Notes and Comment Blog

In counterfactual land

Nov 14th, 2013 4:46 pm | By

Skepticon is this weekend. Half the people I know are there or on their way there.

So there must be outrage, right? Of course.


In chronological order, so bottom to top:

Sara E. Mayhew @saramayhew

@LaurenPants @Funkmon @RealSkepticon You do a disservice to skepticism by giving a platform to bullies and pseudo-skeptics. #sk6

@LaurenPants Seriously, there are tons of skeptics who do good work, Tim Farley, Doubtful News, Drescher, Susan Gerbic, Reality Check…


 …Bob Blaskiewicz, David Gorski, Hariett Hall, Daniel Loxton—why go for cheap drama bloggers like Watson Myers Benson? #sk6

 What??? How did I get in there? I’m not at Skepticon. I’ve never been at Skepticon. I’ve never been asked or approached. I’m not on their radar even a little bit. Why ask one of the organizers (Lauren Lane) why go for cheap drama bloggers like me when she doesn’t and they don’t?

Strange, isn’t it. Even not being there and not being on the radar is no protection from being reported to organizers as someone who shouldn’t be there. “Ok you didn’t ask her and weren’t planning to and have no clue who she is but Ima ask you anyway: Y U INVITE PEOPLE LIKE HER??!”

Update. She’s still at it, facts be damned.


Sara E. Mayhew @saramayhew

Skepticon schedule: 2pm – Copypasta Workshop, Ophelia Benson, 3pm – The Fine Art of Googling Your Talk Last Night, Rebecca Watson. #sk6

I’m not there. I’m not at Skepticon. I’m not doing a workshop at Skepticon. I’ve never been to Skepticon.

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

If you believe that good is a real and necessary part of the universe

Nov 14th, 2013 12:07 pm | By

Part of why I’m interested in this claim of Conor Friedersdorf’s that

Nick happens to be one of the best people I know. Even though I don’t have faith in the same things that he does, I see how his faith makes him a better person. I see how he makes the world a better place, and how his belief system drives him to do it. And whenever I think about Nick, I think to myself, you know, I disagree with the Catholic faith on a lot of particulars, but there must be nuggets of truth within it if it inspires people like Nick to be this good.

is because I want to figure out how he gets there. I want to see if we can find a persuasive chain of reasoning, or if he’s just describing a feeling or hunch or intuition or association that he hasn’t thought about carefully enough – a bit of fast thinking with no follow-up slow thinking.

Minow offered one such chain.

There is no doubt that a disproportionately large number of religious people dedicate their lives to good works without expectation of any material reward. I think that you are more likely to do that if an institution exists that will help manage it (the church) and if you believe that good is a real and necessary part of the universe, rather than just a philosophical position or a utilitarian benefit. And religion takes you there.

One problem with that is that Friedersdorf said the Catholic faith, not religion in general. I would love to know what he meant – which specifically Catholic nuggets he has in mind.

But put that aside for now. What about the claim that you’re more likely to devote your life to good works if you believe that good is a real and necessary part of the universe, rather than just a philosophical position or a utilitarian benefit? Is that right? Is it persuasive?

I’m not sure. It seems to me it makes just as much sense, or maybe more, the other way around. I don’t think that “good” (which is a human label or category or construct) is a real and necessary part of the universe; on the contrary. The reality on this planet at least is that terror and pain are part of daily life for most sentient animals, so it would make more sense to claim that “bad” is a real and necessary part of the universe. I don’t think that’s true either, but I would certainly say that suffering and agony are a necessary result of natural selection and that there’s nothing good about that fact.

So if we want to cause the world (we can’t do much about the universe, let’s face it) to have more good in it, we have to make it ourselves. Why wouldn’t that make us more likely to devote our lives to good works than a belief that good is already part of the fabric of everything?

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

Priests continuously visit the houses of bosses for coffee

Nov 14th, 2013 10:54 am | By

The Guardian reports that the pope is tackling the mafia. Good on him if so, although he shouldn’t utter biblical death threats in the process.

In a fiery sermon on Monday, Francis railed against corruption and quoted the bible’s advice that practitioners be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck.

Yeah don’t do that.

But the article gives an interesting picture of the friendship between church and mafia.

