Notes and Comment Blog

A photo, taken from an up-skirt angle

Feb 24th, 2013 4:52 pm | By

Michael Nugent has a post about a joke posted on Facebook and illustrated with a sexist photo of a woman.

It’s an old joke that I first heard decades ago, although then it was about a drunk husband trying to avoid waking his wife. So why were the genders in this old joke reversed?

It might have been to enable the poster to illustrate the joke with a random photo, taken from an up-skirt angle, of an unconscious woman lying face down on the floor wearing a very short skirt.

The joke with the photo is a lot more popular than the joke without the photo. It also attracted a good many skeevy comments, which Nugent includes. A very few of them:

  • I would of kicked the crap out of her
  • I would of hit it!
  • She made it home with her panties on
  • She’s a hoe. I’d dump her!!! Plain and simple
  • I’d love to wake up with her on my living room floor…
  • Looks like its one of them” hunny I’m help yourself poses haaahaaa
  • An found a used codom in side of her

Yet the men posting the comments seem to be not specially chosen from a warehouse labeled Sexist Men Supply.

I assume that most of these men do not consider themselves to be sexist. I assume that they would not talk in this way to their own children about this photograph. I assume that they would dislike the comments of others if the photograph was of their mother, partner, wife or daughter.

So why do they feel comfortable publishing these comments on a forum which their own mothers, partners, wives and daughters might read, and which other women are certainly reading?

Why indeed? This is something I wonder a lot. Why are so many people – including some women – so cheerful about this kind of thing? Why doesn’t it bother them? Why are they so happy to talk about women in ways that are degrading and boiling with contempt and disgust?

Because most men do not face the same kind of sexual abuse as most women do, most men have no idea how harmful comments like this can be, and how much more harmful is the cumulative impact of constantly reading comments like this on multiple websites.

And, Nugent goes on to say, it is necessary to resist, to speak out, to make it stop.

The more of us that publicly challenge these sexist comments, the more likely they are to subside. We may not in the short term influence hardcore sexists, but we can immediately help people who do not even think about the sexism of their comments to reconsider what they are saying and its impact on others.

Michelle and Erik and Kenneth and Gaylene and Dan’s comments above are great examples of how to do this. We don’t have to get into an angry exchange. We can just point out that the comment is harmful, and explain why. And the more frequently that more of us do this, the more comfortable other people will feel doing so also.

I do it very frequently indeed, to the point of boredom or nausea for everyone who reads me, but we have to do something.



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

Libel reform? What libel reform?

Feb 24th, 2013 4:23 pm | By

From Nick Cohen I learn that Labour has shafted the libel reform bill.

The results of the cross-party consensus were not as liberal as I and my friends in the free speech movement wanted. But politics is compromise. The parties agreed on legislation that would have stopped London being “a town called sue” – the global capital of libel tourism – and would have made the British a little bit freer to speak and write. That was good enough for me.

But it went wrong.

Earlier this month and at the last minute, Labour peers in the House of Lords, led by David Puttnam and Charles Falconer, a barrister who has rarely exerted himself to defend our freedoms, spatchcocked proposals from a Leveson inquiry, which did not even consider libel reform, into the libel reform bill. They knew Cameron would drop the bill rather than accept their wholesale rewrites. It’s not just that he did not want to implement all of Leveson. Labour, Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats had a deal on libel reform and Labour had broken it.

No matter. Labour carried on. It wanted judges to award punitive damages if a writer or publisher had “not first sought advice from a recognised independent regulatory board before publication”.

In other words, writers must submit their work to a quango of censors or face enormous fines. This is pre-publication censorship, the favoured tool of dictators the world over. John Milton argued against it in Areopagitica, the first great defence of free speech in the English language. By the end of last week, Labour was scrambling to abandon its position. I doubt shame at breaking with the best values of the English radical tradition forced it to retreat. Someone must have told Falconer and Puttnam that the European Court of Human Rights had specifically ruled against prior restraint in 2011 and what the peers were proposing was, on the face of it, unlawful.

Are you kidding? Punitive damages unless writers and publishers got permssion from a regulatory board first? Are they out of their minds?

However, Labour is still insisting on a clause that says a newspaper outside its quango will face punitive damages in court “even if it had been successful” in fighting and winning a case. This strikes many legal authorities as a breach of Article 10 of the Human Rights Act that protects free speech and Article 6 that protects a fair trial. The detail, horrendous though it is, matters less to me than Labour’s willingness to destroy libel reform. Be in no doubt that it exists. Lord Falconer and Harriet Harman’s “people” told me they would rather see reform die than back down.

If it dies, the bill’s proposed ban on corporations, following the example of McDonald’s, suing individual activists will die with it. If it dies, the proposed limits on the libel tourism racket that have allowed Russian, Ukrainian and Saudi billionaires, Icelandic bankers and African dictators to punish their critics in London will die with it. If it dies, the new public interest defence for contested speech, which is essential for bloggers and small publishers as well as investigative journalists, will die with it. If it dies, the planned defence of “honest opinion” that would have allowed the Simon Singhs of the future to criticise alternative health quacks without risking a £500,000 bill will die with it.

It’s horrifying.


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

Guest post: on the value in philosophical training

Feb 24th, 2013 11:36 am | By

Guest post by Landon from the Churchland on morality and science thread.

@alqpr: I share the concerns of those who object to the weight you seem to attach to the authority of so-called “experts” in moral philosophy rather than just looking at the quality of the arguments.

To quote Ophelia, “Those? Who?”

In any case, I cannot find a single instance of Ophelia (or myself, for that matter) leaning on the expertise of an individual as a surety that the conclusions are good, rather than as a heuristic device for finding better arguments. In short, do not mistake “Experts are more likely to have good arguments” for “this is a good argument (solely) because it was forwarded by an expert.” Ophelia and I have both said something like the former, but neither of us have said anything like the latter.

But wrt the training issue, I have to add that in my opinion Harris appears even more naive than Shermer, and Harris does at least have a BA in philosophy and according to Wikipedia he IS a “philosopher”

A BA doesn’t make you a philosopher. It indicates that you might be qualified to train as one. See my post at #11 – this has been dealt with already.

If I am proposing a “new” solution for an old problem I would be well advised to ask a philosopher to assess its novelty and point out any weaknesses. But If I see an error in someone else’s argument I don’t need an expert to tell me whether it’s really an error.

