Notes and Comment Blog

Our short and pithy observations on the passing scene as it relates to the mission of Butterflies and Wheels. Woolly-headed or razor-sharp comments in the media, anti-rationalist rhetoric in books or magazines or overheard on the bus, it’s all grist to our mill. And sometimes we will hold forth on the basis of no inspiration at all beyond what happens to occur to us.


Spellberg explains

Aug 9th, 2008 5:56 pm | By

Denise Spellberg clears things up. She didn’t ‘single-handedly stop the book’s publication’ – ah that’s good to know; she had help. She says.

Random House made its final decision based on the advice of other scholars, conveniently not named in the article, and based ultimately on its determination of corporate interests.

Ah yes! Quite! Those bastards – those capitalist bastards – they have corporate interests – so really it’s Random House that is the guilty party here, not a ‘scholar’ who sees fit to tell someone to ‘warn Muslims’ about a novel and to tell Random House that said novel is ”a declaration of war…a national security issue’. Well certainly Random House acted like chickenshits, but deploying the right-on anticorporate jargon won’t quite deflect attention from the excited intervention of Spellberg. It’s too late for that, pal.

As a historian invited to “comment” on the book by its Random House editor at the author’s express request, I objected strenuously to the claim that “The Jewel of Medina” was “extensively researched,” as stated on the book jacket.

Fine – and you could have said that – in the usual way. That’s not the issue.

The author and the press brought me into a process, and I used my scholarly expertise to assess the novel. It was in that same professional capacity that I felt it my duty to warn the press of the novel’s potential to provoke anger among some Muslims.

But you didn’t just warn the press, did you. You also told Shahed Amanullah ‘to warn Muslims’ – was it ‘in that same professional capacity’ that you tried to arouse the very anger you warned Random House about? What was your goal in urging Amanullah to ‘warn Muslims’ if it wasn’t to stir up anger? And what, precisely, is professional about that?

There is a long history of anti-Islamic polemic that uses sex and violence to attack the Prophet and his faith. This novel follows in that oft-trodden path, one first pioneered in medieval Christian writings.

So what? Is ‘anti-Islamic polemic’ illegal or self-evidently illegitimate in some way? Is it your professional duty to determine that? (If so, why?) If you think that’s unfortunate, you could have just said that in your comment, but that’s not the same thing as setting off alarms all over the place.

The novel provides no new reading of Aisha’s life, but actually expands upon provocative themes regarding Muhammad’s wives first found in an earlier novel by Salman Rushdie, “The Satanic Verses,” which I teach. I do not espouse censorship of any kind, but I do value my right to critique those who abuse the past without regard for its richness or resonance in the present.

Bullshit. You’re all over the place. So the novel expands on provocative themes via Rushdie – again, so what? Novelists do that; novelists are influenced by other novelists (I rather think Rushdie himself is influenced by other novelists, and would say as much if you asked him); novelists expand on themes; so what? And so you teach The Satanic Verses; big whoop; are we supposed to be impressed, after all this? And as for that last bit of self-serving crap – of course you espouse censorship of any kind! You’ve just been doing exactly that, so you can’t just say you don’t when everyone can see you do. And – you didn’t just critique the Jones book, did you. You know you didn’t. Come on – ‘professional’ bullshit isn’t going to salvage your reputation now.

If Ms. Nomani and readers of the Journal wish to allow literature to “move civilization forward,” then they should read a novel that gets history right.

No doubt, but again, that is not the issue. You didn’t write a review, or a critique, or a comment for the publishers; you did much more than that; so it’s no good pretending you were merely proffering some healthful literary advice.



Juxtaposition

Aug 8th, 2008 4:03 pm | By

From the Dakar Declaration of the 2008 OIC summit.

Our faith in such a strategic option for the quest for peace in that part of the world [Basra? No. Kashmir? No. Darfur? No.]…illustrates our strict adherence to the values of Islam, a religion of peace that forbids all forms of exclusivity and extremism and that warrants the following quotation “You have been made a Prophet only to restore peace in the world”, which is based on a verse from the Holy Quran.

From the report on Saudi textbooks.

A Muslim is forbidden to love and aid the unbelieving enemies of God…They are the people of the Sabbath, whose young people God turned into apes, and whose old people God turned into swine to punish them…Narrated by Abu Hurayrah: The Prophet said, The hour [of judgment] will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them. [It will not come] until the Jew hides behind rocks and trees. [It will not come] until the rocks or the trees say, ‘O Muslim! O servant of God! There is a Jew behind me. Come and kill him.’ Except for the gharqad, which is a tree of the Jews.”

A religion of peace that forbids all forms of exclusivity! As we see every day. You bet.



Some?

Aug 8th, 2008 11:41 am | By

And another thing. Thomas Perry of Random House said, we are told, that Random House received ‘cautionary advice’ that the publication of the Aisha novel ‘might be offensive to some in the Muslim community’ – he said this in partial explanation of Random House’s decision not to publish it. But that’s imbecilic. It’s beyond imbecilic – it’s deranged – it’s surreal – it’s self-nullifying. It is not possible to write anything that ‘might’ not be offensive to ‘some’ in the X ‘community.’ In fact it’s all but certain that anything anyone writes will be offensive to ‘some’ in some ‘community.’ The condition of writing and publication is not and cannot be and must not be not being potentially offensive to ‘some’ – because that condition would rule out everything. Every single thing. There would be nothing left. Life would be a desert. The only alternative to the risk of offending ‘some’ is complete nullity. That’s too high a price to pay. If we want to be able to think and talk and write at all – and we do – we have to take the risk of offending ‘some.’



