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.

Stalinist anarchist fascist chaotic organized hive scattering in all directions

Jun 7th, 2012 12:14 pm | By

Ed has a great post replying to a hilariously absurd one by John Loftus wondering what the Freethought blogs “mission statement” is. That question is swiftly answered: there ain’t one.

Ed points out a certain confusion.

On the one hand, if several FTBers agree on a subject and each write about it expressing a similar perspective, that’s bad and it’s obviously all orchestrated behind the scenes; on the other hand, when we disagree we’re drowning each other out and undermining atheism in the process.

Don’t I know it. I’ve just seen a little knot of people on Twitter agreeing with each other that FTB thinks as one and is horribly messily anarchic. If I’ve seen it once I’ve seen it a million times: someone saying “this one FTB blog said something bad; FTB is bad terrible horrible awful.” Apparently what one FTB blogger says, we all say. We’re One Big Giant Robot, with multiple limbs but only one brain. But also anarchic. Bastards!

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

Joe sends Brenda a thank-you card

Jun 7th, 2012 10:44 am | By

Hilarious headline department:

Pope praises Britain’s Queen Elizabeth’s “noble vision” of a Christian monarch

You don’t say!

Well he would, wouldn’t he. She’s praised his “noble vision” of a Christian pontiff, too, for the same kind of reason. They’re colleagues. They both work in the unelected unaccountable head of an absurd hierarchy business. They both draw their illegitimate magical pseudo-authority from a non-existent “god.” They both wear expensive outfits when appearing to worshipful crowds. They both tell people what’s what, based on nothing in particular.

In a message released Wednesday by the Vatican, Benedict said the British monarch has over the past 60 years been an “inspiring example of dedication to duty and a commitment to maintaining the principles of freedom, justice and democracy.”

Oh? What has she done in the way of maintaining the principles of freedom, justice and democracy? I don’t say she’s opposed them, particularly, but what does she do that makes any difference to them? Nothing I can see, except that her performance of monarchy is an implicit rebuke to democracy in the broadest sense.

Ah well, it was just a formula, like a Mother’s Day card.

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

Save Sanal Edamaruku

Jun 7th, 2012 10:34 am | By

Another petition for you, via the New Humanist:

We call on the Catholic Archdiocese of Bombay to withdraw their complaint against Indian Rationalist Sanal Edamaruku

You bet; I certainly call on the Catholic Archdiocese of Bombay to do that. Seriously? Edamaruku investigated a claim that a little statue of Mary was leaking tears, and he found that it was seepage from sewer water under the statue. That’s not a crime, to put it mildly, and the Catholic archdiocese has no business complaining about it.

Hey Catholic archdiocese of Bombay – I say the guy named Yeshua who was executed by the Romans 20 centuries ago is still dead, because dead people stay dead. Come and get me!

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

Punish and repunish

Jun 6th, 2012 4:32 pm | By

Katha Pollitt reports bad news about the woman in Indiana who is being prosecuted for murder because she attempted suicide when she was 33 weeks pregnant.

The state Supreme Court has refused to review charges of attempted feticide and murder against Bei Bei Shuai. Just before Christmas 2010, Shuai, who was thirty-three weeks pregnant, attempted to kill herself by consuming rat poison after her boyfriend, father of the baby, abruptly announced he was married and abandoned her to return to his family. Rushed to the hospital, she had a Caesarean section, but her newborn daughter died after a few days of life. (Here’s my column on the case.) Despite amicus briefs from eighty respected experts and relevant medical and social organizations—the state of Indiana, for reasons best known to itself, will do its best to send Shuai to prison. Potential sentence: forty-five to sixty-five years. The only good news is that after spending 435 days in jail, Shuai is now out on bail.

Indiana? You’re being disgusting.

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

More light

Jun 6th, 2012 3:54 pm | By

Stairs to no end reminded me of something: one of my favorite last-two-minutes of the ’90s tv show Northern Exposure, which had a lot of glorious final two minutes. I’m slow, so it took me awhile to remember that I might be able to find it, and by golly…

Chris the DJ-autodidact-ex-con has spent the episode preparing a surprise winter celebration thing for Cicely, and that celebration thing is the end of the episode. Check it out.


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

Singing dancing sluts killed for singing and dancing

Jun 6th, 2012 3:07 pm | By

Well now I feel sick.