I am glad, at least, that you see the value in philosophical training. Likewise, I don’t dispute that you NEED not be a philosopher to see an obvious error in an argument. However, many arguments offered by philosophers have been cleansed of OBVIOUS errors, so if the argument is at all competently formed, it’s going to take someone who has a good degree of philosophical competence to spot what errors persist. And, in my experience in teaching, undergrads frequently misunderstand the force of certain objections and misconstrue the consequences of various errors they detect. They also, usually due to lack of understanding of the nuances of certain terms of art, believe they see objections where none actually exist, which they would know if they had a greater familiarity with the supporting literature and thus a better understanding of the significance of the author’s use of THIS term or THAT term, rather than some other, in the context of the argument. So it’s not always true that you don’t need an expert to tell you if the error you (think you) see is really an error.


I would be most grateful if either Ophelia or Landon (or anyone else!) could point me to even one example of an interesting (philosophical) problem that has been solved by an “expert” and explained in terms that Richard Feynman would find simple enough to justify a claim of real “expert” understanding.

I won’t address Feynman’s criteria except to note that Feynman, while a brilliant scientist, had a only very shaky grasp of what philosophy was about and repeatedly displayed ignorance regarding the methods, aims, and value of philosophy. In any case, the question is poorly formed. Philosophy does not “solve” problems in the scientific sense because philosophical problems are, by definition, beyond the realm of empirical investigation – that is, we can never “point to” some set of evidence that “proves” some particular answer is the correct one. Indeed, to the extent that a problem is amenable to such solutions, it migrates OUT of philosophy’s domain.

Philosophy problems are only ever more or less “settled,” because, lacking the ability to investigate the issues empirically, we (philosophers) try to define terms very clearly and then make the best arguments we can for various possible answers to the problems. We critique these arguments, and take the most plausible, least ontologically-promiscuous valid argument to be the best one. As “most plausible” is somewhat subjective, there will never be perfect agreement on any proposed solution, but that’s to be expected when we cannot appeal to the stern, austere realm of physical evidence for a final ruling. That said, there is a large degree of consensus on a number of issues, all of which are philosophical problems that have been at various points throughout history hotly contested by professional philosophers, and all of which were largely settled through the work of people who were essentially, for their respective eras, professional philosophers. A small sampling of these issues includes:

1) Materialism is the proper paradigm for understanding the operation of the mind (a refutation of dualism).

2) Religious belief is not rationally required (and there is only a rear-guard action maintaining that it is rationally permissible).

3) The correct paradigm for analyzing ethical problems is some variant of consequentialism that includes a concept of rights.

4) Democracy with universal adult suffrage is not only rational and ethically justifiable, it is probably the only rational and ethically justifiable form of government.

This doesn’t even mention the important work in logic that has made modern computer science possible.

The problem you may be running into, which trips up a lot of people, is that by the time a non-philosopher runs into a philosophical issue that has reached consensus, it has already seeped into the culture and looks a lot like “common sense.” It can be hard to remember that there was a time that universal suffrage was not taken for granted as the “right” way to do things, when democracy itself was a mad, experimental proposal. Non-philosophers tend to point to the people who campaigned to bring those ideas to realization in the social and political systems, but those people were almost always persuaded of the rightness of their cause by reading the philosophers who championed those ideas in the first place. The founders of the United States brought forth constitutional democracy into this world, but they did so after becoming convinced by Locke and Rousseau of the correctness of such an enterprise. If you’re having trouble figuring out what effect philosophy has had on the world, look at a map depicting the number of governments founded on the principle of constitutional democracy throughout history.

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

Moral decisions

Feb 24th, 2013 10:43 am | By

Eric has a post about what various things he writes about have to do with assisted dying.

Well, to put it briefly, as I say in the blog’s banner, I argue for the right-to-die, and against the religious obstruction of that right, so anything which impinges on the issue, even indirectly, is of importance to me. That’s why disputing scientism seems to me to be important, because it implicitly defines away all other forms of inquiry which do not satisfy the canonical rules of scientific inquiry and decision. And that includes morality.

Jon Jermey raises an interesting question in response to Eric.

Eric, once again I think the ball is in your court: what, exactly, is the difference between a moral decision and a plain old ordinary decision? I’ve been asking this of various people for several years now, and I still haven’t got a plausible answer. Here are some of the suggestions that have been put up, and why they don’t work:

“A moral decision is one that affects other people.” — but all my decisions affect other people in some way. “A moral decision potentially has great consequences for many people.” — so does the decision to build a sewerage works or an opera house, but these are not normally regarded as moral decisions. And this definition would rule out pretty much all of my decisions straight away. “A moral decision is when you do what I want you to against your own inclinations” — comment superfluous, surely. “A moral decision is when you do what God says.” — ditto.

My personal favourite at the moment is — “A moral decision is one that makes you feel guilty, no matter what you choose.” — but I don’t think it has the rigour to stand up in debate.

So again, just as you need to define ‘science’ in order to explain what you’re objecting to about it, I think you have to tell us what a ‘moral decision’ is in order to explain how these differ from the plain old everyday decisions we can make effectively with reason and logic.

I think J.J. dismisses the first answer much too quickly. I think it’s basically right. He too is right that all our decisions affect other people in some way, but many of those decisions affect other people (and/or animals and/or the environment as a whole) in ways too tiny to measure or take into consideration. If I decide to turn north instead of south while taking a walk, the ways that decision affects people or the environment are too small to detect. If on the other hand I decide not to walk to the grocery store but to drive [never mind for the moment that I don't have a car], that makes a detectable difference, and is worth taking into consideration.

Morality is about taking externals into account – other people; animals; the ecosystem we all depend on. It rests on the awareness that the self is not all there is. It’s a corrective to pure selfishness. Many purely “selfish” decisions don’t count as morally selfish because they aren’t zero sum. If I go out for a walk to admire the sunset, nobody is worse off because I do, even though I’m the only one who enjoys that particular walk. If I build a viewing tower that blocks other people’s view of the sunset, those people are worse off. (And the decision to build a sewerage works or an opera house should of course be normally regarded as moral as well as other things. Of course it should.)

Yes? No?


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

Guest Post: Updates on forced indoctrination case in Greek school

Feb 23rd, 2013 5:20 pm | By

Guest post by Simon Davis

This is an update to my guest post from yesterday. You can read it here for background.

Earlier today I received an update from the Greek Atheist Union which is tracking this case very closely.

On January 25, several Greek MP’s from the opposition social democratic SYRIZA party submitted an official inquiry[1] to the Education Minister specifically citing this case, naming the school in the Glika Nera suburb, and even included the statement by Principal Kanias about “following the law of Christ”.