Foul your own nest why don’t you

Aug 6th, 2008 5:04 pm | By

This one is so disgusting my teeth are chattering with rage – not quite literally, but it’s close. I feel as if my teeth were chattering with rage. What? A historian named Denise Spellberg was sent a novel about Aisha, the little girl Mo married when she was nine years old, and Spellberg decided she needed to get busy warning and threatening and silencing. And it worked.

Thomas Perry, deputy publisher at Random House Publishing Group, said that it “disturbs us that we feel we cannot publish it right now.” He said that after sending out advance copies of the novel, the company received “from credible and unrelated sources, cautionary advice not only that the publication of this book might be offensive to some in the Muslim community, but also that it could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment.”

Especially if conscientious determined people worked hard enough to get the incitement of violence started, which it looks as though they would have. We have seen this before. (And then been told the ensuing riots were the fault of the people who had the temerity to draw the cartoons, rather than the fault of the people who put in a lot of effort to get people worked up. I hope we never have to hear that kind of thing again.) (The reporter is a Muslim, by the way, and she is upset by this revolting mess.)

This time, the instigator of the trouble wasn’t a radical Muslim cleric, but an American academic. In April, looking for endorsements, Random House sent galleys to writers and scholars, including Denise Spellberg, an associate professor of Islamic history at the University of Texas in Austin. Ms. Jones put her on the list because she read Ms. Spellberg’s book, “Politics, Gender, and the Islamic Past: The Legacy of ‘A’isha Bint Abi Bakr.” But Ms. Spellberg wasn’t a fan of Ms. Jones’s book. On April 30, Shahed Amanullah, a guest lecturer in Ms. Spellberg’s classes and the editor of a popular Muslim Web site, got a frantic call from her. “She was upset,” Mr. Amanullah recalls. He says Ms. Spellberg told him the novel “made fun of Muslims and their history,” and asked him to warn Muslims.

To warn them? To warn them of what? A threat on their lives? An approaching hurricane? A tsunami? The melting Arctic? Hungry polar bears? Homeland Security? No, of course not. To warn them of a book – a novel – a novel that Spellberg didn’t like. Knowing the impressive history that ‘warned’ Muslims have of respecting the freedom of the press and the value of open discussion and debate, Spellberg asked her friend to ‘warn Muslims’ about a novel. This makes me very, very, very angry. This causes me to have dark thoughts about wishing the University of Texas at Austin would summarily fire Spellberg for her failure to understand the most basic principles of intellectual life. What business does someone like that have at a university? What business does she have writing books and teaching? What right does she have to set herself up as a censor of other people’s work?

In an interview, Ms. Spellberg told me the novel is a “very ugly, stupid piece of work.” The novel, for example, includes a scene on the night when Muhammad consummated his marriage with Aisha: “the pain of consummation soon melted away. Muhammad was so gentle. I hardly felt the scorpion’s sting. To be in his arms, skin to skin, was the bliss I had longed for all my life*.” Says Ms. Spellberg…”I don’t have a problem with historical fiction. I do have a problem with the deliberate misinterpretation of history. You can’t play with a sacred history and turn it into soft core pornography.”

Who says you can’t? Under what jurisdiction can’t you? And who the hell assigned Denise Spellberg to decide? What on earth makes her think she has the right to shut down someone else’s book? Who (to be obvious about it) does she think she is?

Jane Garrett, an editor at Random House’s Knopf imprint, dispatched an email on May 1 to Knopf executives, telling them she got a phone call the evening before from Ms. Spellberg (who happens to be under contract with Knopf to write “Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an.”) “She thinks there is a very real possibility of major danger for the building and staff and widespread violence,” Ms. Garrett wrote. “Denise says it is ‘a declaration of war…explosive stuff…a national security issue.’ Thinks it will be far more controversial than the satanic verses and the Danish cartoons. Does not know if the author and Ballantine folks are clueless or calculating, but thinks the book should be withdrawn ASAP.”

She thinks there is a very real possibility because she herself has been busy trying to foment the possibility. That takes some brass-plated nerve.

I’d like to see her summarily fired, and I’d like to see Knopf withdraw that contract. I’d like to see her disgraced, shamed, an outcast. I’d like to see her have to get a job at a chicken-rendering plant in Odessa. At the very least I’d like to see her name become mud, which, judging by Google blog search, it’s well on the way to doing.

Denise Spellberg, self-appointed censor and destroyer of books: you should be embarrassed at yourself. You should go into a very different line of work, right away – you should not be allowed anywhere near students, and you should never get another book or article published.

*As mediwatchwatch said, all nine years of it.

P.S. Note that the last bit is a pious hope. I’m not telephoning people to urge them to fire Spellberg (much as I’d like to) or to decide not to publish her book (even more as I’d like to). I’m merely expressing a cherished dream. I’m a fantasist, not a censor. Unlike some people I could mention.



Adios freedom of speech

Aug 5th, 2008 3:02 pm | By

Well at least someone is paying attention.

Pakistan and the other nations that have banded together in the Organization of the Islamic Conference have been leading a remarkably successful campaign through the United Nations to enshrine in international law prohibitions against “defamation of religions,” particularly Islam. Their aim is to empower governments around the world to punish anyone who commits the “heinous act” of defaming Islam. Critics say it is an attempt to globalize laws against blasphemy that exist in some Muslim countries — and that the movement has already succeeded in suppressing open discussion in international forums of issues such as female genital mutilation, honour killings and gay rights.

