consultant obstetrician Dr Katherine Astbury, suggested Dr Knowles’s view was that delivery was not called for before the Wednesday.

Dr Knowles said there wasn’t a substantial risk to her life before then. There were “subtle indicators” of sepsis and chorioamnionitis before this, including a high pulse rate on Tuesday. However, this “in and of itself” was not enough for a termination to go ahead.

Nor were her and her husband’s requests, nor was the international standard of care, nor was the fact that the fetus would not survive. Nothing was, because priests.

Fuck that.

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

Anything to sell a few copies

Apr 13th, 2013 10:50 am | By

The Independent has aspirations to be a serious, responsible newspaper, so what’s it doing putting a story about Andrew Wakefield on its front page?

Martin Robbins would like to know.

Andrew Wakefield is about as discredited as it is possible for a doctor to get. He was found to have ordered invasive investigations on children without either the qualifications or authority to do so. He conducted research on nine children without Ethics Committee approval. He mismanaged funds, and accepted tens of thousands of pounds from lawyers attempting to discredit the MMR vaccine, being found by the GMC to have intentionally misled the Legal Aid Board in the process.  He was not just dishonest, unprofessional and dangerous; his contempt for the rules and regulations that safeguard children in research projects was vile.

Wakefield’s research was unconvincing at the time and swiftly refuted, yet the ‘controversy’ over MMR has raged for years, fuelled almost entirely by credulous idiots in the media.

And they’re still doing it, now, today.

The villain, now firmly at the heart of America’s quack autism-cure industry, has come to gloat even as 60 measles-afflicted children are sent to hospital beds in Swansea.

The Indy headline quotes Wakefield saying “Measles outbreak in Wales proves I was right.”

That’s a sickeningly irresponsible headline.

On Twitter, the Independent’s health writer Jeremy Laurance has spent the day demanding that critics read the whole piece. “Jeeezus!”, he responded to Ben Goldacre and others at one point, “U have NOT read the story.” What Laurance fails to understand is that few people ever do read the whole story. Any competent journalist understands that people tend to grab the information at the top, and don’t always stick around until the end of the piece.

And besides, it’s not just the headline. Laurance’s article continues to put Wakefield’s point of view for a further 14 paragraphs, before giving over barely half that space to one contrary voice, addressing only a fraction of the points made. It would be a great example of the false balance inherent in ‘he-said, she-said’ reporting, except that it isn’t even balanced – Laurance provides a generous abundance of space for Wakefield to get his claims and conspiracy theories across, and appends a brief response from a real scientist at the end.

And what for? There is no “controversy.” There’s no news (apart from the measles outbreak itself). What can possibly be the point of giving Wakefield lashings of new oxygen?

Earlier, Ben Goldacre asked Laurance the following on Twitter: “How on earth can the Independent justify running 12 paragraphs today on MMR by Wakefield himself?” Laurance replied, “So what do u suggest? That we ignore him and let him go on spreading poison? Or answer him, point by point, as we have done?”

There’s a difference though, isn’t there, between ‘not ignoring’ someone, and putting their opinions on the front page of a national newspaper; just as there is a difference between answering somebody’s claims, and republishing them verbatim on page 5 of the same national newspaper.

Jeremy Laurance has a history of reacting badly to the idea that health and science journalists deserve scrutiny. What he doesn’t seem to grasp is that this is not an abstract public health debate between a few angry people on Twitter – he, and journalists like him, are putting the lives of real children at risk, their clumsy reporting stoking unwarranted fears about a safe vaccine.

How a journalist can fail to grasp such an obvious and important point is beyond me.

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

But it’s so adorable

Apr 13th, 2013 9:43 am | By

Brilliant new plan in campaign to convince everyone everywhere that abortion is terrible and forbidden: distribute little rubber fetus dolls to high school students.

What could possibly go wrong?

Many students pulled the dolls apart, tearing the heads off and using them as rubber balls or sticking them on pencil tops. Others threw dolls and doll parts at the “popcorn” ceilings so they became stuck. Dolls were used to plug toilets. Several students covered the dolls in hand sanitizer and lit them on fire. One or more male students removed the dolls’ heads, inverted the bodies to make them resemble penises, and hung them on the outside of their pants’ zippers.


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

Justice at last

Apr 13th, 2013 9:06 am | By

You know how every now and then I do a post about some article by Brendan O’Neill because it’s so offensively perverse and illiberal and ass-backward that I can’t just ignore it?

He was on a panel at QED a couple of hours ago (so that would make it 3 p.m. in Manchester), and apparently got his head handed to him by an incandescent with fury Robin Ince. Check out #QEDcon on Twitter if you want a good laugh. Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss were in the audience, and RD asked a question. How I wish I’d been there!