Last week on February 14th, there was an official response where the ministry[2] 1) states that all schools have been made aware of the exemption process and 2) reiterates that students exempted from religious instruction are to be placed in an alternate class and not to receive absences.

As satisfactory as the response by the ministry may read at first glance, it actually resolves very little. It is more or less a repetition of a response they gave a few months back for a similar case when a different principal in Athens proper (who happened to be a theologian) refused to exempt a sixteen year old student. Despite the ministry’s response, no official action was taken and the student was required to attend religious studies class against his will and that of his parents[3].

To make matters worse, Principal Kanias is now publicly referring to the eighth grade student as “Judas” and still marking him absent every time he does not attend religious studies class. Despite the fact that not complying with ministry policy is a disciplinary offence, there has been no indication that any official action is being taken to require Kanias to comply.

It is therefore imperative that the pressure on the Greek government be maintained. We have gathered roughly 700 signatures so far out of a target of 1000. Once this target is reached the list of signers will be delivered to the Greek Minister of Education by the Greek Atheist Union.


[1] PDF in Greek from the parliament website

[2] PDF in Greek from the parliament website

[3] Greek newspaper article

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

The Special Lady Who Is Better Than All Other Ladies Because She Is One Of The Guys

Feb 23rd, 2013 11:32 am | By

Amanda Marcotte wrote a brilliant post on the peril of being a pioneer and looking down on everyone who isn’t a pioneer.

I’ve been watching with interest as Harriet Hall—a doctor, a skeptic and a blogger at Science-Based Medicine—flails around in her very determined but bizarre effort to denounce Women in Secularism (where I’ll be speaking, so come on out!) and all other efforts to improve women’s participation in atheist/skeptic movement stuff: It’s an amusing performance that veers between embracing deterministic arguments (she’s fond of the women-just-aren’t-as-into-that-rationality-thing-and-that’s-just-how-it-is-and-why-question-it argument) while insisting she is too a feminist, and, in the grand tradition of internet rabbit holes, getting into a long, digressive, but admittedly interesting debate about the meanings of words like “gender”, “sex”, “identity”, and “orientation” with Will at Skepchick. Hall has an interesting pedigree as a pioneering pilot and flight surgeon, which has been wielded to exempt her from criticism for her ideas, but which I say means that it’s important to be even more careful when examining her biases.

That last link goes here, to The heroic standard is too high, which started from a tweet by Sara Mayhew.

If a retired US AirForce Col. who pioneered as one of the 1st female pilot and flight surgeons voices critique about your feminism, listen.

She was (without saying so) talking to me, because I had just had the temerity to dispute something Hall said in her emails to Shermer which he quoted expansively in his hit piece on me in Free Inquiry. Here’s some of what I said in reply to Mayhew, because the argument is still going on.

I do (as I have repeatedly said) admire Hall a lot for the pioneering. But it doesn’t follow that I have to agree with her “critique about my feminism.” I don’t agree with it, and that’s partly because I think she is making her own pioneering the standard for others, and that that’s a seriously bad idea. Here’s why.

People shouldn’t have to overcome barriers that shouldn’t be there in the first place.

That’s all. People who do overcome barriers are admirable, yes, but it doesn’t follow that everyone should be admirable in that way, if the barriers are human creations that are not necessary and are in fact retrograde and unjust.

The Little Rock Nine were incredibly brave pioneers, and I admire them immensely. But they shouldn’t have had to be. It shouldn’t have required enormous courage for nine teenagers to go to school. Malala Yousufzai is brave beyond belief, but she shouldn’t have to be. Jessica Ahlquist bravely faced massive vicious harassment, but she shouldn’t have had to.

And however much I respect people for being pioneers, I’m not going to let that substitute for a good argument. I think Hall’s claims are mistaken and that she does a terrible job of backing them up with argument. The fact that she was a pioneer doesn’t change that. (I find I can no longer honestly say I admire her for the pioneering, because she has been so persistently and immovably unpleasant and vindictive, and so incapable of admitting any error.)

Back to Marcotte.

 …it’s important to be even more careful when examining her biases.

Why? Well, it’s not a given that if someone is used to being one of the few or even lone woman in a group of men that her instinct is to kick down doors and try to get more women involved. On the contrary! It might end up reinforcing a belief that men are braver/smarter/more logical/etc. for ego-flattering reasons. If you’re the lone woman, you can tell yourself, “Most women aren’t cut out to play with the big boys, but I’m the exception. I’m spectacular!” Admitting that there might not be more women because of institutional bias and discrimination—and working to get more women into the game—would mean you lose your place as the Special Lady Who Is Better Than All Other Ladies Because She Is One Of The Guys.

It doesn’t strike me as a coincidence that Hall went from being the special lady in the boys club of the Air Force to being the special lady of the skeptical world, one of the rare female faces in a sea of men. Being the token woman makes you feel powerful, after all.

It’s something to watch for. Hard. As I’ve mentioned, I used to feel that way a bit, because B&W seemed like a pioneer, not least because most of the commenters were male. Marcotte has been there.

I confess, in the early days, the temptation to not participate in all this and instead to enjoy being one of the few women in a sea of men was strong. But I also knew it was bullshit, because I know in my heart of hearts that men are not smarter or better than women, and thus being “one of the boys” was no more an honor than being “one of the random people picked off the street”. So I threw myself into the project of linking women, doing panels on “women in blogging”, promoting women’s work, highlighting smaller blogs written by women, etc. The story is a lot more complex than that, but this post is getting a little long already, so I’ll leave it at that. I’ll just say that in the end, women banding together and helping each other out paid off way more than trying to grab the Token Lady spot; the thrill of being one of the guys can’t hold a candle to the pleasure of living in a world where women actually get respect.

And a world packed with women who get respect because they are terrific bloggers and/or writers.

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

Priests say when it’s ok to joke about priests

Feb 23rd, 2013 10:32 am | By

The Ottawa Citizen asks: is it ever OK to satirize religious leaders or beliefs?

Which seems like a silly question. Yes, of course it is.

But asking it gets people to say why they think it’s not ok, and it’s useful to know why people think that.

First up is a rabbi, and a radio rabbi at that – head of Congregation Machzikei Hadas in Ottawa and host of Sunday night with  Rabbi Bulka on 580 CFRA.

…the fact that it is legally OK to make such comments does not translate into  it being OK on other levels.

The Pope was certainly no stranger to controversy, even within the church.  Arguing with his views on matters of principle is fair game. But this is all fair game when it is within the boundaries of respect.