Quite. David Littman is one of those critics. He tells me that no one is talking about this, because it’s taboo. I knew hardly anyone was talking about it, from trying to find people talking about it. People should be talking about this, if they want to go on talking about other things without having to ask the OIC for permission. People should be talking about this and shouting their heads off about it so that nothing will come of it.

The trend has rights advocates worried for numerous reasons, beginning with the language used. If the notion of “defaming” a religion sounds a little unfamiliar, that’s because it is a major departure from the traditional understanding of what defamation means. Defamation laws traditionally protect individual people from being materially harmed by the dissemination of falsehoods. But “defamation of religions” is not about protecting individual believers from damage to their reputations caused by false statements — but rather about protecting a religion, or some interpretation of it, or the feelings of the followers. While a traditional defence in a defamation lawsuit is that the accused was merely telling the truth, religions by definition present competing claims on the truth, and one person’s religious truth is easily another’s apostasy. “Truth” is no defence in such cases. The subjective perception of insult is what matters, and what puts the whole approach on a collision course with the human rights regime — especially in countries with an official state religion.

If the right to free speech can be trumped by a subjective perception of insult, then there is no right to free speech. That’s it. All over. (Just ask Taslima Nasreen, to name only one.)

Susan Bunn Livingstone, a former U.S. State Department official who specialized in human rights issues and also spoke to the July 18 congressional gathering, said the developments at the UN are worrisome. “They are trying to internationalize the concept of blasphemy,” said Livingstone at the panel. She contrasted “the concept of injuring feelings versus what is actually happening on the ground — torture, imprisonment, abuse.” And, she added, “They are using this discourse of ‘defamation’ to carve out any attention we would bring to a country. Abstractions like states and ideologies and religions are seen as more important than individuals. This is a moral failure.”

A moral failure and also a gutting of the whole concept of human rights. Rights are for individuals, who can experience and suffer and feel and think; they’re not for states and ideologies and religions, which cannot suffer or feel anything at all. The whole idea is an absolute nightmare.

The fact that the resolutions keep passing, and that UN officials now monitor countries’ compliance, could help the concept of “defamation of religions” become an international legal norm, said Livingstone, noting that when the International Court of Justice at The Hague decides what rises to the level of an “international customary law,” it looks not to unanimity among countries but to “general adherence.” “That’s why these UN resolutions are so troubling,” she said. “They’ve been passed for 10 years.”

Well – that scares the hell out of me.

In March, the [OIC] held a summit in Dakar, Senegal. Their final communiqué ran 52 pages and included a comprehensive strategy on human rights that featured a plan to shield Islamic states from being pressured to change their more contentious practices through international human rights laws and organizations. The conference expressed “deep concern over attempts to exploit the issue of human rights to discredit the principles and provisions of Islamic sharia and to interfere in the affairs of Muslim states.” It also called for “abstaining from using the universality of human rights as a pretext to interfere in the internal affairs of states and undermining their national sovereignty.” The states also resolved to coordinate and co-operate “in the field of human rights particularly in the relevant international fora to face any attempt to use human rights as a means of political pressure on any member state.”

Oh did it. How impressive.



They meant no harm, they’re just a little highspirited

Aug 4th, 2008 5:48 pm | By

‘Animal rights activists’ apparently firebombed a house where a biologist lives with his family at dawn on Saturday.

Feldheim, whose townhouse was firebombed just after 5:30 a.m., uses mice in laboratory research on brain formation. He told The Chronicle that he and his wife, along with their 7-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter, had to drop a ladder from the window of a second-floor bedroom to escape after smoke filled the home’s first floor.

So…they could easily have been killed or seriously injured. Rather a rough form of ‘activism’ then.

In January, a Molotov cocktail exploded on a UCLA researcher’s porch. A month later, six people in masks tried to force their way into the home of a UC Santa Cruz researcher and hit her husband on the head, police said. And at UC Berkeley, officials said 24 animal researchers and seven staffers have been harassed in recent months, with some homes and cars vandalized.

But don’t fret – they’re just trying to send a message. Jerry Vlasak says so.

A different view was expressed today by Jerry Vlasak, a Los Angeles spokesman for the North American Animal Liberation Press Office, which often posts on its Web site communiques from activists taking credit for attacks. He said the benefit of animal research does not justify its expense or the exploitation of animals. Vlasak said the bombers likely were not trying to hurt Feldheim, but were instead “trying to send a message to this guy, who won’t listen to reason, that if he doesn’t stop hurting animals, more drastic measures will be taken … it’s certainly not an initial tactic, but a tactic of last resort.”

‘The bombers likely were not trying to hurt Feldheim’ – when they firebombed his house at 5:30 in the morning when everyone would be asleep in bed? They likely were not trying to hurt him? They were trying to send a message? Jeezis. If you’re going to support bombers, then be honest about it – don’t support them and pretend to think they’re not trying to hurt anyone when they fling firebombs around the neighbourhood. Your pals are not merely trying to send a message, Mr Vlasak.



Don’t let us interrupt you

Aug 3rd, 2008 10:53 am | By

I keep saying the Free Exercise clause is like an unexploded bomb.

Laura Schubert Pearson’s lawsuit accusing members of the Pleasant Glade Assembly of God Church of subjecting her to a two-day exorcism ordeal in 1996 that left her so distressed she attempted suicide was dismissed by the Texas Supreme Court last month. The judges overturned a lower court’s decision awarding her damages and ruled that because Mrs Schubert Pearson’s claims of injury amounted to a religious dispute over church doctrine it would be “unconstitutional” for the court to get involved.

