Notes and Comment Blog

That’s completely different

Jun 9th, 2014 3:45 pm | By

The Washington Post has some information on yesterday’s installment of the required daily mass shooting that has become such a hallmark of the US summer as well as autumn and spring.

The shooters who killed a pair of police officers and a bystander who tried to stop them on Sunday in Las Vegas had expressed anti-government views, according to police, who are working to officially determine a motive in the violent episode.

“There is no doubt that the suspects have an ideology that’s along the lines of militia and white supremacists,” said Kevin C. McMahill, assistant sheriff of Clark County, during a news conference Monday.


While authorities said they believed this was an isolated, random act, they also said they were investigating the ideology of the two shooters.  They believe that the fact that they placed a swastika on the bodies of one of the people they killed Sunday suggested that they equated law enforcement “with the Nazi movement,” McMahill said. Police also said they are investigating reports that one or both of the Millers went to the Nevada ranch of Cliven Bundy during a standoff with federal authorities earlier this year.


A neighbor told the Los Angeles Times that on Sunday morning, Jerad Miller had pulled out swastikas and an Army insignia and said he was going to put one on every police officer they killed. ”I’m thinking, ‘Right. They’re not going to do that,” Kelly Fielder said. “I should have called the cops. I feel I have the deaths of five people on my shoulders. The signs were there.”

No no no they weren’t. That was just some passing whim that had nothing to do with the shootings. The shootings were because Jerad Miller was mentally ill. That’s totally all there was to it. Plus, it’s complicated.

Fielder described Jerad Miller as hateful of the government and of President Obama, while she said Amanda Miller was “a good girl who would do anything to make her man happy.”

See? See? They cancel each other out, so the views don’t count.

The pair then took the slain officers out of their booth and laid them on the ground, covering Beck with a yellow Gadsden flag that read “Don’t Tread on Me” and placing a swastika on his body.

They also pinned a note to Salvo that read, “This is the beginning of the revolution,” McMahill said, and they repeated that phrase to people in the restaurant before leaving and heading to a nearby Wal-Mart.

Mental illness, that was. Nothing to do with ideas at all. The guy was cray. Plus? It’s complicated.

Jerad Miller had posted a lengthy statement on his Facebook page last week writing that the country was facing oppression that could only be stopped “with bloodshed.”

The couple apparently was committed to an anti-government belief system typified by hatred of law enforcement and the notion that the federal government has no authority over them, said Heidi Beirich, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project.

“This isn’t the first attack from people who show these kinds of beliefs,” she said Monday in a telephone interview from the organization’s headquarters in Montgomery, Ala. “They come to see the government as the enemy. The fact that these two shot cops is right in that line of thinking.”

But…that has…nothing to do with it…

In 2010, a similar strain of anti-government rage resulted in two family members killing two police officers in West Memphis, Ark. That episode concluded in a Wal-Mart parking lot, as Jerry Ralph Kane Jr., and his 16-year-old son, Joseph, died in a firefight with law enforcement officials.

Earlier this year, a man plotted to kidnap and kill police officers in Las Vegas as part of the anti-government “sovereign citizen” movement, which believes that governments operate illegally. The FBI has called the sovereign citizen extremists a “growing domestic threat,” one that has had violent and fatal encounters with law enforcement officials.

There were 43 violent incidents between law enforcement officials and extremists, with 30 police officers shot and 14 killed, between 2009 and 2013, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

Well maybe there was some connection.

End of sarcasm. Any bets on how many of the people who have been telling us Elliot Rodger’s shooting spree had nothing to do with misogyny will be making a parallel claim about the Las Vegas shooting spree?

My bet is not a fucking one.


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

The deportation of Imran Firasat

Jun 9th, 2014 11:55 am | By

I generally try to find other sources for items reported by Robert Spencer at Jihad Watch, because I’m leery of his allies and fans. But I could find only Spanish news sources for this one, so I’m going with it, hoping English language sources will pick it up later. I’m going with it because it’s horrendous.

Spain to deport Pakistani ex-Muslim refugee for criticizing Islam

“Spain to Deport Pakistani Refugee for Criticizing Islam,” by Soeren Kern, Gatestone Institute, June 6, 2014:

The Spanish Supreme Court has ruled that a political refugee should be deported because his criticism of Islam poses “a danger to the security of Spain.”