Last week there were news reports that four women and two men in Pakistan had been sentenced to death for singing and dancing at a wedding. Yes that’s right; singing and dancing at a wedding. It’s fornication, you see, because they were mixed. Only they weren’t – the photographs and video waved around to show the fornicators fornicating actually don’t show that.

Abdul Majeed Afridi, district police officer, said: “It was decided that the men will be killed first, but they ran away so the women are safe for the moment. I have sent a team to rescue them and am waiting to hear some news.”

“All of them were shown separately in the video. I’ve seen the video taken on a cell phone myself, it shows four women singing and a man dancing in separate scenes and then another man sitting in a separate shot,” he added.

Yes don’t bother us with details; they were fornicating.

Anyway, those women who didn’t manage to run away and who were safe? They’ve all been killed.

 The four women among the six persons sentenced to death by jirga elders on May 28 were killed on June 3 in a remote area some 80km away from Kohistan, according to reports.

Earlier, district police chief Abdul Majeed Afridi confirmed the jirga’s verdict and assured the accused that all available resources would be utilised to stop the executions. A local resident told The News that the provincial government had intentionally tried to deny the killings so as to avert a massive crisis in case human rights organisations discovered the truth. It has also been learnt that the four women — Sehreen Jaan, Begum Jaan, Bazigha and Amna — had all been subjected to physical and mental torture even though they had not committed any major crime, and that after their execution they were buried without a proper Islamic funeral.

Because they sang and danced at a wedding. Three things that should have been joyous and pretty and fun and loving – and wo, maybe even sexy – and they were tortured and then murdered for it.


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

Insulting Islamic values in Twitter messages

Jun 6th, 2012 10:51 am | By

Another entry in the annals of Persecuting and Prosecuting People For Having an Opinion That Reactonaries Dislike.

A court here on Friday charged Fazil Say, a classical and jazz pianist with an international career, with insulting Islamic values in Twitter messages, the latest in a series of legal actions against Turkish artists, writers and intellectuals for statements they have made about religion and Turkish national identity.

Mr. Say, 42, who is also a composer, is accused of “publicly insulting religious values that are adopted by a part of the nation,” the semiofficial Anatolian news agency said. A trial is scheduled to begin on Oct. 18, with Mr. Say facing up to 18 months in prison if convicted.

Charged with insulting Islamic values – there it is again – that bone-headed idea that nonsentient nonconscious nonalive abstractions like “values” can be “insulted” and that “insulting” them is a serious crime. An idea so bone-headed and so primitive that it’s as if the very concept of free speech and inquiry had never been formulated. An idea that, enshrined in law, would seem to make any kind of public discussion and investigation and forward motion impossible. An idea that belongs in a frozen static stonelike thoughtworld, where “yes” is the only word in the language.

And all this over tweets, for fuck’s sake.

It is unusual for Twitter posts to be the subject of an indictment in Turkey. Some of the messages were written by Mr. Say, but one, which poked fun at an Islamic vision of the afterlife, was written by someone else and passed along by Mr. Say via his Twitter account. Likening heaven’s promise of rivers of wine to a tavern and of virgins to a brothel, it referred to a poem by the 11th-century Persian poet Omar Khayyam, Mr. Say said in a text message from Slovenia, where he had just arrived for a concert.

Retweeted, in other words. It’s faintly risible that the Times thinks it has to spell that out, but it’s also faintly risible that adults spend their time tweeting and retweeting – and yet we do. It’s an odd world we live in.

But anyway, the point is, he’s being prosecuted partly for retweeting something. For retweeting something. People often retweet things because they’re so stupid or wrong or nasty; it’s not always an endorsement! It’s certainly not law enforcement’s job to decide it is. (But in Turkey it is. I know. Turkey is wrong.)

The pianist, who has frequently criticized the pro-Islamic Justice and Development Party government over its cultural and social policies, publicly defines himself as an atheist — a controversial admission in Turkey, which is overwhelmingly Muslim.

And bossy. Incredibly, searchingly bossy.

 Many intellectuals and writers have faced similar charges in recent years, including Orhan Pamuk, the Nobel laureate, who last year was fined $3,700 for saying in a Swiss newspaper that Turks “have killed 30,000 Kurds and 1 million Armenians.”