“The mafia that invests, that launders money, that therefore has the real power, is the mafia which has got rich for years from its connivance with the church,” said [magistrate Nicola] Gratteri. “These are the people who are getting nervous.”

Gratteri attacked priests and bishops in southern Italy who legitimise mobsters. “Priests continuously visit the houses of bosses for coffee, which gives the bosses strength and popular legitimacy,” he said. A bishop in Locri in Calabria had excommunicated mobsters after they damaged fruit trees owned by the church, he said. “But before that episode, the bosses had killed thousands of people” without being sanctioned, he added.

So much for Catholicism inspiring people to be good.

Boosting the strong links between mob and church is the fierce religious devotion of the gangsters themselves, he said, adding that in his 26 years as a magistrate he had never raided a mafia hideout which did not contain a religious image. “There is no affiliation rite that does not evoke religion. ‘Ndrangheta and the church walk hand in hand,” he said.

A survey of jailed mobsters had revealed that 88% were religious, he added. “Before killing, a member of the ‘Ndrangheta prays. He asks the Madonna for protection.”

Cognitive dissonance at work.

Gratteri said mobsters did not consider themselves wrongdoers, and used the example of a mafioso putting pressure on a business owner to pay protection money, first by shooting up his premises, then by kneecapping him. “If the person still refuses, the mobster is ‘forced’ to kill him. If you have no choice, you are not committing a sin.”

That’s often the reasoning in domestic violence, too – she (or he) provoked the violence. The perp had no choice, because of the provocation. And of course many of the child-raping priests and the bishops who shield them claim the raped children were seductive. There’s always a way to make the cognitive dissonance disappear.


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

Guest post by Chris Lawson: Sampling the shallow wit of G K Chesterton

Nov 14th, 2013 10:39 am | By

Originally a comment on How his belief system drives him to do it, responding to a quotation from Chesterton.

G.K. Chesterton was a very engaging writer with a lovely prose style, but he was also a very shallow thinker who specialised in dressing up fallacies and bigoted prejudices in quaint costumes to make them seem attractive, and was very fond of clever syllogisms that were actually meaningless except to make him seem superior to everyone else around him. Examples?

The reformer is always right about what is wrong. He is generally wrong about what is right.

Aesthetes never do anything but what they are told.

When learned men begin to use their reason, then I generally discover that they haven’t got any.

I believe what really happens in history is this: the old man is always wrong; and the young people are always wrong about what is wrong with him. The practical form it takes is this: that, while the old man may stand by some stupid custom, the young man always attacks it with some theory that turns out to be equally stupid.

Impartiality is a pompous name for indifference, which is an elegant name for ignorance.

Do you see his pattern? But even this I could live with if it wasn’t for his outright lying in order to defend his conservative political and religious beliefs. For instance:

There is no basis for democracy except in a dogma about the divine origin of man.

You can never have a revolution in order to establish a democracy. You must have a democracy in order to have a revolution.

There cannot be a nation of millionaires, and there never has been a nation of Utopian comrades; but there have been any number of nations of tolerably contented peasants.

(Note: nice to see a man born in one of the wealthiest parts of London acknowledge all those contented peasants throughout history.)

If there were no God, there would be no atheists.

The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man.

(Note: this quote is especially galling because he was writing about the Book of Job.)

The truth is, of course, that the curtness of the Ten Commandments is an evidence, not of the gloom and narrowness of a religion, but, on the contrary, of its liberality and humanity. It is shorter to state the things forbidden than the things permitted: precisely because most things are permitted, and only a few things are forbidden.

(Note: by this tortured reasoning, Chesterton convinces himself that a list of commandments that begins with “You shall have no other gods before me,” forbids all religious art, and forbids working on a certain day, is a liberal work. He also ignores that the Bible is full to the fucking brim with things forbidden. Just because the Top Ten List of Forbidden Things has only ten items, doesn’t mean that Leviticus doesn’t exist.)

Puritanism was an honourable mood; it was a noble fad. In other words, it was a highly creditable mistake.

Most modern freedom is at root fear. It is not so much that we are too bold to endure rules; it is rather that we are too timid to endure responsibilities.

Modern broad-mindedness benefits the rich; and benefits nobody else.

[No society can survive the socialist] fallacy that there is an absolutely unlimited number of inspired officials and an absolutely unlimited amount of money to pay them.