The May 30 ruling, which upholds an earlier decision by a lower court to revoke the refugee status of a Pakistani ex-Muslim named Imran Firasat, showcases how the fear of Muslim rage continues to threaten the exercise of free speech in Europe.

Firasat obtained political asylum in Spain in October 2006 because of death threats against him in both Pakistan and Indonesia for leaving the Islamic faith and marrying a non-Muslim.

But then he made a movie about the prophet and the prophet’s religion…

Firasat, who runs a website called (A World Without Islam), says he was inspired by another amateur film, “The Innocence of Muslims,” which portrayed the Islamic Prophet Mohammed as a womanizer and a pedophile. Released in September 2012, the movie triggered a wave of riots across Europe and the Middle East that resulted in the deaths of more than 30 people.

At the time, the Obama Administration falsely alleged that the film was responsible for the death of the American ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and three others in Benghazi, Libya.

“When I heard that the U.S. ambassador was slain,” Firasat told the Belgian newspaper De Morgen in December 2012. “I said okay, you Muslims, use violence, but we will continue to make films. One day one of us will lose.”

And so Spain decided that made him a threat to Spanish security, so they decided to revoke his refugee status.

Fernández issued an order on December 21, 2012 to deport Firasat based on Article 44 of the Law on Asylum and Protection, which allows the state to revoke the refugee status of “persons who constitute a threat to Spanish security.” The deportation order stated that Firasat constituted a “persistent source of problems due to his constant threats against the Koran and Islam in general.”

Firasat appealed the deportation order at the National Court [Audiencia Nacional], arguing that the expression of his views about Islam fall within the constitutional right to free speech.

But the National Court rejected Firasat’s appeal. A ruling dated October 3, 2013 states:

“The right to the freedom of expression can be subject to certain formalities, conditions, restrictions or sanctions, which constitute necessary measures, in a democratic society, to preserve national security, public security and the constitutional order.”

Under certain narrow conditions, yes…

Now the Supreme Court has not only confirmed the National Court’s ruling, but it has gone one step farther. Its ruling states:

“The right to the freedom of expression does not guarantee the right to intolerant manifestations or expressions that infringe against religious freedom, that have the character of blasphemy or that seek to offend religious convictions and do not contribute to the public debate.”

This paragraph is strangely similar to an international blasphemy law being promoted by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, a bloc of 57 Muslim countries dedicated to implementing a worldwide ban on “negative stereotyping of Islam.”

Jesus god – the right to the freedom of expression does not guarantee the right to intolerant manifestations or expressions that have the character of blasphemy?? It doesn’t?!

If that’s true we’re all in big big trouble.

Warning of potential trouble ahead for the exercise of free speech in Spain, two judges—Manuel Campos and Isabella Perelló—dissented from the majority opinion. They signed a statement in which they ask whether the source of the danger to national security is in the actions of Firasat, or in the reactions of Islamic fundamentalists. They write:

“The pernicious effects against national security do not strictly derive from the conduct of the refugee, but rather from the violent reactions of third persons.”

Although Firasat can now be deported, the court says he and his family will not be delivered “to a country where there is danger to life or freedom.”

Oh, Spencer must have missed that sentence, because he says the opposite in his intro at the top:

Imran Firasat’s criticism of Islam doesn’t pose a danger to the security of Spain. What poses a danger to the security of Spain is the way some Muslims may react to Imran Firasat’s criticism of Islam. But rather than confront them, Spanish authorities are sending Imran Firasat back to certain death in Pakistan.

But apparently they’re not, so…Spencer got that part wrong. It’s an important part. Sending him to Sweden (say) is different from sending him to Pakistan.

It’s still a bad outcome though. Bad Spain; do better.


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

Guest post by Salty Current: A real transparency problem

Jun 9th, 2014 10:16 am | By

Originally a comment on Asking a question.

Others have already said much that I would have about the content and attitude of this missive, but I found this remark the most concerning:

The Global Secular Council “launched” only its website and social media at the behest of many involved, mainly donors,

As I mentioned previously, many of these organizations seem to have a real transparency problem concerning donations and finances. It was a big issue at RDF, Rogers’ recent firing appears to have something to do with embezzlement at SCA, I can’t get anyone from the Harvard Humanists to give any information about donors,* and the course of the JREF looks at this point to be determined by one guy.