Interesting. So if you’re tortured within the walls of a church it’s all copacetic because that there’s your free exercise of religion? And that’s the case even if you’re not even an adult at the time? Well, splendid.

So ‘Rev’ Anthony Hopkins (no not the Welsh actor) should just say he was exorcising demons and that’s how his wife ended up dead in the freezer after she discovered he’d been raping some of their children: that way he’ll be able to leave prison and go back to part-time preaching. Amen.



Shocking win for Stephen Green

Aug 2nd, 2008 5:16 pm | By

Do we want ‘Christian Voice’ telling newspapers what they can publish? No, we damn well don’t. We don’t trust ‘Christian Voice’ to choose wisely; we prefer to take our chances with competent newspaper editors rather than with puffed-up publicity-seeking tiny-minded religious zealots.

See the South Wales Echo grovel:

It has come to our attention that in an article on Wednesday, July 16, headlined ‘If God considers gays and abomination why did he create them?’, our columnist Dan O’Neill offended a number of Christians. We would like to apologise for any offence caused to those people who believe the article insulted the Christian faith, Jesus Christ and the Holy Bible.

Well how sickening. Why would they like to apologize? Any columnist is bound to offend a certain percentage of readers. One who is determinedly bland and boring in order not to offend anyone simply offends all the people who don’t like bland boring writing. It’s no good trying to put out a newspaper that won’t offend anyone! 1. it can’t be done, and 2. it damn well shouldn’t be done. And it certainly shouldn’t be done when what is supposed to have been ‘insulted’ is ‘the Christian faith, Jesus Christ and the Holy Bible.’ They can all take care of themselves, one way or another.

Andy Armitage provides the offending passage at Pink Triangle. The columnist was musing on what Stephen Green (Mr ‘Christian Voice’ himself, the dweeb) would have made of that weird Jesus guy:

This Jesus feller swans around all day with a dozen other blokes. No women. Mark that, no women. And he wanders off into the mountains now and again to spend quality time with his, uh, favourites (Mark.9:2). He picks up small boys and girls and puts his hands upon them (Mark 10:16) And he was seen in a garden when one of his mates came up and kissed him (Matthew,26:48). Suspicious, eh?

The point is that Green is a tool, not that Jesus is a child-groper, so what does Green do but act like a tool again. But the Echo simply jumped when Green said jump. We should all get together and go stand around the Echo’s offices complaining about how offended we are. You too, Mediawatchwatch.

The Freethinker set up a petition. I posted it on Facebook as well as in News, but there are only ten more signatures so far. Go on, fill it up, do us proud – and do the Echo embarrassed.



Oh no, not that

Aug 1st, 2008 5:59 pm | By

You spotted the irony, I trust?

Once again, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice misses its goals…The latest action from the commission is to ban the sale of cats and dogs in Riyadh. According to Al-Hayat newspaper, the reason behind the ban is a fatwa and the reason behind the fatwa is that some young men take dogs out into the street and use them to annoy families; the fatwa also points out that the ban aims to preserve public morals.

Because dogs like to shove their noses unceremoniously into people’s crotches, and cats probably would if they were tall enough. But no, that’s not the irony.

A person can in fact use anything to harass people — mobile phones, the lights of his car, or loud music coming from his car. So are we going to ban the use of mobile phones in public? Or will we wake tomorrow to the news that young men are no longer allowed to drive in public areas? All I am asking for is some logic and reasonable thinking.

That’s the irony. Shock-horror, will we wake tomorrow to the news that young men are no longer allowed to drive in public areas? Good heavens no, but you’ve already woken up to the news that all women are not allowed to drive in public areas. The reductio ad absurdum has already happened, so it seems a little…unobservant to balk at a hypothetical restraint on young men when the same restraint is already in place on all women. But then living in Saudi Arabia probably does make it quite difficult to Spot the Absurdity.



Teach the children well

Aug 1st, 2008 1:14 am | By

Did you have a look at the report on Saudi textbooks? It’s horrible, horrible stuff. It’s sickening to read. You feel despair that there are people in the world going about things in this way, ‘teaching’ children in this way. You feel disgusted with human beings.

A 2005-2006 Fourth Grade textbook on Monotheism and Jurisprudence instructs students to “hate (tubghida) the polytheists and the infidels” as a requirement of “true faith.” Incongruously, the same sentence instructs that they are not to treat the infidels “unjustly,” but does not provide any clarification of what this meant.

“ Is belief true in the following instances?

a. A man prays but hates those who are virtuous.
b. A man professes that there is no deity other than God but loves the infidels.
c. A man worships God alone, loves the believers, and hates the infidels.”

The only right answer is ‘c’ – you have to hate the infidels.

“A Muslim is forbidden to love and aid the unbelieving enemies of God…They are the people of the Sabbath, whose young people God turned into apes, and whose old people God turned into swine to punish them. As cited in Ibn Abbas: The apes are Jews, the keepers of the Sabbath; while the swine are the Christian infidels of the communion of Jesus…They are the Jews, whom God has cursed and with whom He is so angry that He will never again be satisfied [with them].

That’s 8th grade. Then in 9th grade -

“Narrated by Abu Hurayrah: The Prophet said, The hour [of judgment] will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them. [It will not come] until the Jew hides behind rocks and trees. [It will not come] until the rocks or the trees say, ‘O Muslim! O servant of God! There is a Jew behind me. Come and kill him.’ Except for the gharqad, which is a tree of the Jews.”