Arguing not on the issues, and instead undercutting the person, is difficult  to justify. I can see it when there is evident hypocrisy, or lying, or deliberate truth twisting, but failing that, it is important that we have some appreciation of the sacred.

Well, Rabbi, there is evident hypocrisy and lying and deliberate truth twisting. But suppose there isn’t. Suppose there is only protection of child-raping priests, telling people in Africa (and everywhere else) not to use condoms, trying to force hospitals to refuse life-saving abortions, the effort to silence “radical feminist” nuns, refusal to contemplate the ordination of women while still expecting women to obey The Rules of The Church…and so on. Why is it important that we have so much “appreciation of the sacred” that we treat the head of an institution that perpetrates all that and more as above satire?

No, on the contrary. Bullshit like “appreciation of the sacred” is the main reason institutions like the Catholic church get away with so much evil activity.

A Catholic priest says what you would expect.

Particularly when talking or writing of the religious beliefs, traditions or  leaders of other faith communities, we need to pay special attention to how our  communications will be perceived by members of that community.

Uh huh. That’s what they think in Bangladesh, too…but only for certain understandings of “members of that community.” Some communities are more sacred than others.

The Anglican priest does a much better job of it.

There’s a difference, however, with humour whose sole intention is to hurt and  harm. Its unlovely and usually unfunny character is generally accompanied by a  sneering sense of superiority on the part of the “humorist.” It doesn’t really  matter if such humour is directed against religion or against any other persons  or sets of belief. The world hardly needs any more aggression, vitriol, or  contempt. Whatever our differences or conflicts, we all, as human beings,  deserve respect. We all need to try to develop empathy toward others.

Kevin Smith of CFI-Canada gets to grips with the particulars…to amusing effect.

If the Harper-Cons thought it an offensive issue, I have no doubt they would  have established, with suitable fanfare, the Office of Religious Freedom from  Satirical Persecution. Spoofing Buddhism or Bahá’i? They wouldn’t bother you.  Lampooning Catholics, certainly a stern warning letter. But mocking an  Evangelical would guarantee your name in a CSIS binder for life.

There are times when satirizing religion should be forbidden, where their  words or actions are no joking matter. History is littered with them.

For instance, any religion that not only fails to deal with sexual abuses of  children in their care but also willingly covers up the vile acts should be held  accountable in a court of law. Otherwise they’ll be the ones getting the last  laugh.

Skip the satire and call the cops.

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

The fans of #wiscfi

Feb 23rd, 2013 9:54 am | By

Just a little random morning item, just a warm up to start the day. There was a tweet about Women in Secularism 2 in my Twitter feed, with the hashtag – #wiscfi – so I clicked on the hashtag to see what else is new. So now you get to see what I see.


Only after all those did I see a genuine, that is a non-mocking non-sneering non-hostile tweet.

Interesting, isn’t it.

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

Not quite good enough for standup

Feb 22nd, 2013 5:24 pm | By

Wo. Ben Radford decided to get back at that so and so PZ Myers once and for all, by putting on his Jonathan Swift hat and being FUNNeeee. He wrote a satire type piece – not on the CFI blog this time – about PZ using up all the straw in Minnesota. GEDDIT? Super funny, right?

A spokesman for the Minnesota Farmers Union is concerned about a shortage of straw and hay available for agricultural purposes around the state—and he is blaming PZ Myers for the problem.

Myers, a prolific blogger and professor of biology at the University of Minnesota, Morris, has been accused of hoarding hay and straw for use in constructing his straw man arguments and logical fallacies. While some of the larger organizations such as the Minnesota Farm Network have been reluctant to criticize Myers out of fear of being targeted on his often-vitriolic blog, others are speaking out.

Witty? Subtle? Clever?

“Every time he writes something outside of his field [of biology], Myers uses all of the available straw for miles around” to craft his arguments, said Farmer’s Union representative Mike Helms. “I’m not saying he doesn’t have a right to buy straw and hay—it’s a free country and all that. But the fact is our farmers and horses need it. He can’t use that much straw [an estimated 3,000 bales per month last year] and not expect it to affect our local ecology and economy. We use straw for feeding our livestock and horses, bedding, and fuel. He’s just using it to make faulty arguments. Where’s the justice in that?”

Helms added that other quasi-famous pundits have been drawn to the area in search of straw for their own arguments (conservative writer Ann Coulter and creationist William Dembksi are frequent customers), but that Myers is by far the most active.

Radford seriously thinks PZ is comparable to Coulter and Dembski? Damn, my credulity gets strained so much these days it’s all but useless to me.

Myers, once known for his work as a biologist, has in recent years become most prominent for his strident criticism of religion, skepticism, and almost anything else he disagrees with. In a famous incident in 2009, Myers overheard a young woman mention that she was a staunch vegetarian, to which he immediately responded: “You know, Hitler was a vegetarian… What other Nazi policies do you agree with?” Myers’s blatant logical fallacies have been catalogued by dozens of people including scientist-and-best-selling authors Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins—and most recently by a bored fifth-grader in Duluth who happened to be skimming Myers’s “Pharyngula” blog for a school project.

Despite his dismissive tone and having yet to publish a single book, PZ Myers has attracted legions of fans.

Where to begin? The completely random Nazi item? The claim about logical fallacies without ever throughout the piece (or his previous slap at PZ) actually citing any? The ass-kissing of Harris and Dawkins, and the naked attempt to use their fame as a club to cudgel someone he dislikes? The “he hasn’t published a book” snobbery from someone who can’t write a decent sentence? The fact that in fact PZ has published a book? The spiteful jealousy of the legions of fans?

Republican political strategists—themselves well versed in straw man fallacies—have long expressed admiration for Myers’s uncanny ability to fabricate controversy from thin air and grossly mischaracterize his opponents. Wilson Moot, a protégé of Karl Rove and the chief writer of Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign ads, is a particular fan. One of Moot’s best-known ads took President Obama’s statement “You didn’t build that” out of context (he was clearly referring to national infrastructure including roads and bridges) and claimed that it was instead an attack on small business owners. “Myers’s ability to twist and spin the facts and misinterpret otherwise clear arguments by others is unparalleled,” Moot said in a recent Washington Weekly interview. “I’m good, but let’s be honest: Myers is in his own class. Up is down, black is white, night is day—if he says it is. If we’d had him on our campaign I really think we could have nailed Obama on that Muslim thing and won the White House.”

God damn. What a stack of bullshit. Radford misrepresented his own blog post, while PZ addressed what Radford had actually written.

