Notes and Comment Blog

Pastors claiming to have cured Ebola could face jail time

Aug 11th, 2014 12:01 pm | By

How not to respond to a serious outbreak of a contagious (albeit not yet airborn-contagious) mostly-fatal disease: be a cleric and claim you can fix it. Don’t do that.

(Note this is from July 31, so facts about the outbreak will already be obsolete.)

…to tackle the dangerous and potentially deadly rumor mill, a government official in Lagos state has issued a stern warning: Pastors claiming to have cured Ebola could face jail time, according to CAJ News Africa:

Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Aderemi Ibirogba, specifically advised the citizenry to be wary of the activities of alleged fraudsters who were reportedly making spurious claims about their ability to provide cure for the deadly virus.

He called on those who wanted to rip off members of the public to desist from such claims of cure or risk arrest and prosecution.

“Only medical solutions are known to be appropriate for the disease,” said Ibirogba.

That may seem obvious, but given the continued spread of the virus, it has become necessary.

Of course it has, because if there is an exploitable situation, it’s a law of nature that there will be someone to exploit it.

…in many cases, the disease spreads further when infected people avoid medical help or seek out traditional healers.

For example, earlier this week, a Nigerian pastor, Ituah Ighodalo, wrote a Facebook post that highlighted a “solution to Ebola!”

The post — which was factually incorrect — was focused on the story of a Canadian-American Pentecostal pastor and faith healer by the name of John G. Lake, who operated a ministry in Africa in the early 1900s.

“Several years ago, Ebola virus erupted in Africa, killing thousands without restrain or cure,” Ighodalo wrote. “A great man of God by the name John G Lake came to the rescue. Laying hands on infected people who were not to be touched.”

Well, not quite: As the World Health Organization helpfully notes, the Ebola virus first emerged in 1976 — 41 years after Lake’s death.

Also laying hands on people has no known power against a virus. Against isolation, fear, loneliness, it does, so in cases where it’s not ruled out for reasons to do with contagion – as with Ebola for instance – it’s a good thing if wanted. But as a cure for a virus? Nope.

While churches, healing houses and traditional healers can play a critical role by alerting public health officials to potential Ebola cases, Nigerian officials have been forced to warn them not to try healing Ebola patients themselves, according to local news reports:

Speaking at a press briefing in Lagos, Professor Abdulsalami Nasidi of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) said some of the affected people with EVD in neighbouring countries might want to come to Lagos, Nigeria, where there were many healing houses that claim to have cure for diseases. …

He explained that in regions where EVD had killed many people, some of the victims had flocked to healing houses for cure, but ended up spreading the virus, with the supposed healers contracting the deadly virus.

Wow, that’s awful. Infected people might actually be drawn to Lagos because of its many “healing houses” – thus not getting medical treatment themselves, and spreading the virus to others. Lose-lose.

Not the way to respond to a contagious mostly-fatal disease outbreak.

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

The isolation ward

Aug 11th, 2014 11:13 am | By

The slow-motion genocide in progress on Mount Sinjar.

The refugees are facing extreme temperatures and have little water, let alone food.

Britain was forced to abort a second airdrop of humanitarian aid to the Yazidis on Monday, over fears about hitting the people below, a military spokesman said.

Another attempt to deliver desperately needed food and water to the refugees stranded on Mount Sinjar is likely to take place within the next 24 hours.

Never be The Wrong Kind of Person. People who are The Wrong Kind of Person may find themselves dying of dehydration on Mount Sinjar or in the New Orleans Superdome.

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

Wole Soyinka’s address to the GHC

Aug 10th, 2014 5:33 pm | By

Wole Soyinka gave a video address to the Global Humanism Conference at which he was given its International Humanist award today. The Independent gives us a summary.

Atrocities carried out by fanatics such as Nigeria’s Boko Haram show the dangers of religious belief with the “scroll of faith … indistinguishable from the roll call of death”, according to the Nobel prize-winning author Wole Soyinka.

In a video address to the World Humanist Congress, at which he will be presented with its main award today, Soyinka will argue that even moderate religious leaders may be “vicariously liable” for sectarian hatred if they have failed to argue against it.

