Notes and Comment Blog

Tavistock Square tomorrow at 5

Dec 9th, 2013 3:12 pm | By

Don’t forget the protest tomorrow, 5 p.m. in Tavistock Square. Well it’s 11 p.m. there now, so few of you who are able to go will see this reminder now…BUT MAYBE YOU WILL TOMORROW, ESPECIALLY IF I SHOUT.

So you who are in or near London, or willing to travel from less-near London, the Protest Against Universities UK, No to Gender Segregation rally-protest-demo is tomorrow. 5 p.m. aka 17:00. Tavistock Square, which is a nice square, up there north of Bedford Square and Russell Square.

Outside Woburn House, 20 Tavistock Square.

One of Kiran Opal’s designs for a banner:

Chris Moos's photo.

She designed several, which you can print: they are here.

No to gender segregation!

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

The lies bishops tell

Dec 9th, 2013 12:19 pm | By

The president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, archbishop Joseph Kurtz, issued a statement on the ACLU lawsuit on Friday. It’s the predictable pack of lies from the episcopal sack of shit. Yes that’s harsh language but the sack of shit is lying in defense of his vile organization’s insistence on forcing women to die of miscarriages in all hospitals that his vile theocratic organization controls. Think about that. This man of god, this priest at the pinnacle of the catholic organizational tree, is issuing official lies to defend the church’s policy of forcing hospitals to stand by while women die of miscarriages in the miserable way Savita Hallappanavar did.

It is important to note at the outset that the death of any unborn child is tragic, and we feel deeply for any mother who suffers such pain and loss.

No it isn’t. Nobody cares what you think is tragic, or how deeply or shallowly you feel. Nobody wants your distractions; the issue isn’t the death of the fetus, the issue is the life of the mother.

We cannot speak to the facts of the specific situation described in the complaint, which can be addressed only by those directly involved. The suit instead claims that our document titled “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services” (ERDs) encourages or requires substandard treatment of pregnant women because it does not approve the direct killing of their unborn children.

Because it forbids abortion under any circumstances, even if the fetus will die anyway, even if the woman will die without the abortion.

This claim is baseless. The ERDs urge respectful and compassionate care for both mothers and their children, both during and after pregnancy. Regarding abortion, the ERDs restate the universal and consistent teaching of the Catholic Church on defending the life of the unborn child—a defense that, as Pope Francis recently reminded us, “is closely linked to the defense of each and every other human right” (Evangelii Gaudium, no. 213). This same commitment to the life of each human individual has motivated Catholics to establish the nation’s largest network of nonprofit health care ministries. These ministries provide high-quality care to women and children, including those who lack health coverage and financial resources. The Church’s rejection of abortion also mirrors the Hippocratic Oath that gave rise to the very idea of medicine as a profession, a calling with its own life-affirming moral code.

Not when the pregnancy is killing the woman it doesn’t.

The Church holds that all human life, both before and after birth, has inherent dignity, and that health care providers have the corresponding duty to respect the dignity of all their patients. This lawsuit argues that it is legally “negligent” for the Catholic bishops to proclaim this core teaching of our faith. Thus, the suit urges the government to punish that proclamation with civil liability, a clear violation of the First Amendment.

The bishops do more than just proclaiming core “teachings” of their “faith” – they do their best to enforce their “teachings” on all catholic hospitals, and many hospitals obey.

A robust Catholic presence in health care helps build a society where medical providers show a fierce devotion to the life and health of each patient, including those most marginalized and in need. It witnesses against a utilitarian calculus about the relative value of different human lives. And it provides a haven for pregnant women and their unborn children regardless of their financial resources. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will continue to defend these principles in season and out, and we will defend ourselves against this misguided lawsuit.

No it doesn’t. Tamesha Means didn’t find any “haven” at that hospital that sent her home twice when she was miscarrying, and was about to send her home a third time when she was lucky enough to deliver her fetus while the paperwork was in progress.

The archbishop is a lying sack of shit.


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

Confusion in court

Dec 9th, 2013 11:46 am | By

One of those times when one just stares in helpless gobsmacked fury. Al Jazeera reports via AFP:

A Somali court has sentenced to jail a woman who said she was raped and two journalists who reported her story.

The court passed the verdict on Monday in the capital Mogadishu, saying the journalists were guilty of defamation and insulting state institutions.

The 19-year old woman, who is also a journalist, was handed a suspended six-month jail sentence for defamation and lying, during which time she will be confined to her home, said Judge Hashi Elmi Nur.

The journalists are to serve out their sentences, of one year and six months respectively, or pay a fine in order to win early release.

It is the second time this year Somalia has jailed a woman for speaking out about rape and journalists for interviewing her.

Somalia is a failed state, yet it manages to find time and effort to jail people for “insulting state institutions.”

In February, a Somali journalist and a rape victim he interviewed were both sentenced to a year in prison after being found guilty of “offending state institutions”.

In that case, the court found the woman had lied after a midwife conducted a “finger test” to see if she had been raped, which Human Rights Watch (HRW) said was an “unscientific and degrading practice that has long been discredited”.

A “finger test”!!? That’s not a test, it’s more rape.


