Notes and Comment Blog

The Sovereign Magical Charismatic Throne

Jan 5th, 2015 11:13 am | By

Parliament issued information about the absolute exemption for the royals which we commoners are allowed to read and share.

The Freedom of Information Act 2000, as amended, includes an exemption for
communications with The Queen, other members of the Royal Family and the Royal
Household, and the awarding of Honours by the Crown (section 37). Certain information
relating to the Sovereign and to the heir and second in line to the Throne is absolutely
exempt from the Act, whereas information relating to other members of the Royal Family and
the Royal Household is subject to the public interest test.

So Brenda and Choss and William are all absolutely exempt. They can plot with Boko Haram if they want to and keep it entirely to themselves.

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 does not apply directly to the Royal Household, as the
Royal Household is not included in the Act’s definition of a public authority. However,
communications with the Royal Family are exempt under Section 37 of the Act which
provides that information is exempt:
(1)… if it relates to— .
(a) communications with the Sovereign, .
(aa) communications with the heir to, or the person who is for the time being second in
line of succession to, the Throne, .
(ab) communications with a person who has subsequently acceded to the Throne or
become heir to, or second in line to, the Throne,
(ac) communications with other members of the Royal Family (other than
communications which fall within any of paragraphs (a) to (ab) because they are made
or received on behalf of a person falling within any of those paragraphs), and .
(ad) communications with the Royal Household (other than communications which fall
within any of paragraphs (a) to (ac) because they are made or received on behalf of a
person falling within any of those paragraphs), or .
(b) the conferring by the Crown of any honour or dignity.

They’re Special, Magical, Anointed, Superhuman, Enchanted people, who stand on the very pinnacle of the UK, benevolently guiding it, therefore they have to be allowed to operate in total secrecy, because.

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

This amendment gives Charles the green light

Jan 5th, 2015 10:44 am | By

That piece in the Independent about special exemptions for the royals from the FOIA was four years old, but it’s all the more newsworthy because the exemptions are now part of the law, so I’ve been looking into the matter.

Index on Censorship covered it in March 2011, a couple of months after the Indy article.

There was some strengthening of the royals’ exemption in 2010.

But full FoI exemption for the Royal Family was sealed by the current government. On 16 January 2011, just a week after the Ministry of Justice trumpeted to extend the scope of FoI for increased transparency of public affairs, Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke announced his commencement order to bring Royal Family exemption into full force:

The changes provide an absolute instead of a qualified exemption for information relating to communications with the sovereign, heir to the throne or second in line to the throne or those acting on their behalf.

So that’s that. Charles Windsor puts pressure on the government to fund homeopathy on the NHS? Secret. Charles meddles with planning permission in London and elsewhere? Secret. Charles demands friendlier treatment of his Saudi mates? Secret. Charles sends love letters to the pope? Secret. [your worst nightmare here]? Secret.

Whereas there was previously an exemption from the exemption, Freedom of Information enquiries about the Royal Family are no longer subject to a public interest test. There is no way to hold them under account under FoI.

They’re like the NSA, but with ermine and diamonds.

Republic, the British organisation campaigning for the end of a constitutional role for the monarchy, raised concerns ahead of the Bill’s assent.

“If passed, this amendment would mean that Charles’s attempts to influence government policy on health, architecture, education, agriculture, the environment, even war and peace, will remain secret – until years after his death. Far from protecting ‘impartiality’, this amendment gives Charles the green light to get even more stuck in.”

The light is now well and truly green since the Act became law. During the Parliamentary debate of the Bill Jack Straw told MPs that there was “no way members of the royal family can change public policy.” Unfortunately, with the Act’s amendment to FOIA we’re not allowed to see that for ourselves.

And there’s good reason to think it’s not true.

Republic this week, supported by Index on Censorship, has written to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, calling on him to use the Protection of Freedoms Bill to reverse this exemption and “to define the royal household for the first time as a public authority within the terms of the Act”.

“This is not simply about the royal household’s use of public funds – it is a serious issue of accountability and transparency that goes to the heart of government.  It is well documented, and admitted by Clarence House, that the Prince of Wales routinely lobbies government ministers on a wide range of controversial and deeply political matters such as the environment, education and health.

“The current lack of scrutiny over such actions means that citizens have no means by which to judge if ministers are taking decisions according to the public interest or to suit the interests and agenda of the heir to the throne.”