Update: I can add some illustrations, because someone posted a bunch of photos and said help yourselves.


That’s Brendan O’Neill, and next to him is Geoff Whelan, one of the QED dudes, who is moderating, and next to him is Rick Owen, another one of the QED dudes. The QED dudes are great.


O’Neill getting rabbit-punched by Robin Ince. Yesssssss!


Go, Robin!

More photos.

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

Rallying behind atheist bloggers in Bangladesh

Apr 12th, 2013 4:17 pm | By

Well done CFI Canada.

On April 4, CFI Canada Board Chair Kevin Smith and National Director Michael Payton met with Andrew Bennett, the Ambassador for Canada’s Office of Religious Freedom. At the meeting CFI got a  commitment from the Ambassador that the ORF will support and protect the rights of all people to question, change and even leave their religion. Today, concerned about the fate of atheist bloggers in Bangladesh, CFI sent the following letter to Ambassador Bennett urging him to send a formal protest to the Bangladeshi government on behalf of the persecuted bloggers:

Dear Ambassador Bennett:

Thank you for the very productive meeting last week. CFI is pleased to be working with the Office of Religious Freedom as it addresses the issues affecting religious and non-religious people around the world.

During our meeting on April 4, we discussed the increasing tensions in Bangladesh affecting atheist bloggers. In January 2013, a 29 year old blogger, Asif Mohiuddin, was stabbed to death in Bangladesh. In February, a second blogger, 35 year old Ahmed Rajib, was attacked and brutally killed. The violence against atheist bloggers continues. In March, Islamists continued to threaten prominent bloggers and have called for the “execution of 84 atheist bloggers for insulting religion.” Rather than defend freedom of expression, religion and belief, the Bangladeshi government has arrested several bloggers for “hurting religious sentiments,” under Section 295A of the Bangladesh Penal Code. Home Minister M.K. Alamgir recently announced that the government has a list of seven more bloggers who will also soon be targeted. On April 11, a newspaper editor was arrested for printing quotations from the targeted bloggers.

Read the rest at Veronica’s blog.

Maryam has a rallying call and a suggested petition to sign.


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

It’s not “Western”

Apr 12th, 2013 11:48 am | By

Sometimes it’s hard not to diagnose self-hating [whatever] when reading the more vicious reactions to Femen’s protest about Amina Tyler. There’s one by Susan Carland on the ABC’s Religion and Ethics site, for example.

It is admittedly difficult for people who have bought into Western liberalism, with its elevation of individual freedom to the pinnacle of human moral evolution, to regard the Muslim world with anything other than baffled contempt.

Oh yes those crazy deluded people who have “bought into” liberalism. (Calling it “Western” liberalism is itself an insult to all non-Westerners. It’s not “Western.” See Amartya Sen for more on this, or Kwame Anthony Appiah, or any human rights activists in non-Western countries ffs.) It’s a pity more people haven’t “bought into” liberalism, because if they had then abuses of human rights wouldn’t be such a commonplace.

And what an ignorant description. She seems to have liberalism confused with Randian libertarianism.

Fighting sexism can only be powerful while operating coherently in its cultural context. Tunisian women often take to the streets in large numbers to protest against what they see as curtailing of their freedom by the government. In Egypt, the group Tahrir Bodyguards, comprised of men and women, was formed to offer women free self-defence classes against sexual harassment and to patrol the streets in order to help protect women against assault in the face of an indifferent government.

Yes, and? Governments do curtain freedoms; groups other than Tahrir Bodyguards assaulted women. In other words, no “cultural context” is monolithic; any “cultural context” includes disagreement and conflict, so what is her point? She dislikes and disagrees with Femen, fine, but it doesn’t follow that she’s any more clued in about the “cultural context” in question than they are.

This would matter to Femen if they were genuinely interested in helping to improve the situation for women in countries like Tunisia, where female employment is low, laws and norms restrict women’s access to employment and mobility, and domestic violence is common. But despite all of Femen’s attention-seeking claims, it is abundantly clear that their outrage is not about feminism. It is certainly not about women’s advancement in the Middle East. This is prejudice, racism and imperialism, dressed up in the apparently scant clothing of women’s rights.

And that’s where she gets just plain vicious. How the hell does she know that? Imperialism? On the basis of what? She sounds unpleasantly similar to the anti-abortion fanatics who have been flooding the discussion of the Savita Halippanavar inquest on Twitter with endless dark accusations of not giving a shit about Savita but simply wanting abortion, for its own sake.

