Notes and Comment Blog


Mar 14th, 2014 5:20 pm | By

I’m trawling through Secular Pro-Life’s Facebook page. Look, if they’re going to be the boss of us now, we need to know a little more about them.

They want us to know they like baaaaaybeeeeeeeeez. They want us to know that so that we’ll feel guilty for being such baby-hating bad heartless evil people. So they let us know they donate diapers, and they show us photos of baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaybeeeeeeeeeeeeez.

babiesNow, don’t you feel rotten?

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

The hyenas are prowling

Mar 14th, 2014 5:03 pm | By

Good job, Hemant.

Kristine Kruszelnicki of course is the “secular” anti-abortion rights person who wrote that guest post at Friendly Atheist.



Kristine Kruszelnicki shared a link

Justin Vacula just wrote to congratulate me on being PZ Myer’s “Witch of the Week”. I get to be trashed on PZ’s blog for the second time. Yay! (Free publicity at least?)

Of course he did. He is worried about disunity among the atheists.

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

The most vulnerable members

Mar 14th, 2014 1:25 pm | By

I’m looking into “Secular Pro-Life” now, having not done so before. They are repulsive. Their rhetoric is religious in its exaggeration and its coerciveness.


For five years, Secular Pro-Life has united people of every faith and no faith to fight for the most vulnerable members of our human family.

That’s religious bullying via sentimentalism. “Vulnerable members of our human family” is religious language for a developing fetus.

I’m sure they think they’re secular, I’m sure they aren’t officially religious, but their rhetoric is saturated in religiion, whether they’re aware of it or not.

They reported on their tabling at the 2012 American Atheists convention. (Yes. Sigh.)

Kelsey: One elderly woman looked me in the eye and said “I don’t understand how women could be so hateful to other women.”  I was upset by the attack, but calmly responded: “I do not hate women.  No woman wants to have an abortion.  No woman wakes up and says, ‘I’m going to have unprotected sex today, so that I can get pregnant and have some doctor put sharp objects up my privates.’  No one wants that.  And we want to make sure women don’t end up in that situation.”  That settled her down a bit and she walked away.

No woman wants to get pregnant when she doesn’t want to get pregnant; that’s true by definition. But if a woman who doesn’t want to get pregnant does get pregnant then she may very well wake up and say, “I’m going to have an abortion today” and feel massive relief that she can say that and it will be true. Kelsey and her friends don’t have the power to make sure that no woman who doesn’t want to get pregnant does get pregnant.

Rebecca has a post about those people at that convention.

it was disheartening for me to discover that a booth at this past weekend’s American Atheists conference was presenting the “scientific” argument against abortion:

That photo is from Surly Amy. By the time I arrived, he had been joined by a woman who was obviously well-versed in anti-choice rhetoric. I interviewed them for about an hour, and while I mostly kept my cool as they grinned and talked about how a fertilized egg deserves “the same” rights as me, I had to stop the interview shortly after the man insisted that a fertilized egg has the same rights as a 12-year old who has been raped and impregnated by her father. Then he went on to tell me that he’s one of the people who waves photos of bloody fetuses at women, and he refused to condemn the actions of anti-choice activists who surround and harass women attempting to enter Planned Parenthood. The best he could offer was that the strategy may be ineffective, and when I pressed him he agreed that specifically calling a woman a whore is “wrong.”

I told him he is a horrible person and I walked away because I couldn’t deal with it anymore. The Religious Right has successfully invaded a secular space to sell their anti-woman message, and in our ranks we have a sizable portion of people who declare that fighting back is too political. Too feminist! Too leftist. Too insular and academic.

Fuck that. If we don’t stand up and defend our values – humanism, skepticism, scientific inquiry – when they are under attack by those who would seek to further limit the rights and freedoms of the disenfranchised, then those values aren’t worth holding at all.


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

Invisible because incorporated

Mar 14th, 2014 12:26 pm | By

Another review of Rebecca Goldstein’s Plato at the Googleplex, this time at NPR, by Marcelo Gleiser.

(Don’t forget, she’s a speaker at Women in Secularism 3, a mere two months from now.)