(Note: this is about as cartoonish a straw man as you’ll ever see.)

Too much capitalism does not mean too many capitalists, but too few capitalists.

(Note: this is an excellent example of Chesterton’s rhetorical style; write something outrageously, even obviously self-contradictory, and dress up the logical error as a witty verbal paradox!)

I would give a woman not more rights, but more privileges. Instead of sending her to seek such freedom as notoriously prevails in banks and factories, I would design specially a house in which she can be free.

There are many more examples to choose from (Chesterton was quite prolific) but I think I’ve made my point…


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

Those cases are rare :)

Nov 14th, 2013 10:14 am | By

Jesus ice-skating christ. A twitter exchange:


Ahmed Safder @AhmedSafder

When you have Allah on your side. No force in the world can fight you and win :) Mashallah! Thank you God for everything.

Rah @francosoup

“@AhmedSafder: When you have Allah on your side. No force can fight you and win”

~Unless you’re a Muslim woman being stoned to death.

Ahmed Safder @AhmedSafder


those cases are rare :) majority of the Muslim women are kept like princesses :)

A smiley! A smiley!!! A smiley!!!!!

A fucking smiley about women being stoned to death.

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

How his belief system drives him to do it

Nov 13th, 2013 5:36 pm | By

I’m reading a piece about discourse and persuasion in the Atlantic, and my attention is snagged by a peripheral point.

A friend taught me this.

He’s an orthodox Catholic. I am not. I went to 14 years of Catholic school and decided that it wasn’t for me. As you can imagine, I’ve heard all the arguments for Catholicism. So when my friend, Nick, argues with me about Catholic doctrine, he is very unlikely to persuade me of anything. But Nick happens to be one of the best people I know. Even though I don’t have faith in the same things that he does, I see how his faith makes him a better person. I see how he makes the world a better place, and how his belief system drives him to do it. And whenever I think about Nick, I think to myself, you know, I disagree with the Catholic faith on a lot of particulars, but there must be nuggets of truth within it if it inspires people like Nick to be this good. It makes me so much more open to the notion that I can learn something from the Catholic faith—just as the molestation scandal took a lot of people and closed them off to the idea that Catholics had anything to teach them.

I don’t think that’s it. I don’t think there are any nuggets of truth in the religion (or “faith”) itself. I think it’s rather that people think the whole thing is about goodness, so they are drawn to the church for that reason, so there are good people in it. I think that’s really what inspires people like that. The author (Conor Friedersdorf) says it is “his belief system [that] drives him to do it” and it’s his story not mine, so he would know better than I would…But I think he might be misidentifying the source. I think it’s not so much the belief system or putative nuggets of truth in the belief system, but the beliefs about the system and the institution – that it’s where especially good people belong.



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

Meet the staff

Nov 13th, 2013 5:10 pm | By

The Cellular Solutions staff page – does something seem a bit unusual here?

Scroll down.

Keep going.


Ah! There we go!

Via Helen Dale

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

Regularly dismissed

Nov 13th, 2013 4:45 pm | By

Another useful item from the UN: a statement that states that have ratified the UN Women’s Rights Convention have to uphold women’s rights even when there’s a war on. Imagine that.

States that have ratified the UN Women’s Rights Convention are obliged to uphold women’s rights before, during and after conflict when they are directly involved in fighting, are providing peacekeeping troops or donor assistance for conflict prevention, humanitarian aid or post-conflict reconstruction, a key UN women’s rights committee has said in a landmark document.

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) also said that ratifying States should exercise due diligence in ensuring that non-State actors, such as armed groups and private security contractors, be held accountable for crimes against women.

“This document is comprehensive. It includes recognition of women’s central role in preventing conflict and in rebuilding devastated countries,” said CEDAW Chair Nicole Ameline.

“Women’s experiences are regularly dismissed as irrelevant for predicting conflict, and women’s participation in conflict prevention has historically been low,” Ms. Ameline said. “But in reality, there is for example a strong correlation between an increase in gender-based violence and the outbreak of conflict.”