To the extent that an organization or sub-organization is dominated by one or a handful of donors with outsized influence, it tends to reflect their politics, priorities, and personal animosities and agendas rather than those of the community. Now this new project appears, founded and advised by the “Bella & Stella Foundation.” Who is this? Is it a vanity project of one or more of the “Experts,” several of whom are also on the SCA’s advisory board? Do the donors, important enough to push through the GSC’s launch, have their own political goals?

This changes the whole situation for people who are questioning or criticizing an organization’s actions, because they’re (reasonably) expecting the organization to be responsive to its supporters and to the community it claims to represent, when it largely won’t be because it’s beholden to a small number of individuals. People will tend to attribute to incompetence what’s really an intentional course of action.

* I’m not asking them to name people, just to say whether the large bulk of donations come from small donations or one or a handful of individual rich people or organizations.


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

The debut of Audrey Zhang

Jun 9th, 2014 9:20 am | By

Wow! An 11-year-old kid did today’s Google doodle, which is one brilliant doodle – I jumped when I saw it and then looked for information about it, as one does – I thought it was perhaps a variation on John Tenniel, creator of the brilliant illustrations of Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking-glass. I was not thinking “probably an 11-year-old kid.”

Google named Audrey Zhang, of Island Trees Memorial

Credit: Google

The Google one is animated. Audrey Zhang’s is a still.

Yesterday the Handmade Parade in Hebden Bridge, today this. Yay art. Art makes me feel optimistic.

Long Island Now reports on the local genius:

Visit Google’s homepage today and marvel at the intricate and interactive doodle created by an 11-year-old Long Island girl.

An animated version of the drawing that recently won Levittown fifth-grader Audrey Zhang the national 2014 Doodle 4 Google contest went live on the site at midnight Sunday and will be on display throughout Monday.

In an interview Sunday, Audrey, a student at Island Trees Middle School, said she was “excited” to see her masterpiece brought to life, but she wasn’t planning to be awake when it debuted at midnight. She said she would see it when she woke up Monday morning.

Fabulous job, Audrey.

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

Appendix: stupid questions

Jun 9th, 2014 8:09 am | By


EllenBeth Wachs @BlameEllenBeth Jun 6

Holy mofo crap how do you not see your hypocrisy Ophelia?-> Why do they think they are above being questioned?

I’m not an organization.

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

People who didn’t dare ask questions

Jun 8th, 2014 5:45 pm | By

A forthright piece in the Irish Independent on the death rate in the Tuam mother and baby home.

It didn’t just happen. It wasn’t just bad management. It took years of organisation, strategies of intimidation and control. And, let’s face it, it took a citizenry steeped in fear and reverence.

A population that was deferential. People who did what they were told. People who didn’t dare ask questions.

Not, of course, that dumping the bodies of almost 800 kids near a septic tank was the object of the exercise – that was just a byproduct. Just some human waste that had to be tucked away in a suitable place.

It was about sex and power. It was about the right of the Church to do whatever it thought necessary to preserve its domain. It stemmed from a hierarchy of old men who were obsessed with sex.

The Church was very conscious of its need to dominate. Never to serve – to dominate.

As it still is. Domination is what it does.

Under the leadership of the legendary Archbishop John Charles McQuaid, between 1940 and 1965 the Church built no fewer than 34 churches in Dublin.

These weren’t pretty little places of spiritual reflection – they were massive structures that physically and psychologically dominated their surroundings.

These buildings did not say, ‘Come in here for solace’ – as any church of any faith might say. They said, ‘We are your masters.’

Regular expulsions for trivial matters sharpened the edge of guilt and fear in the awed people on whom the Confraternities thrived.

The Church was in that period at the height of its power. It could do whatever it wanted. When you have a docile citizenry; an obedient political regime; academics who know which backsides to kiss; and a politically appointed judiciary, you can shape a society in your own image.

Which is what the bishops did.


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

PC gone mad I tell you

Jun 8th, 2014 5:02 pm | By

Ann Widdecombe is vying for Most Outrageous this week. I think she has a shot at it.