The man who gave us philosophy as we know it is back, walking among us, going to TV talk shows, visiting Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., having his brain examined by a naïve reductionist neuroscientist, engaging with our current struggles.

For this we must thank Rebecca Newberger Goldstein’s inventiveness and intellectual courage. Her bookPlato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away, has just been published to rave reviews by people such as philosopher Colin McGinn. Goldstein’s goal is clear: to show to the “philosophy-jeerers” — those who claim philosophy has no value whatsoever — how absurdly wrong (and mostly ignorant) they are.

To show, that is, not to tell.

Philosophy has changed much since Plato, as it should. After all, its purview is precisely to examine and re-examine itself as a precondition to growth. No advance would be possible without this openness to criticism. (Incidentally, and not surprisingly, this is also how science functions. Plasticity is an essential property of any evolving knowledge system.) Goldstein’s brilliantly constructed narrative, combining Plato’s original texts with current-day events, shows how timely the central questions of philosophy remain, as the answers multiply.

Answers are never final, or, if they seem to be, they shouldn’t be interpreted as such. Yet, while in science it is easy to identify progress, in philosophy the task is harder. As Goldstein reflects upon Plato’s legacy, she offers a portrait of the shifting nature of our philosophical inquiries and our search for meaning:

Philosophical progress is invisible because it is incorporated into our points of view. What was tortuously secured by complex argument becomes widely shared by intuition, so obvious that we forget its provenance. We don’t see it, because we see with it.

Philosophy provides the goggles with which we make sense of reality.

And you want to know something about those goggles.

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


Mar 14th, 2014 11:40 am | By

James Croft has a new entrant in the #UpForDebate who gets to talk about abortion rights how many decades do we have to keep discussing whether women get to have bodily autonomy wars.

A couple of years ago he took part in such a debate, and realized while it was in process that it was basically a sham and he shouldn’t have agreed to do it. It was not a pleasant moment.

What I had failed to realize, despite my weeks of preparation, is that my ability and willingness to enter into a space of “debate” around the issue of abortion is a manifestation of privilege. What you are wiling to debate – what is effectively “up for discussion” – is frequently a reflection of what you think, in principle, you might be willing to give up. What you are able to put on the table of public discourse are the things you don’t feel too threatened to let go of. During all my discussions on the topic before the debate it had never occurred to me that my ability to conduct the research and weigh the arguments in a reasonably dispassionate way was due to the fact that I simply will never have to face the decision to abort. I was discussing, and discoursing, and debating rights which are not mine to put up for discussion. By opening that debate, even taking the pro-choice side, I was essentially putting women’s right to autonomy on the table in a way I have no business doing. Engaging in abstract philosophical discussion about other people’s rights in a public forum, when those rights are constantly under threat in the current political and social climate, and when the answer to the questions you raise will never effect you directly, is a callous and thoughtless thing to do.

I know how this feels to some degree, because I feel a certain sense of outrage when straight people debate the rights of queer people. I have many times found infuriating the way that straight folks can casually discuss my right to get married the same way they might discuss where to go to lunch that day. When it is my fundamental rights being debated, it is very easy to see when the issues are being discussed with too much intellectual remove, and too little righteous anger. I have, more than once, tried angrily to impress upon those arguing against equal marriage (say) that it is my life they are talking about, not some topic for a class paper. My life. It is sadly less easy to see this happening when you are on the other side of the equation. The fact is that as much as I try to be an ally to women, I do not feel the sense of threat and personal affront when confronted with an argument against abortion which I feel when confronted with an argument against gay rights. It doesn’t hit me where I live – which makes me a very bad person to judge when and to what extent such discussions are appropriate.

I think that’s right. It’s a hard thing for people to hear, because it seems inimical to open free discussion…but I think it’s right anyway.