Of course my own country is exempt from all of this, since it didn’t ratify CEDAW…

H/t Michael DeDora

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

But they are beneath us

Nov 13th, 2013 11:44 am | By

The UN office of the high commissioner for human rights is urging Qatar to be less shitty to migrant workers, who make up 88% of the population. (I can’t be the only one who is reminded of Sparta and the helots.) That and a dime will get you a grain of rice, no doubt, but still – the OHCHR is doing it.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, François Crépeau, urged the Qatari authorities to use the 2022 World Cup to improve the situation of migrant workers and their families in the country. Qatar has the highest ratio of migrants to citizens in the world; nearly 88 per cent of the total population are foreign workers, employed largely in construction, services and domestic work. 

“I hope the 2022 World Cup will be used as an opportunity for Qatar to enhance the effective respect, protection and fulfilment of the rights of migrant workers,” Mr. Crépeau said at the end of his first official visit* to the country to assess the human rights situation of migrants.

He also called on the Government of Qatar to create a more positive perception of migrants in Qatari society, stressing that “migrants undertake important jobs in the country, are an essential part of Qatar’s economic success, and deserve to see their dignity and rights protected on par with that of citizens.”

“The vast majority of migrants in Qatar are in the country at the government’s invitation, and they have received work permits in order to fill labour needs, which are largely created by Qatar’s booming economy, massive construction projects, and widespread reliance on domestic workers,” the expert said.

So the UN is telling Qatar, don’t treat foreign workers as a giant helot caste. Well where’s the fun in that?!

The expert drew special attention to the long term administrative detention, in some cases as much as one year, which can be applied to migrants awaiting deportation under the 2009 sponsorship law.

“I urge the authorities to systematically rely on non-custodial measures rather than detention,” he said. “As long as there is no risk of the migrant absconding from future proceedings, and they do not present a danger to themselves or others, detention is not necessary and thus a violation of their rights.”   Mr. Crépeau noted that the majority of the women in the country’s deportation centre had ‘run away’ from abusive employers, particularly the domestic workers, and they wanted to return to their countries of origin. “It is very unlikely that they present any risk of absconding,” he said.

“Accommodating such women in open shelters, instead of building a new ward for women at the deportation centre, would provide a much better and cheaper solution,” the independent expert noted. “Similarly, children should never find themselves in detention: migrant women with children should always be hosted in shelters.”

“In the central prison, there were several women who were sentenced to one year prison for ‘adultery’ for having a baby while being unmarried. These women thus live in the prison with their babies, in conditions which are in clear violation of the principle of the best interests of the child,” the UN Special Rapporteur underlined.

In other words Qatar imprisons people for quitting jobs. It imprisons women for quitting jobs with abusive employers, and it imprisons children for being born to women who quit jobs.



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

Teachings v arguments

Nov 13th, 2013 10:44 am | By

There’s a difference between authoritarian morality and let’s call it reasoned morality. What’s the difference? Well obviously, the first is commands and the second gives reasons.

When bishops moan about attacks on the “religious freedom” of Catholics to punish gay people by refusing to officiate at their marriages or rent them rooms at bed&breakfasts, they cite “church teachings” as their reason for treating homosexuality as wrong and deserving of punishment. That’s authoritarian. “The church teaches that homosexuality is evil” is not reasons, it’s a detour around reasons.

That’s why the habit of punishing people for being gay is gradually (yet also, historically speaking, rapidly) crumbling away: it’s because once it’s pointed out that there are no real reasons for this stupid habit, people start looking for reasons and then finding that there aren’t any. Those people end up changing their minds, some slowly and some overnight.

The people who don’t change their minds are the ones who consider the invocation of phrases like “church teachings” adequate.

This thought is familiar from discussions and practice of child-rearing, too. Some command morality is needed for emergency situations and in the early years when the cortex isn’t developed enough to understand the reasons. But as the child grows and learns and develops the capability to understand reasons, it becomes practical for parents to explain reasons for doing one thing rather than another. It remains possible to have just rules with no explanations or reasons, but many parents prefer to shift more and more to reasons over time.

It’s possible to find some proffered reasons for some church teachings by browsing the Vatican’s website, but the putative reasons are not very convincing. The people who write the encyclicals probably don’t get enough practice in giving reasons for their commands.

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

Richard Cohen just learned that slavery was bad

Nov 12th, 2013 5:50 pm | By

Mother Jones has a “Richard Cohen’s 10 Worst Moments” piece, which is good, because I have hitherto neglected this rich vein of bad moments.

1 (tied). Richard Cohen goes to the movies, finds out slavery is wrong.