The actions of the Islamist extremists of Boko Haram – bombing churches, killing civilians and abducting girls – are a warning to the world, Soyinka said.

“The conflict between humanists and religionists has always been one between the torch of enlightenment and the chains of enslavement,” said Soyinka. “Those chains are not merely visible, but cruelly palpable. All too often they lead directly to the gallows, beheadings, to death under a hail of stones. In parts of the world today, the scroll of faith is indistinguishable from the roll call of death.”

That’s saying it.

Andrew Copson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association, said the award had been given to Soyinka in recognition of his “brave advocacy for free expression, even under extreme threats to his life”.

The writer narrowly escaped a death sentence in Nigeria in 1994 when he was charged with treason by late Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha. Tipped off he was about to be arrested, Soyinka fled the country.

“Freedom of expression is a right. But it sometimes takes deep personal courage to stay true to its promises in the face of powerful religious ‘sensitivities’,” said Mr Copson. “We all have much to learn from Wole.”

And it was our friend Leo who accepted the award for him.

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

Posted in Notes and Comment Blog

Humanist Wole Soyinka

Aug 10th, 2014 4:20 pm | By

Leo accepts the International Humanist Award on behalf of Wole Soyinka.

Photo: Accepting the International Humanist Award on behalf of Wole Soyinka

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

Posted in Notes and Comment Blog

Defining rational as “everything I already think”

Aug 10th, 2014 4:07 pm | By

Another mistake I’ve noticed in this game of I Am More Rational Than You is judging the officially correct degree of emotionality to be…oh what a coincidence: it turns out to be the degree one has oneself.

You know? As in, “I am very rational, as any fule kno, and I am not very emotional except that I get irritable a lot. Obviously that is the right amount and quality of emotion to have. Any other amount and quality is mistaken and to be reprobated.”

Well it’s a natural mistake to make. We all see things through our own eyeballs and not anyone else’s. But…at the same time, it’s part of rationality to be aware of that tendency and to try to correct for it, along with all the other solipsistic tendencies we naturally have.

Seven of Mine made a related point on PZ’s post:

they’re just assuming their argument is sound because they’re unconsciously defining rational as “everything I already think” and irrational as “everything else.”

Exactly. That kind of thing. Correct for that, or you’ll find yourself in the weeds.

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

Posted in Notes and Comment Blog

Joy is haram

Aug 10th, 2014 12:46 pm | By

Outlook India reports (via a Times article that is pay-walled) that Islamist bullies are hassling people in Birmingham for doing things like dancing.

In an attempt to enforce an ISIS-style interpretation of Islamic law, a group of extremists are allegedly cracking down on street parties in Britain by equating it to devil worship.

The extremists are trying to bully and intimidate British Muslims against music and dance.

According to a report in ‘The Sunday Times’, hardliners waved a “No music” banner and chanted “God is great” in Birmingham to disrupt festivities to mark the end of Ramadan.

I have friends in Birmingham who are liberal Muslims and they are not at all happy about this kind of thing.

Extremists objecting to these “Chaand Raat” festivities — based on an Indian subcontinent tradition — said they intervened at three separate locations across the city.

In London, extremists recently confronted women travelling to a family festival to celebrate the Bangladeshi new year and warned them it was “haram”, or forbidden, for them to attend.

Others were told the BBC-sponsored event encouraged “sin”, “fornication” and “drug-taking”.

It’s just a pretext for bullying people. It’s one of humans’ favorite hobbies, which doesn’t speak well for humans.

“It’s very alarming that UK-based extremists are now seeking to import an Isis-style interpretation of Islam and impose it on British citizens,” said Ghaffar Hussain, the managing director of Quilliam, a counter-extremism think tank.

“Banning music and dancing is completely unacceptable in a modern democracy and goes against all British values,” he added.

Music and dancing bring people together. We can’t have that, can we.

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

Posted in Notes and Comment Blog

Logic and feeling

Aug 10th, 2014 11:45 am | By

Dawkins did an interview at the Global Humanist Conference this morning, and PZ has a report-plus-dissent on it.