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

The HIQA report does mention failure to terminate

Dec 9th, 2013 10:40 am | By

Now I’m reading the relevant section of the full report [pdf]. That does mention abortion, though not (so far) under that name. It has a detailed timeline of events. She was admitted Sunday afternoon, and

Spontaneous rupture of membranes occurred at 00:30hrs.

At 8:30 that morning, she was reviewed by the consultant obstetrician in charge of her care.

Savita Halappanavar’s plan of care, following this consultant ward round, was that a fetal ultrasound scan would be taken with instructions to – ‘Await events’

That ✝goes to a footnote:

Await events refers to the conservative (expectant) management of miscarriage as opposed to the surgical or medical management of miscarriage.

So there it is. It’s somewhat obscured and secretive, but it’s there. They opted for expectant management instead of surgical or medical management – a surgical abortion or medical induction of labor.

Updated to add:

Then on the Wednesday morning, two days later, when her condition had deteriorated badly, a junior consulting doctor ordered IV antibiotics, but

however, at this time the evidence shows that her treatment plan was not changed.

Which, given what has gone before, means it was not changed from expectant to surgical or medical management. They went on watching instead of terminating the pregnancy.

At 13:00 that day

Diagnosis of septic shock, most likely secondary to chorioamnionitis was made.

A couple of hours later she delivered, but it was far too late.

It’s interesting – and disturbing – that the summary of the report omits the part about surgical or medical management as the alternative to expectant management.

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

Doctors in such circumstances

Dec 9th, 2013 9:48 am | By

There’s the New York Times editorial on the Michigan case for instance. That takes it for granted.

The suit was brought on behalf of a Michigan woman, Tamesha Means, who says she was subjected to substandard care at a Catholic hospital — the only hospital in her county — after her water broke at 18 weeks of pregnancy. Doctors in such circumstances typically induce labor or surgically remove the fetus to reduce the woman’s chances of infection. But according to the complaint, doctors acting in accordance with the bishops’ directives did not inform Ms. Means that her fetus had virtually no chance of surviving or that terminating her pregnancy was the safest treatment option.

But the summary of the HIQA report doesn’t take it for granted at all; it doesn’t even mention it. It ignores the fact that doctors in such circumstances typically induce labor or surgically remove the fetus to reduce the woman’s chances of infection, and simply talks about managing the infection.

That is fucked up.

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

Don’t look behind the curtain

Dec 9th, 2013 9:06 am | By

I’ve been arguing with someone on Atheist Ireland’s Facebook page, on a thread I started with a post about the ACLU/Means lawsuit against the bishops. My arguee has been claiming Savita Halappanavar’s death had nothing to do with abortion, and I’ve been saying it did too so. Her latest reply pointed out that “that was not a finding of the HIQA report or the Coroner’s report.” I hadn’t heard of the HIQA report, that I recall, so I looked it up. It came out on October 7th.

I skimmed the executive summary [pdf], and read the parts that addressed the medical treatment of SH. My arguee is right, assuming the summary accurately reflects the full report: it doesn’t spell out that the failure to induce delivery is the probable reason SH developed sepsis. It says the sepsis was badly managed, but not how or why it got started in the first place. It seems to me to be strikingly evasive in that way.

So I’m wondering if it will strike other people the same way. Of course I’ve just primed you to see it that way, so this isn’t a survey of how this report strikes people. It’s a question about the report, and what you think of it. I haven’t so far been able to find any reaction in Ireland that sees it that way. I’m wondering how much the illegality of abortion and the taboo on it in Ireland shaped the way the report was carried out and how it was written, and the way it was received.

For instance on page 5 there is this:

3.1 Care provided to Savita Halappanavar

The Authority identified, through a review of Savita Halappanavar’s healthcare

record, a number of missed opportunities which, had they been identified

and acted upon, may have potentially changed the outcome of her care. For

example, following the rupture of her membranes, four-hourly observations

including temperature, heart rate, respiration and blood pressure did not appear

to have been carried out at the required intervals. At the various stages when

these observations were carried out, the consultant obstetrician, non-consultant

hospital doctors (NCHDs) and midwives/nurses caring for Savita Halappanavar

did not appear to act in a timely way in response to the indications of her clinical


That first sentence is shocking to me, given that in the US (I understand via Jen Gunter) the standard of care for rupture of membranes at 17 weeks is expeditious termination. The report, weirdly, skips right past that to focus on badly done “expectant management.” Expectant management is one option, but it’s risky to the woman and the odds of saving the fetus are very low. It’s not relevant to this case because the Halappanavars requested termination. Repeatedly. They begged for it.

So to me it seems weird and creepy and irresponsible that this report consistently ignores that option. Yes, the hospital handled the sepsis incredibly badly, but if they had done the termination when the Halappanavars asked for it, the sepsis would probably not have occurred. (The Irish anti-abortion types insist that the sepsis was not caused by the PRM at all.) The bad handling of the sepsis ought to take a distant second place to the allowing it to happen in the first place.

Tell me what you think.

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

Charlotte Church would like you to imagine

Dec 8th, 2013 4:31 pm | By

Charlotte Church on women in the music business, in this year’s BBC Radio 6 Music John Peel Lecture at the Radio Academy Radio Festival in Salford in October. (Salford! I’ve been to Salford. Kind of. I crossed a bridge into it, then crossed back.) She pulls no punches.