I should have known better, then, than to have reposted on Facebook, without any critical commentary, an article by Kristine Kruszelnicki recently hosted on Hemant Mehta’s Friendly Atheist blog presenting a secular case against abortion. The case presented is shoddy and unconvincing, and it would have been far better, were I to post it at all, to have done so being explicit that I disagreed strongly with it and was posting it for the purpose of attempting to improve the arguments in favor of a woman’s right to choose. I should have been particularly mindful of posting that piece in such a way given the fact that the secular community still seems incapable of agreeing that women are indeed full people, and that it is not OK to proposition them endlessly at conferences, invade their personal space, grope them, make demeaning comments about their appearance all the time etc. Furthermore, I should have recognized that the posting of that article came closely on the heels of what seems to be a signal from Dave Silverman that American Atheists, Inc. might be willing to make common ground with conservatives on the question of abortion in order to further other “more clear-cut” secular aims (it is particularly stupid that I didn’t think of this given the fact I criticized Silverman myself for his statements at CPAC). When the bodily autonomy – and therefore fundamental dignity – of women is not firmly established, it is simply inappropriate to treat as an academic exercise questions of abortion rights – especially without framing those questions in any way.

And the bodily autonomy – and therefore fundamental dignity – of women is not firmly established. We keep seeing that.

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

Actual people with personalities, characters, wishes

Mar 14th, 2014 9:57 am | By

A striking thing that Gilliel said in a comment on Greta’s post Having a Reasonable Debate About Abortion yesterday:

And here’s another thing that’s been driving my blood pressure up and I will bold the beginning so that people


I have been pregnant three times which resulted in two kids. My first pregnancy turned Wahoonie-shaped around week ten and I needed an abortion (which is never counted as an abortion-abortion, but as a reasonable medical intervention because reasons. Probably because I suffered enough since I actually wanted to be pregnant very much). I had two wonderful kids afterwards.

To act as if the death of that embryo was somewhat comparable to one of my children, actual people with personalities, characters, wishes, likes, dislikes, a central nervous system, even breaking a bone, let alone dying is so deeply fucked-up and beyond belief offensive that I hardly have words for it.

Surely that’s right.

Parents mourn miscarriages of wanted pregnancies, of course, but they’re mourning a potential, not an actual, and there is a difference.

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

Up for debate 3

Mar 13th, 2014 6:17 pm | By

Is Genocide always such a bad idea? #UpForDebate

Why not punish serious crimes by flaying people? #UpForDebate

Let’s totally rethink our position on torture. #UpForDebate

How about euthanasia for disabled people? That would save a few bucks. #UpForDebate

Immigrants. Shouldn’t we just enslave them? It was their idea to come here, after all. #UpForDebate

The US should invade Iceland. It’s just lying there, begging for it. #UpForDebate

We need serious tax reform. No tax at all on people with incomes over $200,000. Let everyone else pay for it. #UpForDebate

Dentists should be allowed to torture every 11th patient, just for laughs. #UpForDebate

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

Another conception of rights

Mar 13th, 2014 4:57 pm | By

Our new blogger Kaveh Mousavi mentioned in a conversation the infuriating “arguments” he gets from fellow Iranians about the hijab. What are they? He listed them.

The first one: I say, I believe a woman should be able to have a choice in the matter of her own dress. They say, but, what if your own mother and your own sister chose to go on the street without the proper dressing code? This argument is repeated in all manners of sexual liberty, including porn. They are then genuinely amazed that I’m not convinced by this. They genuinely think that I would NEVER even consider letting my own relatives go out in the streets not covered up.

The second one is this: looking at a woman’s hair or body is a sin. Being turned on or being attracted to such things, also sin. Men have a “right” to walk in public without the danger of committing a sin. Women who go out in public with improper dressing code, they’re violating this right.

The third is that we’re all Muslims and Islam says this and therefore the social rules should be Islam’s rules.

Fascinating. Women who go out in public without being bagged up like rolls or newspapers or freshly ground coffee are violating men’s rights.

But what about women’s rights?




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

More up for debate

Mar 13th, 2014 1:32 pm | By

Everything should be up for debate, right? It’s the hallmark of an open society. Nothing should be off the table – that way tyranny lies.