Republic, along with cosignatories Heather Brooke, author and Freedom of information Campaigner; Professor Roy Greenslade, Department of Journalism, City University and former editor of the Mirror; Cllr. Mike Harris, Head of Public Affairs, Index on Censorship; Professor Stephen Haseler, Director, Reform Foundation; and Professor Adam Tomkins, John Millar Professor of Public Law, is inviting Clegg to discuss these issues and add to the Protection of Freedoms Bill “amendments that would bring the royal household and the monarchy fully within the scope of the Act”.

Did that happen? No.

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

More secrecy for the royals

Jan 4th, 2015 4:56 pm | By

Update: this story is 4 years old; see comment @ 21. It’s still relevant though.

Here’s a bit of news that is surprising and also very disgusting. The UK royals are going to get a special helping of secrecy in a new amendment to their Freedom of Information act.

The Royal Family is to be granted absolute protection from public scrutiny in a controversial legal reform designed to draw a veil of secrecy over the affairs of the Queen, Prince Charles and Prince William.

Letters, emails and documents relating to the monarch, her heir and the second in line to the throne will no longer be disclosed even if they are in the public interest.

Sweeping changes to the Freedom of Information Act will reverse advances which had briefly shone a light on the royal finances – including an attempt by the Queen to use a state poverty fund to heat Buckingham Palace – and which had threatened to force the disclosure of the Prince of Wales’s prolific correspondence with ministers.

Including what?? An attempt by the Queen to use a state poverty fund to heat Buckingham Palace? I did not know about that.

And that business of Charles’s prolific correspondence with ministers? As I understand it he’s not even supposed to be doing that – he’s constitutionally not permitted to interfere with the government. No wonder he wants to keep it a secret, but why is the government, however Tory (and LibDem), helping him?

Lobbying and correspondence from junior staff working for the Royal Household and Prince Charles will now be held back from disclosure. Buckingham Palace confirmed that it had consulted with the Coalition Government over the change in the law. The Government buried the plan for “added protection” for the Royal Family in the small print of plans called “opening up public bodies to public scrutiny”.

More privileges for the already-privilege-laden; what a good idea.

Ian Davidson, a former member of Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC), told The Independent: “I’m astonished that the Government should find time to seek to cover up royal finances. When I was on the PAC what we wanted was more disclosure not less.

“Every time we examined royal finances we found extravagance and indulgence as well as abuse of expenses by junior royals.

“Everywhere we looked, there were savings to be made for the Government. This sends the wrong message about public disclosure and accountability.”

Not to mention democracy, equality before the law, equal rights – quite a few things.

Paul Flynn, another member of the committee, described the special protection for the Royals as “indefensible”. He said: “I don’t think it serves the interests of the public or the Royal Family very well.”

Mr Frankel said he believed that Prince Charles was the driving force behind the new law.

“The heir to the throne has written letters to government departments in an attempt to influence policy,” he said.

“He clearly does not want these to get into the public domain.”

Yeah, see, because that’s what he’s not supposed to be doing – attempting to influence policy. The Royals are not supposed to do that.

At the end we get more on that gruesome item about taking money from the poor to heat Buck House.

In the public interest? The stories they didn’t want us to know

*In 2004 the Queen asked ministers for a poverty handout to help heat her palaces but was rebuffed because they feared it would be a public relations disaster. Royal aides were told that the £60m worth of energy-saving grants were aimed at families on low incomes and if the money was given to Buckingham Palace instead of housing associations or hospitals it could lead to “adverse publicity” for the Queen and the government.

Ya think?

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

Allah’s Will

Jan 4th, 2015 3:57 pm | By

The Ex-Muslims Forum on Twitter points out a murderous little Q&A from the Luton Islamic Centre in which the A is yes indeed apostates must be killed.

Q: Many Muslim groups in the US, like CAIR, MAS, MPAC, said that since there is no
compulsion in Islam, how can the Afghan government execute the apostate… your website
said that the apostate should be executed, this is not from Islam only, but in Christian times
(pre-Islam)… And… what about a person who might have left Islam and then came back, and
died Muslim…if s/he had been killed the first time, s/he would not have had the chance to
return to Islam… of course ultimately who dies as Muslim is Allah’s Will…and it is already
written in His Book.

No no no that’s not the right way to look at it at all. It’s Allah’s Will that Allah’s submitters should kill people who decide they don’t like Islam after all.

A: I do not have knowledge if these organizations actually took this position. Nevertheless, the
answer is still clear and simple.