This is Saudi Arabia – our ‘ally’ – with whom we are told we ‘share values.’ It’s enough to make you sick.



The Catholic constitution

Jul 30th, 2008 12:04 pm | By

‘The Confraternity of Catholic Clergy’ attempts to throw its weight around.

The Confraternity of Catholic Clergy (a national association of 600 priests & deacons) respond to the sacrilegious and blasphemous desecration of the Holy Eucharist by asking for public reparation…We find the actions of University of Minnesota (Morris) Professor Paul Myers reprehensible, inexcusable, and unconstitutional. His flagrant display of irreverence by profaning a consecrated Host from a Catholic church goes beyond the limit of academic freedom and free speech.

Unconstitutional? How’s that?

The same Bill of Rights which protect freedom of speech also protect freedom of religion. The Founding Fathers did not envision a freedom FROM religion, rather a freedom OF religion.

Clever; we’ve never heard that before. But however fresh and original, it’s still stupid and wrong. Freedom of religion of course does include freedom from religion. Freedom of religion necessarily includes the freedom to say No to all the choices on offer; it even includes the freedom to say No to any possible choices. If it doesn’t it isn’t freedom of religion, it’s freedom among religions, which is a much smaller and pettier freedom.

In other words, our nation’s constitution protects the rights of ALL religions, not one and not just a few. Attacking the most sacred elements of a religion is not free speech anymore than would be perjury in a court or libel in a newspaper.

No; wrong again. Our nation’s constitution does not protect the rights of religions. Religions don’t have rights; rights are not things ascribed to abstractions or institutions, they are ascribed to people or people and other sentient beings (animals). Rights are connected to the ability to experience something. Religions don’t have rights. Individual believers have rights; religions do not. And as for the second sentence – that’s just a flat-out absurdity. It’s simply obviously not true. Clearly the priests would like it to be true, but it isn’t true, because the US is not a Catholic dictatorship.

[P]ublicly burning copies of the Christian Bible or the Muslim Koran, especially by a faculty member of a public university, are just as heinous and just as unconstitutional.

No. These guys just can’t get their facts right. Burning copies of the Bible or the Koran is not unconstitutional. It just isn’t.

Individual freedoms are limited by the boundaries created by the inalienable rights of others. The freedom of religion means that no one has the right to attack, malign or grossly offend a faith tradition they personally do not have membership or ascribe allegiance.

Oh, godalmighty…These poor schmucks are so delusional. No, no, no, you saps, the freedom of religion does not mean that no one has the right to ‘malign or grossly offend a faith tradition’ unless they belong to it. Jeezis. I, for one, have the right to malign your horrible faith tradition, that does its best to prevent women from being able to limit how many children they have, that does its best to prevent men from wearing condoms during a raging pandemic of a lethal STD. We all have that right. And people like you telling us we don’t just motivates us to exercise that right all the more. If you stopped trying to force everyone to genuflect to your particular piety, we wouldn’t take the time to play with crackers. But as it is – well gee, bring out the Cheez-whiz.



No dogs or atheists allowed

Jul 29th, 2008 3:34 pm | By

Moving on, from the sadistic to the ridiculous – Birmingham Council won’t let its staff read atheist websites. (So can Birmingham Council staffers read B&W? I wonder. I know B&W is banned in Iran [yes, I am proud of that, and so would you be, so quit staring] so perhaps its Bluecoat Software can detect heterodoxy just as well as Iran can. I’d love to know.)

The rules also ban sites that promote witchcraft, the paranormal, sexual deviancy and criminal activity…The authority’s Bluecoat Software computer system allows staff to look at websites relating to Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and other religions but blocks sites to do with “witchcraft or Satanism” and “occult practices, atheistic views, voodoo rituals or any other form of mysticism”.

Gee, thanks. Criminal activities, Satanism, voodoo rituals – and atheism. And then people wonder why atheists get a little crabby now and then.

(Thanks to Roger Lancefield for pointing this out.)



Take a cold shower

Jul 29th, 2008 3:14 pm | By

Next up we have an Archbishop in the Philippines saying why contraception is such a bad terrible wicked thing.

Archbishop Lagdameo argued the bill would not solve the problems of population growth but would only undermine the dignity of marriage and endanger women. He said that artificial contraceptives cause physical and psychological harm to women.

Whereas having children that they don’t want to have causes no physical and psychological harm to women at all, good heavens no. Women are invariably better off if they are forced to produce as many children as they can churn out, no matter how poor they are, no matter how much they might prefer to have one child or two children that they could hope to feed well and educate well rather than five or ten or fifteen that they couldn’t, no matter how desperately they want to do well by a small number of children rather than hopelessly badly by an unmanageable number – no no, that is all an illusion, god knows better and Archbishop Lagdameo knows better and the pope knows better; they all know that really – despite appearances – all those emaciated malaria-ridden illiterate children and their exhausted despairing frustrated parents with their demolished hopes are a far better outcome than a smaller number of healthier educated children. Of course. Because – um – god will provide. As we have seen. There are no starving malaria-ridden illiterate children really – god swoops in at the last minute and makes everything come out all right for them. Archbishop Lagdameo hands out popsicles and college scholarships and everyone has a good laugh and the dog has puppies and roll credits.

Archbishop of Manila Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, addressing the crowd after the Mass, said couples should instead practice sexual self-control.