- I’d like you to imagine a world in which male musicians are routinely expected to act as submissive sex objects.

Picture Beyonce’s husband Jay Z stripped down to a T-back bikini thong, sex-kittening his way through a boulevard of suited and booted women for their pleasure.

Or Britney Spears’s Ex Justin Timberlake, in buttock-clenching denim hot pants, writhing on the bonnet of a pink chevy, explaining to his audience how he’d like to be their teenage dream.

Before we all get a little too hot beneath the gusset, of course, these scenarios are not likely to become reality, unless for comedy’s sake.

- The reason for this is that these are roles that the music industry has carved out specifically for women.

It is a male dominated industry, with a juvenile perspective on gender and sexuality.

Like so many other industries…TV and movies for example. Oh look, that’s all of pop culture accounted for.

When I was 19 or 20, I found myself in this position, being pressured into wearing more and more revealing outfits and the lines that I had spun at me again and again (generally by middle aged men) were

“you look great you’ve got a great body why not show it off?”


“Don’t worry it’ll look classy.  It’ll look artistic.”

I felt deeply uncomfortable about the whole thing, but was often reminded by record label executives just whose money was being spent.

Whilst I can’t defer all blame away from myself, I was barely out of my teenage years, and the consequence of this portrayal of me is that now I am frequently abused on social media, being called ‘slut’, ‘whore’ and a catalogue of other indignities that I’m sure you’re also sadly very familiar with.

I am, though for the opposite reasons; but both “reasons” are fundamentally the same despite the opposition.

H/t Jen Phillips

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

For the sake of dignity

Dec 8th, 2013 3:49 pm | By

David Robert Grimes wrote a piece in the Irish Times a few days ago saying why marriage equality is a good idea, starting with why homosexuality shouldn’t rumple anyone’s mind.

From the perspective of traditional Catholic doctrine, homosexuality is “ordered towards an intrinsic moral evil”, and is considered a deeply unnatural state of being –peccatum contra naturam.

Not only is this a classic example of the naturalistic fallacy, it also spectacularly fails to stand up if one takes even a cursory glance at the natural world; homosexual behaviour is ubiquitous in the animal kingdom and has been documented in more than 1,500 species, from giraffes to elephants to dolphins and our primate cousins.

Peccatum contra naturam is such a worthless category. I’ve said it before but what the hell…it never fails to entertain me, noting all the ways bishops and posts sin against nature. They wear clothes! And not only that, they wear clothes that are dyed different colors. You don’t see tigers wearing purple robes and jewel-encrusted tall hats; peccatum contra naturam. They eat cooked food! Peccatum contra naturam. When they get sick they take medicine. They travel in cars. They travel in airplanes. They use electric light. They are on the internet. They tweet. Peccatum contra naturam.

The comments are interesting.

This one:

For the sake of dignity, would the gay lobby desist from hijacking Nelson Mandela’s sad death in their campaign for same sex marriage?
He hasn’t even been interred yet for goodness sake.
It’s not that long ago since we had the unsavoury spectacle of the hijacking of a woman’s death for another ideological campaign here in Ireland.
Show some respect.
Have some class.
For once in your lives.

What an extraordinary thing to say, as if the death of Savita Halappanavar had nothing to do with the unavailability of abortion even in emergencies in Ireland. It’s not “hijacking” someone’s to death to point out that her death was preventable and would have been prevented under a slightly more humane law.

And as for Mandela: why not invoke him in a conversation about rights and equality and fairness?

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

Guest post by doubtthat: on being too cool for everything

Dec 8th, 2013 3:02 pm | By

Originally a comment on The book that continues to inspire college sophomores.

The functional difference between glibertarianism and nihilism is close to zero.

I was just speaking with a fellow attorney who is a big Ron/Rand Paul supporter and a self-professed libertarian.  The funny thing is that we agree on Step 1 of many issues:

-government spying is an absurd violation of our rights -bank bailouts just served to enable the unethical and likely criminal behavior that played a huge role in the collapse -we shouldn’t be engaged in silly foreign wars -the drug war is stupid…etc.

On all of those issues, we’re basically in agreement that our government handled and continues to handle those issue poorly.  The difficulty comes immediately when he tried to explain how to correct these things.

His solution to the problem of bank bailouts was…to just let them go under.  Fine, I say, but then something has to take it’s place.  We just had a fiscal collapse, how will the country keep running?

He refused to admit that this was a problem until I asked him how farmers would continue to exist.  They buy seed on credit and pay back the loan when the crop comes in.  If there is no entity in existence that can offer that first loan, how are people going to plat crops.

His answer, stunningly, was that the government should have loaned it directly.  Yes, indeed, I say, welcome to the wonderful world of progressivism.

He was infuriated with his own answer, but literally could not come up with another explanation.  He was smart to understand what a non-starter private lending would be, given the recent, you know, Apocalypse in the financial sector.

They’re like pissy high schoolers who are too cool for everything: this sucks, that sucks, this is gay, that’s lame…yet they never actually explain how anything could possibly work in their world, save for some nonsense about the gold standard.

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

Whooping around the clock

Dec 8th, 2013 1:08 pm | By

From last month, an article by Julia Joffe in the New Republic about the joys of having whooping cough, with thanks to Jenny McCarthy. Non-sincere thanks to Jenny McCarthy.