The European Union, which Turkey is seeking to join, and other international organizations have criticized such actions as violations of free speech.

Little bit.


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

Stairs to no end

Jun 6th, 2012 9:34 am | By

Via Stewart, a fantastic (in both senses) video “inspired by Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Richard Dawkins.” It needs to go viral.

“Not to ask questions is to live life asleep.”

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

Attention whores unite

Jun 5th, 2012 5:15 pm | By

Oh looky here – That Weird Atheist Girl on the concept of the “attention whore.” Back in November. Funny how it just never goes away, isn’t it.

As any women who’s online a lot (in certain places) or who games will tell you, the number one sin is admitting you’re female (in any way). You can never do this, even if it’s relevant to the current conversation. Everyone assumes you’re male unless you say that you’re female (ugh, it’s like they think they’re real people or something!). The second you let that bit of information slip, you’re told one (or more) of the following three things: (1) tits or GTFO, (2) get back to the kitchen, or (3) you’re just an attention whore.

Hipster misogyny, in other words, as Natalie Reed put it.

It’s depressing that the battle for feminism has to be waged all over again but this time against what would otherwise be one’s own tribe – the off-center, the nerdy, the eccentric, the seeded onion roll as opposed to Wonder bread. Four centuries ago when I was a yoof and Second Wave feminism was roaring, the opposition was…you know…the growns, the stodgy, the timid, the conformist, the unthinking.

Well no, that’s not actually right. That was part of what put the roar in: the fact that lefty men were not one bit better than anyone else. You know: the position of women in SNCC is prone. Hardeharhar, that’s a good one. But still – the way I remember it they caught on pretty quickly, if only because they had to. But hipster misogyny just sits there, sniggering and saying tits or GTFO.

TWAG is on the board of directors of the Florida Humanists (pres. EllenBeth Wachs), and she introduced a no-harassment policy. Go Weird Atheist Girl!

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

Report all the things

Jun 5th, 2012 4:36 pm | By

You’ve probably seen DJ’s comment at Skepchick, if you’ve been following this, and you’ve probably seen Stephanie’s excellent analysis of it today. I just want to say a couple of things – which probably duplicate things Stephanie and others have said, but never mind.


let me say how sincerely and deeply regretful I am that I blamed you as the messenger. No woman – no person – should ever be blamed for being a victim or for speaking out about sexism or any social problem. I was wrong to write anything that could even be construed that way, and it was never my intent. I am sorry.

How could it never have been his intent? What does he mean “could even be construed that way”? He said

I think this misinformation results from irresponsible messaging coming from a small number of prominent and well-meaning women skeptics who, in trying to help correct real problems of sexism in skepticism, actually and rather clumsily themselves help create a climate where women — who otherwise wouldn’t — end up feeling unwelcome and unsafe, and I find that unfortunate.

And when Rebecca pressed him for specifics, he replied

Rebecca: Off the top of my head, your quote in USA Today might suggest that the freethought or skeptics movements are unsafe for women. This is from the article:

“I thought it was a safe space,” Watson said of the freethought community. “The biggest lesson I have learned over the years is that it is not a safe space. . . ”


So how could it possibly not have been his intent to blame women, and specifically Rebecca, for speaking out about sexism? There is no other way to “construe” what he said.


Talking about sexism isn’t the problem, sexism is the problem — I completely agree. But when trying to solve the problem, I believe reporting instances of being groped or grabbed (these may be criminal acts) to be the most effective way to help organizers make sure events are safe for everyone.

But what if the groping happened where no one else saw? What about non-contact harassment? What about misogynist slurs as opposed to groping or grabbing?

One, groping and grabbing is far from all there is to harassment, or a hostile climate. Two, reporting is fraught with difficulty unless there are multiple witnesses, which there usually aren’t. And irony of ironies, DJ’s complaint about women skeptics demonstrates exactly how and why reporting is fraught with difficulty. It all goes around in a circle, so his urging women to report all the things is just a sour joke. Oh right, we’ll do that, so that you can scold us some more.

This is all very obvious, and yet there are people who think it isn’t, so I say it one more time.