Allah said in the Quran, {There is no compulsion in religion};
[2:256]. This is the explanation on this Ayah found in my book, Holy Wars…Crusades…Jihad,
“Ibn Kathir said, ‘This Ayah means, ‘Do not force anyone to embrace the religion of Islam,
because Islam is clear, plain and its evidences and proofs are indisputable. Therefore, it is not
necessary that anyone be forced to embrace it. Rather, those whom Allah guides, opens their
hearts and enlightens their minds towards Islam, will embrace it with knowledge. Those whom
Allah prevents their hearts and seals their hearing and sight from accepting Islam, will not
benefit from being forced to embrace it’; Tafsir ibn Kathir, Vol. 1, Pg., 416.’” Thus, this Ayah is
about those who are not Muslim: Muslims are not allowed to force those who are not Muslim
–to begin with- to embrace Islam. What does this have to do at all with the punishment of
those who are Muslim but commit the crime of abandoning Islam, thus, becoming non-Muslim
after they had been Muslim? The opinion mentioned in the question is amazing: it indicates
the type of ‘knowledge’ that prevails among many Muslims these days. It seems that the
reason behind using this sick logic to invalidate Islamic Law, is to suit modern-day disbelievers,
who will stop at nothing less than the complete corruption of Islam…

Aha, so that’s what it means. “There is no compulsion in religion” means you mustn’t compel outsiders. Insiders, on the other hand, must not attempt to become outsiders again. Insiders, once inside, may not leave. They are not allowed to change their minds. They are not allowed to try it and find they dislike it, and so exit. No. Doing that is a crime, and they must be killed.

These are two completely different topics: forcing non-Muslims to embrace Islam vs. the
punishment, carried out by the Islamic State, of those who were Muslim but committed the
crime of abandoning Islam.

Outsiders can be left to their fate – Allah will chew them up and spit them out when Allah gets good and ready. Insiders on the other hand – them we get to kill.

If we follow this silly reasoning, then what about the remainder of
the Hadeeth that legislates this law, as al-Bukhari and Muslims reported it from Allah’s
Prophet, who said, “The blood of a Muslim who confesses that none has the right to be
worshipped but Allah and that I am His Messenger, cannot be shed except in three cases: In
Qisas (Law of Equity) for murder; a married person who commits illegal sexual intercourse; and
the one who reverts from Islam (apostate) and leaves the Muslims.” Should we also abandon
the punishment for the adulterer, since ‘there is no compulsion in religion’? Should we also abandon other parts of the Islamic Penal code if the offense does not really harm others, such
as abandoning Prayer, drinking, cursing the Prophet, salla-llahu `alaihi wa-sallam, etc., since
‘there is no compulsion in religion’?

Yes, you should. Thank you for asking. Yes, you should stop punishing people for abandoning prayer or “cursing the prophet” or having sex outside marriage. Yes.

Muslims should be strong and stand behind every part of their Law, if they seek
Allah’s Help and Support that is. As for the second part of the question, about if we leave the
apostate un-punished he might go back to Islam, then what is stopping him from doing so
before being killed, even if to become a hypocrite? What if he does not repent in the future
and tempts others who have weak hearts and faith to follow him, should we stand idle while
whole segments of the Muslim Society becomes non-Muslim?

Yes, you should. That would be fabulous.

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

Gun deaths? What gun deaths?

Jan 4th, 2015 3:23 pm | By

That toddler who found the gun in his mother’s handbag at Walmart and killed her with it – how often do accidents of that kind happen?

No one knows, David Graham at the Atlantic tells us.

There aren’t reliable statistics on gun incidents involving kids.

Because…it doesn’t matter? We forgot? There’s no money in the budget for that? We’re going to do it next year?

…it’s unclear how often children accidentally shoot people. The Washington Post looked into the question earlier in 2014, after a 9-year-old at a shooting range in Arizona lost control of an Uzi and killed her instructor. Mark Berman found that no agency could give him a clear answer on the matter. While there are often media reports about such deaths, there’s no comprehensive database. One can track the number of victims of accidental shootings younger than 18 with some confidence, but it’s tougher to track them by who’s pulling the trigger.

Maybe that’s because what’s the point of collecting the data if you can’t do anything about the problem?

Research for more than a decade has found that accidental shooting deaths are consistently undercounted.

The upshot of all this is that it’s hard to learn any policy lessons from Rutledge’s death—in addition to the impossibility of making sense of it on any emotional level.