Who are these people?




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

Guest post: Forced religious indoctrination in Greek public schools

Feb 22nd, 2013 4:29 pm | By

Guest post by Simon Davis

Greek public schools hold daily Orthodox prayer, schedule regular church visits, and mandate the taking of a “religious studies” class every year. The “religious studies” classes vary with each grade level but almost exclusively feature Greek Orthodox theology. The governing body overseeing the public schools is the Ministry of Education and Religion. This is the same ministry that pays the salaries of the country’s Orthodox priests.

However, Greek law also allows students to opt out. Due to data privacy regulations that forbid the government to record people’s religion, students cannot be compelled to state their religious affiliation to school officials under any circumstance. As a result, all that is required is to submit a simple form that states a deire to be exempt from “religious studies”, mandatory prayer and church visits signed by their guardian if they are under 18. Students 18 or over may submit their own form.

Unfortunately, many school administrators are either unaware of or simply refuse to allow the exemption, and ministry officials are not holding them to account.

The latest case is Stavros Kanias, School Principal in the Glika Nera suburb of Athens. Kanias is refusing to allow a middle school student to opt out, even stating that his refusal is based on a desire to “follow the law of Christ”. Even though the required form has been submitted it is not being accepted. Many similar cases are often not publicized. When Greek MP’s have raised the question in parliament, the Education Minister has simply reiterated the procedure and deferred to lower ministry officials.

In response to an increase in the amount of denied exemptions, the Greek Atheist Union is organizing a campaign to not only put pressure on the school and the ministry to allow this particular student to opt out, but just as important to ensure that the Ministry enforces the law and takes active steps to ensure this does not occur anywhere else. In collaboration with the Greek Atheist Union, I have created a petition that will be delivered to the Greek Education Minister, the official for the school district as well as the principal.


It is immensely important that we receive signatures from as many countries as possible. Greek officials and politicians are especially sensitive to being seen as “embarrassing the country abroad”. But it will also be an much-needed show of solidarity to secular families in Greece that are asking for their basic legal rights to be respected by an often times indifferent or hostile public school system.

Simon Davis is director of online marketing at a healthcare publications company. He grew up in Greece. You can tweet him at @SimonKnowz

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

Rape her once, rape her twice

Feb 22nd, 2013 12:30 pm | By

Indiana Republican legislators decide that raping a pregnant woman with a transvaginal probe once isn’t a good enough way to punish her for seeking an abortion. Nope; gotta rape her twice.

What makes Indiana really stand out, though, is that this bill, SB 371, would require two ultrasounds—before and after the abortion. The bill would require physicians to “schedule a follow-up appointment” two weeks after RU-486 is administered. But that’s not all. Under penalty of criminal and/or civil charges and fines, physicians must “make a reasonable effort to ensure that the pregnant woman returns for the follow-up appointment.”

Because…what? They’re hoping the second probe will persuade the fetus to have a conversation with them in which the fetus begs them in rhyming couplets not to allow its promising young life to be cut off?

Well, no. Just to punish the whorey slut. They can’t think of any other way to punish her that they can get away with, so they have to settle for shoving a stick up her twice.

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

Ishtiaq Ahmed

Feb 22nd, 2013 11:55 am | By

One piece of good news – Ishtiaq Ahmed has won the Karachi Literature Festival Best Non–fiction Book Prize of 2013. The book is The Punjab Bloodied, Partitioned and Cleansed.

I’ve been following his work for years, as you can see by searching at ur-B&W. It seems a healthy sign that the Karachi Literature Festival is aware of his merit.

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

Explanation provided by Dunning and Kruger

Feb 21st, 2013 5:00 pm | By

Harriet Hall has yet another post explaining why she’s right and everyone who thinks otherwise is wrong. She says this is the last post on the subject, and thank god for that. This final post is about the T shirt.

Like the other two, it’s not impressive. She’s astonishingly unwilling or unable to admit even that her intentions were not necessarily self-evident, let alone that she simply went out of her way to make a hostile public statement about some people who had already been on the receiving end of a lot of hostile public statements.

I didn’t want to talk about the T-shirt, but I’ve been repeatedly challenged to explain myself, and I’m afraid I can no longer avoid it. Steven Novella has recommended that we try to give other people’s arguments the most charitable interpretation. I hope my critics will do that, but I’m not optimistic. If past experience is any guide, they will misinterpret my explanation and put it in the worst possible light, which is why I haven’t offered it before.

See what I mean? It couldn’t be that the T shirt wasn’t as limpidly clear as she seems to think, no, it has to be that Other People are simply determined to be big poopy heads. It couldn’t be that her critics are increasingly irritated by passive-aggressive bullshit like that very passage, no, it has to be that they are determined to misinterpret everything she says.

That’s not a good start. That doesn’t make me think her explanation will be honest or that she will manage to be at all self-critical.

To set the scene for the T-shirt incident, there was a complex backstory involving Elevatorgate, Richards Dawkins, insults and threats directed at women, a perception that TAM’s anti-harassment policy was not being enforced, objections to a statement JREF President DJ Grothe made, accusations that Grothe had lied about reports of harassment, and numerous other incidents, many of which were blown way out of proportion. All this had left big chips firmly glued to shoulders.

Or not. That’s another bad start. Maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t our fault for being annoyed that DJ blamed ”some women” for talking about women and harassment, maybe it was DJ’s fault for blaming ”some women” for talking about harassment. If Hall can’t entertain even the possibility of that even for a second, her “explanation” is not going to be worth much. Maybe ours were not the only shoulders that had chips on them.

It was in that context that Rebecca Watson announced in June, 2012, that she was cancelling her plans to attend TAM in July. The reason she gave was that  “I do not feel safe and welcome at TAM.” I was willing to take that at face value, as an “I” statement, not as a warning that women in general were not safe and welcome there.

Oh no no no no no. That’s wrong. That’s not the reason Rebecca gave – it’s much more complicated than that. The reason she gave was that DJ pretty much publicly spat in her face by saying she was one of the women scaring other women away from TAM, despite the fact that she had promoted TAM and helped fund women’s attendance there for years*. Hall must know that perfectly well. But I suppose it doesn’t do to mention it, because it doesn’t do to admit that DJ did anything wrong?

And that omission makes a mess of everything that follows. Hall’s story is that Rebecca just randomly said she didn’t feel safe at TAM, as if it were full of tigers and rattlesnakes, and Hall was just sending a counter-message on a friendly T shirt because she knew there were no tigers or rattlesnakes. But the first part is total bullshit, so the second part is too.