Why? Why, you miserable shits? Why, when there are ways to have and enjoy sex and prevent conception, should they spurn the harmless technology and practice sexual self-control instead? What is the point?

There is no point. It’s just control-freakery, it’s just pushing people around and making them be miserable for the sake of it. Either do without sex despite being married, or have four times as many children as you can care for properly, or burn in hell for eternity. Why? Because.

Why does this kind of thing get me so riled? Because it’s so hateful. It’s so careful not to be about what is actually good and beneficial for people, it is so careful not to take that into account, or to take it into account only to do the opposite. Because these god-huggers have power, believers listen to them, and the bastards use it to make people worse off. And they do it with a glow of self-righteousness, too. They should be squirming with shame.



Constitutional pharmacology

Jul 29th, 2008 2:52 pm | By

More bullshit from the Catholic News Agency.

Colorado for Equal Rights, an organization backing a measure on the Colorado ballot that would define a person in the state’s Constitution as “any human being from the moment of fertilization,” has released a list of over 70 physicians and pharmacists from around the United States who agree that a person includes any human from the moment of conception.

‘Any human being from the moment of fertilization’…That’s an interesting idea: a microscopic fertilized egg is a human being and a person, even though of course…it isn’t. Let’s define everything that way. A daffodil bulb is a daffodil. A swallow’s egg is a swallow. A caterpillar is a butterfly. A truckload of boards is a house. A bowl of batter is a chocolate cake. Milk is yogurt. Grapes are wine. Yee-ha. Let’s just ignore process, and time, and development, and change, and decide that everything is already what it could become if all the conditions are right for it to become that thing (which will mean some things will be more than one thing, which will be confusing, but no matter), and forget all these bogus distinctions between what is the case now and what will be the case in many days or months or years if a particular process occurs. Let’s just define things any old how we want to. Why not? This is a democracy, god damn it.

It’s a democracy, but it’s a democracy with professionals in it, and more than 70 (that’s a lot) medical professionals ‘agree’ that a person includes any human from the moment of conception. Which is helpful, because it’s a medical and pharmaceutical question. Isn’t it? But then if it is, why could they manage only 70? They could probably get more than 70 physicians and pharmacists to agree that antibiotics are worse than useless for viruses, so if they could get only 70 for this…Hmmwell maybe that doesn’t actually mean much of anything.

“We are honored to have received these endorsements from such respected physicians,” stated Kristi Burton, head of Colorado for Equal Rights. “Science clearly proves that life begins at the time of fertilization. We are secure in the fact that we have science and reason on our side, and we are pleased to have the medical community supporting our efforts.”

Life? What’s life got to do with it? You didn’t say life, you said person. What are we talking about here?

Really; what are we talking about here? Life is the wrong criterion; life is completely beside the point on this issue. Life is everywhere; lots and lots of things are alive; we don’t preserve everything that’s alive. Dandelions; mildew; bacteria; viruses; fleas; chickens; beans. The dispute isn’t about whether or not the fertilized egg is alive. Start over.



What’s the difference?

Jul 28th, 2008 12:15 pm | By

The Cairo Declaration differs sharply from the Universal Declaration overall in its emphatic rejection of universalism, in rejecting the UD’s ‘without exception’ in favour of firm, decided exceptions. In the detail, the CD differs from the UD in its avoidance of clarity, precision and openness and hence accountability and reliability. The Cairo Declaration injects exceptions into its concept of human rights, without spelling out exactly what they entail; this introduces a whole new element of doubt, uncertainty and fear into what is supposed to be a human rights document. Worse, it presents itself as a human rights document (of sorts) when in fact it puts anyone who subscribes to it in the position of (perhaps unknowingly) endorsing laws, restrictions and punishments that are human rights violations rather than human rights.

The raison d’être of the Cairo Declaration is the idea that the Universal Declaration is not in fact universal – that it is ‘Western’ and Judeo-Christian, that it does not work for non-Western cultures, that it ‘could not be implemented by Muslims,’ in the words of the Iranian representative to the UN. So by comparing the two and finding how they differ it is possible to figure out what – in the view of the people who drew up the Cairo Declaration and those who signed on to it, at least – can be ‘implemented by Muslims.’

We find out, generally, via Articles 24 and 25, that all rights are subject to Sharia, and via the Cairo Declaration as a whole, we find out that the authors are willing to make human rights subordinate to Sharia without ever spelling out what that could mean, what it presumably means, what in many countries governed by Sharia it in fact does mean. The Cairo Declaration doesn’t mention stoning to death for adultery, or the death penalty for apostasy, or forced marriage, or child marriage, or guardian laws, or laws forbidding women to travel, work, or go to school without male permission. The Cairo Declaration rejects the Universal Declaration, and stands out for its own version of human rights, yet it does it in a secretive way.

In fact it is difficult not to conclude that the authors of the Cairo Declaration did not start with first principles and attempt to create the best human rights document they could, but rather that they started with existing regimes and legal codes in existing majority-Muslim countries, and then wrote the Cairo Declaration so that it would match the existing laws – adding 24 and 25 at the end in case they’d left anything out. This is bad enough, and the fact that this is done without transparency makes it even worse. The Cairo Declaration takes a declaration of rights that is, deliberately, as clear and open and explicit as possible, and renders it vague instead of precise, obscure instead of clear, tacit instead of explicit. It injects an element – a large element – of uncertainty, blurring, non-precision, danger, threat; in article after article, it merely invokes Sharia without saying what that means. With the Universal Declaration we know where we are and with the Cairo Declaration we don’t – the rights are limited, and in ways that are not specified or spelled out. The Universal Declaration is both general and specific; the Cairo Declaration is particular where the Universal Declaration is general and vague where the UD is precise.