But what’s the point of learning policy lessons if you’re not allowed to put what you learn into practice?

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

They learned that the call was probably a hoax

Jan 4th, 2015 12:37 pm | By

But don’t forget, online harassment is no big deal.

Casey Parks at OregonLive reports:

A prank call sent a large number of Portland police officers to a Southwest Portland home late Friday night.

Central Precinct officers responded to a home in the 11200 block of Southwest Capitol Highway around midnight after receiving reports that an armed man was holding residents hostage inside.

As officers were developing a plan to contact residents, they learned that the call was probably a hoax.

They later confirmed that everyone inside the home was safe.

A Twitter user who goes by Grace Lynn says the hoax, called a “swatting,” was intended for her. A forum on the website 8chan described the plan to “swat” her.

8chan?? That nice harmless outlet for discussions of ethics & gaming and similar controversial issues? Surely 8chan wouldn’t do a thing like that.

Police Sgt. Pete Simpson confirmed the bureau did receive a phone call suggesting the original call was a prank.

“The whole swatting term came from people calling to get a SWAT team to go out on a call,” Simpson said. “But that’s not how we operate. Patrol officers are going to go assess a scene based on what they see. We don’t roll out a SWAT team just because someone calls 911. We need more than a phone call.”

“You’re taking away resources that might be needed for someone who has a real emergency,” Simpson said.

Unless it’s GamerGate or people who hate “SJWs” – if they’re the ones doing it then no harm will befall anyone as a result, because god is Just.

Simpson said the bureau has encountered one or two other “swatting” attempts but that such prank calls won’t be successful here.

“It’s not going to result in the prank playing out the way the prankster wanted it to,” Simpson said. “But it does create significant risk to the public and significant risk to officers responding. And the prankster can face state and federal charges.”

Improper Use of an Emergency Reporting System is a crime in Oregon, and investigators say they will work to identity the caller and make an arrest.

Anyone with information about this incident is asked to email it to

But but but…online harassment is no big deal. Everybody says so.

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

Grammar blasphemy

Jan 4th, 2015 12:04 pm | By

Now that Dave has drawn my attention to that Salon article saying please stop spelling “God” as “god” I feel like telling the author, Richard Eskow, my reason for disliking the automatic “God” as opposed to “god.”

Please, please, stop writing “god” in lowercase form.

I get it. You don’t believe in a supreme being. That’s fine with me. What anybody believes or doesn’t believe is their call. You may believe that the world would be a better place without organized religion. Having seen organized religion in action, I’m inclined to say you may be right. You may believe that even private, reflective, personal religion is harmful, although I don’t see that myself.

Notice he didn’t say “You don’t believe in The Supreme Being.”

The reason he didn’t do that is the same as the reason I spell “God” “god” when it’s not too confusing. (I don’t always do it, because sometimes it is confusing.)

I understand why some atheists might want to write “god” instead of “God.” If you believe that the word describes a human phenomenon rather than a genuine and existent deity, it might seem appropriate to use the lowercase form. But it’s not.  If you are referring to the singular and all-powerful deity of monotheistic tradition, you are using a proper name. That means the capital “G” is a must.

No. Here’s why: the thing being named is too various and flexible and differently-described by different people or in different contexts to have a proper name. Giving it a proper name conveys an air of reality and familiarity that “god” should not have. Every sighting of a “God” gives another little layer of acceptance of the actuality of the putative person named, even to people who on a conscious level don’t believe in it. It’s merely a custom, and it’s one we’re allowed to break.

To be sure, there will continue to be many opportunities to use the word in lowercase form. The phrase “belief in gods” is punctuated correctly. So is “belief in a monotheistic god.” But the phrase “belief in god” is not correct, no matter what you do or don’t believe.

You’ve said it a thousand times, and I get it: You don’t believe in capital-G God any more than I believe in Tinkerbell. That doesn’t change anything. (See what I did there? I don’t believe in an entity named “Tinkerbell.” But since it is the proper name of a, yes, fictional character, I capitalized it.)

Ah yes, but “Tinkerbell” is a fictional character, and recognized as such. So are Hamlet and Lear and Emma Woodhouse and Thea Kronborg, but “God” is not – because of lacking the recognized as such part. Talking about god as God makes it more concrete and matter-of-fact and normalized; we shouldn’t do that.