At this writing, I have been coughing for 72 days. Not on and off coughing, but continuously, every day and every night, for two and a half months. And not just coughing, but whooping: doubled over, body clenched, sucking violently for air, my face reddening and my eyes watering. Sometimes, I cough so hard, I vomit. Other times, I pee myself. Both of these symptoms have become blessedly less frequent, and I have yet to break a rib coughing—also a common side effect. Nor do I still have the fatigue that felled me, often, at my desk and made me sleep for 16 hours a night on the weekends. Now I rarely choke on things like water, though it turns out laughing, which I do a lot of, is an easy trigger for a violent, paralyzing cough that doctors refer to not as a cough, but a paroxysm.

There’s more, a lot more. About all that while at work, all that while eating at a restaurant, all that while going on tv to discuss world events, all that while interviewing a subject. And about children with all that.

There’s a reason that we associate the whooping cough with the Dickensian: It is. The illness has, since the introduction of a pertussis vaccine in 1940, has been conquered in the developed world. For two or three generations, we’ve come to think of it as an ailment suffered in sub-Saharan Africa or in Brontë novels. And for two or three generations, it was.

Until, that is, the anti-vaccination movement really got going in the last few years. Led by discredited doctors and, incredibly, a former Playmate, the movement has frightened new parents with claptrap about autism, Alzheimer’s, aluminum, and formaldehyde. The movement that was once a fringe freak show has become a menace, with foot soldiers whose main weapon is their self-righteousness. For them, vaccinating their children is merely a consumer choice, like joining an organic food co-op or sending their kids to a Montessori school or drinking coconut water.

I would add to that: it’s a “consumer choice” with extra added smug virtue, like joining an organic food co-op or sending their kids to a Montessori school. The people do it think it’s right-on and meritorious and thoughtfully nonconformist.

The problem is that it is not an individual choice; it is a choice that acutely affects the rest of us. Vaccinations work by creating something called herd immunity: When most of a population is immunized against a disease, it protects even those in it who are not vaccinated, either because they are pregnant or babies or old or sick. For herd immunity to work, 95 percent of the population needs to be immunized. But the anti-vaccinators have done a good job undermining it. In 2010, for example, only 91 percent of California kindergarteners were up to date on their shots. Unsurprisingly, California had a massive pertussis outbreak.

There is nothing virtuous about causing that to happen. On the contrary.

It would be an understatement to say that pertussis and other formerly conquered childhood diseases like measles and mumps are making a resurgence. Pertussis, specifically, has come roaring back. From 2011 to 2012, reported pertussis incidences rose more than threefold in 21 states. (And that’s just reported cases. Since we’re not primed to be on the look-out for it, many people may simply not realize they have it.) In 2012, the CDC said that the number of pertussis cases was higher than at any point in 50 years. That year, Washington state declared an epidemic; this year, Texas did, too. Washington, D.C. has also seen a dramatic increase. This fall, Cincinnati reported a 283 percent increase in pertussis.

Another win for obscurantism and willful stupidity.

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

Just because

Dec 8th, 2013 11:16 am | By

Michelle Goldberg also recently wrote about homeschooling as a way to shield child abuse. In the Daily Beast:

On September 9, the parents of Hana Williams, an Ethiopian teenager living in the state of Washington, were convicted of killing her. During the last year of her life, court documents show, she had lost almost 30 pounds as she was beaten, denied food, forced to sleep in a barn, and given cold outdoor showers with a garden hose. Much of the time she was kept barefoot, although she was allowed shoes if there was snow on the ground. Sometimes she was given nothing but a towel to wear. If Williams had been in school, someone might have noticed that she was underdressed and emaciated. But she was homeschooled, and so her parents, fundamentalist Christians in thrall to a harsh disciplinary philosophy, had complete privacy to punish her as they saw fit. She died naked, face down in the mud in their backyard.

Like so many things, privacy is a double-edged sword. We all want it and depend on it; we consider it a right; but god damn it can be abused. Domestic violence wouldn’t exist without privacy; “domestic” and “private” are much the same thing.

Heather Doney and Rachel Coleman, two women who themselves grew up in homeschooling families, have documented dozens of horrific cases on their website, Homeschooling’s Invisible Children, which launched in May. A database of local news stories and official documents, the site is searchable by category, including Fatality, Food Deprivation, Imprisonment, Physical Abuse and Sexual Abuse. Under Sexual Abuse, to take just one of them, Doney and Coleman found almost 70 victims since 2000—and those are just cases that made the papers.

Coleman, an Indiana University Ph.D. student who studies the role of children in the Christian right, does not believe that homeschooling parents are more abusive than others. Some 1.5 million Americans kids are taught at home, and there’s no reason to think that more than a small fraction of them are subject to severe violence. Indeed, Coleman says she wouldn’t even rule out homeschooling her own children. But she argues that because the practice is almost entirely unregulated in much of the country, it can make abusive situations worse, allowing parents to hide their crimes and denying kids access to outside authority. “Homeschooling enables parents to isolate children,” Coleman says. “That can enable them to abuse them.”

It’s a helluva knotty problem, because monitoring homeschooling would obviously be massively labor-intensive. If I were a bureaucrat tasked with figuring out how to do it I wouldn’t have a clue where to begin.