It is “very difficult” to be an active Christian in modern Britain, former government minister Ann Widdecombe, who lives in Dartmoor, has claimed.

The ex-MP blamed “quite militant secularism” and equality legislation for people feeling they could not express their faith.

She claimed that respect for people’s personal views meant people could have been a fascist in post-1945 Britain or a Communist during the Cold War but Christians now had started “suppressing the expression of conscience”.

And yet, there the Archbishop still is, archbishoping away.

Ms Widdecombe, who converted from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism in 1993, said: “Christians now have quite a lot of problems, whether it’s that you can’t display even very discreet small symbols of your faith at work, that you can’t say ‘God bless you’, you can’t offer to pray for somebody, if it’s an even bigger stance on conscience that you’re taking, some of the equality laws can actually bring you to the attention of the police themselves.

“So I think it is a very difficult country now, unlike when I was growing up, in which to be a Christian, an active Christian at any rate.”

Ah, look what she did there. She’s not talking about “conscience,” she’s talking about people shoving their religion on everyone else.

When we were engaged in the height of the Cold War, when there were all those weapons lined up on the borders of the Warsaw Pact countries pointing straight at us, you could still, in this country, proclaim yourself as a Communist, you could still stand for Parliament for that matter as a Communist.

You wouldn’t get in but you could stand. You could sell the Morning Star on street corners.

Is she claiming that now you can’t stand for Parliament as a Christian? To the best of my knowledge, you can not only stand for Parliament as a Christian, you can even get in. So…her comparison doesn’t do what she wants it to do, does it.

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

Asking a question

Jun 8th, 2014 3:44 pm | By

So anyway, on Friday, I wrote again to the press contact person at the Global Secular Council to ask the question the GSC’s Twitter account never did answer, and first insulted me and then blocked me for asking.

Why did the Global Secular Council launch before inviting more “global” people to be on its panel of Experts?

She replied that she wanted to be sure I would not “not misconstrue or “twist” [her] text reply, and perhaps repopulate that misconception publicly.”

I couldn’t quite fathom how I would be able to do that as long as I quoted her exactly, which obviously I would do; I said as much, and with that she answered my question. Here is her answer:

What I will say to you is that most of my answer was dictated by me to the Social Media Team (at their request) and, as I understand it, sent back to you in snippets (or “tweets”).  I looked over what actually was sent back to your questions and it seems, though loaded with a little too much “internet personality”, to be congruent with the reply I intended; although, perhaps because of the forced brevity of those responses, those remarks were not received by you as actual answers.  So far, those answers seem to have been missed, “twisted”, or at least, misconstrued, consistently by you and your loyal followers.  But, I’m happy to recap here, and you can perhaps help me to fill in the blanks in my answer.  This is my personal understanding of the situation, and by no means represents every single member of our organization:

The Global Secular Council “launched” only its website and social media at the behest of many involved, mainly donors, and not without concern from many others involved, similar to yours.  I speak for myself, but echo others, when I say many agreed that on the face of it, we did not yet display enough racial, gender, and national diversity in our Council Members.  However, since we were by no means at the close of some finite process, but rather, at the beginning of a far-reaching project, we did not determine there would be any actual harm done announcing that the Council was being formed, while further “human resources” continued to gather and make commitments.  Taslima Nasreen, for instance, has agreed to join, but we have not yet solidified.  We were and are excited!  To that end, from the start, the name “Global” was a statement of purpose, as well as an indication of what we were already doing–gathering resources such as surveys, articles, and academic papers from around the world in support of a secular cause.

So the answer to my question is: they “did not determine there would be any actual harm done announcing that the Council was being formed, while further “human resources” continued to gather and make commitments.”

As you see, she had also said “you can perhaps help me to fill in the blanks in my answer” so I basically asked my question all over again:

Since you suggest I help fill in the blanks, I’ll ask again about why you launched before getting more global people on board. You say you (plural) did not determine there would be any actual harm done, so I would ask why not? It’s the same question all over again, really. It seems to be an obviously bad idea to launch a global project with no one “global” on the roster.