The true nature of creation may be in dispute, but the proper usage in this case is not. Webster’s Dictionary tells us that a “god” is “a spirit or being that has great knowledge, strength, power, etc.” while “God” is “the perfect and all-powerful spirit or being … worshipped by Christians, Jews, and Muslims …”

One is a noun. The other is a name. If it weren’t a name, it would be necessary to use a different sentence construction, as in: “They forced the sergeant to swear to the god,” or, “Is the god good?”

Indeed, and that would be better. It would be better because it would make it clearer what everyone was talking about.

And by the way we know what the dictionary meaning is. We know it’s not standard to call it “god.” That’s the point.

The atheist/religionist debate concerns nothing less than the fundamental nature of the cosmos. It involves issues like the fundamental ground of being, life after death, the soul, and the origin of all existence. If anybody wants to argue those things, be my guest. But now we’re talking about grammar.  When you don’t capitalize a proper name like God’s, you’re violating a fundamental principle of grammar.

Don’ One, we’re allowed to violate putative fundamental principles of grammar; two, we’re all the more allowed when we do it for a reason; three, it’s not even a fundamental principle of grammar anyway; four, it’s not a proper name like other proper names because it can refer to anything and everything, and definitely not only the Webster’s definition; five, e.e. cummings; six, bell hooks; seven, don’t be silly.

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

Guest post by David Richards: Sunday School

Jan 4th, 2015 11:35 am | By

This pendantic hypocrite is correct about grammar rules, but totally wrong about capitalizing the word god when we are talking about his god in particular, and about how we should all just acknowledge that Christians are always right. And completely wrong about why I write “god” in lower case. I will tell you why:

His god already has a name. It’s YHWH, or Yahweh or Jehovah. That is a proper name, and I generally capitalize proper names. I don’t usually capitalize my own name, but that is a page out of e.e. cummings, and another story. So, if smartass wants his deity capitalized, I have no objection if he uses that particular god’s proper name.

However, I do object that one particular religion gets to claim the generic term “god” as the actual name of their particular god. It’s like my proclaiming that, from now on, everybody is to refer to the tree in my front yard as “Tree” with a capital T. No, not the Alder (that phony!), the Pear. And nobody ever anywhere is allowed to talk about Tree unless they capitalize it all proper-like. Disrespectful, don’t ya know? And Alpha Centauri? From now on, that one is known as “Star”, so kiss my ass.*

The other reason I don’t capitalize the word god, unless it is at the beginning of a sentence, is because, to quote a certain pendantic hypocrite, it “shows dumb disrespect” to every other religion. There are currently some 4000+ active gods, and countless dormant ones from throughout human history, and they are all diminished by only the Christian god owning that capital letter. Nope. Nobody but Christians can refer to their god as “God”. Sorry about that. Sure, I respect your religion, but screw your puny god, because mine is the true god.

So, my point isn’t that I don’t understand grammar, or that I use “god” to take the piss out of Christians, I do it because I am inclusive, and respect all religions equally. With all the respect they deserve.

Thus endeth the lesson.

*I realize that the Tree and Star analogies fail at a certain point, because trees and stars are real.

David Richards

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

Town by town, base by base

Jan 4th, 2015 10:59 am | By

Boko Haram has taken over a whole town and a military base in Borno. That’s bad.

The BBC reports:

Boko Haram has seized a town and key multinational military base in north-eastern Nigeria, officials and eyewitnesses say.

A senator in Borno state said troops had abandoned the base in the town of Baga after it was attacked on Saturday.

Residents of Baga, who fled by boat to neighbouring Chad, said many people had been killed and the town set ablaze.

Baga, scene of a Nigerian army massacre in 2013, was the last town in the Borno North area under government control.

So a part of Nigeria is now in the hands of Boko Haram. That’s bad.

Maina Maaji Lawan, senator for Borno North, told BBC World Service civilians had run “helter skelter” – “some into the forest, some into the desert”.

Communications with the town were cut off and exact information about casualty numbers could not be confirmed, he said.

“We are very dispirited,” the senator added.

The military simply ran away, he said. The people there find this hugely frustrating, as well they might.


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

Keep New York fascism-free

Jan 4th, 2015 10:14 am | By

Great – the New York cops are still flirting with fascism by making a great show of their opposition to civilian control of the police department. Apparently they want cops to answer only to other cops, and for everyone else to simply obey the armed police force.

Hundreds of police officers have turned their backs on the mayor of New York at the funeral of the second of two officers shot dead last month.