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

It’s almost like going to law school

Jun 5th, 2012 3:16 pm | By

At least people are making a stink about the “work programme” that makes people travel for four hours in the middle of the night then throws them out at 3 a.m. to stand waiting for 20 minutes and then be ordered to sleep under London Bridge, in order to wake up refreshed a few hours later, change their clothes outside in public, then work for 14 hours in pouring rain with no toilet access, and then take the tube to camp out in a swamp in Essex. No food provided. Oh and for all this? No pay, either. I know you already know, but it’s worth reciting it all over again. Such a deal. Bus, night, sleep outside, dress outside, work double shift, no toilets, no food, tube to Essex, camp in swamp, no pay.

Ministers are being urged to look into reports that unemployed people hired as unpaid stewards for the Diamond Jubilee ended up having to sleep outside.

Volunteers from the government’s work programme spent part of the night under London Bridge before Sunday’s Thames pageant, the Guardian said.

Is “volunteers” the right word? It doesn’t sound like the right word, given the part about “if you refuse this gig you don’t get the Olympics gig, which actually pays a wage.”

In a statement, managing director Molly Prince offered her “sincere apologies”, but accused the newspaper of trying “to sensationalise an unfortunate logistics planning problem”.

Again – I would like to know how much time Molly Prince has spent lying down under a bridge at 4 a.m. to prepare for working a double shift in the rain with no food or toilet access or pay.

She added: “There was no intention to exploit anyone or indeed supply cheap labour.”

No? What was the intention then? Since the labour was not paid at all, what else could one call it, and what else could the intention possibly be?

But Lord Prescott has written to Home Secretary Theresa May calling on her to urgently investigate what happened.

“If the allegations are true, it is totally unacceptable that young unemployed people were bussed in to London from Bristol, Bath and Plymouth and forced to sleep out in the cold overnight before stewarding a major event with no payment,” he wrote.

“I am deeply concerned that a private security firm is not only providing policing on the cheap but failing to show a duty of care to its staff and threatening to withdraw an opportunity to work at the Olympics as a means to coerce them to work unpaid.”

Quite so. Not “volunteers” and not so much “cheap labour” as free labour.

Close Protection said the unpaid roles were a trial for paid positions at the 2012 Games, for which it also has a contract to provide stewarding.

That’s fascinating; since when is that legal? Since when do companies get to demand that people do a job unpaid as “a trial” before doing it for real?

Oh no wait, I know, these were “internships.” Yeah that’s it – these lucky young people had “internships” being stewards for Big Events in London. That puts the whole thing in a completely new light.

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

Do atheists lean left?

Jun 5th, 2012 11:30 am | By

Adam Lee asks a question.

All these data points show that, while there’s no necessary connection between atheism and progressive political views, in practice it usually does work out that way. I leave it up to you, readers, to weigh in on why that is.

That’s an interesting question, and one that I think about sometimes. Maybe I should make that my talk at TAM. Or maybe I should make my talk at TAM be about sexism in the skeptic/secularist/atheist community. Or is there something even more guaranteed to be annoying that I could talk about? Locker rooms, gossip, naming names, evidence, slut-blaming, feminist-blaming, women-blaming, the economy and its relationship to registration for skeptic cons?

It’s between talking about the most guaranteed to be annoying thing I can think of, and just not going. I can’t make up my mind. Given that the head of the organization that invited me has recently gone out of his way to make me feel (to use the technical language) “unwelcome,” it has to be one of those.

Here’s what I think is one answer to Adam’s question: atheism is the rejection of god, and god stands for hierarchy and obedience. Atheism is inherently opposed to arbitrary hierarchy and demands for obedience. That by itself makes atheism tend progressive.

You can say “but libertarianism.” True. But then libertarianism is partly progressive.

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

Well there’s still South Dakota

Jun 5th, 2012 11:11 am | By

Check your wallets, by which I mean various rights and freedoms and capabilities. North Dakota might pass an amendment to its constitution called the Religious Liberty Restoration amendment, and you know what that means. Religious liberty to deny children medical treatment, to hit them with sticks, to say that HoMoSeckShuals are evil, to refuse to provide women with abortions or contraception even when that is your job, to teach children that genocide is good and total obedience to “God” meaning to whatever is in the bible is mandatory. It means a lot of horrible fundamentalist shit dressed up as Religious Liberty and allowed to proceed, no matter how illegal it would be in any other context.