Dawkins spoke at #whc2014 this morning, in an interview with Samira Ahmed. Ahmed held his feet to the fire a bit, and grilled him on the recent rape comparisons on Twitter. Unfortunately, he made the same justifications all over again. Basically, his argument was that his critics are:

  1. Irrational, incapable of grasping the lucid logic of his argument.
  2. Emotional, driven entirely by a visceral reaction to rape.
  3. Suppressive, unwilling to discuss the issues calmly. They never discuss some topics, like rape and pedophilia.

He received resounding applause from a receptive audience, and he would have deserved it if there had been any truth at all to his claims. There isn’t.

Well I’m not even sure he would have deserved resounding applause if there had been a tiny bit of truth to his claims, because the truth would be incomplete and tendentious.

For one thing – it’s just not a good approach to keep announcing that “I am being flawlessly rational and everyone who disagrees with me is being irrational.” It’s really not.

It’s not good epistemology to start with the assumption that “I am flawlessly rational” period. Humans aren’t flawlessly rational; even humans who know all about the ways humans aren’t flawlessly rational can be irrational in the same ways as everyone else, and the best of them know that and point out examples of it. Daniel Kahneman does that in Thinking Fast and Slow, and Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson do it in Mistakes Were Made (but not by me).

And what he was saying wasn’t formal logic anyway. It wasn’t a syllogism. It made sense, it was reasonable, but it wasn’t a syllogism. It was a tweet but it was not a syllogism.

For the other thing, he’s just wrong in this disdain for what he calls “emotional.” Morality is an emotional subject; morality makes no sense without emotion; morality is not like a blueprint or an algorithm or a recipe. You need reason and feeling to be able to talk about it sensibly.

As many many many people have pointed out, he knows that himself – he said he chose a provocative subject on purpose. Well quite! If you’re going to choose a provocative subject, it’s no good then rejecting all the provoked responses on the grounds that they are provoked.

It’s not rational to think you can discuss inherently emotive subjects like rape “calmly” and with pure logic. I suspect he would be able to see this with no problem if the subjects were different. Imagine one of those BBC round-table discussions, in which an Islamist guy very calmly and logically explained why it’s haram for a woman to participate in public life. Would Dawkins frown on a feminist ex-Muslim woman who responded with heat as well as reason? I doubt it.

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

Posted in Notes and Comment Blog

Tipping the world

Aug 10th, 2014 10:59 am | By

Gulalai Ismail receiving the 2014 International Humanist Award yesterday evening.

I don’t know why they chose such a vertiginous photo, but they did. Zany humanists.

Photo: What a good day it was, had a wonderful panel in morning, elected as General Secretary of IHEYO (International Humanist and Ethical Youth Organisation) in afternoon, then shared Gala Dinner Table with Richard Dawkins and in evening was given the award "2014 International Humanist Award!

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

Posted in Notes and Comment Blog

Taslima at the Sheldonian

Aug 10th, 2014 10:44 am | By

Taslima gives the closing address at the Global Humanism Conference.

Photo: "Doors of my own country shut at me because of religious bigotry" Tasleema Nasreen at #whc2014
Photo Gulalai Ismail

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

Posted in Notes and Comment Blog

Outraged in Sevenoaks

Aug 9th, 2014 6:18 pm | By

Avery at Gravity’s Wings has a good post about outraged exclamations about a putative “outrage culture” which are actually about ordinary, common-or-garden criticism directed at something the exclaimers consider Their Territory. We all know what those look like!

Three days ago, Hemant Mehta of the Friendly Atheist decided to create a book, called “God is an Abusive Boyfriend (and you should break up).” This was, all things considered, a pretty bad idea, and was criticized in many places. Chris Stedman wrote a column about it, and quoted posts by Sarah Moglia and Sarah Jones that also made criticisms. People left comments on his blog, and criticized him on Twitter. Shortly after, Mehta decided to cancel the project, saying that his “execution was poor and it upset a lot of good people.”

Cue the outrage about outrage that wasn’t even outrage.