I know you’ve invited Taslima; she’s a good friend of mine. But you invited her after you invited other people, people with less experience and knowledge of matters outside North America and the UK. That seems like a slight. I would think you (plural) would want to avoid giving that impression.

I hope she doesn’t see that as me misconstruing or twisting her reply, much less repopulating that misconception publicly. I see it as just pressing the question, which wasn’t very satisfactorily answered. Why didn’t they think there would be any harm done?

Why did they think it would be a good idea to set up a panel of people they dubbed “Experts” for a council to deal with global issues when the experts have no obvious expertise at all in the global issues in question? American and British physicists, biologists, zoologists – how are they experts in global issues? I see of course how they are “Experts” tout court, but what does that have to do with anything? Having a PhD in field X doesn’t make you a universal seer. Given the completely random qualifications of the people on that list, it certainly would have helped to have had at least a broader geographical reach.

In one way it’s obviously none of my business, but then again they certainly sent out press releases asking us all to spread the word about their new council, plus there are all these people who seem to expect our infinite loyalty, so from that point of view it is my business, it’s all of our business. And then, I know a lot of people they should have asked to be on that panel but didn’t, and it annoys me. (No, I emphatically don’t mean me. I mean people from other parts of the world.)

Then again, the description of their planned activity that she ends with perhaps indicates that none of this matters after all:

…the name “Global” was a statement of purpose, as well as an indication of what we were already doing–gathering resources such as surveys, articles, and academic papers from around the world in support of a secular cause.

Oh. That’s their plan? To gather papers?

Oh. Oh well, never mind then.


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

The ways of love

Jun 8th, 2014 3:00 pm | By

Gnu Atheism illustrates:

Photo: On the off-chance someone doesn't yet know what this is about: </p>

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

A beautiful day in Hebden Bridge

Jun 8th, 2014 12:29 pm | By

For a joyous interlude – check out the Handmade Parade today in Hebden Bridge in south Yorkshire. There’s a huge collection of photos here, and Maureen has given me permission to post a selection of hers.


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

Forced to kneel there for what turned out to be two weeks

Jun 8th, 2014 12:12 pm | By

Any time I want to make sure I’m not getting too optimistic about things, I pause to remember how shamingly far the US differs (always in the wrong direction) from all other developed countries on a whole slew of indices of national well-being or flourishing. Just off the top of my head, without taking to Google to find lists, there’s

  • infant mortality
  • maternal mortality
  • lack of universal health insurance
  • income inequality
  • wealth inequality
  • percentage of the population in prison
  • executions
  • violent crime
  • guns
  • debt

That’s a terrible list.

An item I wasn’t really aware of is the rate of juvenile incarceration. It’s off the fucking charts higher than any other developed country. How the scorching blood of shame rises to contemplate that fact.

There’s a new book on the subject by Nell Bernstein, Burning Down the House.

The American rate of juvenile incarceration is seven times that of Great Britain, and 18 times that of France. It costs, on average, $88,000 a year to keep a youth locked up — far more than the U.S. spends on a child’s education.

Think what an education a kid could get for 88k a year.

But the biggest problem with juvenile incarceration, author Nell Bernstein tells Fresh Air‘s Dave Davies, is that instead of helping troubled kids get their lives back on track, detention usually makes their problems worse, and sets them in the direction of more crime and self-destructive behavior.

“The greatest predictor of adult incarceration and adult criminality wasn’t gang involvement, wasn’t family issues, wasn’t delinquency itself,” Bernstein says. “The greatest predictor that a kid would grow up to be a criminal was being incarcerated in a juvenile facility.”

So we do a lot of it, more than other comparable countries. Brilliant. Just fucking brilliant.

A lot of them talked about being numb to fear, but some of that felt like leftover bravado to me, because the stories they told of what actually happened to them were so terrifying that I can’t believe that there wasn’t fear.

One young man described arriving at a new facility just as a fight broke out in the dormitory to which he had been assigned. And although he hadn’t been involved, his whole dorm was stripped to their boxers, handcuffed, chained together, taken to the gymnasium and forced to kneel there for what turned out to be two weeks. Is fear the right word for what you feel during an experience like that? I don’t know, because, again, he described his humanity draining out of him as he listened to the guards banter and tell jokes and just pass the time, as if these were something other than suffering human beings on the floor in front of them. …

It’s right up there with the Irish mother and baby homes and the industrial “schools” and the Magdalene laundries – only this is now, and it’s here in my country where I vote.