So. Why shouldn’t bigger stronger people just take what they want when they can get away with it? #UpForDebate

Why shouldn’t bigger countries invade smaller countries and take all their wealth? #UpForDebate

Why shouldn’t rich people work poor people to death? There are always more poor people. #UpForDebate

Why shouldn’t companies make their workers operate in whatever conditions happen to occur? Why bother with safety regulations? If some workers die, others will take their place. #UpForDebate

Why shouldn’t companies sell whatever product they can? It’s the customer’s job to figure out if the products are safe or not. #UpForDebate

Why shouldn’t countries refuse to let people of the wrong race or ethnic group immigrate? What’s wrong with filtering people out according to how viscerally you dislike them? #UpForDebate

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

Up for debate

Mar 13th, 2014 1:00 pm | By

It’s a hashtag – #UpForDebate. A few random samples -

Maybe #atheists aren’t fit parents. We should remove their children. #UpForDebate#atheistdudebros

#UpForDebate You knew there was a chance that you would get carjacked. Now just relax and enjoy the ride.

#UpforDebate The healthcare you receive should be dependent on what you’re wearing at the time of injury.

Men work dangerous jobs, which means more injuries & greater cost to employers. They should be paid less to compensate. #UpForDebate

I think if I heard some solid evidence on the positives of dog fighting I could be convinced. #UpForDebate

I can think of a few.

What was so bad about the Vietnam war anyway? Why did we ever leave? #UpForDebate

Was the ruling in the Dred Scott case really all that wrong? #UpForDebate

The Fourteenth Amendment – a big mistake? #UpForDebate

The women who worked at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company were lucky to have those jobs. #UpForDebate

Unions should be illegal. #UpForDebate

Anybody who is in solitary confinement obviously deserves to be there. #UpForDebate

We don’t have ENOUGH of the population in prison. #UpForDebate

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

But then there’s the woo aspect

Mar 13th, 2014 12:48 pm | By

For the sake of completeness though, I’ll point out that David Gorski has pointed out that Murthy has connections to “complementary and alternative medicine.”

What worries me about Dr. Murthy is his connection to so-called “complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM), otherwise known these days as “integrative medicine.” My skeptical antennae started twitching when I saw that Dr. Murthy has been serving on the U.S. Presidential Advisory Council on Prevention, Health Promotion, and Integrative and Public Healthsince 2011, along with Dr. Dean Ornish. (Come to think of it, it’s disturbing that President Obama would have appointed Ornish to such a committee.) Also on the council is Janet R. Kahn, PhD, who is described as a having been a “Faculty Preceptor in the Fellowship Program in Complementary, Alternative, and General Medicine at Harvard Medical School” since 2000 and having served on the National Advisory Council for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health since 2009. You know who also serves on that particular advisory council? Brian Berman. There’s also an acupuncturist, Charlotte Kerr, on the U.S. Presidential Advisory Council on Prevention, Health Promotion, and Integrative and Public Health.

And Murthy has spelled it out.

More concerning is what Dr. Murthy said in this article, published in Harvard Magazine in 2003:

Murthy’s combined expertise in medicine and business (and he still might pursue an advanced degree in public health) makes him well qualified to follow through with one of his dreams: to develop a system that provides proven, affordable, integrated (traditional and alternative) healthcare in a standardized fashion.

His interest in alternative medicine stems from his own cultural background—both his parents emigrated from India. Although he grew up in Miami, Murthy’s frequent visits to his parents’ homeland allowed him to witness that country’s ancient art of healing, Ayurveda (Sanskrit for “the science of life”). “I have tried various alternative medical therapies myself,” he reports, “and I have found that many alternative modalities are based in principles that make sense, and seem to frequently be effective with patients.” Research in recent years has made important strides in investigating alternative medicine in the United States, Murthy says, but much more needs to be done, and he would like to be a part of that process.

Oh, dear. “Based on principles that make sense?” That’s the sort of thing no physician whose practice is science-based should ever utter about Ayurveda or other “alternative medicine.” He also seems to have been prone to the same sorts of deficits in reasoning that lead all too many people to confuse correlation with causation or placebo effects for real effects.

So he should be questioned about that. Seriously questioned; probingly questioned.