DJ Grothe complained about “outrage culture” on his wall, and plenty of commenters agreed, because apparently criticizing tasteless and offensive jokes is “outrage culture” now. One person mentioned that she was sad that the “outrage culture” won, even though she’s glad the project was cancelled. In other words, even when she agrees with us* she’s against us!

On Dave Muscato’s wall, Grothe continued to rail against “Soap Opera Atheism”:


And Ed Clint joined in and on it went, as it does.

None of this is new. These are just a couple of examples, but people like Grothe and Clint have spent years attacking people in the movement who dare to offer criticism of offensive ideas. To them, the slightest criticism of people within the movement is “perpetually outraged overreach,” no matter how mild or respectful that criticism is. Telling someone that they had a bad idea is considered “vociferously bully[ing]… into submission,” which is “horrible.”

There are some trigger-happy people around, of course, but not all criticism is Soap Opera Atheism or outrage culture or call-out culture or any of the rest of the jargon. Plenty of criticism is just criticism. And it’s what we’re supposed to do, isn’t it? None of these people are pillars of the Status Quo Community. They’re all reformers themselves, so what do they even mean by it? I suppose they mean “I say I say, excuse me, that’s my ox you’re goring, and I’d rather you didn’t.”

As Avery very neatly says.

It’s also interesting how none of these people have a problem with outrage over, say, school sponsored prayer, or nativity scenes on public property. They’re probably fine with being “perpetually outraged” about discrimination of nonreligious people, or about creationism and pseudoscience being taught in schools. They’re completely fine with this kind of outrage, because it benefits them and is directed at other people. But as soon as that outrage (or simple criticism, in many cases) is directed at them, they’re quick to cry “outrage culture.” Apparently it’s only an “outrage culture” if you don’t like what the outrage is about.

These people are invested in seeing hostility where none exists. They wildly exaggerate claims of outrage, or even invent them out of whole cloth, in order to have something to complain about. It’s also a useful tool to avoid thinking about the subject, because if they can reframe legitimate criticism as “outrage culture” they have an excuse to ignore it. And so they continue to attack overblown misrepresentations of their enemies instead of listening and paying attention to reasonable criticism.

Read the whole thing.

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

Posted in Notes and Comment Blog

“Tell a devout Christian that his wife”

Aug 9th, 2014 5:27 pm | By

This is one reason I’ve never liked Sam Harris’s writing, even before he wrote the wretched The Moral Landscape.

He does that throughout The End of Faith, and it’s maddening. You see it, right? Starting with “a Christian” and then saying “his” – as if “a Christian” is automatically a man, as if male is the default sex, as if male is normal and female is weird. That’s a bad, clumsy, confusing way to write, even if you’re indifferent to the politics of it. It’s his wife, it’s making a man invisible; it’s his his his he he he – throughout the book, every time.

There’s also of course the threadbare and suspect choice of “that his wife is cheating on him” with all its unpleasant undertones – that “his wife” is his property, that what she does is something done to him, that wives are probably sluts, all that. A good writer doesn’t do that. A good writer stops to think of an example that isn’t threadbare and loaded with nasty baggage. A good writer thinks more carefully about the words.

That’s why.

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

Posted in Notes and Comment Blog


Aug 9th, 2014 4:28 pm | By

Leo Igwe at the Global Humanist Conference with a couple of other great and useful humanists.

The other humanist is Hemley Gonzales of Responsible Charity, a humanist charity providing education to children in slum communities and villages in India and empowering women and men to overcome poverty.

And here he is with Peter Tatchell.

Photo: With Peter Tatchell in Oxford

I think y’all know who Peter is.

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

Posted in Notes and Comment Blog

When the I isn’t the I

Aug 9th, 2014 12:33 pm | By

I saw some friends on Twitter harshing on a story by Malcolm Gladwell in the Guardian, so I was curious enough to read it. I’m not a fan of Gladwell’s shtick, so I wanted to see if this was more reason to think he’s too pleased with himself.

But by the time I read the third paragraph, I smelled a rat. See what you think:

Many years ago I ruined a beautiful friendship, and it was over a song, which sounds like a strange thing to ruin a friendship over. And what makes it even stranger is that the song was sung with the utmost love and affection.