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

Not dumped but…carefully placed?

Jun 8th, 2014 11:36 am | By

Catherine Corless isn’t happy about the way the discussion of the Tuam mother and baby home has gone. She doesn’t like the framing.

‘I never used that word ‘dumped’,” Catherine Corless, a local historian in Co Galway, tells The Irish Times. “I never said to anyone that 800 bodies were dumped in a septic tank. That did not come from me at any point. They are not my words.”

The story that emerged from her work was reported this week in dramatic headlines around the world.

“Tell us the truth about the children dumped in Galway’s mass graves” – The Guardian.

I used the word “dumped” too. That was the word that occurred to me. They weren’t “buried” as we commonly understand burial of the dead. The usual way of naming that is in fact “dumped” – it’s a deliberately emotive word that underlines the brutality. I think it’s the right word. It’s an indictment of the people – the church people – who ran that “home”.

The deaths of these 796 children are not in doubt. Their numbers are a stark reflection of a period in Ireland when infant mortality in general was very much higher than today, particularly in institutions, where infection spread rapidly. At times during those 36 years the Tuam home housed more than 200 children and 100 mothers, plus those who worked there, according to records Corless has found.

What has upset, confused and dismayed her in recent days is the speculative nature of much of the reporting around the story, particularly about what happened to the children after they died. “I never used that word ‘dumped’,” she says again, with distress. “I just wanted those children to be remembered and for their names to go up on a plaque. That was why I did this project, and now it has taken [on] a life of its own.”

She must be thinking that “dumped” will be upsetting to the surviving mothers of those babies and children. Maybe it will – or maybe it will make them feel that at last people care? I don’t know. I do know that my mind shrinks back in horror whenever I contemplate the scene back then when a baby or child died and was then…put or placed or tossed or dumped in a pit out back, with no marker or headstone or separate grave the mother might visit.

Corless has not been contacted by anyone from any State department, asking to have access to her research. Nor has her work been corroborated by anyone else. “I would definitely be willing to share my research,” she says.

In response to Corless’s story, Minister for Children Charlie Flanagan confirmed this week that there will be a Government inquiry into all mother-and-baby homes.

Corless has proved that 796 children died while at St Mary’s in Tuam – a shameful statistic that would not have been known without her years of dedicated work. It seems clear that at least some of these children lie in the small plot of land at the back of the Dublin Road housing estate. Excavation might be the only way to be sure. “Our intention in setting up this committee was not excavation,” she says, “but I would welcome the truth.”

The 796 deaths over 36 years is the real point, not the callous disposal of the bodies…except that the callous disposal of the bodies must have been an appalling twist of the knife for the mothers.

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

Another three years

Jun 8th, 2014 10:53 am | By

There was a protest outside a mother and baby home in Cork today, the Irish Times reports.

Mothers who lost babies at the former Bessborough mother and baby home in Cork tied teddy bears and toys to the gates of the building today as they stated their hope to be included in any form of inquiry the Government is now going to order.

The founder of the Bessborough Mother and Baby Support Group, Helen Murphy, who was born at the home and left when she was seven months old said the vigil was part of a larger campaign.

“We want the truth to be known. We want justice to be done and we want Bessborough to be included in any form of inquiry the Government is now going to order.

We founded the Bessborough Mother and Baby Support Group as an outlet for all those whose lives were affected by this place,” she said.

“The purpose of it is to remember the people who were there and especially the babies who died.

“But also to remember all of the mothers who gave birth there. We want to add our voice to the call for an inquiry into what went on at the mother and baby homes, how many babies died and where are those babies buried. We want answers.”

This isn’t the home in Tuam in Galway, notice; this is a different one. There are lots of them.

Women who gave birth at Bessborough were not allowed pain relief during labour or stitches after birth, and when they developed abscesses from breast-feeding they were denied penicillin.

One nun who ran the labour ward in the early 1950’s also forbid any “moaning or screaming” during childbirth. Girls in poverty, who could not afford to make donations to the Sacred Heart order, had to spend another three years after their babies were born cleaning and working on the lands around the home to ‘make amends’ for their pregnancy.

