Notes and Comment Blog

Fighting on the outskirts

Jan 25th, 2015 11:27 am | By

Bad. Now Boko Haram is attacking Maiduguri, which is not a village but a city.

Fighters from the Islamist militant group Boko Haram have launched an attack on the key city of Maiduguri in north-eastern Nigeria.

Fierce fighting was reported on the outskirts. The military is carrying out air strikes, and a curfew is in place.

Maiduguri is home to tens of thousands of people who have fled Boko Haram attacks and was visited on Saturday by President Goodluck Jonathan.

Another Boko Haram attack was reported in Monguno, north of Maiduguri.

Bad bad bad news.

The attack appeared to have begun in the Njimtilo district on the edge of the city.

Nigerian military spokesman Chris Olukolade tweeted that a curfew had been imposed in Maiduguri following an attack there and elsewhere in Borno state.

A resident of the Moronti area, Buba Kyari, told Agence France-Presse: “It is flying bullets everywhere. All we hear are sounds of guns and explosions. A rocket-propelled grenade hit and killed a person from my neighbourhood who was fleeing into the city.”

The BBC’s Chris Ewokor in Abuja says the military are carrying out co-ordinated air strikes and ground attacks against the insurgents.

The party of Men With Guns is winning more territory.

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

Such an ambitious project

Jan 25th, 2015 10:47 am | By

Seth Shulman, editorial director of the Union of Concerned Scientists, reviews Michael Shermer’s new book at the Washington Post. Remember, the subtitle of that book is “How Science and Reason Lead Humanity Toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom.”

If you read carefully, I think you can detect that he doesn’t think much of it but wants to be polite or encouraging. It’s possible that I’m just reading that in, but…that’s the sense I get.

‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. told a crowd of protesters in Montgomery, Ala., in March 1965. King’s use of that quote stands as one of history’s more inspiring pieces of oratory, acknowledging that victories in the fight for social justice don’t come as frequently as we might like, while offering hope that progress will come eventually.

But is the contention empirically true?

No. We don’t know how any arc of the moral universe bends. We can’t know. It’s trivially easy to summon up moments crossed with locations when saying such a thing would just be insulting – a hot afternoon at Auschwitz for instance, or a cold night at a Siberian gulag.

Michael Shermer, a professor, columnist for Scientific American, and longtime public champion of reason and rationality, takes on this question and more. In “The Moral Arc,” Shermer aims to show that King is right so far about human civilization and that, furthermore, science and reason are the key forces driving us to a more moral world. It is at once an admirably ambitious argument and an exceedingly difficult one to prove.

If only the claim were that science and reason are among the key forces driving us to a more moral world. That would be a much easier claim to back up, and a less annoyingly self-congratulatory one as well.

To his credit, Shermer tackles this broad agenda with an abundance of energy, good cheer and anecdotes on everything from “Star Trek” episodes and the reasoning of Somali pirates to the demise of the Sambo’s restaurant chain. The anecdotes provide leavening but don’t alter the fact that this is a work of serious and wide-ranging scholarship with a bibliography that runs to nearly 30 pages. The effect can be kaleidoscopic and even a bit scattershot at times, but that doesn’t detract from the truly impressive array of data Shermer assembles.

Oh really? I bet it does. That’s one of the places where I detect (or think I detect) politeness veiling Shulman’s criticism. That kind of thing is one reason I have never liked Shermer’s writing, long before I clashed with him personally.

Shulman cites the precedents of Pinker and Harris.

Overall, Shermer does a good job of mining the scholarship in these and other areas, but his approach and the sheer breadth of scope ultimately make his argument seem more of a survey and less focused than some of these other works.


Somewhat less convincing are Shermer’s sections on the role of science as a moral force for good, which mostly boil down to anecdotes in which science has helped supplant superstition since the Enlightenment. It is true, of course, that (as far as I know) we’re no longer burning “witches” at the stake for phenomena we don’t understand. But I hoped Shermer would grapple more with the vexing ways in which science has contributed — and arguably continues to contribute — to moral atrocities, from the role of Nazi scientists to the development of biological weaponry.

Shermer’s case seems more anecdotal and even arbitrary than it should to really prove his grand case. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the book’s provocative breadth and found much of the material fascinating and well chosen. I greatly admire Shermer for tackling such an ambitious project and hope the book spurs many discussions and much further scholarship on this important subject.

Meh. I’m not a fan of that kind of ambition unless you’ve got the chops to pull it off. I prefer people who know their own strengths and weaknesses.