The Home School Legal Defense Association was founded in 1983, just as homeschooling was catching on among an ascendant Christian right. Many in the movement believed that public schools indoctrinated children in godless secularism and saw homeschooling as a way to give their kids an education steeped in biblical values. At first, homeschoolers faced a great deal of official resistance—some states banned homeschooling outright, while others strictly limited it. During the past 30 years, though, HSLDA has successfully fought to eliminate or drastically loosen those regulations.

Even regulations about monitoring parents who have already been reported for abuse…

Earlier this year, Pennsylvania state Sen. Andrew Dinniman sponsored new legislation in response to the 2012 deaths of two young homeschooled boys in Philadelphia: 6-year-old Khalil Wime, whose parents were arrested for starving and torturing him to death, and 5-year-old Dashawn Harris, reportedly beaten to death by his mother’s boyfriend for mispronouncing the word “sad” during a homeschooling lesson. He is awaiting trial for first-degree murder.

Under Dinniman’s bill, when families with recent child-abuse complaints start homeschooling, child protective services would have to be notified. The parents wouldn’t necessarily be prohibited from pulling their kids out of school, but there would be an outside risk assessment.

The homeschooling movement reacted with outrage. “Bad Bills Threaten Homeschooling Freedom” said an alert sent out by HSLDA. The organization was indignant that families that had already been investigated for abuse would be investigated a second time “just because they had decided to homeschool their children.” As of now, legislation’s future is unclear. “We have heard some concerns in questions about the bill,” said Dinniman’s legislative director, refusing to speculate on its chances.

That “just because” is telling. Yes, parents suspected of abusing their children would be subject to a risk assessment “just because” they decided to homeschool their children – imagine that! Imagine thinking that removing children from the one environment where they have ready access to adults who are not their parents might not be ideal for children subject to abuse.


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

The empirical mismatch

Dec 7th, 2013 4:25 pm | By

Here’s a useful and enjoyable item at Brian Leiter’s blog – the full version of a letter to the Guardian by Rae Langton and John Dupré.

Your headline reads ‘Male and female brains wired differently, scans reveal‘ (2 December 2013). What do scans reveal? ‘Maps of neural circuitry show women’s brains are designed for social skills and memory, men’s for perception and co-ordination’. Yet another deeply confused ‘hard-wired brain’ story. It has received much comment, not least for the empirical mismatch between the data and the conclusion, given that the cited study apparently provides ‘strong evidence for behavioural similarities between the sexes’ (Cordelia Fine, But there is something even more basic at stake.

Please, please, will scientists, science journalists, and readers wake up to this truism: if the mind is the brain, any mental difference will be a brain difference. Suppose there are some actual mental differences between men and women, whatever their prior causes. (Hard to imagine training up half of humanity one way, half another, without creating some differences between them.) There will then be some neural differences. Suppose you have two televisions, whose images are different. You call in the technician, who trumpets the discovery that they differ in their pattern of pixels. How remarkable! Actually, no. That bit we knew already: no difference in the images without a difference in the pixels. Same for ourselves: no difference in states of mind without a difference in states of brain. That doesn’t mean it has to be that way, or is designed to be that way. Even if your mind is your brain, that doesn’t mean ‘your brain made you do it’—as if the ‘you’ were a different being, a soul puppet whose strings are pulled by your neurons. Let’s not fall for this confusion, or we’ll take what happens to be the case, and freeze it.  We’ll take differences, however they may have come about, and make them seem inevitable and appropriate.  We don’t need this deterministic fairy-tale. It’s bad for men and women, bad for science, bad for us all.

No one will listen, of course.

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

Shopping and baby Jesus

Dec 7th, 2013 4:08 pm | By

So American Atheists’ Times Square billboard was specifically intended to make Sarah Palin’s head explode?

When Sarah Palin speaks, ad nauseam, of the “war on Christmas,” she’s referring not only to attempts to secularize the holiday season in general, but also the secularization of Jesus’ birthday itself.*

*This sentence has been updated to remove a reference to Palin’s opposition to the commercialization of Christmas, because apparently she likes the commercialization of Christmas, which is confusing. 

Hmm. Maybe she likes it provided it goes hand in hand with lots of baby Jesus and his birthday? Because Jesus loved capitalism and people who get rich by paying low wages, and because if God didn’t want the planet to melt then we wouldn’t have been intelligently designed to design them. Do I have that right?

That’s why this year’s annual anti-Christmas billboard by the atheist advocacy group American Atheists seems specifically crafted to make Palin’s head explode into a million pieces. The fifteen-second digital ad, which is currently running in Times Square, contends that the “true” meaning of Christmas is not Christ, but things like gifts, the Rockettes, and, most provocatively, Chinese food, which is what Jews eat.

“If Sarah Palin is under the impression that Christmastime is about Jesus,” Dave Muscato, spokesman for American Atheists, tells Daily Intelligencer, “I invite her to take a look at any shopping mall the day after Thanksgiving. Christmastime is, and has been for a long time, about giving gifts, spending time with family and friends, eating, drinking, and being merry; volunteering or giving to charity, and a hundred other things that have nothing to do with religion.”

But Daaaaaaaaaaave – a shopping mall the day after Thanksgiving is not Christmas. It’s black Friday! Everybody knows that.