In my perfect world, if I were a Senator asking Dr. Murthy questions, I wouldn’t ask so much about Medicaid, Medicare, the ACA, or other health policy. Well, I would, but that wouldn’t be my primary line of questioning. I figure that Dr. Murthy has political views compatible with those of President Obama, otherwise President Obama wouldn’t have appointed him. Presidents rarely appoint people with highly incompatible views to theirs to positions that are very public, like that of the Surgeon General. What concerns me more is that the Surgeon General should be a voice of science-based medicine, even if it means bucking the prevailing views, existing government policies, the pharmaceutical companies, whatever. Think of the Surgeon General in 1964 warning that cigarettes cause cancer, even though cigarettes were popular (not to mention extremely profitable) and the tobacco companies were doing everything they could to bury or counter the developing body of evidence linking smoking tobacco to lung cancer and heart disease. What we don’t need is a Surgeon General who will be a voice in favor of the ongoing pollution of science-based medicine with quackery.

I’m down with that.

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

How dare a potential Surgeon General defend public health?

Mar 13th, 2014 12:04 pm | By

Obama’s nominee for Surgeon General is, strange to relate, not a fan of injuries and death caused by guns. What an eccentric view, especially for a Surgeon General. Surely a right-minded SG should think of guns as healthy toys.

MSNBC reports on this surprising medical anomaly.

Obama’s nominee for Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, is now facing a difficult confirmation for defending public health by pushing for measures that would reduce gun violence in America.

Last week on a vote of 13-9, Murthy’s nomination passed through the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. But his path forward to full confirmation is now under assault from the National Rifle Association, which penned a letter strongly opposing Murthy as Surgeon General. Sen. Rand Paul has threatened to put a hold on the nomination and Sen. John Barrasso has come out against confirmation.

At issue is a letter sent to members of Congress by Murthy, a co-founder of the national grassroots health care advocacy group Doctors for America. “As health care professionals who are confronted with the human cost of gun violence every day, we are unwavering in our belief that strong measures to reduce gun violence must be taken immediately. We strongly urge Congress and the Obama administration to put legislation in place now and develop a comprehensive plan to reduce gun-related injuries and deaths,” Murthy wrote.

Oh good lord no, that’s crazy talk. How could it possibly be a good idea to reduce gun-related injuries and deaths? We want more of those! They keep us alert and energized.

Murthy’s view is not controversial within the public health community. The American Medical Association officially opposes any laws that would block doctors from having open conversations about firearm safety in the home and the Academy of Pediatrics has recommended specific gun violence prevention measures to Congress.

Murthy wouldn’t even be alone among Surgeons General connecting gun violence to public health. Dr. C. Everett Koop, who served as Surgeon General during the Reagan administration, spoke out about gun violence in an essay for the American Medical Association titled: “Time to Bite the Bullet Back.”

Flakes, all of them. Hippy-dippy flower-eating sentimental bunny-sniffing flakes.

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

More more more of a guy thing

Mar 12th, 2014 5:21 pm | By

What about “ban bossy”? I’m not sure it was a great idea to choose the word “ban” as part of a meme or hashtag or campaign. But the idea behind it? Well yes. I see more reason every day to think that the culture is just godawful for girls and women; that it’s just saturated in ragey misogyny, contempt, patronizing ideas about some kind of inborn need to be drowned in pink fluff for the first ten years, fear, loathing, disgust, hostility, and dismissal.

Sheryl Sandberg and Anna Maria Chávez talked about it in the WSJ a few days ago.

Behind the negative connotations lie deep-rooted stereotypes about gender. Boys are expected to be assertive, confident and opinionated, while girls should be kind, nurturing and compassionate. When a little boy takes charge in class or on the playground, nobody is surprised or offended. We expect him to lead. But when a little girl does the same, she is often criticized and disliked.

Because being assertive, confident and opinionated is more of a guy thing. Being talkative, argumentative, active, intellectually involved – more of a guy thing. So what does that mean? That all the opposites are more of a girl thing. Being passive, timid and empty-headed is more of a girl thing. Being silent, compliant, torpid, inert – more of a girl thing.

That is not a good way to raise girls to think they can do all the things.

Social scientists have long studied how language affects society, and they find that even subtle messages can have a big impact on girls’ goals and aspirations. Calling a girl “bossy” not only undermines her ability to see herself as a leader, but it also influences how others treat her. According to data collected by the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, parents of seventh-graders place more importance on leadership for their sons than for their daughters. Other studies have determined that teachers interact with and call on boys more frequently and allow them to shout out answers more than girls.