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

Locked up in the Potemkin village

Jan 24th, 2015 6:06 pm | By

Ishaan Tharoor at the Washington Post has the story of Abdullah’s daughters, but he makes clear that he’s reporting reports as opposed to an investigation. He says there are some doubts as to how confined the daughters are. Maybe they’re only a little bit held against their will.

Abdullah’s reforms, writes one commentator, have “all the substance of a Potemkin village, a flimsy structure to impress foreign opinion.”

Closer to home, moreover, there are a few women related to the late monarch who may object to the praise being heaped upon him. Abdullah, like other Saudi royals, had numerous wives — at least seven, and perhaps as many as 30. He had at least 15 daughters. Four of them, according to news reports, live under house arrest.

Fayez claims her daughters’ supposed incarceration, which has gone on for some 13 years, was both a mark of Abdullah’s vindictive streak and intolerance of his daughters’ modern, independent upbringing. She says the four have been locked away for more than a decade, subject to abuse and deprivation.

She said it last April. Apparently her ex didn’t sue her for libel, even though she’s right there in London, convenient for libel tourism even after the tweak to the libel law…so that seems like an indication that she’s not telling a big ol’ story.

Last year, various news stations managed to reach Sahar, 42, and Jawaher, 38, who live in a separate compound from Maha, 41, and Hala, 39. In an interview with RT last May, the pair described how they were running out of food and water.

There are some doubts about the extent to which the women are living in genuine captivity. When confronted with the daughters’ claims, Saudi authorities have been tight-lipped, insisting that the situation “is a private matter.” The women have not been formally charged with any crime.

Maybe they’re allowed to go outside for half an hour once a week? Who knows.

Since the spasm of media stories last year, reports on the condition of the princesses have dried up. On social media, their mother continues to call for their release, using the hashtag #Freethe4. She holds regular protests in London urging action.

Our dear dear ally.

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

We’re waiting for the day your plane arrives at the Montreal airport

Jan 24th, 2015 5:31 pm | By

And then something else…Good luck trying to read this dry-eyed.

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

Hooray for human rights!

Jan 24th, 2015 5:20 pm | By

A cartoon by Arifur Rahman.

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

Five years old

Jan 24th, 2015 4:06 pm | By

I’m feeling sick now.

From the International Business Times

A Saudi preacher accused of raping, torturing and killing his five-year-old daughter, has reportedly been released from custody after agreeing to pay “blood money”.

Fayhan al-Ghamdi was sentenced to eight years in prison and 800 lashes in 2013.

The court also ordered al-Ghamdi to pay his ex-wife, the girl’s mother, one million riyals ($270,000) in “blood money”.

According to some reports, al-Ghamdi had suspected his daughter had lost her virginity and had tortured her accordingly.

Al-Ghamdi’s daughter Lama suffered multiple injuries including a crushed skull, broken back, broken ribs, a broken left arm and extensive bruising and burns.

It was reported that al-Ghamdi had suspected his daughter of losing her virginity and had beaten her and molested her in response.

When she was FIVE YEARS OLD???

What is the matter with people who think of female human beings this way? What is the matter with people who think female humans are nothing but their genitalia, and that they are constantly in rut, and that they are either virgins or filth that has to be tortured to death to restore “purity”? What is the matter with people who can’t see female human beings as human beings?

You can see pictures of the little girl in that story – you can see her face. It’s a face. It’s not just a big cunt where a face should be; it’s a face, like other faces. That little girl wasn’t just a vagina walking around trying to get filthy. She was a person.

What is the matter with people?

The preacher – who is considered a celebrity in Saudi Arabia and often appears on Saudi television – admitted he used a cane and cables to inflict the injuries after doubting his five-year-old daughter’s virginity and taking her to a doctor, according to the campaign group Women to Drive.

Lama died ten months later.

Al-Ghamdi, however, has now been released as “blood money and the time the defendant had served in prison since Lama’s death suffices as punishment” a judge ruled, according to Albawaba News.

Al-Ghamdi served only a few months in jail before a judge ruled the prosecution could only seek blood money.

The money is considered compensation under Islamic law, although it is only half the amount that would have been paid if Lama had been a boy.

Despite the fact Saudi Arabia hands out sentences of capital punishment, fathers cannot be executed for murdering their children in the country, Women to Drive said.

Ugh, god, I can’t even read any more of this.

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

The daughters of Abdullah

Jan 24th, 2015 3:43 pm | By

Ok I’d seen a couple of mentions of imprisoned Saudi princesses and hadn’t followed up, but thanks to yazikus posting some extracts in comments I now have. I didn’t realize they were Abdullah’s daughters. His own god damn daughters, imprisoned in some dark rooms on his say-so. It’s a tale of horror.