They forgot to say chocolate mince pie.


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

Homeschooled for good

Dec 7th, 2013 3:21 pm | By

There’s a website, Homeschooling’s Invisible Children. It was founded by two women who were homeschooled themselves, Rachel Coleman and Heather Doney.

Inspired by the recent high profile deaths of several homeschooled children, including Lydia Schatz, Hana Williams, and Nubia Barahona, HIC shines a light on the dark side of homeschooling, where a lack of outside protections for homeschooled children has led to some horrifying consequences.

Homeschooling can be a useful educational tool in the hands of the right parents, but when it falls into the hands of the wrong parents the results can be disastrous, and it is the children who suffer.

HIC documents and archives cases where homeschooling was not in the best interest of the child and was instead used as a means to isolate, abuse, and neglect, resulting in exceedingly harmful or fatal outcomes. This is for Lydia, Hana, Nubia, the children of the Gravelles and Kluths, and all of those whose stories we may never hear.

Warning: This site’s content includes mention of severe child abuse, torture, and untimely death and contains pictures of children who died under such conditions.

The most recent post there is about Miranda Crockett. [trigger warning - abuse, murder]

10-year-old Miranda Crocket was tied up when she drowned in an ice cold bathtub, the culmination of months of abuse at the hands of her father’s girlfriend. Miranda lived alone with her father, Dan Crockett, until her father’s girlfriend, Chandra Rose, moved in with them with her three children, aged 4, 6, and 11, in the summer of 2012. Miranda was withdrawn from school and was homeschooled by Chandra that fall alongside Chandra’s children. Chandra claims that Miranda threatened her children, and that the abuse she heaped on the girl was retaliation. Chandra locked Miranda in the bathroom, tied her up, forced her to take ice baths, and shut her in a hard plastic storage box barely big enough to fit her body. The day Miranda died, she had escaped from the locked bathroom and Miranda had retaliated by tying her hands to her ankles, tying a cord around her neck to cause her discomfort, shutting her in the storage box for several hours and, ultimately, putting her in the ice cold bath where she drowned.

If she hadn’t been taken out of school, she could have asked for help. Children don’t always do that, because they’re afraid to, but the possibility would have been there. But she was taken out of school and “homeschooled” – which being interpreted means, tortured to death.

The Oregonian reported last March:

The judge also unsealed court documents that for the first time publicly revealed what happened in the Fairview apartment the girl shared with her father, Rose and Rose’s children, ages 4, 6 and 11. It describes abuse heightened by Miranda’s isolation after she left the public school system so Rose could home-school her with the other children.

According to the probable cause affidavit, Rose told police that in the hours before paramedics arrived at the apartment, Miranda had escaped from the bathroom and wouldn’t tell Rose what she used to unlock the door. Rose said she tied the girl’s hands to her ankles with scarves and uninflated balloons. She also tied a cord around the girl’s neck and legs to try to make her uncomfortable.

She placed the child in the fetal position in the storage box, leaving her there for 30 minutes to three hours. Rose also put Miranda in an icy cold bath.

Miranda was home “schooled” all right.



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

Disgust and closets and out campaigns

Dec 7th, 2013 11:46 am | By

Chris Stedman has a piece at Religion News Service arguing against the claim that atheism coming out of the closet is comparable to the movement for LGBT rights.

Austin Cline claims on’s atheism section that “atheists [are] hated more than gays,” and bestselling author Richard Dawkins has frequently compared the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) rights movement to the atheist movement—drawing heavily from the LGBTQ rights movement for his “Out Campaign,” which encourages atheists to “come out.” And these are just a few examples in a long line of well-intentioned atheist activists and organizations—who generally consider themselves LGBTQ allies—comparing the LGBTQ rights movement to the atheist movement.

There are things about this comparison that, on the surface, make sense: atheists and LGBTQs are marginalized communities that deviate from normative ideas about how people should live, that often share an experience of needing to reveal our identities to others (sometimes with terrible consequences), and that experience social stigma.


He’s right, it’s not a great comparison. Mind you, comparisons often work by comparing a single aspect of the X and Y as opposed to comparing the entirety of each, and in that sense, as Chris says, this one makes sense at least on the surface. But his point is to underline the reasons it doesn’t work as a comparison.

Anti-atheist bias does exist, of course—particularly in other parts of the world—and it should be strongly condemned and combated. The prevalence of violence in the U.S. motivated by an anti-atheist bias, however, is more than eclipsed by violence motivated by heterosexism.

In 2012 the FBI reported that the largest percentage of reported hate crimes were those motivated by racial bias. After that, the next largest percentages of hate crimes were motivated by bias against sexual orientation and against religion (primarily against Jews and Muslims). But of the reported hate crimes motivated by bias against religious belief (18.7% of all hate crimes), only 0.9% stemmed from an anti-atheist/agnostic bias. In other words, the magnitude of violence against atheists and agnostics does not begin to compare to what many other communities experience.

There’s an odd thing about that FBI report though. It doesn’t include women as a category:

By bias motivation

An analysis of data for victims of single-bias hate crime incidents showed that:

  • 48.5 percent of the victims were targeted because of the offender’s bias against a race.
  • 19.2 percent were targeted because of a bias against a particular sexual orientation.
  • 18.7 percent were victimized because of a bias against a religious belief.
  • 12.1 percent were victimized because of a bias against an ethnicity/national origin.
  • 1.4 percent were targeted because of a bias against a disability.