It’s no surprise that by middle school, girls are less interested in leading than boys are. Sixth- and seventh-grade girls rate being popular and well-liked as more important than being perceived as competent or independent, while boys are more likely to rate competence and independence as more important, according to a report by the American Association of University Women. A 2008 survey by the Girl Scouts of nearly 4,000 boys and girls found that girls between the ages of 8 and 17 avoid leadership roles for fear that they will be labeled “bossy” or disliked by their peers.

Because there are these rules, these expectations, these stereotypes. And they matter. How can we change them except by changing them? Why shouldn’t we try to change them?

I’m seeing people on Twitter saying things like “well if you tell me not to say it I’ll just say it more” and “some ridiculous people think words matter” and similarly insightful items. Their point? Just…don’t try to change that, because I’m fine with it. Just the usual pissy smart-ass ungenerous shit.


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

Plato in a panel discussion at the 92nd Street Y

Mar 12th, 2014 4:29 pm | By

Colin McGinn reviews Rebecca Goldstein’s Plato at the Googleplex in the Wall Street Journal. It’s a pity they chose Colin McGinn of all people, but oh well.

Plato is brought marvelously to life, and, as a welcome corollary, philosophy is vindicated against what Ms. Goldstein aptly labels the “philosophy-jeerers”—those who rashly claim that philosophy has no intellectual substance or future in this scientific era.

Philosophy-jeerers should read some Rebecca Goldstein. Seriously.

“Plato at the Googleplex” consists of chapters of scholarly discussion followed by fictional accounts of Plato appearing in various contemporary venues. Thus we see Plato at Google headquarters on a book tour, Plato in a panel discussion at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan, Plato as a consultant to an advice columnist, Plato interviewed on cable news and Plato’s brain being examined in a neuroscience laboratory. Here Ms. Goldstein employs her novelistic skills to sparkling effect by weaving abstract concepts into concrete modern narratives. At a cable news station, he is grilled by one Roy McCoy, who is not a bit intimidated by his distinguished Greek guest: “Okay, so they tell me you’re a big deal in philosophy, Plato. I’m going to tell you up front—because that’s the kind of guy I am, up-front—that I don’t think much of philosophers.”

Well Anthony Grayling has actually been on the Colbert Report, twice, so it all makes sense.

Goldstein also outlines religious and secular responses to the existential questions of the so-called Axial Age, the period (circa 500 B.C.) when the key questions of human civilization began to be crystallized. When people began seriously to wonder what makes human life worthwhile, one group (represented by the Hebrews) conceived the idea of a single God to whom all human life matters, while another group (the Greeks) conceived of human life having meaning on terms internal to itself. As Ms. Goldstein observes, this fundamental choice is still being played out today: Do the Abrahamic religions have the right view of the good life for human beings or were the Greeks onto something better?

The Greeks were onto something better.




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

Don’t break something laughing

Mar 12th, 2014 3:48 pm | By

Via Unearthed Comics via the Facebook page Science-facts – such a funny cartoon. So, so, so funny. The cartoonist is Sara Zimmerman. So, so, so, so funny.

Credit Unearthed Comics

Ya. Hilarious.

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

By consistently listening

Mar 12th, 2014 2:55 pm | By

The Onion - Man Who Treats Women With Respect Asked What His Secret Is.

Commenting upon his seemingly effortless ability to interact with all kinds of women, friends of local financial analyst Matt Brownlow, a man who regularly treats members of the opposite sex with respect, reportedly asked the 28-year-old Monday what his secret is. “You just seem to have such a way with women—what’s your trick?” friend Alex Stegman inquired of the considerate man who sustains healthy, meaningful relationships with women by consistently listening to them and not treating them as utilitarian instruments for male gratification.



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

Manufactured ignorance

Mar 12th, 2014 12:02 pm | By

This is a subject that has always interested me – agnotology, the study of the cultural production of ignorance.

It’s a rich field, especially today when whole industries devote themselves to sowing public misinformation and doubt about their products and activities.