I sometimes think I have spent years unlearning what I learned earlier in my life…slavery was not a benign institution in which mostly benevolent whites owned innocent and grateful blacks. Slavery was a lifetime’s condemnation to an often violent hell in which people were deprived of life, liberty and, too often, their own children.

About a week ago, Richard Cohen went to see 12 Years a Slave and came out surprised by the brutal depiction of slavery in America. He defended himself by saying that he learned slaves “were sort of content” and “slave owners were mostly nice people” in school. Cohen graduated high school in the class of ’58. No, 1958.

Jesus hopping Christ, what? He learned slaves were content and owners were nice in school and nothing since? Are you kidding me? A guy who writes a column for the Washington fucking Post hasn’t managed to learn more about slavery than what he claims he learned in school? He had learned absolutely nothing about it since until last week when he went to a movie?

That alone is enough to get him demoted to a paper route.

1 (tied). Richard Cohen defends Clarence Thomas because boys will be boys.

Thomas stands nearly alone on the court in his shallowness of his scholarship and the narrowness of his compassion. But when it comes to his alleged sexual boorishness, he stands condemned of being a man.

In a 2010 column, Cohen dismissed any allegations of sexual misconduct that occurred during the 1980s, since that was “a bit before the modern era,” and argued that Thomas’ alleged actions—including asking a woman at work for her bra size and making other sexual comments—were just typical guy stuff.

Uh huh. It’s just typical, and women have to just put up with it, and whaddyagonnado, and these things just are the way they are.

Cohen claimed that Anita Hill couldn’t have been harassed, because “why did she follow her abuser, Thomas, from one job to the next?” But maybe that’s unfair to Cohen. After all, it’s not like he was ever accused of sexual harassment in the workplace.

1 (tied). Richard Cohen is accused of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Stand up and turn around.

According to a Washington Post staffer, Cohen said the above to 23-year-old editorial aide Devon Spurgeon. Staffers said he also told her she “looks good in black” and engaged her in an offensive discussion about oral sex following the Monica Lewinsky scandal. (Cohen denies the first comment and says the others were made innocently.) Spurgeon took a leave of absence, and Washington Post management found that Cohen committed “inappropriate behavior,” but Cohen maintained, “it was a personality dispute [that] had nothing to do with sexual harassment as the term applies today.” For further reading, see Cohen’s creepy screed on how terrible it is that women in movies don’t fall for men decades their elder as much as they used to.

Now what does that remind me of? Oh yes. That.

That’s just the first four; enjoy the final six.



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

A princess always follows her dreams

Nov 12th, 2013 5:24 pm | By

So Toys “R” Us has this ad about how boring trees are and how ecstatically enthralling Toys “R” Us is.

Note the little girl saying, “A princess is loyal, and never gives up, and always follows her dreams.” Unless of course her dreams have anything to do with learning about trees as opposed to toys in shiny boxes.

Peter Gleick at the Huffington Post is forthright.

This ad is offensive on so many levels:

    • It insults science and environmental education teachers.
    • It insults science and environmental education programs and field trips.
    • It insults science and nature in general
    • It insults children (though no doubt these kids got free toys, and maybe even money, to be in the ad — how awesome).
    • It promotes blind commercialism and consumerism (OK, I know that’s the society we live in, and the purpose of ads, and the only real goal of Toys “R” Us, but to be so blatantly offensive and insensitive?)
    • It sends the message, as Colbert so cogently notes that “The great outdoors is nothing compared to the majesty of a strip mall.”

Colbert? Yes, Colbert.

One doesn’t expect toy companies to advertise science, but I think it’s reasonable to expect them not to go out of their way to piss on it. Peter Gleick goes on:

My wife is an overworked, underpaid science educator, teaching university students how to teach science to elementary school children. It is an uphill battle: not because kids don’t love science. They do. Frankly, young children are wonderful, curious, wide-eyed natural scientists. It is an uphill battle because the resources our society devotes to science education are pathetic. Elementary school teachers get little or no support or training for science education. Materials are outdated or confusing. There is no funding for decent field trips. And our kids are bombarded with subtle (and here, blatant) messages promoting blind, thoughtless, consumerism.

The results are beginning to show, as the United States falls farther and farther behind other countries in producing top-quality science, technology, engineering, and math students (STEM).