Moreover, it is apparent that Femen’s outrage isn’t even about Amina. For all the scrawling of “Free Amina” on their adamantly bared breasts and the fulminating against threats of stoning and incarceration in a psychiatric asylum, little of this is based in reality. Amina’s lawyer, herself a Tunisian women’s rights activist, has confirmed that Amina was never in a mental institution (she was being kept at home with her family), she was not charged with any offence, and even if Amina were to be charged, the maximum sentence would be six months in jail for public indecency, not stoning.

So that’s all right then? Six months in jail? For nothing?

So, if not for Amina, or women in the Middle East, who is this protest for? In truth, it is just a convenient vehicle for organisations like Femen to reveal their true, Islamophobic colours. This was about the arrogant belief that a certain breed of feminism is the ultimate goal and that anyone who disagrees is to be aggressively condemned, dismissed and scorned – including the very Muslim women who work day after day against sexism in countries like Tunisia.

Says Susan Carland, revealing her true, liberalismophobic colors. It’s not “arrogant” to think that a particular way of doing things is better than others; Carland herself is arguing just that. She’s chosen the wrong one, that’s all.


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

“In my city nearly all the hospitals are run by religious organizations”

Apr 12th, 2013 10:42 am | By

I’m not sure the best way to start an opinion piece is announcing your own longstanding boredom with the subject, and yet how often one sees that very thing – as in Chris Orlet’s sparkling-fresh commentary on (groan) the new atheists in the American Spectator.

I long ago lost interest in the God Wars, the bombastic clashes between Christians and the New Atheists over whether the Man Upstairs exists, whether He is good or evil, whether Judeo-Christianity has been a blessing or a curse. Put simply, whether Christopher Hitchens is resting in peace or roasting on a spit.

Oh haha, it’s all so funny, such a weary joke. Why is that then? Why are we supposed to simply take it for granted that criticism of religion and theism is wrongheaded and adolescent? No really, why? It’s not as if religion makes nothing happen! It’s not as if it’s just obviously defanged and harmless, let alone obviously beneficial and without bad side effects.

And as for adolescent, how cheap is that stupid cheap shot in the last sentence?

Today, when I hear snide comments from atheists – who often assume I too am an unbeliever because my knuckles do not drag the ground – I spontaneously slip into Defender of the Faith mode. I wait patiently while he (for it is almost always a he) rants about the Inquisition, the trial of Galileo, the pedophile priest scandals, the pope’s silence during the Holocaust, and a thousand years of Jewish pogroms.

Well that’s enormously big of him, isn’t it. Note the same assumption, made slightly more explicit – all that is so passé, so uncool to talk about. Why? Why would it be?

And by the way no it’s not almost always a he. Hello “it’s more of a guy thing” yet again.

He admits all that, he says generously, but there’s more to it.

How, for instance, can one overlook the role faith communities have played in health care? In my city nearly all the hospitals are run by religious organizations like the St. Louis-based Franciscan Sisters of Mary, who operate 18 nonprofit hospitals in four states, partner with more than 40 rural hospitals, and run two nursing homes. The Mercy Health Ministry, also headquartered here, operates 28 hospitals throughout Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, and Kansas. (Fly-over states. Who cares, right?) Franciscan nuns also founded nearby St. Anthony’s Hospital, while the Jesuits run a local medical school whose doctors treat mostly inner-city patients.

Oh jeezis that’s a terrifying fact, and he doesn’t even realize it. He doesn’t even realize that this is not benevolence or charity but a takeover, and a way to impose religious rules on helpless captive people. This is the only way the Catholic church can force its stinking theocratic anti-human rules on unwilling people: by grabbing up all the hospitals. It’s horrifying that Orlet is ignorant enough of the consequences that he boasts of the completeness of the takeover. I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt in assuming it’s ignorance as opposed to deliberate indifference.

Perhaps the largest provider of social service programs in our area is Catholic Charities. What do they do? What don’t they do? Their programs provide shelter, counseling, and education to battered women, as well as treatment to women with addictions and mental illness. Their professional counseling agencies offer education and mental health services. There is day and residential treatment for troubled youth, including diagnosis, treatment, education, and healthcare. For families, Catholic Charities provides expectant parent counseling, and foster care, adoption, and residential services.

All of it Catholic. Notice that it apparently doesn’t even cross his mind that Catholic “counseling and education” to battered women might have some flaws, as might all the rest of the services he lists.

I am still waiting for a single atheist group to open a hospital or school, offer free health clinics, beds for the homeless, food for the hungry, or transportation for the elderly. I have yet to see worshipers of the flying spaghetti monster establish a prison ministry or send their members overseas to feed the hungry and clothe the naked.

The issue isn’t atheist groups, it’s secular groups, and of course there are secular groups that do all those things. Apparently Orlet prefers his charities to have theistic strings attached.


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