Wenjian Liu, a son of Chinese migrants, was killed with his partner Rafael Ramos on 20 December by a gunman with a grievance against the police.

Speakers lined up to pay tribute at the service in a Brooklyn funeral home.

In the street outside, hundreds turned their backs to a video screen when Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke.

Police departments can’t be autonomous in a democracy. People who are issued deadly weapons as part of their job simply can’t be somehow independent of civilian law and oversight and administration. They have to be accountable, and they have to follow the rules. It’s not negotiable. Pay is negotiable, hours are negotiable, benefits and tenure and promotion are negotiable, but autonomy from the civilian government is not.

No police coup in New York City thank you.

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

Pay $8000, get locked in the hold while the crew jumps ship

Jan 3rd, 2015 6:02 pm | By

More on that ship full of refugees abandoned in the Mediterranean the other day – specifically, the cheerful news that the traffickers made 3 million bucks on the deal.

Police in Italy believe traffickers made some $3m (£1.9m; €2.5m) from 359 illegal migrants found abandoned on a cargo ship in the Mediterranean.

The Ezadeen was towed into the Italian port of Corigliano Calabro after being found by coast guards on Friday.

Most of those aboard appear to be Syrians, in the second such case involving a freighter this week.

You know – people fleeing for their lives from a deadly war and a murderous government.

The police chief of Cosenza province, Luigi Liguori, said each migrant had paid between $4,000 and $8,000 to board the ship.

Officers say the smugglers wore hoods and locked the migrants in the ship’s hold before apparently abandoning ship on a lifeboat.

Locked them in the hold??! Fuuuuuuuuck.

The smugglers’ new tactic appears to be simple and effective: point a cargo ship towards Italy and let the coastguard pick it up, the BBC’s James Reynolds reports from Corigliano Calabro.

Illegal migration to the EU has been fuelled by the civil war in Syria, which has driven people to seek asylum in Europe, along with economic migrants.

Last year it is estimated that nearly 3,500 refugees died trying to cross the Mediterranean while another 200,000 were rescued.

And lots of traffickers made lots of money.

Source: the BBC.


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


Jan 3rd, 2015 5:21 pm | By

As you may have seen, it has emerged that Avicenna has been plagiarizing extensively on his blog, so we had to cut him loose from FTB.

He posted what he calls an apology after the plagiarism emerged and before we cut him loose. I wouldn’t call it an apology myself. It’s not actually apologetic, and it is quite self-aggrandizing and self-absorbed and self-serving. That’s…not how to apologize.

He doesn’t mention anything about the harm done to the rest of us, or gratitude for taking him on to begin with. That’s not how to apologize either.

So, altogether, not a very shining moment.

On a happier note, we have new people coming aboard soon.

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

March 15, 1965

Jan 3rd, 2015 11:53 am | By

And just in case you feel like watching the whole damn thing – here’s the 45 minute version.


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

And we shall overcome

Jan 3rd, 2015 11:48 am | By

I went to A Play! last night, and Tuesday night. It’s a two-part play about the presidency of LBJ, All the Way With LBJ and The Great Society. It was pretty damn good. He was an interesting guy but his interestingness was overshadowed by at one end the (much exaggerated) “charisma” of the Kennedys and at the other end the misbegotten war in Vietnam.

Accidental president. Brilliant politician. Flawed man. It’s 1963 and an assassin’s bullet catapults Lyndon Baines Johnson into the presidency. A Shakespearean figure of towering ambition and appetite, the charismatic, conflicted Texan hurls himself into Civil Rights legislation, throwing the country into turmoil. But in faraway Vietnam, a troublesome conflict looms. The Huffington Post calls Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan’s dramatization of LBJ’s first year in office “a vivid profile of one of the most complicated men to occupy the presidency.”


Here’s the last 5 minutes of Johnson’s March 1965 address to Congress urging passage of the Voting Rights Bill, also known as the We shall overcome speech.


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

The girls exhibited a Lego flood proof bridge project

Jan 2nd, 2015 5:08 pm | By

Speaking of Lego and girls…

Last May, some Girl Scouts met with Obama to talk about a bridge.

Five girl scouts from Jenks met President Barack Obama to present their plan for a flood-proof bridge at the White House Science Fair.

The girls, 6-year-old Avery Dodson and 8-year-olds Natalie Hurley, Miriam Schaffer, Claire Winton and Lucy Claire Sharp of Girl Scout Troop 2612 built a model for the bridge based on the recent damaging floods in Estes Park, Colo. The girls are the only Girl Scouts in the nation at the fair.