All of us, including major corporations, could change this. Some companies actually play an important and valuable role in supporting science and nature education in this country. But sending the messages that Toys “R” Us sent with this despicable ad only hurts that effort. I wonder: What did it cost to produce this ad, and what is being spent to air it? And how much does Toys”R”Us contribute to science and environmental education? It couldn’t possibly be enough to counter the damage of this kind of message.

Guy must be some kind of communist.


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

Another comrade arrested

Nov 12th, 2013 4:22 pm | By

Bad news from Uganda.

Activists in Uganda report that police have arrested Sam K. Ganafa, executive director of Spectrum Uganda Initiatives and board chair for the Sexual Minorities Uganda coalition.

Sam K. Ganafa, executive director of Spectrum Uganda (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

Charges against Ganafa have not yet been determined.  He was handcuffed after he reported to the Kasangati police station in response to a call from the district police commander.

Police also searched his home and took two of Ganafa’s guests to the police station for interrogation.

Activists said Ganafa has opened his home to many homeless LGBTI persons and it was also used as a Spectrum Uganda office for more than eight years.

I hope he will be all right.

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

A few blocks north

Nov 12th, 2013 4:13 pm | By

A sandwich-board sign outside a coffee shop in my neighborhood. Written on it was

What if this sign didn’t say anything?

I live in a witty neighborhood.

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

And one more: Sherif Gaber

Nov 12th, 2013 11:21 am | By

From the petition to free Sherif Gaber:

20-year-old Egyptian student at Suez Canal University in Ismailia, Jaber Cherif, has been arrested and is being inverstigated for alledgely starting a Facebook group calling for atheism.

Jaber was arrested after a muslim reported him to the university administration who then filed a complaint against him with Egyptian authorities.

The newspaper Al Watan online and The Newspaper Ahramonline reported that Jaber was arrested and was being inverstigated by Egyptian national security officials. 

This is what Sherif published:

Hi, my name is sherif gaber (Yamirasu) from Egypt. I was taught to be a Muslim; for that my dad sent me to some Sheiks, so I memorised the Quran and more than 1000 (Hadith) until I became very religious but then I started to see the contradictions between the Quran and scientific facts, and day by day for 2 years after searching and reading I knew the truth. Then I became an atheist and hid it for a few months. Then I admit it despite knowing that I might get killed any moment .. My family hasn’t talked to me for more than 4 months and I lost the majority of the people I thought were my friends and for about a year now half the people on my street don’t talk to me .. I’ve got threats every single day on my phone and my Facebook account… Here in Egypt, a lot of young atheists were sent to jail for 10 sometimes 20 years and if they have evidence that you insulted Islam you will be executed! That’s if the Islamic organisations don’t murder you & your family before that! .. Even though I’m not afraid to say I’m an atheist to everyone who asks about my religion… To die for the truth is much much better to live in a lie!

Should one be arrested and punished simply for holding atheistic views?

We are calling on you to please sign and share our petition to help us free Sherif Gaber.

Thank YOU!

To read this post in other languages please visit Alber Saber’s Blog

The petition has only 344 signatures.

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

Another one: Abdul Aziz Mohamed El Baz

Nov 12th, 2013 10:52 am | By

From a public Facebook page:

What happened to BenBaz?


BenBaz has been thrown in jail by the Kuwaiti Government since  December 31, 2012. On February 7, 2013*, he was sentenced by the same  Kuwaiti Government for one year in jail plus forced labor, plus a fine,  plus deportation from Kuwait.

The Kuwaiti Government charged BenBaz with contempt of religions & attempting to spread atheism, they have sentenced BenBaz for peacefully writing his views in a blog where he explained the benefits of secular values.

Kuwaiti Official documents of BenBaz’s case attached below. We have hidden BenBaz info.

Why was BenBaz arrested?

The Mirrors of the Gulf Company owner, where BenBaz worked, reported BenBaz to Kuwaiti Authorities as a blasphemer

Why did his employer report him for blasphemy? 

Because BenBaz planned to leave his company The Mirrors of the Gulf  and join another firm. Aziz was not happy about the low wages he was  paid, and he told his employer who informed the police about Aziz blog,  accusing BenBaz of contempt of religions and blasphemy. All of which was  retaliation against BenBaz for wanting to improve his income and  advance his career.