…opponents argue the measure is both unnecessary and potentially dangerous — and could raise new ways for people to define their own extreme religious views.

Gladys Cairns, the former administrator of North Dakota Child Protective Services, says she worries that criminals will hide behind a religious cloak.

“If I were a defense attorney, I’d be making sure that my client would be doing that,” she says.

It’s not as if this never happens.

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

Kill them all, children

Jun 4th, 2012 5:02 pm | By

The last one sounded like a joke but wasn’t, this one sounds like a nightmare and is. You know the Good News Club, the after-school program run by evangelical whack-jobs? They’re teaching children the glories of genocide.

This fall, more than 100,000 American public school children, ranging in age from four to 12, are scheduled to receive instruction in the lessons of Saul and the Amalekites in the comfort of their own public school classrooms. The instruction, which features in the second week of a weekly “Bible study” course, will come from the Good News Club, an after-school program sponsored by a group called the Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF). The aim of the CEF is to convert young children to a fundamentalist form of the Christian faith and recruit their peers to the club.

There are now over 3,200 clubs in public elementary schools, up more than sevenfold since the 2001 supreme court decision, Good News Club v Milford Central School, effectively required schools to include such clubs in their after-school programing.

Clarence Thomas wrote the majority opinion in that horrific decision.

In 2001, in Good News Club v. Milford Central School, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that to exclude the club on the grounds that it is a religious group is to discriminate against its particular religious viewpoint, in violation of 1st Amendment protections on the freedom of speech. The court also went out of its way to say that it could conceive of no basis for concern about a possible violation of the clause of the 1st Amendment that prohibits the establishment of religion. The author of the court’s majority opinion was Clarence Thomas. It is perhaps interesting to note, in that respect, that in a recent speech before a school group, Justice Thomas reminisced fondly about his own school days when he would see “a flag and a crucifix in each classroom.”

And now we get children being inspired by stories of genocide.

The CEF has been teaching the story of the Amalekites at least since 1973. In its earlier curriculum materials, CEF was euphemistic about the bloodshed, saying simply that “the Amalekites were completely defeated.” In the most recent version of the curriculum, however, the group is quite eager to drive the message home to its elementary school students. The first thing the curriculum makes clear is that if God gives instructions to kill a group of people, you must kill every last one:

“You are to go and completely destroy the Amalekites (AM-uh-leck-ites) – people, animals, every living thing. Nothing shall be left.”

“That was pretty clear, wasn’t it?” the manual tells the teachers to say to the kids.

Even more important, the Good News Club wants the children to know, the Amalakites were targeted for destruction on account of their religion, or lack of it. The instruction manual reads:

“The Amalekites had heard about Israel’s true and living God many years before, but they refused to believe in him. The Amalekites refused to believe in God and God had promised punishment.”

The instruction manual goes on to champion obedience in all things. In fact, pretty much every lesson that the Good News Club gives involves reminding children that they must, at all costs, obey. If God tells you to kill nonbelievers, he really wants you to kill them all. No questions asked, no exceptions allowed.

And this is an after-school program – which means it’s done on school property, in the school building – which means children are going to think of it as part of school, and true.

The CEF and the legal advocacy groups that have been responsible for its tremendous success over the past ten years are determined to “Knock down all doors, all the barriers, to all 65,000 public elementary schools in America and take the Gospel to this open mission field now! Not later, now!” in the words of a keynote speaker at the CEF’s national convention in 2010. The CEF wants to operate in the public schools, rather than in churches, because they know that young children associate the public schools with authority and are unable to distinguish between activities that take place in a school and those that are sponsored by the school.

In the majority opinion that opened the door to Good News Clubs, supreme court Justice Clarence Thomas reasoned that the activities of the CEF were not really religious, after all. He said that they could be characterized, for legal purposes, “as the teaching of morals and character development from a particular viewpoint”.

As Justices Souter and Stevens pointed out in their dissents, however, the claim is preposterous: the CEF plainly aims to teach religious doctrines and conduct services of worship. Thomas’s claim is particularly ironic in view of the fact that the CEF makes quite clear its intent to teach that no amount of moral or ethical behavior (pdf) can spare a nonbeliever from an eternity in hell.

It makes me so sick and so furious I can’t even deal with it. You fix it; I’m going to go smell the flowers.