The tobacco industry was a pioneer at this. Its goal was to erode public acceptance of the scientifically proven links between smoking and disease: In the words of an internal 1969 memo legal opponents extracted from Brown & Williamson’s files, “Doubt is our product.” Big Tobacco’s method should not be to debunk the evidence, the memo’s author wrote, but to establish a “controversy.”

Bullshitting for profit and to protect the profits – and bullshitting about life and death, at that. Such a fabulous thing to do. “So a lot of people get lung cancer because we succeed in fooling them! So what? It’s more money for us!”

When this sort of manipulation of information is done for profit, or to confound the development of beneficial public policy, it becomes a threat to health and to democratic society. Big Tobacco’s program has been carefully studied by the sugar industry, which has become a major target of public health advocates.

It’s also echoed by vaccination opponents, who continue to use a single dishonest and thoroughly discredited British paper to sow doubts about the safety of childhood immunizations, and by climate change deniers.

Well, everybody needs a hobby.

Big Tobacco’s public relations campaign against the anti-smoking movement, for example, was aimed at “manufacturing a ‘debate,’ convincing the mass media that responsible journalists had an obligation to present ‘both sides’ of it,” reported Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway in their 2010 book, “Merchants of Doubt.”

I am reading that book right now. It is terrific.

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

The social in social justice

Mar 12th, 2014 10:39 am | By

We hear a lot – a LOT – about how “social justice” aka atheismplus aka feminism & anti-racism & LGBT rights & trans rights & animal rights and fill out the list as you like, is a distraction, is divisive, is “drama,” is attention-whoring, is whatever label you want to use by way of saying it has nothing to do with atheism or skepticism or secularism or free inquiry.

There are ways that’s true, if you look at both parts of the equation very narrowly and literally. It is of course perfectly possible to be both an atheist and an aggressively misogynist shithead. If we didn’t know that a priori we would certainly still know it empirically, because we’ve encountered so many glowing examples. (I mean “glowing” in a radioactive sense.)

But very narrowly and literally isn’t the only way to look at the issue. That which is literally true isn’t necessarily good for strategy or longevity or popularity. Atheists can be shits, sure, obviously, but if you want an atheist movement that makes atheism more acceptable and even respectable (by which I mean worthy of genuine respect; I don’t mean prim and conformist), then having a movement full of shits isn’t helpful. Also, if the movement is one where people get together, in local chapters and the like, then, again, having a lot of shits around isn’t conducive to expanding the movement. Shits repel everyone else.

Now, if there are more shits than there are non-shits, maybe being inclusive toward the shits is the best way to go, at least in terms of bums on seats. But I’m sentimentally optimistic enough to think that shits don’t outnumber non-shits. In any case there’s also the quality issue. Is it better to have a bigger movement full of shits? Or a smaller movement not full of shits? For pure vote-counting, obviously the first is better, but for pretty much everything else, the second is.

Also, there’s principle. A lot of us actually do act on principle on these things.

All of that indicates why social justice is actually not irrelevant to atheism or skepticism considered as movements as opposed to purely individual desk activities.

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

The laws limiting the age of marriage are unIslamic

Mar 12th, 2014 10:03 am | By

Dawn reports that a meeting of The Council of Islamic Ideology in Islamabad on Tuesday ruled that the laws related to minimum age of marriage were un-Islamic and that children of any age could get married if they attain puberty.

At the conclusion of two day meeting, Chairman CII Maulana Muhammad Khan Sheerani noted that the laws related to marriage too were unfair and there cannot be any age of marriage.

However, he explained that there were two segments of marriage – nikah and ruksati, while nikah could be performed at any age.

“Even the minors can have nikah but that has to be executed by the guardians,” chairman CII said adding, “But ruksti could be executed only after attaining the age of puberty.”

He said that the age of puberty varies from individuals to individuals and it was the responsibility of guardians to have ruksati soon the child attains the age of puberty.

“The laws limiting the age for both the segments of marriage are unIslamic and needed to be rectified,” he added.

If I understand that correctly he’s saying that marriage is mandatory for everyone. I take that to be the meaning of “it was the responsibility of guardians to have ruksati [as] soon [as] the child attains the age of puberty.”

A world with no freedom for anyone. You’re either a child, subject to guardians, or an adult, married off. Independence and autonomy don’t exist.