What are the evidence against BenBaz?

  • Excerpts from articles by the Egyptian writer Alaa Al Aswany plublished on his blog
  • A graphic depicting Abraham about to slay his son, a current image in the Western media
  • Excerpts of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “All human beings are born free ……”

Here is a link to BenBaz’s blog:

Why is this important?

Aziz is in prison simply because he holds atheistic, humanistic, and secular views.

Whether you are an Atheist or a Muslim or a Christian, nobody  deserves to be jailed or punished for having atheistic views. He did not  hurt anybody. He did not steal, he did not assault anyone, he did not  vandalize someone’s property. He is simply a well articulated gentle  soft spoken Egyptian Atheist who speaks his mind. He expressed himself  peacefully writing a rather gentle blog. We need your help to pressure  the Kuwaiti government to release him from this unjust imprisonment.

What can you do to help?

We need your help to get the words out, gather support for this peaceful atheist humanist activist

  • Tweet hastag: #FreeBenBaz
  • If you can organize a protest in front of Kuwait Embassy or  Consulate if there is one in your city let us know and we will help you.  Join the FreeBenBazProtest community page on Facebook:
  • Please help us by making videos, writing in your blogs, writing articles, calling the media, calling your representatives, etc,

Help us free BenBaz!


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

Guest post by Iain Walker

Nov 12th, 2013 9:56 am | By

Originally a comment on Why the Catholic church is an intrinsically immoral institution.

Minow (#22):

No it isn’t, it could reform to be less or more authoritarian, as the Anglican church did.

There are two issues here regarding the authoritarianism of the Church. Firstly, there’s one of authoritarianism in practice – the fact that it is a hierarchical organisation which emphasises obediance to the teachings promulgated from the top, and which traditionally has had a low tolerance of dissent from those teachings. This might be capable of reform, although I’m not holding my breath. There’s an awful lot of institutional and doctrinal inertia to be overcome, and any reform is (at least initially) going to have to be top-down. And I’m far from convinced that Senor Bergoglio has the moral imagination for the kind of radical transformation required – he’s at best a moderate conservative with a very selective view of what needs fixing, not a serious, root-and-branch reformer.

Secondly, there’s the issue of authoritarianism in principle. Theism itself is inherently authoritarian, in that it teaches that human fulfilment must be based on the adoption of a subservient attitude towards an unaccountable authority. Some theists (the Quakers spring to mind) manage to erect a kind of egalitarian firewall between this core principle and their day-to-day values and teachings, but it still remains the case that the tendency even in the more egalitarian sects is to teach that it is up to the individual to determine what God wants him/her to do. I.e., for all their talk of “conscience”, the underlying belief-system remains a deeply authoritarian one.

The Catholic Church is an organisation that is built on this kind of thinking. There may be Protestant sects that emphasise the submission to divine power rather more explicitly and with rather more frothing at the mouth, but the Church has constructed itself on the basis of a self-image in which it is a necessary part of the divine hierarchy. Its structure and doctrines are highly dependent on metaphysical assumptions about power, authority and submission, with God at the top, the Church in the middle, and the punters in the pews at the bottom. In other words, the authoritarianism of the Church isn’t just a matter of institutional organisation – it’s an integral part of the very mindset that gives it its raison d’etre. And while the former might possibly be reformable whilst still retaining the substance of Catholicism, the latter … not so much.

In fact, I think human rights is really a religious idea, it comes from Christianity.

There’s an element of truth in this, but only a very small one. The idea of natural law as developed by medieval Christian theologians is often seen as being influential on the later development of the idea of human rights, but the main work was done by secular thinkers like Locke, Spinoza, Rousseau, Paine, Godwin, J.S. Mill and others, some of whom were Christians and some of whom weren’t.

More to the point, the influence of Christianity is at best a contingent fact of history rather than a necessary requirement. The concept of universal human rights is a secular one in that it does not presuppose any religious assumptions, and can be derived without reference to any religious ideas – all you need to do is recognise reciprocation as the foundation of human moral behaviour and be willing to universalise consistently. Just as the Golden Rule crops up independently in many different cultures, human rights is not dependent on any one historical belief system.