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

Welcome to Dickensian London

Jun 4th, 2012 3:48 pm | By

This sounds like a joke, but apparently isn’t.

A group of long-term unemployed jobseekers were bussed into London to work as unpaid stewards during the diamond jubilee celebrations and told to sleep under London Bridge before working on the river pageant.

Are you kidding me? Not just no pay but told to sleep outside under a bridge? 

Well happy jubilee to you too.

Up to 30 jobseekers and another 50 people on apprentice wages were taken to London by coach from Bristol, Bath and Plymouth as part of the government’s Work Programme.

Two jobseekers, who did not want to be identified in case they lost their benefits, said they had to camp under London Bridge the night before the pageant. They told the Guardian they had to change into security gear in public, had no access to toilets for 24 hours, and were taken to a swampy campsite outside London after working a 14-hour shift in the pouring rain on the banks of the Thames on Sunday.

Happy Big Society.

Close Protection UK confirmed that it was using up to 30 unpaid staff and 50 apprentices, who were paid £2.80 an hour, for the three-day event in London. A spokesman said the unpaid work was a trial for paid roles at the Olympics, which it had also won a contract to staff. Unpaid staff were expected to work two days out of the three-day holiday.

The firm said it had spent considerable resources on training and equipment that stewards could keep and that the experience was voluntary and did not affect jobseekers keeping their benefits.

[One of the workers] said that people were picked up at Bristol at 11pm on Saturday and arrived in London at 3am on Sunday. “We all got off the coach and we were stranded on the side of the road for 20 minutes until they came back and told us all to follow them,” she said. “We followed them under London Bridge and that’s where they told us to camp out for the night … It was raining and freezing.”

I suppose they should be grateful they weren’t made to sleep actually in the Thames.

Both stewards said they were originally told they would be paid. But when they got to the coach on Saturday night, they said, they were told that the work would be unpaid and that if they did not accept it they would not be considered for well-paid work at the Olympics.

Molly Prince, managing director of Close Protection UK, said in a statement: “We take the welfare of our staff and apprentices very seriously indeed.”

No you don’t.

“The staff travelling to the jubilee are completing their training and being assessed on the job for NVQ Level 2 in spectator safety after having completed all the knowledge requirements in the classroom and some previous work experience. It is essential that they are assessed in a live work environment in order to complete their chosen qualifications.”

Hey you know what? Workers should be paid for training. That’s one of the expenses for the employer. Period.

“The nature of festival and event work is such that we often travel sleeping on coaches through the night with an early morning pre-event start – it is the nature of the business … It’s hard work and not for the faint-hearted.”

And the pay is zero, so only the truly dedicated and strong need apply!

One wonders how much time Molly Prince spends sleeping in a swamp and working a 14 hour shift for bupkis.

The charity Tomorrow’s People, which set up the placements at Close Protection under the work programme, said it would review the situation, but stressed that unpaid work was valuable and made people more employable…

“Tomorrow’s People believes strongly in the value of work experience in helping people to build the skills, confidence and CV they need to get and keep a job and we have an exemplary record going back nearly 30 years for our work with the long-term unemployed.”

Oh shut up. Work experience is one thing, dumping people out to sleep under London Bridge at 3 a.m. is another.

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

Reporting harassment and naming names

Jun 4th, 2012 11:14 am | By

Maybe we can make a little progress here.

DJ Grothe has a comment on his Facebook wall (I don’t know if it’s public or not), replying to this comment:

I wish you could see, DJ, how a different frame would improve your position. Don’t say that the talk is causing a problem, say that the talk has increased the JREF’s desire to continue making TAM a safe and fun place for women.

D.J. Grothe: I certainly agree, and don’t believe any conversation about sexism is the problem — sexism is the problem. But there may be disagreement about the best ways to combat that problem. I favor direct communication and reporting harassment and naming names (such helps organizers remove offenders etc). And I remain optimistic that people of good will can disagree on such strategic issues and continue working in common cause.

Ok; this is one place where the gears start to grind, and maybe further discussion will help us make a little progress. (That’s what we want, right? Not Deep Rifts!! but explanation and better understanding. Right? But of course.)

Here’s the problem: it’s not that easy. It’s sooooooo not that easy.