Sahar, Maha, Hala and Jawaher Al Saud are daughters of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, the Saudi Arabian monarch who is worth an estimated $15 billion.

They grew up rich, and had a nice life. They wanted to study abroad and travel, then marry and have children.

Now they are prisoners.

Not only has the 89-year-old king forbidden any man to seek his daughters’ hands in marriage, he’s confined them, against their will, in separate dark and suffocating quarters at his palace.

The king’s eldest daughter, 42-year-old Sahar, spoke with The Post in a rare and surreptitious phone call.

“We are cut off and isolated and alone,” she says. “We are hostages. No one can come see us, and we can’t go see anyone. Our father is responsible and his sons, our half-brothers, are both culprits in this tragedy.”

Why are the princesses being held captive?

Because they believe women in Saudi Arabia, one of the most oppressive Islamic nations in the world, should be free. Their mother, Alanoud Al Fayez, long ago fled to London.

When the sisters openly spoke in opposition to women being illegally detained and placed in mental wards, the king had enough and no longer considered them his daughters.

“That was it for him. It was the end for us,” Sahar says.

That’s your “reformer” right there. That’s your man of wisdom and vision, Barack Obama. That’s your ally in the war on terror, everyone who said that.

“They once had a normal life for Saudi Arabia, but they are free thinkers, and their father hates that,” mom Al Fayez says. “They are compassionate about the plight of women in Saudi Arabia and throughout the Arab world. The injustices that we see are terrible, and someone must say something.”

She was handed over to him in an arranged marriage. In the first four years she had four daughters – so she was worthless and Abdullah The Reformer divorced her, though he didn’t bother telling her so until two years later. It’s nothing to do with her, after all.

In Saudi Arabia, a husband can divorce his wife without her knowledge.

“Really, he had divorced me a number of times and he’d abuse me, beat me and had me beaten by guards,” Al Fayez says. “And the more I took the abuse, the more I was abused.”

Abdullah the reformer. Abdullah the wise.

In 2001 she fled to London. Her daughters couldn’t go with her because Abdullah had taken their passports. She thought he would eventually let them go, if only to avoid embarrassment.


In 2002, less than one year after her escape, Abdullah began tormenting his daughters. They are in intermittent phone contact with their mother and have told her that he’s drugged their food and water to keep them docile.

“They had felt some oppression before I left, but when he found that I had gone, he vowed that he would kill the girls, slowly,” Al Fayez says. “At one point, he tried to get me to come back, saying that he would take away the divorce and release them, but that wasn’t true and I know that I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t trust that.”

It was then, about 2005, that she first began to fear for her daughters’ safety, she said. “That’s when I thought, now he’d do anything, even punish them till they die, which is exactly what he’s trying to do now.”

The king locked Sahar and the youngest, Jawaher, now 38, in one area of the palace, while confining Mahar, 41, and Hala, 39, to yet another closet-size and unkempt room.

Doctors aren’t even allowed in for checkups.

“The rooms they are locked in are so hot, they wilt from the desert heat,” Al Fayez says. They suffer from dehydration, nausea and heat stroke.

Her daughter Sahar says the king is starving them all to death. They haven’t had a full meal in more than a month, she says, and are forced to eat canned goods that they pry open with nail files.

I have to pause and take some deep breaths right now.

Power, running water and electricity are shut off at random, sometimes for days or even weeks at a time. Their rooms are overrun with bugs and rodents.

“Our energy is quite low, and we’re trying our best to survive,” Sahar says. Their “gilded cage” is only gilded on the outside. “We live amid ruins. You hear ‘palace,’ but we don’t feel like we’re in a palace at all.”

Some liar at the Saudi embassy in London told the Post they’re fine, fine. They can go anywhere they want to, it’s just that armed security guards have to go with them. Their mother says that’s a lie.

All four women are routinely tortured, sometimes by their own relatives.

“They come in, the men, our own half-brothers, and they beat us with sticks,” Sahar says. “They yell at us and tell us we will die here.”

Will things get better for them now?

What do you think.

“Sahar is very bright and has always made us laugh. She’s the eldest, and she’s an artist and a free thinker,” Al Fayez says.

“Maha is sensitive but has a penchant for business and politics. Hala is compassionate and brilliant; she majored in psychology and graduated at the top of her class. She loves to play the piano and compose music. Jawaher, my youngest, is very similar in character to Maha. She also loves music and hopes to earn a degree in sound engineering.”

Her daughters, she says, have much to offer. She says she taught each of them to be strong, to stand up to their powerful father, and now that has backfired.