As an afterthought, I used the back of the shirt to express a long held opinion: “I’m a skeptic. Not a ‘skepchick.’ Not a ‘woman skeptic.’ Just a skeptic.” The word skepchick predates the Skepchick organization. It was used at least as early as 1999, it was in common use on the JREF Forum for years before Rebecca’s first appearance there in 2004, and the Skepchick website wasn’t registered until 2005.  I was thinking of the word in its earlier, more general sense, which is why I didn’t capitalize it. I have explained that my stance is a matter of personal preference and does not imply any disrespect for those whose preferences are different.  I even asked, “Please try to understand that ‘I like to do it my way’ does not equate to  ‘I’m accusing you of being wrong for doing it your way.’” If I say I prefer to cook my chicken by stir-frying, that doesn’t mean I think you are wrong to roast yours, and I’m certainly not trying to tell you that you should switch to stir-frying. I can appreciate that both cooking methods can produce delicious meals.

Bullshit. I’m sorry to keep repeating myself, but bullshit. That would be credible if the slogan were actually about stir-frying, but it’s not credible at all since it’s not. And if she really seriously truly honestly meant it as just announcing a personal preference (but why? why there, and then? why on that subject?) then she could have just said she was terribly sorry, she didn’t realize it would be misconstrued. She could have stopped wearing it, instead of wearing it more. She could say that now, at least. But no. She’s still pretending it was just a random remark with no relevance to anyone at TAM. That is not even a little bit credible.

*Update February 22: I was vague on the details, and short on time, when I wrote that, but several people provided unvague details in comments. Rebecca owns Skepchick, which promotes Amy’s grants; for several years before Amy started raising money, Rebecca single-handedly produced Skepchick calendars, the sales of which all went exclusively to sending women to TAM; and then there’s edithkeeler’s contribution @ 28:

I went to TAM in 2009 (came all the way from Australia specifically to go to TAM – MEGA REAL SKEPTIC COOKIES PLEASE?) and won an auction at jref forums to have lunch with the Skepchicks the proceeds (several hundred bucks from me & there were 2 winners so double that total) of which went to scholarships to attend. General JREF scholarships, not the Surly Amy ones (IIRC) so yes actually Rebecca was involved in fundraising to send people to TAM, apart from Amy’s sterling work.

Rebecca herself had forgotten that one.

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

Something that stays with people

Feb 21st, 2013 11:39 am | By

Oddly enough, I find myself completely unsurprised to learn that childhood bullying is linked to a higher risk of psychological disorders in adulthood. It’s more the other way. I find myself wondering why anyone would think it wouldn’t be.

A significant study from Duke, out today, provides the best evidence we’ve had thus far that bullying in childhood is linked to a higher risk of psychological disorders in adulthood. The results came as a surprise to the research team. “I was a skeptic going into this,” lead author and Duke psychiatry professor William E. Copeland told me over the phone, about the claim that bullying does measurable long-term psychological harm. “To be honest, I was completely surprised by the strength of the findings. It has certainly given me pause. This is something that stays with people.”

So before the study he thought it was something that didn’t stay with people?

Hmm. Maybe it’s not so strange to think that. There is that funny way that suddenly childhood miseries get much smaller once you are more or less adult and independent. I know that’s a common experience, at least in this part of the world where people go away to school or get jobs around age 18. It does seem to put it all in proportion.

Anyway. There is this new evidence.

I’m less surprised, because as I explain in my new book about bullying, Sticks and Stones, earlier research has shown that bullying increases the risk for many problems, including low academic performance in school and depression (for both bullies and victims) and criminal activity later in life (bullies). But the Duke study is important because it lasted for 20 years and followed 1,270 North Carolina children into adulthood. Beginning at the ages of 9, 11, and 13, the kids were interviewed annually until the age of 16, along with their parents, and then multiple times over the years following.

Based on the findings, Copeland and his team divided their subjects into three groups: People who were victims as children, people who were bullies, and people who were both. The third group is known as bully-victims. These are the people who tend to have the most serious psychological problems as kids, and in the Duke study, they also showed up with higher levels of anxiety, depressive disorders, and suicidal thinking as adults. The people who had only experienced being victims were also at heightened risk for depression and anxiety. And the bullies were more likely to have an antisocial personality disorder.

It’s not just being bullied. Bullying is bad for you. Yeh I figured that.

It’s important to point out that Copeland and other researchers don’t define bullying broadly, in a way that encompasses a lot of mutual conflict among kids, or one-time fighting. Bullying is physical or verbal harassment that takes place repeatedly and involves a power imbalance—one kid, or group of kids, making another kid miserable by lording power over him. As Dan Olweus, the Scandinavian psychologist who launched the field of bullying studies in the 1960s, has been arguing for many years, this is a particular form of harmful aggression. And so the effort to prevent bullying isn’t about pretending that kids will always be nice to each other, or that they don’t have to learn to weather some adversity.

This is what makes the internet so peculiar in the context of bullying - it shoves us adults back into that stifling hermetic world of childhood, where physical or verbal harassment that takes place repeatedly and involves a power imbalance is just normal.


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

Dolan is deposed

Feb 21st, 2013 10:27 am | By

Timothy Dolan, the New York cardinal who gets angry when newspapers report on the Catholic church’s way with child-raping priests, has given a deposition about priestly child rape in the Milwaukee Catholic Archdiocese’s bankruptcy case.

Dolan headed the Milwaukee archdiocese from 2002 to 2009, before being named to the New York position. During his term here, archdiocesan officials sought to reach financial settlements with people who had been sexually abused by priests over the years, but those talks weren’t successful. In January 2011, Dolan’s Milwaukee successor, Archbishop Jerome Listecki, announced the archdiocese was filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy because the financial claims against it “exceed our means.”

The church put a happier spin on it though.

Joseph Zwilling, communications director for the New York Archdiocese, released this statement Wednesday:

“Today Cardinal Dolan had the long-awaited opportunity to talk about his decision nine years ago in Milwaukee to publicize the names of priests who had abused children and how he responded to the tragedy of past clergy sexual abuse of minors during the time he was privileged to serve as Archbishop of Milwaukee.

“He has indicated over the past two years that he was eager to cooperate in whatever way he could, and he was looking forward to talking about the good work and progress that took place to ensure the protection of children and pastoral outreach to victims.”

Once it all became public and he had no other choice.