The flood-proof bridge model the girls designed mechanizes the bridge with motors and gears in the correct ratios.

A computer program developed by the girls would cause the bridge to retract when flood conditions set in through a motion sensor in the river bed.

The fair was in June. It was in the news last week.

Ignoring his own stern warning to not “put stuff on your head if you’re president,” Obama donned a tiara while posing for a photo with Girl Scout Troop 2612, of Tulsa, Oklahoma. White House photographer Pete Souza shared the photo for the first time on Wednesday.

“Still editing 2014 Year in Photos. I may include this one even though it’s a posed photo,” Souza said on Instagram. “This is from the annual White House Science Fair. The kids from Girl Scout Troop 2612 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, convinced the President to wear a tiara with them for their group photo. The girls had exhibited a Lego flood proof bridge project.”

The White House Science Fair took place in June, and focused on girls and women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields who are inspiring the next generation of scientists.

Emphasis mine.


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

Guest post: The moment he realized how horribly wrong he had been

Jan 2nd, 2015 4:17 pm | By

Originally part of a comment by Golgafrinchan Captain on They were essentially without any relevant experience.

When I was growing up, my parents had a friend who had been a Nazi is WW2. It wasn’t something he really talked about but, through the years, I gathered some details from him and some more from his children. They thought they were the good guys, doing what needed to be done to protect themselves and the world from an imminent threat. It scares the crap out of me that our brains can make that kind of rationalization, but they can.

He was captured quite early and kept in a Canadian POW camp. The moment he realized how horribly wrong he had been is when he got to the POW camp and was actually treated well. The enemy he thought he was fighting would never show compassion to captives. That’s what’s so horrible about things like the US torture program; it confirms the beliefs of “the enemy”.

When Bush Jr.’s Iraq war started, it really messed with my head. Many of the things I heard coming out of the States reminded me of the things that had convinced my parents’ friend that they were on the side of good in WW2. Note: this is not to say that the US’s current actions are anywhere near as horrible as some of the things done by the Nazi’s, but it’s walking the same path. Also, plenty of comments by US citizens were/are just as horrible (“nuke all the sand-n***ers”, “savages who don’t deserve to live”, etc.). To be fair, Canada also has it’s share of such assholes but I think they are tolerated much less.

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

Guest post: The toys that you build your own dreams with

Jan 2nd, 2015 12:44 pm | By

Originally a comment by Ilyris on Just children.

30 years ago Lego had a space range. I always played with my brother’s Lego, and eventually my parents started buying me Lego too. One of the changes seems to be the faces. The Lego faces of my spacemen were very neutral, just 2 dots and a gently smiling mouth. I hear that they are getting angrier, and the characters are more geared toward conflict. I don’t understand why they can’t leave them neutral and if the child wants to play cops and robbers or whatever they can use their imagination. That seems to have really disappeared, the toys that you build your own dreams with.

From the article: “Research conducted for the company found that children, especially boys, enjoyed playing out conflicts between characters.”

So they’ve pushed their range toward boys deliberately, and then decided they need something fluffy to market to girls, both perpetuating gender stereotypes and also encouraging boys to engage in conflict.

And you know, apparently tricycles do need to be gendered. We went looking for one for a 2 year old a couple of weeks ago; the choices were pink and covered in princesses, or blue and covered in trucks and masculine wording. How about a plain green one?

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

Dirty fighting

Jan 2nd, 2015 12:15 pm | By

The NY Times reports that Cosby and his team have been attacking his accusers for decades – so he not only assaulted women, he also did what he could to damage them afterwards.

That too is a familiar pattern. Bill Clinton did it, Woody Allen did it, Michael Shermer did it. It’s interesting how conscienceless you have to be to do that – to harm someone and then when she tries to report the harm, try to damage her so badly that she will stop trying to report the harm.

In 2005, when Tamara Green told the “Today” show and The Philadelphia Inquirer that Bill Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted her in the early 1970s, one of Mr. Cosby’s lawyers publicly branded the allegations “absolutely false,” while his aides approached another newspaper with “damaging information” about her, according to court documents.

Nice guy.

As accusations of sexual assault continue to mount against Mr. Cosby — more than two dozen women have gone public, the latest last Monday — the question arises as to why these stories never sparked a widespread outcry before. While many of the women say they never filed police complaints or went public because they feared damaging their reputations or careers, the aggressive legal and media strategy mounted by Mr. Cosby and his team may also have played a significant role.