She tried lawyers, but – surprise! – Abdullah refused to be questioned.

Sahar tells The Post that she’s constantly threatened by her father and has been told that death is the only way out.

“My father said that after his death, our brothers would continue to detain us and abuse us,” she says.

Al Fayez is frantic. Time, she says, is running out.

“My daughters want the right to see their mother, and I want to see my daughters,” Al Fayez says. “They are just trying to hold on to their sanity.

“They are suffering . . . with no hope for salvation.”

It’s a god damn outrage. We’re sucking up to these shits while this is going on.

Raif, Sahar, Maha, Hala, Jawaher.

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

Taubira v the internauts

Jan 24th, 2015 1:14 pm | By

From last week – Christiane Taubira herself gave her view on whether or not Charlie Hebdo is allowed to make fun even of religions.

Lors de la cérémonie d’obsèques de Tignous, l’un des dessinateurs tués dans l’attaque de Charlie Hebdo, Christiane Taubira a évoqué le “droit de se moquer de toutes les religions”.

À la question “peut-on rire de tout ?”, la ministre de la Justice a livré sa réponse aux funérailles de Tignous à Montreuil le 15 janvier 2015.

Christiane Taubira a alors indiqué : “On peut tout dessiner, y compris un prophète parce qu’en France, pays de Voltaire et de l’irrévérence, on a le droit de se moquer de toutes les religions qu’en France”.

At the funeral for Tignous, one of the cartoonists killed in the attack on Charlie Hebdo, Christiane Taubira cited the “right to make fun of all religions.”

To the question “can we laugh at everything?” the minister of Justice gave her response at Tignous’ funeral at Montreuil on January 15 2015.

Taubira then said, “We can draw everything, including a prophet because in France, the country of Voltaire and irreverence, we have the right to make fun of all the religions in France.”

And as is well known, Charlie Hebdo did not spare Christianity or Catholicism.

Sur Twitter, les internautes n’ont pas manqué de réagir face à une telle déclaration; mélange de moqueries et d’indignation. Nombreux sont ceux qui ressortent le dessin de Charb sur lequel la principale intéressée apparaissait en singe.

On Twitter, the internauts* were quick to react to this declaration with a mix of ridicule and indignation. Many focused on Charb’s cartoon which was notable for including a monkey.

Well yes, but since the monkey cartoon was a response to a racist graphic about Taubira herself, you would think she could speak for herself if she thought it was racist.

*Cool word, no? We should use that.

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


Jan 24th, 2015 12:28 pm | By

Nice work, Wikipedia –

Guardian headline: Wikipedia bans five editors from gender-related articles.

Wikipedia’s arbitration committee, the highest user-run body on the site, has banned five editors from making corrections to articles about feminism, in an attempt to stop a long-running edit war over the entry on the “Gamergate controversy”.

The editors, who were all actively attempting to prevent the article from being rewritten with a pro-Gamergate slant, were sanctioned by “arbcom” in its preliminary decision. While that may change as it is finalised, the body, known as Wikipedia’s supreme court, rarely reverses its decisions.

Right, because articles about feminism have to be impartial, so they should be edited only by people who are opposed to feminism. That makes sense.

The sanction bars the five editors from having anything to do with any articles covering Gamergate, but also from any other article about “gender or sexuality, broadly construed”.


Editors who had been pushing for the Wikipedia article to be fairer to Gamergate have also been sanctioned by the committee, but one observer warns that those sanctions have only hit “throwaway” accounts.

“No sanctions at all were proposed against any of Gamergate’s warriors, save for a few disposable accounts created specifically for the purpose of being sanctioned,” said Mark Bernstein, a writer and Wikipedia editor.

In contrast, he says, “by my informal count, every feminist active in the area is to be sanctioned. This takes care of social justice warriors with a vengeance — not only do the Gamergaters get to rewrite their own page (and Zoe Quinn’s, Brianna Wu’s, Anita Sarkeesian’s, etc); feminists are to be purged en bloc from the encyclopedia.”

Will there be show trials?

The byzantine internal processes of Wikipedia are incomprehensible for many, but they serve to shape the content on the site, the seventh biggest on the internet. Its reportedly unpleasant internal culture and unwelcoming atmosphere for new editors has long been blamed for an overwhelmingly masculine make-up – just one in ten editors are thought to be female – which in turn contributes to which topics get featured on the site.

As the Wikipedia article on Wikipedia’s systemic bias explains, “research suggests that the gender gap has a detrimental effect on content coverage: articles with particular interest to women tend to be shorter, even when controlling for variables that affect article length. Women typically perceive Wikipedia to be of lower quality than men do.”