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

People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex

Nov 12th, 2013 8:55 am | By

Richard Cohen, a political columnist for the Washington Post, wrote a very…surprising thing in a column yesterday. The column is about the familiar (and very dull) subject of the Republican party and whether it can ever achieve happiness when it combines normal mainstream country club only slightly racist conservatism and the off the wall fanatics of the Tea Party and the theocracy faction. Oh gosh I don’t know, can it? Let me know when you figure it out.

So there we are: the moderates turn off the barn-burners while the barn-burners turn off the swing voters lalalala chorus and finish.

Iowa not only is a serious obstacle for Christie and other Republican moderates, it also suggests something more ominous: the Dixiecrats of old. Officially the States’ Rights Democratic Party, they were breakaway Democrats whose primary issue was racial segregation. In its cause, they ran their own presidential candidate, Strom Thurmond, and almost cost Harry Truman the 1948 election. They didn’t care. Their objective was not to win — although that would have been nice — but to retain institutional, legal racism. They saw a way of life under attack and they feared its loss.

Yes, got it, moderates v fanatics, and how the competition between them is a threat to normal average mainstream moderateness.

Today’s GOP is not racist, as Harry Belafonte alleged about the tea party, but it is deeply troubled — about the expansion of government, about immigration, about secularism, about the mainstreaming of what used to be the avant-garde. People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York — a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children. (Should I mention that Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?) This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts — but not all — of America. To cultural conservatives, this doesn’t look like their country at all.

Excuse me?

These not-racist people with their conventional views “must repress a gag reflex” when they think about an interracial marriage? One with – gasp – some former being a lesbian hiding in its already gag-worthy closet? And that’s not racism? It’s not racism to have a gag reflex at the thought of a white person married to a black person? How, exactly, is that not racist?

And what are the “conventional views” that entail having a gag reflex when thinking about an interracial marriage? Oh I know, I get it – the gag reflex is a manifestation of disgust, one of the core universal emotions. So the “conventional views” must be that Other Races are disgusting and the thought of close contact with someone of an Other Race is disgusting and triggers a gag reflex.

But that’s not racist.



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

Guest post by Gordon Willis: The combined result is cruelty

Nov 11th, 2013 4:40 pm | By

Originally a comment by Gordon Willis on Why the Catholic church is an intrinsically immoral institution.

Let’s look at Christian doctrine. Because of the sin of Adam (he believed a woman who believed a snake) we are fallen creatures, which means that we cannot obey the Law. This means that we are all condemned to eternal torment. But God, in his mercy, sends his only begotten Son to redeem us: his willing self-sacrifice on the cross expiates our sinfulness and makes us one with God, as we were before the Fall. Therefore, whoever believes in Jesus as the Saviour of the world will inherit eternal life. Jesus reduces the Law to two commandments (love God, love your neighbour) and Paul goes on at great length about the impossibility of observing the Law and the consequent necessity of faith in Christ’s sacrifice to attain redemption.

And that’s it. That is what the Church is all about. It is not in the least concerned with rights, with care. Love is of God, it is God who provides it. So however the Church tortures you to recant or believe, God still loves you, while the Church does its holy duty to ensure your salvation, whatever it takes.

This is the mission, the goal, of the Church: that everyone should believe this insidious drivel. You can inculcate belief by force, by fear, by kindness. You can mix up all three, and as far as I can see, the last is what actually happens. The combined result is cruelty.

You can only go so far in reforming this, without doing away with it completely. This is where Christianity sticks, and this is the core that can never be changed, and from which the excesses and the cruelties result.

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

More like babies

Nov 11th, 2013 4:27 pm | By

So what’s the psychology of the gigantic princess eyes? Olga Khazan explains at the Atlantic.

The debate over the merits of Disney princesses is as old as time, but it’s fairly undeniable that the animated films’ female leads tend to look like a “pretty girl” cliche.

There’s some research behind why the princess formula is so effective: Enlarged eyes, tiny chins, and short noses make them look more like babies, which creates an air of innocence and vulnerability. There’s evidence that adults who have such “babyfacedness” characteristics are seen as less smart, more congenial, and less likely to be guilty of crimes.

Well what could be more wonderful than illustrations and cartoons that make women look like babies? What a brave new world we live in now that feminism has worked and we are all equal and anything that feminists object to now just shows that they’re radical and deranged. The ideal woman has a face like a baby’s and a rack like a moose’s.

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