That’s it; that’s the list of categories. Because, what, there are no crimes in which the victims are targeted because of the offender’s bias against women? That can’t be right…

Chris goes on to zero in on what I think is a very important point, which is that the root of a lot of violent hatred is disgust:

A myriad of religious and political institutions have perpetuated and sustained anti-LGBTQ attitudes throughout history, and these attitudes are still frequently expressed and enforced through religion—but calling religion the source would be misguided. (Besides: if atheists consider religion to be human-created, then it follows that anti-gay attitudes come from humans who sometimes express them through religion.) Instead of originating from religion, studies suggest that negative attitudes toward gay people are influenced by intuitive, moral disapproval linked to the emotion of disgust. An important series of studies from Paul Bloom and Joshua Knobe at Yale University, David A. Pizarro at Cornell University, and Yoel Inbar at Tilburg University suggest a strong link between disgust and negative attitudes toward homosexuality. Because of this link, anti-gay attitudes are frequently articulated through the rhetoric of disgust or dehumanization—“homosexual activity just isn’t natural” or “homosexuality is an illness” being two common examples. Sometimes this rhetoric is religious, but it seems to reflect an emotional source that’s ultimately not.

Yes, and that also very much applies to hatred of women. I’m lucky enough to be reminded of this any time I want to be (and often when I don’t); I can just look up what people are saying about me on Twitter for instance. (And if I don’t there will always be someone new who tweets some friendly disgust at me.) Like “Mykeru” for example.


Mykeru @Mykeru
@chsvns You just dropped that into #feministselfie By the way, do you know Ophelia Benson queefs talcum powder?

Sexual disgust at its finest. Wholly irrelevant to anything, just an expression of sexual disgust for the sake of it. Once you notice that kind of thing, you notice how pervasive it is. It’s sad. All the little baby girls napping in their cribs today…they’ll all grow up to be the target of sexual disgust sooner or later.

Anyway I think Chris is right about this. Chris is right and Leon Kass is profoundly, horribly wrong. Disgust is not a good source of moral intuitions.

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

Great blasphemers in history

Dec 7th, 2013 10:09 am | By

Dan pointed out in a comment on Exodus 33 that

There a famous nineteenth century cartoon of Moses seeing God’s “back parts” that was one of those citied in the prosecution of The Freethinker for blasphemy.

Which is fabulous because I write a monthly column for The Freethinker, so I feel all connected up to blasphemous history, which is a thing I like feeling all connected up to.

I hit Google and found a Wiki page all about it: Martyrdom of a Freethinker: Blasphemy, Secularism and the Trials of G. W. Foote.

The aim of this project has been to assess the trial of G. W. Foote and his associates W. J. Ramsey and Henry Kempe for blasphemy in 1883. The tr[ia]l was instigated after Foote published the Christmas 1882 number of his magazine the Freethinker, which contained a series of ‘blasphemous’ articles and cartoons.

Dave Silverman’s jokes about God’s butt are part of the Christmas festivities in the US this year. Parallels or what?!

The Secular community produced a number of publications at this time such as the Secular Chronicle, Secular Review, National Reformer and the Agnostic Annual all with varying degrees of success. G. W. Foote was one of the N.S.S’s leading figures, becoming president in 1890, and his Freethinker[3] was the most outrageous and forward of all of these publications. Foote’s witticisms, ridicule and use of cartoons to attack the core values of Christianity, combined with the very affordable price of one penny, threw his atheistic and Secular beliefs out for the masses to absorb or be repulsed by. It was the deliberately confrontational nature of the Freethinker that would arguably lead to its author’s arrest and sentence to twelve months confinement with hard labour.

Again – this is what American Atheists does and is: it’s the most deliberately “outrageous and forward” aka provocative of all the secular and humanist and atheist organizations. It throws atheistic and secular beliefs out for the masses to absorb or be repulsed by, by advertising on billboards and talking to Bill O’Reilly, among other things. It all fits, I tell you!

On the 26th of February 1883, after two separate trials, the first resulting in a hung jury, the second passing a sentence of guilty for Blasphemous Libel, Henry Kempe was sentenced to three months imprisonment, W. J. Ramsey was sentenced to nine months and G. W. Foote as editor of the Freethinker was sentenced to twelve months imprisonment with hard labour.

Which is really pretty horrifying.

The Freethinker began using cartoons early in 1882 with a series called “Comic Bible Sketches”[4] after Foote saw similar items in a French periodical. In his first indictment the image “Divine Illumination” alone earned three counts.<ref>Marsh, p. 141.</ref> The 1882 Christmas number of the Freethinker would use illustrations to their maximum effect when the series “New Life of Christ” was published.[5] The cartoons used in the Freethinker used real lines from the bible and accompanied them with a humorous illustration often taking the words at their most literal. Of particular note is the cartoon “Moses Getting a Back View” in which we see, emerging from the clouds, what appears to be God’s behind in patched trousers. An ambiguous protrusion from his rear – depending on how the reader perceives it – could be a loose bit of material or a classic example of early British toilet humour.

God’s bottom! back


Happy holidays.