Oh well, it’s only Wikipedia…

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

Systematic discrimination against women persists

Jan 24th, 2015 11:29 am | By

Human Rights Watch sees Saudi Arabia rather differently from the way the people running the governments and sitting on the thrones do.

King Abdullah’s reign brought about marginal advances for women but failed to secure the fundamental rights of Saudi citizens to free expression, association, and assembly. Abdullah’s successor, King Salman, should halt persecution of peaceful dissidents and religious minorities, end pervasive discrimination against women, and ensure greater protections for migrant workers.

Over King Abdullah’s nine-and-a-half year rule, reform manifested itself chiefly in greater tolerance for a marginally expanded public role for women, but royal initiatives were largely symbolic and produced extremely modest concrete gains.

And that’s in a place where women are treated like disease-ridden vaginas – alluring and filthy, with no brain and no rights.

Early in his reign, King Abdullah promoted modernization of Saudi Arabia’s state apparatus, making it more efficient and transparent; encouraged a modest public re-evaluation of the enforced subservient status of women and religious minorities; allowed greater debate in the media; and promoted some degree of judicial fairness. After 2011, the authorities subordinated the king’s reform agenda to a campaign to silence peaceful dissidents and activists who called for religious tolerance and greater respect for human rights.

King Salman should take steps to prohibit discrimination against women and religious minorities and institute protections for free speech. A significant first step would be to repeal vague legislation used to prosecute Saudis for peaceful speech and create a written penal code that includes comprehensive human rights protections. He should also order the immediate release of Saudi citizens jailed solely for calling for political reform.

Nonsense. Look at all the tributes to Abdullah pouring in from the heads of state. Obviously there’s no need to improve anything, or they would have mentioned it.

The most concrete gains for women under King Abdullah included opening up new employment sectors for women. In February 2013, King Abdullah appointed 30 women to the Shura Council, a consultative body that produces recommendations for the cabinet.

Systematic discrimination against women persists, however. Authorities have not ended the discriminatory male guardianship system. Under this system, ministerial policies and practices forbid bar women from obtaining a passport, marrying, travelling, or accessing higher education without the approval of a male guardian, usually a husband, father, brother, or son. Employers can still require male guardians to approve the hiring of adult female relatives and some hospitals to require male guardian approval for certain medical procedures for women. Women remain forbidden barred from driving in Saudi Arabia, and authorities have arrested women who dared challenge the driving ban. [tweaks mine]

The place is a nightmare for women, and for men who think women are human beings. Abdullah’s death doesn’t change that, not even for a few days.

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

If that’s bland and reassuring, what would scary look like?

Jan 24th, 2015 10:46 am | By

The Guardian also reports that the new Saudi monarch promises continuity with the previous monarch. What a surprise.

Salman’s first public remarks as monarch, even before Abdullah’s burial, were designed to send a bland and reassuring message of stability. “We will continue adhering to the correct policies which Saudi Arabia has followed since its establishment,” he said in a speech on state TV.

“The Arab and Islamic nations are in dire need of solidarity and cohesion.” He used the phrase “the straight path” – language taken directly from the Qur’an.

Yeah cool – so they’ll keep on whipping and fining and imprisoning secular liberals, and looking the other way as citizens torture their foreign servants, and oppressing and suppressing women in every way they can think of. What a relief.

The presence of kings and emirs from Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar demonstrated the solidarity of fellow western-backed autocrats banding together to preserve their own positions in the polarised aftermath of the Arab spring. The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Pakistan’s prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, also took part in funeral prayers at the giant Imam Turki bin Abdullah mosque in Riyadh.

Theocrats convene.

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

The palace told them to lower the flags

Jan 24th, 2015 10:21 am | By


Why would flags in the UK be lowered in tribute to the king of Saudi Torturer Arabia?

Some MPs are wondering.

A decision to mark the death of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia by flying flags in Whitehall at half-mast has been criticised by MPs.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said it had asked government buildings to fly the union flag at half-mast for 12 hours in line with protocol that says this is appropriate following the death of a foreign monarch.

Any monarch, all monarchs? No matter what? Even when the country the monarch was monarch of just beat a man with 50 blows of a stick as punishment for having a website that advocated liberal values? Even then?

The Ukip MP Douglas Carswell said it was an “extraordinary misjudgment” in the light of the kingdom’s human rights record.

Well it’s too bad it was the Ukip MP, because he’s damn well right…except that I wouldn’t call it a misjudgment.