Nice, nice, nice guy.

An examination of how the team has dealt with scandals over the past two decades and into this fall reveals an organized and expensive effort that involved quashing accusations as they emerged while raising questions about the accusers’ character and motives, both publicly and surreptitiously. And the team has never been shy about blasting the news media for engaging in a feeding frenzy even as the team made deals or slipped the news organizations information that would cast Mr. Cosby’s accusers in a negative light.

But there can be a downside.

But casting doubt on or aiming vitriol at the accusers can have consequences.

In 2005, when Mr. Cosby’s team denied Tamara Green’s accusations that he had drugged and sexually assaulted her in Los Angeles in the early 1970s, she did not pursue legal action. But this month she was ready to fight back. Mr. Cosby’s team had greeted her renewed claim of sexual assault by saying it was “a 10-year discredited accusation that proved to be nothing at the time, and is still nothing.” On Dec. 10, Ms. Green filed a defamation suit against Mr. Cosby, saying the denials basically branded her a liar.

“I want it put to a jury,” Ms. Green said earlier this month. “I want it ended, finally. I want my name restored.”

But but but Bill Cosby is such a nice guy.

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

Fatu Kekula

Jan 2nd, 2015 11:32 am | By

A story posted publicly by A Mighty Girl on Facebook:

The incredible story of 22-year-old Liberian nursing student Fatu Kekula, who used trash bags to protect herself from Ebola while saving the lives of her family members, inspired people around the world last fall. Fatu’s innovative “trash bag method” was widely praised and is even being taught by aid workers to other West Africans caring for sick loved ones without standard protective gear. But with most schools closed in the country due to the epidemic, Fatu was unsure how she would finish her nursing training. Now, with the help of international supporters, Fatu has the opportunity to finish her education at one of the premier nursing schools in the United States.

Fatu’s story began last summer when her family was struck with the Ebola virus. Thanks to her dedication and ingenuity, three of four family members who caught the virus survived. For weeks, Fatu, worked alone to feed, clean, and provide medical care to her family, in consultation with their family doctor, who would speak to her on the phone but refused to come to the house. She had no access to personal protection equipment other than masks and gloves, so she layered trash bags under and over her boots, as well as putting one over her hair. She wore four layers of gloves on her hands, and a raincoat to help minimize contact with her skin. Multiple times a day, she would painstakingly don her improvised protection in order to care for her desperately ill family.

“I cried many times,” she told to CNN. “I said ‘God, you want to tell me I’m going to lose my entire family?’” But thanks to her care, her patients survived until they could be transferred to beds in a nearby hospital. Sadly, her cousin did not recover, but her mother, father, and sister survived — a remarkable recovery rate for a disease with a death rate of 70%. “I’m very, very proud,” her father said. “I’m sure she’ll be a great giant of Liberia.”

After learning about Fatu’s story, I Am Projects, a non-profit founded by African immigrants in the US to support the education of young Africans, helped her apply for nursing schools outside of Liberia. With its expertise on infectious diseases, including Ebola, Emory University’s School of Nursing was a perfect fit and they gave Fatu a 50% scholarship. To help cover the rest of Fatu’s tuition expenses for her final two semesters, as well as help support her travel and living costs, I Am Projects is currently running a fundraiser — and it’s now at 70% of its goal.

If you would like to help this remarkable young woman finish her nursing degree, you can make a donation at

For two stories about African girls living through the midst of another epidemic — the HIV/AIDS pandemic, we recommend “The Heaven Shop” for ages 10 to 14

and “Chanda’s Secrets” for 13 and up
For more stories of Mighty Girls or their loved one grappling with illness, visit our “Life Challenges” section on “Illness/Disease” at…/personal-deve…/life-challenges…

For books about inspiring women doctors and scientists for children and teens, visit…/history-biography/biography…

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

Back in the day

Jan 2nd, 2015 11:03 am | By

At Gregory in Seattle’s suggestion I did a Google images search on “LEGO ad 1970s” and sure enough…compared to the present they look like a lost utopia.

Note the caution – when it’s a girl and boy together, the girl is smaller and younger than the boy. It wouldn’t do to have a dominant little girl, even though there are in fact some families in which there is a girl (or even more than one) who is older than her brother.

But all the same. Utopia, I tells ya.

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