The officials were asked if the international conventions signed by Pakistan related to child marriage would be violated after this ruling by CII.

Responding to the query the official said that the international conventions cannot be in contradiction to the constitution of the country or Islam and if they were, those particular clauses would not apply on Pakistan.

Right. None of your pesky international human rights treaties; get out of here with that shit.

The CII had on earlier day suggested the government to change Muslim marriage laws as it required Muslim male to seek permission from the previous wife or wives for another marriage.

Oh hell yes. You can’t have a Muslim male asking any wife or wives for permission for anything. That would be totally UnIslamic.

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

A chance to air their nostalgia

Mar 12th, 2014 9:37 am | By

Emily Bazelon at Slate takes a look at some of the more…eccentric far-right arguments in the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood briefs against the Obamacare rule that employers must provide contraception coverage as part of their health care plans.

Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, the companies whose suits the Supreme Court will hear later this month, have been careful to frame their objections narrowly. They’re not refusing to pay for all birth control. They just don’t want to fund “items” like the morning-after pill and the IUD, which they say effectively cause abortion by preventing a fertilized embryo from implanting in the uterus. Many scientists say that’s not true. But the companies are trying to take a limited, reasonable-minds-may-differ position.

Naturally; they have a better shot that way. This is precisely why so many people are so annoyed with Dave Silverman for saying there is a secular argument against abortion rights while there is no secular argument against LGBT rights or same-sex marriage. I don’t think he meant to imply that there is a reasonable or good secular argument against abortion rights, but many people have argued that that’s beside the point, because the effect of making an exception of abortion rights is the same as if he had just plain said there is a good, reasonable argument against abortion rights. Now that Hemant Mehta has seen fit to publish a secular argument against abortion rights on his blog, without dissent or other comment, I think they’re probably right. People have pointedly wondered if he would publish a guest post giving a secular argument for racism or against LGBT rights, and asked why women’s rights are so much more up for grabs than other kinds of rights are.

Back to Hobby Lobby.

The government has medical heavyweights on its side, including the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. But Hobby Lobby has more briefs—the majority of a total of more than 80 briefs, by my count, were filed by conservative groups—and their allies have written the sentences that jump off the page. Despite how the companies themselves have carefully crafted their case, the briefs from their supporters provide a refresher course in how fundamentalists get from here to there. They are full of revelations.

Bazelon summarizes the secular and medical reasons contraception is good for women; why the ability to plan whether and when to get pregnant makes women better off. Then for the other way of looking at it.

But the American Freedom Law Center, which says it “defends America’s Judeo-Christian heritage and moral values,” sees contraception, instead, as Pope Paul VI did in 1968In its brief, AFLC quotes the former pope like so:

It has come to pass that the widespread use of contraceptives has indeed harmed women physically, emotionally, morally, and spiritually — and has, in many respects, reduced her to the “mere instrument for the satisfaction of [man’s] own desires.” Consequently, the promotion of contraceptive services — the very goal of the challenged mandate — harms not only women, but it harms society in general by “open[ing] wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards.”

Because sex. If there is contraception, then sex becomes just sex – just pleasure, just fun, just sensation – and that can’t be right, because sex is filthy. Unless the end result of it is a darling little baby whether you want one or not.

The Beverly LaHaye Institute, the research arm of Concerned Women for America, drives home this point, arguing that the government should have considered:

the documented negative effects the widespread availability of contraceptives has on women’s ability to enter into and maintain desired marital relationships. This in turn leads to decreased emotional wellbeing and economic stability (out-of-wedlock childbearing being a chief predictor of female poverty), as well as deleterious physical health consequences arising from, inter alia, sexually transmitted infections and domestic violence.

Because sex sex sex, dammit! If sex isn’t punished with pregnancy, then it becomes Too Much Fun and everything goes to hell!

If it sounds like I’m describing a 1960s enraged sermon about the pill, I guess that’s the point: I could be. The Hobby Lobby case has given the groups that want to go back to prepill days a chance to air their nostalgia. And they want the Supreme Court to know that all women don’t share the view that controlling one’s body, with regard to the deep, life-altering question of when to be pregnant, is helpful and freeing.

And they want all of us to live according to that benighted view.

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