The result is that the Cairo Declaration does away with the transparency, clarity, and specificity and hence the accountability and also the confidence. With the Universal Declaration it is easy to understand what is meant. With the Cairo Declaration, repeatedly, there is a trap door: an impossibility of knowing what is meant. We go from open, clear, spelled out intentions, which are clearly meant to maximize the well-being of all people, without exceptions, to secretive, cryptic, frightening stipulations whose benevolence is by no means clear.



Cheap at twice the price

Jul 26th, 2008 4:02 pm | By

A Vatican spokesman in the shape of a priest (a celibate male, in other words) called the open letter to the pope ‘paid propaganda to promote the use of contraceptives’. Well, yes: it was paid in the sense that it was a paid advertisement in the Corriere della Sera and it was propaganda in the sense that it was an attempt at persuasion – but nevertheless calling it that is 1. somewhat tendentious and 2. a bad joke coming from the not exactly unpaid Vatican which spends quite a lot of time and effort on its own propaganda, well backed up with commands which are in turn backed up with threats of excommunication and burning in hell for eternity. And then, ‘Father’ Federico Lombardi isn’t going to have to live with the consequences of any unwanted pregnancy or any sexually transmitted disease that comes into being as a result of the Vatican’s paid propaganda to forbid the use of contraceptives – unless of course he’s a celibate priest in name only. Either way there is and always has been something very repellent about the Vatican’s passion to impose conditions on other people that it is itself exempt from. It is of course a great deal more repellent that the Vatican is so irresponsible about this – that it insists on pretending to think that an invented theological scruple about contraception is worth imposing involuntary childbirth and childrearing on millions upon millions of women all over the planet. The disproportion there is disgusting. Does the Vatican even stop to think, to name just one obvious item, of the parents who have to see their children die of starvation or malnutrition or malaria or diarrhea or other childhood diseases because the parents have more children than they can raise in healthy conditions? If it does, it doesn’t act on the thinking. The Vatican is an arbitrary authoritarian heedless callous essentially frivolous outfit that preens itself on bogus moral scruples while causing real (and appalling) suffering on poor people in their millions. The Vatican has a nerve, and so does its spokesman.

“First and foremost,” said Fr. Lombardi, “the authors are a part of a number of groups that are well known for their dissenting positions which are not limited to the mere teaching of marital morality but are also concerned with many other subjects (for instance the ordination of women) and that therefore for some time have been against the Magisterium of the Church.”

Yeah. And for good reason. The ordination of men-only just perpetuates this arrangement where unmarried men impose absurd laws on women while remaining immune themselves. The ‘Magisterium of the Church’ is a racket, and a sadistic one at that.

Above all, the Vatican’s spokesman highlighted that the letter “does not remotely broach the true issue that is at the heart of the Humanae Vitae, i.e. the connection among the human and spiritual relation between husband and wife, the practice of sexuality as its expression, and its fecundity.” In the “letter,” pointed out Fr. Lombardi, “the word ‘love’ never appears. It seems the groups that wrote the letter are not interested in it at all. It seems the only hope of the couples and the world lies in contraception alone.”

What true issue? What true issue is that? What about its ‘fecundity’? What makes you think the Vatican is interested in ‘love’? What makes you think ordering people to risk pregnancy every time they have sex somehow produces more ‘love’ in the world? What makes you think it doesn’t work exactly the other way? Why do you skate right past the obvious likelihood that an intentional pregnancy is much more likely to lead to a loved child than an inadvertent one is? Anyone would think that the Vatican had never heard there are incompetent or unkind parents in the world, and that it’s safer to improve the odds than it is to worsen them.

After all, concluded Lombardi, “it’s clear it is not an article that expresses a theological or moral position, it is paid propaganda to promote the use of contraceptives. One should also wonder who paid for it and why.”

Okay – and who paid for Lombardi? And why?



Universal or selective?

Jul 23rd, 2008 5:34 pm | By

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) begins with a preamble, the first clause of which says

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

The Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam (CDHRI) also begins with a preamble; its first clause is quite different:

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

We are in different worlds already. The UDHR, because it is universal and because the universality is the whole point, does not carve up the human family into nations or religions, while the CDHRI does exactly that from the very beginning. The UDHR starts with the rights of all human beings, the CDHRI starts with the superiority of the Islamic Ummah. In short the CDHRI subverts the entire purpose of the UDHR in its very first words.

The UDHR preamble’s second clause makes clear why the universality and equality of rights are so important and why the invocation of the superiority of a particular community is so sharply – so pointedly, even wickedly – at odds with the purpose of the UDHR.

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind…

The UDHR was drawn up in the aftermath of World War II and the Nazi genocide. The human rights in question had to be universal in order to address ‘barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind’; if the human rights are particular then we’re right back where we started, committing barbarous acts against people who are not members of ‘the best nation.’ So with the CDHRI we’re right back where we started.



How special

Jul 22nd, 2008 3:30 pm | By

And then there’s Prince Charles’s surprise colleague.

Captured war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic was living in Serbia’s capital Belgrade and practising alternative medicine, Serb officials say. He was sporting a long white beard…

Good good; glad he looked the part. And so appropriate…’alternative medicine’ – yes that’s one of those ironic euphemisms that murdering bastards go in for, isn’t it, like Sonderbehandlung. Killing people wholesale is special handling all right, and it’s also alternative medicine, very alternative indeed. Very droll, Rado.