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

For allegedly hurting religious sentiments

Dec 6th, 2013 4:51 pm | By

They’re heckling Taslima again.

An FIR was registered against me last night. They do not like my tweets that I posted on November 6.

LUCKNOW/KOLKATA: An FIR has been lodged against controversial Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen for allegedly hurting religious sentiments following a complaint by a prominent Muslim cleric of Uttar Pradesh, a charge which the author said shocked her.

The case was lodged at Kotwali police station by Hasan Raza Khan Noori Miyan, son of the “sajjadanasheen” of Dargah-e-Ala Hazrat Maulana Subhan Raza Khan Subhani Miyan, who objected to certain tweets by Nasreen against clerics on November 6, police sources said here on Thursday.

In the complaint, it was alleged that with her remarks against clerics on Twitter the writer had hurt the feelings of the Muslim community. (more…)

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

Plaintiff’s treating physician suspected

Dec 6th, 2013 4:18 pm | By

Continuing the close reading of the Complaint in Means v US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

One startling item is # 38, on page 6, in the sequence in which the Complaint describes the chain of events. This is about the second time the hospital sent Means home.

38 After Plaintiff’s temperature went down, MHP sent Plaintiff home again. At the time MHP sent Plaintiff home, Plaintiff’s treating physician suspected she had chorioamnionitis, a significant bacterial infection that can cause serious damage to a woman’s health, including infertility and even death. However, MHP did not inform Plaintiff of this possible infection.

Wow. The physician suspected Means had chorioamnionitis, and didn’t tell her and didn’t treat her. The physician didn’t even admit her.

That’s just staggering.

And yet – when a public health educator in Muskegon working on a federally funded public health surveillance project on infant and fetal mortality discovered the case along with four others, and brought them to the attention of MHP during a meeting with the Vice President of Mission Services of MHP, Joseph O’Meara, O’Meara was fine with the whole setup. Item 57, on page 8:

57 Mr. O’Meara explained to the public health educator that upon review of Plaintiff’s chart by a MHP physician, MHP’s decision not to induce labor was proper because Defendant USCCB’s Directives prohibited MHP from inducing labor in that situation.

A piece of shocking medical malpractice was “proper” because the bishops.

Items 69 and 70 on pages 10-11.

69 Directive 45’s prohibition of “material cooperation” with respect to the provision of pregnancy termination services directs Catholic health care services to refrain from informing patients about the availability of and/or need for pregnancy termination procedures if the fetus is not viable.

70 Directive 45 does not allow providers at Catholic health care services to inform patients about the availability of and/or need for pregnancy termination procedures if the fetus is not viable when the pregnancy itself places the pregnant woman at risk of harm.

The directives don’t permit them even to inform. And some hospitals, and some networks of hospitals, obey the directives. The directives are there, and it’s dangerous and reckless to assume that no hospitals obey them.

73-77 on page 11 spell out the unsettling organizational structure.

 73 Defendant Stanley Urban is the current Chair and Defendants Robert Ladenburger and Mary Mollison are former Chairs of Catholic Health Ministries (“CHM”), an unincorporated foreign entity that required MHP to adhere to the Directives.

74. The decision that MHP would adhere to Defendant USCCB’s Directives was made by CHM in the Eastern District of Michigan.

75. CHM is not an incorporated entity under the laws of any state in the United States or any foreign country.

76. As Chairs of the unincorporated entity CHM, Defendants Urban, Ladenburger and Mollison are personally and/or vicariously liable for the acts and omissions of CHM.

77. In 2000, CHM was established as a public juridic person by an agency within the Vatican under “canon law,” a recognized foreign legal system.

A recognized foreign legal system is telling US hospitals what to do, including not treating or even informing women who need emergency abortions.

This has got to stop.


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

Atheist solidarity

Dec 6th, 2013 2:59 pm | By

Oh sure. Of course. See a photo of people sending a message of solidarity to imprisoned atheists in majority-Muslim countries, a photo organized by Maryam Namazie, the founder of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and inspiration for Councils of Ex-Muslims elsewhere such as Morocco, France, North America.

In that photo we’re all holding messages we composed for the purpose. Mine said “WE ARE ATHEIST. WE ARE WITH YOU.”

Stephanie Zvan, Ophelia Benson, Brianne Bilyeu, Maryam Namazie, Jason Thibeault, Kate Donovan, Miriam Mogilevski, PZ Myers, Ashley Miller. Photo by Brian D. Engler.

See that, I say, and photoshop it for a rather different purpose.

Embedded image permalink

 That’s atheist solidarity for you. I’m sure the persecuted atheists in majority-Muslim countries are very grateful.

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

Exodus 33

Dec 6th, 2013 2:19 pm | By

There’s a bit in the bible, in Exodus, where Moses tells God, let me get a look at you, because otherwise how the hell do all these people know I’m not just making it up? And God says ok, because I like you, Moses, and I even remember your name. So they make a date.

Here’s the King James version:

17 And the Lord said unto Moses, I will do this thing also that thou hast spoken: for thou hast found grace in my sight, and I know thee by name.

18 And he said, I beseech thee, shew me thy glory.

19 And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy.

20 And he said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live.

21 And the Lord said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock:

22 And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by:

23 And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen.

Can’t see the face, because that would be lethal, but can see the butt.

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