Reporting sexual harassment (hereafter SH) is not easy – and by not easy I don’t mean it’s a nuisance, or difficult the way learning a new language is, I mean there are inherent problems and obstacles and penalties that make it all but impossible in most cases. I’ve just been chatting with some UK friends on Twitter about it, and they all instantly produced examples from their own experience.

  1. SH is by its nature covert. People usually don’t do it in crowded rooms full of witnesses, although sometimes they do, as Ashley Miller has been telling us.
  2. SH by its nature doesn’t leave evidence, unless it ends in rape.

1 and 2 all by themselves are enough to show that reporting and naming names are not always going to be even possible, let alone easy. Then there are all the other problems – it’s a friend, it’s a boss, it’s a colleague, it’s someone super-important or famous or money-giving or otherwise of value to the organization you work for; it’s a neighbor, a landlord, a relative, a friend’s relative.

Then there’s the “I’m a skeptic!” problem. On the one hand you have 1 and 2, and on the other hand you have people saying “I’m a skeptic, where’s your evidence?” People are saying this about SH among the atheists and skeptics right now, often with venom and malice and cunty epithets. So that’s another obstacle, innit. On the one hand women should report it and name names, on the other hand I’m a skeptic and where’s your evidence.

DJ, this is a problem. It’s a structural problem within skepticism. That’s not your fault or our fault (we women who have been talking about it lately), it’s just a problem. On the other hand when you blame us for talking about it in general terms instead of reporting it and naming names, well that much is your doing.

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

It’s only a ruddy cooking lesson

Jun 3rd, 2012 4:03 pm | By

It’s good to see the Catholic church and all its offshoots and helper organizations and enablers finally learning some humility and even remorse.

Just kidding.

No, they’re not doing that, they’re doing the same old thing only more so. In Spain it’s another one of those reactionary legal associations named after Thomas More (fan of torture for heretics), prosecuting an artist for a film he made…34 years ago. Prosecuting him for what? For “offending religious feelings” – the stupidest “crime” on anyone’s books.

One of Spain’s leading underground artists is due to appear in court today facing up to a year in prison over a film short he made in 1978 on “how to cook Jesus Christ”.

Javier Krahe has been taken to court by a Catholic legal association, the Centro Juridico Tomas Moro, for “offending religious feelings” – a little-known offence. The Catholic association says the law has never before been applied in Spanish legal history.

The film is what the title makes it sound like – a jokey cooking lesson, ending with the punchline, “After three days inside, he comes out of the cooker by himself!”

And some falangist assholes think that merits a year in prison.

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


Jun 3rd, 2012 12:09 pm | By

Housework. Detailing. Metadiscussion. Tweaking. Reworking an argument that wasn’t done right the first time.

I said something in the Rebecca explains post, after quoting Rebecca saying

I should apparently put on a smile and pretend it doesn’t happen, because by reporting on my treatment, I am creating “a climate where women — who otherwise wouldn’t — end up feeling unwelcome and unsafe.”

I said this:

As Jews in Germany circa 1936 might have created “a climate where Jews — who otherwise wouldn’t — end up feeling unwelcome and unsafe.” As the Southern Poverty Law Center creates a climate where people who are the object of systematic vocal hatred end up feeling unwelcome and unsafe. That’s not to compare TAM with Nazi Germany or racist pockets of the US, of course, but then Rebecca didn’t name TAM in the item DJ quoted, either; she (or rather USA Today, indirectly quoting her) said “the freethought community.”

Orac pounced on that passage rather rudely and aggressively.

Nonsense, Ophelia. That’s exactly what you just did, compare TAM to Nazi Germany and women to Jews in Nazi Germany. Denying that you did so doesn’t change that. It just makes you sound disingenuous.

As you might (or might not) know, I very much detest the gratuitous use of argumentum ad Nazi-um. I even have a special category for it on my blog:

My taking you to task for your analogy also has nothing to do with whether I agree with you and Rebecca regarding TAM and DJ Grothe. Rather, it has everything to do with language and not sliming your opponents with the Nazi label (while saying that’s not what you’re doing). These are things that really irritate me. I expect better.

I’m debating whether your hyperbole is worthy of inclusion. I haven’t done a Hitler Zombie post in a long time. Maybe it’s time.