“He was involved with alternative medicine, earning his money from practising alternative medicine… he was working in a private practice.”…He even gave public lectures and was a regular contributor to Healthy Life magazine, editor Goran Kojic said.

Okay that’s carrying irony a little too far. There is such a thing as good taste.



Allah stop playing with your food

Jul 22nd, 2008 2:59 pm | By

Let’s see – fish? Check. Barrel? Check. Shooter? Check.

But what else can I do?

Diners have been flocking to a restaurant in northern Nigeria to see pieces of meat which the owner says are inscribed with the name of Allah. What looks like the Arabic word for God and the name of the prophet Muhammad were discovered in pieces of beef by a diner in Birnin Kebbi. He was about to eat it, when he suddenly noticed the words in the gristle, the restaurant owner said.

Ah, in the gristle – that’s a nice touch. I remember gristle from my childhood – I was always spitting it out, and having to be instructed in the polite way to remove gristle from the mouth and leave it daintily on the edge of the plate. Funny that Allah chose the gristle instead of the nice chewable meat. Maybe it was a precaution against being accidentally or blasphemously eaten. Imagine the horror if some apostate or kafir in Birnin Kebbi spotted the name and just went ‘Ha, Allah’s name, yum yum,’ and gobbled it down with some horseradish. Thinks of everything, that Allah. Well, everything except a slightly more exciting or in the public eye place to do his gristle-signing.

The meat was boiled and then fried before being served, owner Kabiru Haliru told newspaper Weekly Trust. “When the writings were discovered there were some Islamic scholars who come and eat here and they all commented that it was a sign to show that Islam is the only true religion for mankind,” he said.

Ah yes, quite right too. Of course it was! Because what else would Allah do to give a sign to show that Islam is the only true religion for mankind? Write his name in letters of fire across the night sky, high enough and large enough for a whole hemisphere to read? Send his only begotten daughter to be tortured to death? Dictate another really boring book about camels and finance? Pick up the Chrysler building and move it to Ponca City Oklahoma? Issue the 11th commandment, forbidding people to wear their baseball caps backward? Of course not. The only sensible way to give a sign to show that Islam is the only true religion for mankind is to write your name and your prophet’s name on three pieces of meat the gristle thereof in the kitchen of a restaurant in Birnin Kebbi, Nigeria.

A vet told the newspaper the words “defied scientific explanation”. “Supposing only one piece of meat was found then it would be suspicious, but given the circumstances there is no explanation,” Dr Yakubu Dominic said.

Absolutely. You have only to look at the accompanying illustration to see that. There are some random bumps in the meat; that defies scientific explanation all right. I’m thinking of converting. The apostasy thing is a bit of a discourager though; I do like being allowed to change my mind about things.

(It’s thoughtful of the BBC to provide a list of other inexplicable signings and sightings. Message from Allah in tomato; thief steals Nun Bun; miracle chapati. Hours of fun for the whole family.)



Defining terms

Jul 21st, 2008 11:07 am | By

That unrepentant one has thought deeply and then pronounced. He has expanded on the elegant brevity of ‘How appropriate that a smug, shitty, rightwing publication like “Butterflies and Wheels” shares the name of a sentence in a book that is key to the plot of an idiotic movie like “Shattered”‘; he has explained what is shitty (smug and rightwing we can figure out for ourselves) about B&W.

[A] fountainhead of Islamophobia…There is the usual defense of the Danish Mohammad cartoons, etc. There are attacks on other religions as well…

So maybe ‘Islamophobia’ is a little inaccurate? Never mind.

In addition to religion, the website mounts attacks on multiculturalism…Kenan Malik, a Spiked Online regular, seems to be a designated hitter when it comes to such matters.

No. Kenan’s an occasional contributor, I’m pleased to say, but there are plenty of other contributors who are skeptical about multiculturalism, as well as plenty of other contributors who write about other things. There are no ‘designated hitters’ around here.

This clever phrase is just the sort of thing you can find on New Criterion, a magazine edited by the neoconservative Hilton Cramer or any other rightwing standard bearer in the “culture wars”.

Ah yes! And therefore they are all the same kind of thing, and no further thought or investigation is required.

It took about five years to figure out that things were not so simple.

Ah did it. Imagine my surprise.

The B&W website is not particularly concerned with such issues, preferring to bash religion rather than environmentalism. There is one exception, however. They do seem to get worked into a lather when it comes to the animal rights movement, which they obviously consider an impudent assault on the absolute rights of Scientific Research. They have taken up the cause of Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS), a company that has been the target of the Animal Liberation Front.

Funny the way he makes a plural of everything, as if nothing were signed around here. Who’s this ‘they’? He’s obviously referring to my republished article on the ALF, which wasn’t written by ‘them,’ it was written by me. And it’s not about ‘taking up the cause’ of HLS, it’s about questioning the tactics and morals of the ALF. Different thing. I don’t think there is such a thing as the absolute rights of scientific research, and I certainly don’t think animal research should be beyond question and protest. But it doesn’t follow from that that the ALF is without flaw.

I would not be surprised to discover that B&W gets some funding from Huntington and other such animal torturers.

Oh, wouldn’t you? Well I would! I would be surprised to discover that B&W gets funding from anywhere at all. B&W gets zero funding of any kind, thank you.

I was just going to point this out, but (of course – I should have known) I got intrigued by the absurd claims. Lenny’s at it too but I can’t be bothered to tease that one.