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

It’s not sexism that’s wrong, it’s calling something sexist that’s wrong

Feb 20th, 2013 6:00 pm | By

Uh oh. It’s not just Michael Shermer who is suffering the terrible, scorching aftermath of being witch-hunted and inquisitored for saying something sexist. The poison is spreading. PZ Chris Clarke quotes Jacquelyn Gill’s blog The Contemplative Mammoth. There was a sexist remark on a list-serv. Gill asks a question.

After the sexist comments were made, some did in fact call them out. This was immediately followed up with various responses that fell into two camps: 1) “Saying female graduate students are inferior isn’t sexist” (this has later morphed into “she was really just pointing out poor mentoring!”), and 2) “Calling someone out for a sexist statement on a list-serv is inappropriate.” Some have called for “tolerance” on Ecolog-l; arguably, more real estate in this discussion has gone into chastising the people who called out Jones’ comments. These people are almost universally male. To those people, I ask:

Why is it more wrong to call someone out for saying something sexist than it was to have said the sexist thing in the first place?

Why indeed?

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

When Sommers met Kimmel

Feb 20th, 2013 5:41 pm | By

Michael Kimmel and Christina Hoff Sommers did a dialogue at the Huffington Post. It didn’t create a new bridge between feminists and Christina Hoff Sommers.

Sommers: Now I have a question for you, Michael. In the past, you seem to have sided with a group of gender scholars who think we should address the boy problem by raising boys to be more like girls.  Maybe I am being overly optimistic, but does your praise for my New York Times op-ed indicate a shift in your own thinking?

Ouch; that’s a Radfordesque question. “When did you stop dressing your son in frilly skirts?”

Kimmel: Not at all.  I’m not interested in raising boys to be more like girls any more than I want girls to be raised more like boys.  The question itself assumes that there is a way to raise boys that is different from the way we raise girls.  To me this is stereotypic thinking.  I want to raise our children to be themselves, and I think that one of the more wonderful components of feminism was to critique that stereotype that all girls are supposed to act and dress in one way and one way only.

Eww! Gender feminism! He said “stereotypic”! He thinks girls and boys are exactly the same! Ewww!

Kimmel: Our disagreement, I think, comes from what we see as the source of that falling behind.  My interviews with over 400 young men, aged 6-26, in Guyland, showed me that young men and boys are constantly and relentlessly policed by other guys, and pressured to conform to a very narrow definition of masculinity by the constant spectre of being called a fag or gay.  So if we’re going to really intervene in schools to ensure that boys succeed, I believe that we have to empower boys’ resilience in the face of this gender policing.  What my interviews taught me is that many guys believe that academic disengagement is a sign of their masculinity.  Therefore, re-engaging boys in school requires that we enable them to reconect educational engagement with manhood.

Sommers, you won’t be surprised to learn, isn’t buying it.

Sommers: I agree that we should raise children to be themselves. But that will often mean respecting their gender. Increasingly, little boys are shamed and punished for the crime of being who they are. The typical, joyful play of young males is “rough and tumble” play. There is no known society where little boys fail to evince this behavior (girls do it too, but far less). In many schools, this characteristic play of little boys is no longer tolerated. Intrusive and intolerant adults are insisting “tug of war” be changed to “tug of peace”; games such as tag are being replaced with “circle of friends” — in which no one is ever out.

Those are the feminists who say “all men are rapists,” aren’t they. They live in the same mist-shrouded part of the North Pole where no one can ever find them, don’t they.

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

No, that’s not it

Feb 20th, 2013 11:50 am | By

There’s one very odd new theme in the comments on Hall’s belligerent post yesterday. The theme is that her critics are being ageist and picking on her because she’s not young. (Last week she called herself a “tough old hen” as opposed to a chick, which as another tough old hen I quite like.)

yankee skeptic for instance.

The odd part is the emphasis on “You screwed up OLD LADY!” and how we are marginalized and not considered “with it” enough to play a part.  Yet this is truly part of what feminism is supposed to be fighting, women being marginalized after they are over 30.  When did, respecting people, explaining nicely (rather than DEMANDING an apology because hey, you just have not kept up with the lingo), and seeing we are stronger together rather than apart because a problem?

Ageism is quite the issue, but it is full steam ahead and we don’t care who we run over, at times.

Geek Goddess for another instance.

You are obviously just not young, hip, thin, cute, clever, or hard-drinking enough to be popular, and your experiences aren’t worthy. You aren’t even very smart (regardless of that medical degree you seem so proud of). I’m in the same boat. My advanced age means that my STEM degree, my years of working in a industry that is less than 5% female, and managing to rise to the top and earn a 6-figure salary, a company car, availability of a private jet, and bonuses more than most people’s salaries, means I also do not know a damn thing about what women have to struggle with to succeed in any business, must less a good-old-boy one. Having professors tell me that I was taking a slot away from a man, who MIGHT HAVE TO SUPPORT A FAMILY, wasn’t harassment or life-changing. (I spend all my salary on trivial things, apparently.) And since I’m no longer young, hip, thin, cute, clever, or hard-driking enough to be hit on in bars, I don’t understand the harassment that women face. Sometimes, when some of us state that we do not feel unsafe, or haven’t been harassed at a conference, not only are we accusing women of making it it, or exaggerating, etc., I hear the unspoken words “Of course YOU haven’t been harassed or attacked. Because you are not young, hip, thing, cute, etc.”  Yep, I was told this. The ugly unspoken little secret among some women.

Are you kidding? Seriously?

Does anybody call Harriet Hall Prune or Hatty McPrune? My “critics” call me Prune and Ophie McPrune. Does anybody call her cobweb cunt? My “critics” call me cobweb cunt. Do Hall’s critics make endless jokes about how sexually repellent she is? Do they constantly say how old and ugly she is? Do they do YouTube videos to say how old and ugly she is? Do they photoshop her head onto women in bikinis? Does she ever get anything remotely resembling any of this? Not that I know of. Not that I’ve ever seen. I get it every day.

Commenters picked up the theme and repeated it several times as the thread grew. A couple more -


What seems to have emerged here (other than the sadly predictable internet fustercluck) is a manifestation of an intergenerational schism in the skeptic movement. As a 49 year old feminist/atheist, I am old enough to recall the institutional barriers to women that are now illegal because of the heavy lifting done by people like Harriet. Will’s comment that Harriet “has had 40 years” to educate herself on the new terminology and other more pointed anonymous comments on Twitter and elsewhere reflect a systemic ageism on the internet, the arrogance of youth and relative inexperience, and a failure to recognize (they are too young to have seen it first-hand) that semantics are provisional at best and change over time.