My friend’s name was Craig, and I met him at college. We both went to a place called Trinity at the University of Toronto, and it’s this weird little place.

We would wear long black academic gowns, and jackets and ties to all meals, and we would say Latin grace before we ate. We didn’t really have jocks because we weren’t large enough, and we didn’t really have a party culture because we were too nerdy for that. All we really ever did was sit around and make fun of each other. We did this to an extraordinary extent, and the person who was best at that game of making fun of everyone was my friend Craig.

Craig was this tall, incredibly handsome guy, and he had this extraordinary charisma. Women flocked to him. He was just this sort of legend with the ladies. He had this sense of humour that was something that I had never encountered before. And he really kind of led us like the Pied Piper.

That’s only the start of the third paragraph, but it’s the place where I put on the brakes and reread those first five sentences of the third paragraph.

Ok that’s not Gladwell talking as himself. Not possible. He writes for the New Yorker. He wouldn’t be writing for his local free weekly if that were his real way of writing. It’s a parody of some sort, with a highly unreliable narrator. Adults don’t write “this tall, incredibly handsome guy” and “he had this extraordinary charisma” right on top of each other like that. They don’t write it at all. The first person in this piece is not Malcolm Gladwell at all, just as Holden Caulfield wasn’t J D Salinger and Huckleberry Finn wasn’t Samuel Clemens.

It’s a story of the kind Ring Lardner was such a genius at, in which a rather horrible narrator reveals how horrible he (it usually was a he) is without ever realizing it himself.

I can’t say I think it’s very good, because it’s too unsubtle, but it at least isn’t bad in the sense that it reveals Gladwell to be like the narrator.

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

Posted in Notes and Comment Blog

More meetings

Aug 9th, 2014 11:57 am | By

The Bangladeshi atheist blogger Asif Mohiuddin received an award at the Global Humanist Conference today. He also met some people. He met Richard for instance.

I’ve been disagreeing with some of Richard’s Twitter-claims recently, but fair play – he gives much-needed moral support to people like Asif.

Asif also met Taslima and PZ in Blackwell’s.

A lot of excellent people gathered in one place.

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

Posted in Notes and Comment Blog

The methane bubbles were reaching the surface

Aug 9th, 2014 11:25 am | By

This is alarming.

This week, scientists made a disturbing discovery in the Arctic Ocean: They saw “vast methane plumes escaping from the seafloor,” as the Stockholm University put it in a release disclosing the observations. The plume of methane—a potent greenhouse gas that traps heat more powerfully than carbon dioxide, the chief driver of climate change—was unsettling to the scientists.

But it was even more unnerving to Dr. Jason Box, a widely published climatologist who had been following the expedition.

Dr. Jason Box’s view of the consequences “if even a small fraction of Arctic sea floor carbon is released to the atmosphere” is that we’re fucked. He’s an expert on the subject, and that’s his view of it. He tweeted that view of it.

I called the scientist at his office in Copenhagen, and he talked frankly and emphatically about the new threat, and about the specter of climate change in general. He also swore like a sailor, which I’ve often wondered how climatologists refrain from doing, given the urgency of the problem—it’s certainly an entirely accurate way to communicate the climate plight.

First of all, I asked Box if he stood by that tweet. He did. He’d revise it a bit, to include surface carbon—methane locked in the permafrost that’s also beginning to leak out—because if we loose enough of either, we’re in trouble.

“Even if a small fraction of the Arctic carbon were released to the atmosphere, we’re fucked,” he told me. What alarmed him was that “the methane bubbles were reaching the surface. That was something new in my survey of methane bubbles,” he said.

Hotter faster. Not good.

It’s especially worrying because the Arctic is warming faster than nearly anywhere else on Earth. Now, along with melting sea ice and thawing permafrost, we have to add to our list of ‘feedback loop’ concerns that warming Arctic oceans may be releasing fonts of methane. That is, the warmer the ocean gets, the more methane gets spewed out of those stores on the continental shelf, and the warmer the ocean gets, ad infinitum.

Ad infinitum doesn’t work for us. We didn’t evolve in ad infinitum. Not at all at all. We evolved in a particular climate, which is apparently being boiled away like water in a hot skillet. Humans won’t do well in a hot skillet.