I was annoyed by that, frankly. I was annoyed by the claim that you can’t disavow something by disavowing it. (On the other hand I sometimes think people are making fake disavowals, and I think I sometimes say so. That being the case, I probably have no right to be annoyed at Orac for saying the same kind of thing, just because he’s saying it to precious Me. But I knew the disavowal was meant to be real – but then no doubt so do other people. That one may be a wash.) I was annoyed by the bluster, especially coming from someone who never comments here. I was annoyed by the thuggish-sounding “maybe it’s time” nonsense. I was above all annoyed by the fact that Orac is a speaker at TAM. I was very annoyed by what could be seen as an attempt to ostracize me. I still am annoyed by that aspect of it, actually.

Orac also went to the trouble of repeating his objection to my post on Chris Hallq’s post “I support DJ Grothe.”

Well, ironically enough, part of the substance of that post was Ophelia Benson likening the issue with TAM to Jews in Nazi Germany circa 1936 and then immediately trying to say that she wasn’t likening TAM to Nazi Germany. One paragraph in that post is worthy of a Hitler Zombie post. I haven’t written one in a long time. Maybe it’s time for the Undead Fuhrer to rise from his crypt again.

Also annoying, for at least the final reason.

However – he does have a point. It wasn’t a good example for the point I wanted to make. That point was just that targets of hatred and vilification should not be blamed or rebuked for saying they are targets of hatred and vilification. That does, certainly, apply to Jews in Germany circa 1936, but that’s not the best example to choose because it’s colored by what happened to Jews in Germany in 1942. I meant to avoid that by saying 1936, but I should have just chosen a different example, instead. It’s not as if I think all this verbal misogynist bile is going to result in a genocide against women. I don’t think that. I think it sucks and has bad consequences, but I don’t think it’s pre-genocidal or anything like that.

A much better example would have been LGBQ high school kids in (say) suburban Minnesota.

So, ok. Orac had a point. I still think he was rude and a bit thuggish about it, but he had a point.

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

Skepticism gone wild

Jun 2nd, 2012 11:04 am | By

There’s such a thing as hyper-skepticism (as Jason calls it) – as skepticism pushed past (or steered right around) reasonable skepticism into its own opposite, questioning items that there’s no real reason to question. Evolution by natural selection is one such item; Obama’s birth in Hawaii is another; the utility of vaccinations is another; the superiority of non-alternative medicine to alternative medicine is another.

The reality of casual contempt for women is another. The fact that that reality makes at least some women feel less than “safe” is another.

Salty Current elucidates in a comment at Jason’s.

It’s not a safe space when women publicly talking about the problems of harassment and misogyny are accused by prominent people in the movement of doing it as some sort of self-promotion or drama-stirring for attention or blog hits, or when the behavior cited in their examples is ignored, dismissed, or excused. It’s not a safe space when women who talk about these issues publicly then have to face a stream of vicious, misogynistic attacks and slurs.

No, it’s not.It’s odd the way this fact keeps getting brushed aside. Streams of vicious verbal attacks feel like steps on the way to worse attacks, including violence. That’s not batshit crazy, you know, because sometimes streams of vicious verbal attacks are exactly that.


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

Words, actions, or attitudes

Jun 1st, 2012 4:15 pm | By

They’re on the story in the UK, too.

The skeptical community is aflame once again over the issue of sexual harassment following the remarks of JREF president DJ Grothe in response to a 50% reduction in female attendance at TAM 2012.

Remarks remarking that the angry feminazis scared off the women who should be registering for TAM because TAM is totally entitled to those women and the angry feminazis have a hell of a nerve scaring them off.

There is not really room to pretend there is not a real problem with sexism and harassment in our community, as this data from the American Secular Census shows, women are 26% more likely to feel unwelcome, discriminated against, or harmed at Secular events 14.4% of women have felt  unwelcome, discriminated against, or harmed in the secular movement and the factors that most influence these worrying statistics are as follows:

77% – Words, actions, or attitudes of other participants

46% – Words, actions, or attitudes of organizers, leaders, or employees

23% – Unwanted advances by other participants

15.4% – Unwanted advances by organizers, leaders, or employees

15.4% – Programs or positions of the organization itself

8% – Choice of activity or venue

Words, actions, or attitudes, you see – it’s not just unwanted advances. Unwanted advances are a pretty small percentage. It’s important to keep this in mind.


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