Looking at posts by Will and Rebecca, I cringe to recall my own snark and the disrespect I had for my elders back in the day. I am grateful there is no permanant record of same, and I use threads like this to educate my teenage daughters, encouraging them to do some of their growing up away from a keyboard.

That’s not it. Sorry to burst the bubble, but it’s not. I’m a million years old [vide supra] but I don’t agree with Hall’s take – and I know plenty of contemporaries who also wouldn’t agree with it. That take was conservative 40 years ago and it still is. It’s not generational. It’s a view. Hall has plenty of young women on her team, and there are plenty of us cobweb cunts on other teams.

One more: Chris:

 It seems that the theme here is also dismissing the accomplishments of women breaking down gender barriers forty years ago, and at the same time reminding me why I hated high school cliques.

No. It isn’t. The theme is saying breaking down gender barriers is great, but also, women shouldn’t have to break down barriers in the first place, so just telling women to push harder while not “complaining” i.e. trying to say what the barriers are and why it shouldn’t be up to individuals to break them down, is not good enough.


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

Jeez, all he said was

Feb 20th, 2013 10:58 am | By

Yikes, Ben Radford has yet another meta-post saying how everyone was wrong about his first post, yet again drastically misrepresenting his own post in the process. This is getting beyond embarrassing – meta-embarrassing.

Last week I wrote what I thought was a fairly straightforward piece titled “Over It.” It was an introduction to a poem, and then a poem. It was short, in three parts, and about an anti-rape poem by Eve Ensler, and her One Billion Rising campaign to encourage women to dance as a way to end rape.

Dude. That’s not true. That’s not all it was about. That’s far from all it was about.

Second para.

In the first part I explicitly stated that I agreed with Ensler’s goals (“I support her goals of reducing rape and other forms of violence against women”), but that I had reservations about Ensler’s use of statistics, and whether or not
encouraging people to dance would actually do any good. In the second part I wrote a poem, using the same title, the same structure, and some of the same lines-echoing, expanding on, and supporting many of Ensler’s sentiments. The poem was clearly supporting and agreeing with Ensler on many topics, and I added other topics which I felt had been largely left out in the discussion (such as the issue of male rape, and the epidemic of sexual assault in Native American communities).

That’s a little closer, but very little. The “added other topics” made a big chunk of the post, and they weren’t just added as having been left out; several of them were flailing attacks on a mythical feminism that doesn’t exist, such as the one that says “all men are rapists.” That was the part of the post that I criticized, for example, and it’s dishonest of Radford to pretend he simply added a few neglected topics.

So why the anger and venom? Why would anyone get enraged and morally indignant because I think women dancing is a waste of time and not actually helping decrease the incidence of physical and sexual assault?

Dude. That is not what happened.

Is it possible to somehow interpret this as supporting rape in some way? I didn’t think so, yet over the past week I have been criticized and vilified, painted as a misogynist, “rape apologist” and even “anti-feminist” by a few people who either didn’t read my piece, or didn’t understand it.

I read it. Did Radford read it?

I am over the myth of “the passivity of good men,” suggesting that many or most men are complicit in rape culture when in fact most men are not rapists, and condemn those who are.

I am over the male bashing often inherent in feminist writings and slogans; “All men are rapists” is neither true nor fair nor helpful.

I am over the wanton slinging of labels like “misogynist” and “sexist” and “sister hater” and “gender traitor” and “rape apologist” to people who dare criticize feminists. Plenty of feminists disagree with each other.

I am over social activists, including those whose causes I support, who value emotion and anecdote over truth, facts, and critical thinking.

I am over thin-skinned “feminists” who blithely and intentionally confuse legitimate questions and criticism of their facts or claims with misogyny and sexism; it is insulting to real victims of misogyny and sexism.

I am over blaming TV, movies, magazines, and video games for real-life violence-including violence against women. Just as sexy clothes do not cause rape, violent and sexual images do not cause rape; rapists cause rape.

I am over the simplistic idea that women are raped by heteronormative, hegemonic patriarchies instead of by criminals.

Rush Limbaugh could cheerfully sign off on that passage. If Radford didn’t intend that passage to be anti-feminist, he’s one hell of a clumsy writer.


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

What’s happening to the fucking Pope?

Feb 20th, 2013 10:34 am | By

We hear a lot about people going out looking for things to be offended by. Sometimes that’s not what’s going on; other times it is.

One of the latter is when an editor shouts across a noisy newsroom, responding to a delay in production, “can anyone tell what’s happening to the fucking Pope?” and a Catholic employee brings a claim in the Employment Tribunal for harassment and victimisation on the grounds of his religious belief.

The Appellant, a casual sub-editor on the Times Newspaper, was a Roman Catholic. He was working at the Times during the visit to the United Kingdom of the Pope in 2010. During March the Times was preparing a story about the Pope relating to allegations that he had protected a paedophile priest.  There was some delay in producing the story, and one of the editors in the newsroom, a Mr Wilson, shouted across to the senior production executives “can anyone tell what’s happening to the fucking Pope?”.  When there was no response he repeated the question more loudly.  The Appellant was upset and offended what he heard.  He raised a complaint, which in his view was not properly progressed, and he then brought a claim in the Employment Tribunal for harassment and victimisation on the grounds of his religious belief.

Hmmyeah. Dude – people say “fucking” sometimes when they’re just impatient or frustrated or annoyed or – hang on tight – just adding an intensifier for no particular reason. It happens. It’s not worth going to an employment tribunal about.

The Tribunal held that the use of bad language was evidently merely an expression of bad temper which may have constituted “unwanted conduct” but it was not intended to express hostility to the Pope or Catholicism. Neither elements constituting harassment had  been proved. First, the Tribunal found that Mr Wilson did not know that the Appellant was a Roman Catholic; but, more generally and perhaps more pertinently, it found that there was, to put it shortly, no anti-Catholic purpose in what he said.

What Mr Wilson said was not only not ill-intentioned or anti-Catholic or directed at the Pope or at Catholics: it was evidently not any of those things.  No doubt in a perfect world he should not have used an expletive in the context of a sentence about the Pope, because it might be taken as disrespectful by a pious Catholic of tender sensibilities, but people are not perfect and sometimes use bad language thoughtlessly: a reasonable person would have understood that and made allowance for it.

In this appeal, the Appellant contended that the Tribunal erred by considering Mr Wilson’s “motive” in saying what he did and that was immaterial to the question of whether his remark was “on the grounds” of the Appellant’s religion.


The Apellant lost. And that is going out looking for things to be offended by.

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