“We’re on a trajectory to an unmanageable heating scenario, and we need to get off it,” he said. “We’re fucked at a certain point, right? It just becomes unmanageable. The climate dragon is being poked, and eventually the dragon becomes pissed off enough to trash the place.”

It was refreshing to hear a climatologist pull no punches, while still eloquently and accurately summarizing the science—even though an increasing number are becoming proactive, like the paleoclimatologist Dr. Michael Mann, and top climate scientist Dr. James Hansen, climate scientists are still learning how to engage the public in a manner that’s forceful and compelling. Like Dr. Hansen, Box has a deeply personal reason to sound the alarm.

“I may escape a lot of this,” he said, “but my daughter might not. She’s 3 years old.” Climate change may not destabilize the globe in our lifetime, or even his daughter’s—but the fact that feedback loops like methane release could rapidly accelerate the warming means that there’s a chance rapid climate transformation—and the social and economic catastrophes that would likely accompany it—could strike sooner.

Not good.

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

Posted in Notes and Comment Blog

There is no flagship

Aug 8th, 2014 3:53 pm | By

A factual claim made on the Internet that is not true. I wish to say how it’s not true.

It’s on a thread where there is a lot of bashing of Freethought blogs, much of it mendacious. This one for some reason particularly set off my SIWOTI response. The commenter is Scote.

 There’s also the (not unrelated) piñata that FtB is a monoculture, when there’s actually many different blogs varied in content and tone: PZ Myers

Monoculture? No. But FtB is invitation only and has a broad organizational ethos which the individual blogs have to fit to be invited to be a part of FtB. PZ’s blog is the flagship blog of the FtB brand, and thus for good or for ill, his blog sets the overall tone for the site.

No. It doesn’t. It isn’t, and it doesn’t. There is no “flagship blog” here, and there is no “overall tone for the site.” We operate independently. The different blogs are different, and we all work independently. We talk to each other, of course, but we don’t give or take orders.

I’d been writing this blog for nine years when I joined FTB. I set my own tone the first day I started writing. It remains my own.

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

Posted in Notes and Comment Blog

You need allies, you need supporters

Aug 8th, 2014 3:07 pm | By

Zoe Williams reports on the World Humanist Congress in the Guardian.

She had never thought secular society would need defending.

Yet, without having become any more religious, en masse, we find that state education has been handed over to any have-a-go Harry that feels up to it, which in a quarter of cases means religious people, and in a handful of cases, people like the advocates of Rudolf Steiner.

We have a new minister of state for faith and communities who talks about “militant atheism“. That doesn’t exist – if militant means anything at all distinct from “argumentative”, it means advocating violence, and when did you last hear an atheist advocating violence in the name of his or her belief?

I was unpersuaded, anyway, of the case for such a minister, particularly the way it conflates faith and community as though those concepts were indivisible. But now filled by Eric Pickles, the role really becomes a slap in the face to secularism.

Well so was Sayeeda Warsi. She went off to the Vatican, don’t forget, to have a chat with the pope about how to stomp out the menace of secularism.

I met Gulalai Ismail, who founded Aware Girls when she was 16 years old to forge somewhere that “young women can come together and they can speak for their rights. If we can’t speak for ourselves, nothing will change”.

She’s only 26 now, and the organisation has achieved monumental things – Malala Yousafzai is one of their activists. Ismail herself has had threats against her, and her family, from the start.

I’m Facebook friends with Gulalai. She’s marvelous. Aware Girls is an organization you could add to your list of good organizations to help.

I met Leo Igwe, a Nigerian campaigner fighting on two fronts – the Christian witch hunters on one side, the Boko Haram kidnappers on another – who has been physically attacked many times for his work. “Many people said, ‘Are you getting into witchcraft issues? You don’t want to live long.’

“It is taken to be a dangerous occupation. It is a minefield.” But if the vicious, perilous conditions under which many humanists are living make the irritation of Eric Pickles seem like small potatoes, then remember that it’s not a game of whist in which the person in the worst situation wins.