The houses of parliament and Westminster Abbey are among the buildings in London where the government guidance has been followed after King Abdullah’s death early on Friday.

The tribute was paid even though the sentencing of a Saudi blogger to 10 years in jail and 1,000 lashes for insulting Islam has thrust Saudi Arabia’s dismal human rights record into the spotlight in recent weeks.

It has rather.

Labour MP Paul Flynn said the tribute was “liable to bring infantile fawning over royalty into disrepute”. It was evidence of the establishment’s “extraordinary subservience” to foreign royals, he added.

In a statement, the DCMS said that it learned of the death of King Abdullah “with great regret” and that government buildings were “requested” to fly flags at half-mast from 8am this morning until 8pm.

It continued: “Any other UK national flags flown alongside the union flag when it is at half-mast should also be at half-mast. If a flag of a foreign nation is normally flown on the same stand as the union flag, it should be removed.”

Very punctilious. Nice attention to detail. Elaborate concern over proper attention to a man who is no longer alive. Callous toward a man who is still alive, and is in prison awaiting 950 more blows of a stick.

One Westminster source said the decision to fly flags at half-mast, which was widely criticised on social media, was taken at the behest of Buckingham Palace.

Monarchist solidarity, eh? Ugly.

Asked to justify its decision to fly its flag at half-mast, Wesminster Abbey said in a statement: “We always fly a flag. It is at half-mast because the government has decided to fly their flags at half-mast today.

“For us not to fly at half-mast would be to make a noticeably aggressive comment on the death of the king of a country to which the UK is allied in the fight against Islamic terrorism.”

Ahhhhhh no, that’s where they’re wrong. So, so wrong. Saudi Arabia is the source of Islamist terrorism, not an ally in a fight against it.

They know it, too. It’s not a secret. Information about the Saudi billions poured into Wahhabist institutions and groups around the world has been available for years.

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

Measles then and now

Jan 24th, 2015 9:19 am | By

You know those people who say measles is just a harmless little childhood disease? Epidemiologist Tara Smith has a few things to tell them.

Last year was the worst year for measles in two decades. While we’ve seen fewer than 100 cases of measles in most years since the turn of the century, that number spiked to 644 cases in 2014, from 23 separate outbreaks in 27 states.

Before the vaccine, the United States saw approximately 4 million cases of measles each year and 400 to 500 deaths. These are the stats that vaccine-deniers tend to emphasize—a relatively low number of deaths compared with the number of infections. However, those statistics alone leave out a big part of measles infections. Prevaccine, almost 48,000 people were also hospitalized each year because of measles and measles complications. One in 20 of those infected developed pneumonia. More rarely but more seriously, each year 1,000 became chronically disabled due to measles encephalitis.

Measles is not a benign disease.

Also, there’s the whole problem of antibiotic resistance now. What if that pneumonia turns out to be untreatable?

What many forget is that we had a massive outbreak of measles in the United States from 1989–1991. While our 644 cases in 2014 seems high compared with recent years, 25 years ago measles incidence spiked to 18,000 cases per year, with a total of more than 55,000 infections before the outbreak began to dwindle. It was the largest measles outbreak in this country since the 1970s.

It’s hard to argue that in 1989 we had problems with modern sanitation. Arguably, we were healthier 25 years ago than we are now, if one uses the U.S. obesity rates as one marker of health and good nutrition. We had antibiotics for secondary infections, such as pneumonia, that settle in to measles-infected lungs—and fewer antibiotic-resistant bacterial pathogens than we do in 2015. Measles-associated pneumonia isn’t easy to treat if it’s caused by a “superbug,” and we’ve not had to deal with a huge measles outbreak in the age of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, and other drug-resistant bacteria.

Let’s not try that experiment, shall we?

Despite our advances and our modernity and our status as a developed country, we still saw 123 measles deaths during this epidemic—here, in the United States, where we get plenty of Vitamin A. There were also 11,000 hospitalizations—fully one-fifth of people infected with measles became sick enough to be hospitalized.

In modern-day America.

Bart Barrett, a physician who saw patients at the height of the epidemic, recalls one of those 123 deaths: a 1-year-old who developed complications. The family called paramedics, but by the time they arrived, it was too late. He was unvaccinated, which was common among young children during the 1989–91 outbreak.

And it’s common in some places now too. Bad move.

Nutrition and sanitation are no panacea for measles and no substitute for measles vaccination. Living in the United States does not magically protect you from dying from measles or other infectious diseases. Being generally healthy alone is not a guarantee that you won’t end up hospitalized from a measles infection. Your best defense against measles is an up-to-date MMR vaccine for yourself and your family, checking to see that you live in a neighborhood and school system where others are likewise vaccinated, and spreading the word that vaccines are safe and life-saving. The best way to respect measles is to acknowledge its potential to cause serious illness.