“When you are living in this situation,” Igwe says, “you need allies, you need supporters. You need people to say to you, ‘I love what you’re doing’.”

Indeed. It’s heartening to see Leo getting more of those.

There is a lot of optimism, not all of which I share. Ian Dunbar, 61, a physicist, said: “Actually, I think humanism is on the verge of a breakthrough. It only feels as though it’s under threat because faiths are hurting, and lashing out.”

Ultimately, though, I saw it much more as a call to arms than a reason to be cheerful. There has never been a more important time, if you are secular, to say so. Call to arms I mean metaphorically, by the way. Nobody take up any arms, OK?

But if we’re going to be called “militant” anyway…

Kidding, kidding.

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

Posted in Notes and Comment Blog

In Oxford

Aug 8th, 2014 1:01 pm | By

Taslima is at the World Humanist Congress in Oxford. You could do worse than take a look at her Twitter stream for happy news and pictures from the Sheldonian and nearby.

Like the view from her room:

Embedded image permalink

From my window. Look where I am staying now. A famous college at Oxford university. Founded in 1264.

Not bad eh?

And Taslima in the Sheldonian:

Embedded image permalink

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

Posted in Notes and Comment Blog

Deniz Firat was exceptional

Aug 8th, 2014 12:54 pm | By

Bad. I can’t find any sources in English yet, so I’ll have to use the one French one I saw. A Kurdish journalist, Deniz Firat, was killed by ISIS today during the fighting at Makhmur, 40 kilometers from Erbil.

Elle était très exceptionnelle, une femme militante et courageuse. Elle avait déjà perdu deux sœurs dans la lutte de la libération du peuple kurde.

L’agence de presse kurde Firat (ANF) a condamné cette attaque par des ennemis de l’humanité qui a couté la vie d’une journaliste, affirmant que Deniz Firat était sa principale source d’informations sur le front.

My rough translation, which anyone should feel free to correct:

She was exceptional, a brave activist woman. She had already lost two sisters in the struggle for the liberation of the Kurdish people.

The Kurdish press agency Firat has condemned this attack conducted by the enemies of humanity who have taken the life of a journalist, saying that Deniz Firat was their principle source of reports from the front.

That’s bad.

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

Posted in Notes and Comment Blog

Recreational harm-ranking

Aug 8th, 2014 11:40 am | By

What about the larger question of whether or not it’s any use to rank harms? Let’s consider that question.

Or maybe it will turn out that we don’t need to, because the answer is so obvious. Of course it is. Next question?

It’s bound to be part of our most basic equipment, isn’t it. It’s part of the basic equipment of most animals, isn’t it. You know the skittish way many animals drink at watering holes? That’s an animal ranking harms, isn’t it. “Thirsty as fuck; need to drink; but exposed here; maybe lions; keep alert, be ready to bolt.”

We humans, with our vastly sophisticated brains, get to use that for things like choosing between So You Think You Can Dance and Last Tango in Halifax. Is the harm of missing the first greater than the harm of missing the second, or is it the other way around?

In other words, we rank harms and benefits, bads and goods, all the time. We do it of necessity and we use the equipment provided to do it recreationally.

And we do it with regard to moral issues, which gets us closer to what we’ve been talking about. We do that all the time too. If a co-worker forgets to do something one time and that creates a nuisance for you, that’s one thing, while a co-worker who routinely forgets to do things and apparently just can’t be bothered to remember or create a system for reminders – that’s another thing.

We have to rank harms all the time, in order to know what to do about them. We need to know when to shrug off a harm and when to make an issue of it.

It’s a big part of child-rearing to teach children how to do this well, or at least competently. Humans probably never really do it well, because the dear self always magnifies harms done to the dear self while shrinking those done to strangers.

But then that’s a reason to be careful about Recreational Harm-ranking when the harms being ranked are ones that can’t be done to the dear self but can be done to other people. Notice I’m not saying never talk about it at all, I’m saying there’s a reason to be careful about it. It’s not a good look for gentiles, say, to minimize the harm of anti-Semitism. It’s easy to extrapolate from that example to others.

That’s an outline.

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

Posted in Notes and Comment Blog