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, thou shouldst be living at this hour.

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

Charlie avec fouet

Jan 24th, 2015 8:58 am | By

A cartoon via Universalist Muslims on Facebook

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

Comparative statements

Jan 23rd, 2015 6:18 pm | By

Obama’s statement when Hugo Chavez kicked it.

Obama’s statement when King Abdullah kicked it.

That makes me want to vomit.

H/t Ahmed Akeel

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

Worldview Academy faculty speak and present

Jan 23rd, 2015 6:04 pm | By

Uh huh. “Worldview Academy” appears to be mostly a website, along with a program of “camps” it offers around the country. Judging by the “camp” in my state, which lasts 5 days and charges $745, these camps are really just quick proselytizing jaunts.

We are drawn together by the conviction to live out a biblical worldview in heart, mind, and life. Each summer, we gather in camps across the country to pursue the Reason for living. Just as iron sharpens iron, our faculty and students dialogue and search the scriptures to deepen our knowledge of Christ and come together in following Him.


They say their faculty will come along and fix you up, but they don’t say who their faculty are. I suspect it’s whoever is sucker enough to apply.

Christianity & Culture Conferences are designed to bring the faculty from Worldview Academy into your church or school for a series of lectures and breakout sessions. We present customized conference schedules that will inspire, challenge and encourage families, youth groups, schools, and churches to stand for truth in an ever-shifting culture.

The faculty, only there’s no place on the site that…you know…lists them.

Worldview Academy faculty speak and present at homeschool conventions across the country. To invite faculty members to your local conference, call the Worldview Office at 1-800-241-1123 or email Amelia Capo at

Faculty members speak at church or school conferences by invitation. To invite a Worldview Academy faculty member to speak at your church, call the Worldview Office at 1-800-241-1123 or email Amelia Capo at

Super impressive stuff. The real deal. All professionally-like. The phone number and email contact given twice right together like that, just in case you doze off.

No wonder he has to fake up a lawsuit.

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

Jack pulled out a piece of paper

Jan 23rd, 2015 5:52 pm | By

Oh here we go – “they are persecuting me because of my faaaaaaaaith when I all I want to do is say God hates everyone I disapprove of.”

A Colorado bakery is under investigation for religious discrimination after a baker refused to write anti-gay words on a cake.

In March of 2014, a customer named Bill Jack requested several cakes in the shapes of Bibles from the Azucar Bakery in Denver, Colo., according to the bakery owner, Marjorie Silva.

Silva says Jack pulled out a piece of paper with phrases like “God hates gays” and requested her to write them on his cakes.

A Fred Phelps wannabe; just what this world needs.

“After I read it, I was like ‘No way,'” Silva said. “‘We’re not doing this. This is just very discriminatory and hateful.'”

In a statement to 9NEWS Jack said, “I believe I was discriminated against by the bakery based on my creed.”

As a result, Jack filed a complaint with the Civil Rights division of the Department of Regulatory Agencies.

I’m betting that’s what he did it for. I’m betting it wasn’t his little nephew’s birthday, I’m betting he didn’t order that cake for his little nephew’s birthday, I’m betting he ordered the cake in hopes of being refused so that he could make a stink and get attention. Ok, Bill Jack, we see you. You’re an odious little turd.

Jack is a founder of Worldview Academy, which is a “non-denominational organization dedicated to helping Christians think and live in accord with a Biblical worldview,” according to the organization’s website.

Jack’s biography on the website says he is currently an educator who used to teach in public schools in the past, adding that he has appeared on numerous national radio and TV programs.

An educator? I seriously doubt that. I seriously doubt that he ever educated anyone.

Gotta take a look at that “academy”…


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

Time for the UK to cut these ties

Jan 23rd, 2015 4:42 pm | By

Sunny Hundal on the BBC blasts the UK government’s hugging of the Saudi regime.

Blogger Raif Badawi has been sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for criticising Saudi Arabian clerics on his internet blog.

British blogger Sunny Hundal said this case, and others like it, mean the UK should stop “hugging” the Saudi regime.

In a personal film, he said it was time for the UK to cut these ties and “treat the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with the contempt it deserves”.

We might as well be hugging IS.

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

Progressive Muslim voices are actually everywhere

Jan 23rd, 2015 3:33 pm | By

Via Tehmina Kazi, a brilliant piece at Open Democracy by a friend of hers, Akmal Ahmed Safwat, an oncologist in Denmark.

Instead of verbally denouncing terror, many Muslims in the West are now challenging the radical, ultra conservative and violent Wahhabi/salafi version of Islam that gives religious justification for hideous crimes. They are doing so through a growing movement of progressive Muslims such as British Muslims for Secular Democracy, Muslims for Progressive Values (USA) and the Liberal Muslim Network (Norway).

We progressive Muslims do not distinguish between atrocities committed by radical movements like Al-Qaida or Boko Haram and those committed by despotic dictatorships that dare to call themselves “Islamic” governments; the ones that administer the death penalty for apostasy and homosexuality; that practice stoning and flagellation; that legitimize child marriage. Both justify their atrocious practices through selected, outdated interpretations of primary Islamic scripture and a so-called “irrefutable authority” of ancient scholars and books.

Yessssss. I’ve been saying this for years – it’s not just terrorism, it’s also the brutally reactionary theocratic rules and practices that we need to oppose and resist. The latter affects vastly more people than the former can.

Wahhabi/salafi Islam is a literal way of looking at religious texts, taking it out of historical context and extending straight lines to current times. Its authority is often external to the Qu’ran, using things that are claimed to have been spoken(hadith) or performed (sunnah) by the prophet. These claims and interpretations are man-made.

Progressive Muslims, on the other hand, believe that history matters and that these claims can be challenged. The ancient Islamic Scholar Al-Shafi’i, changed his fatwas when he moved from one Islamic country to another because he acknowledged how his previous ideas did not suit the new environment. Yet today’s salafists insists on applying Al-Shafi’s old fatwas unchanged, more than 1000 years after his death.

Progressive Muslims essentially differ from traditionalists in the way we approach the Qur’anic texts. In his book, The Place of Tolerance in Islam, UCLA scholar Khaled Abou El-Fadl says “It is impossible to analyse any verse, except in the light of the overall moral thrust of the Qur’anic message. TheQur’an commands Muslims to do the good and it is not accidental that the word used for ‘the good’ is ma’aruf, meaning ‘that which is known to be good.’ Goodness in the Qur’anic discourse, therefore, is a lived reality, the product of human experience and constructed normative understanding.”

As an atheist, I don’t really think any religion is the best place to look for the good, but since most people are not atheists, that’s somewhat beside the point. I think it’s urgent and beneficial for theists to shape their religion in such a way that it helps them to do the good. I think we should all try to do the good, using whatever paths can get us there. But it has to be the good – so hatreds and repressions are right out.

So, when we progressives say Islam is a religion of justice, tolerance andcompassion, we approach the holy texts with these values and vision and let the Qur’an guide us to an understanding of contemporary life. Consequently, we support women’s rights and agency and human rights for all. We support the civil rights of the LGBT community. We reject the idea that shari’a is immutable. We support procedural secularism and the separation of church and state. We oppose capital punishment.

This is how we distance ourselves from Islamists’ crimes, by trying to livema’aruf on a day-to-day basis.

Progressive Muslim voices are actually everywhere, what is missing is critical mass. The problem with challenging the status quo is that you are marching into an unequal battle. Progressive Muslims are individuals and academics facing radical movements as well as whole countries moving towards political domination.

The rest of us need to help them and signal boost what they say.

Furthermore, we are competing with Saudi Arabia’s unlimited petro wealth, a nation that has spent close to $100 billion dollars to export Wahhabi Islam into Islamic societies and thus assert its political influence. Through monopolizing satellite media and infiltrating religious institutions previously known for its progressive views, Saudi Arabian Wahhabism has managed to grip the hearts and minds of millions of Muslims. El-Azhar in Egypt is just one example.

Despite an appalling human rights record, the Saudi regime can always count on the West’s unconditional support in its quest for dominating the Muslim world.

In fact, a closer look would clearly show the striking resemblance between Saudi Arabia and the newly born Islamic State. It defies credibility and fundamental logic that Western nations would ally themselves with Saudi Arabia to fight ISIS, since the latter is the brainchild of the first and any difference between them is only in scale but not in kind.

At the end he says something very like what Maajid said on Fresh Air last week –

Legal philosopher, Abdullahi An-Na’im has taught us that the divide is not between Islam and western society but between people who have different values. He counsels us to promote connections between people who want to contribute to human values because people who share that commitment can collaborate effectively, irrespective of their own culture.

That. It’s not The West versus The Rest or West v Islam; it’s universal human rights versus fascism.

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

His father blogged about free speech in Saudi

Jan 23rd, 2015 3:02 pm | By

Here’s a good one to pass around.

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