No pain relief. No stitches. No penicillin. No vocalization during childbirth. THREE YEARS of forced labor.

God damn the Catholic church.

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

The Irish Tuskegee

Jun 7th, 2014 5:34 pm | By

What was that about the Catholic church in Ireland and its way with the babies of single mothers with no money? Starving them, neglecting them, throwing them in a pit when they died?

Oh yes, and also performing medical experiments on them.

Scientists secretly vaccinated more than 2,000 children in religious-run homes in suspected illegal drug trials, it emerged today.

Old medical records show that 2,051 children and babies in Irish care homes were given a one-shot diphtheria vaccine for international drugs giant Burroughs Wellcome between 1930 and 1936.

There is no evidence that consent was ever sought, nor any records of how many may have died or suffered debilitating side-effects as a result.


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

Rape culture? Wozzat?

Jun 7th, 2014 3:51 pm | By


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

Part of a larger conversation about social justice

Jun 7th, 2014 12:45 pm | By

Alternet says looky, there are other atheists besides those three that everybody keeps rolling out.

It’s surprising just how much media analysis, both mainstream and progressive, continues to take as given the notion that atheism can be defined and discussed solely by looking at the so-called “New Atheists” who emerged roughly between 2004 and 2007. It’s easy to understand the appeal: Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens became prominent representatives of atheism because they were all erudite, entertaining and unafraid to say what they thought. A lot of people, myself included, were drawn to their works because they were forthright and articulated things we had kept locked away, or simply hadn’t found the words for.

Gotta stop you right there. Sam Harris is not erudite and he’s not entertaining. He’s badly over-rated, including by himself.

More and more, the strongest atheist voices are talking about nonbelief less as an end in itself, but as part of a larger conversation about social justice. It could hardly be any other way: atheism is growing not only in numbers, but in diversity. When Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens were at their most prominent, a frequent (and credible) criticism was that the faces of atheism were all white, male and affluent. To make the same claim now is to deliberately ignore some of the most vital atheist and skeptic voices that have emerged in the last 10 years.

Social justice! Horrors! There’s nothing worse than social justice infiltrating and contaminating atheism. Watch out! Watch out for the “social justice warriors” and “ragebloggers” and “well-meaning women” because they are Impure.

Greta Christina, the author of Coming Out Atheist describes the changes in organized atheism: “[T]he movement has become much more diverse — not just in the obvious ways of gender, race, and so on, but simply in terms of how many viewpoints are coming to the table. The sheer number of people who are seen in some way as leaders… has gone up significantly…. And the increasing diversity in gender, race, class, and so on are important. We have a long way to go in this regard, but we’re doing much, much better than we were. And that’s showing up in our leadership. It’s absurd to see Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris as representing all organized atheism — it always was a little absurd, but it’s seriously absurd now.”

Would somebody please tell the Secular Coalition for America that? I’ve tried, but they don’t listen.

Just as in any other group, there are scores of people in atheist and skeptic communities who don’t want to have discussions about racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and other bigotries, or say they’re irrelevant to the agenda at hand. The increase in diversity isn’t happening quietly or easily, and it’s often brought out the ugliest sides of people who base their entire identities on being rational and humane. Direct challenges to racism and sexism haven’t traditionally been the domain of the large organizations like American Atheists or the Secular Coalition for America. It’s been far more typical to fight incursions against separation of church and state or educate against pseudoscience like homeopathy.

Gotta stop you for another correction there. No, they don’t base their entire identities on being rational and humane – they base their entire identities on being rational, full stop. The humane part is what they want nothing to do with – they call it “ideology.”

But the more people step forward and identify themselves as nonbelievers, the more it’s become obvious that this narrow focus is unsustainable. Although the top positions in many organizations are still dominated by white men, an increasing number of the most passionate voices bringing new people into the movement are people of color, women, transgendered, or queer.

Jamila Bey, the communications director of the Secular Student Alliance, summed up the concerns of many in a recent interview: “There are people who say, ‘Why are we talking about racism? We would rather argue that Chupacabra are fake.’ And fine, that is their right. On the other hand, I don’t get to divorce my critical thinking from my blackness, from my femaleness, from my position as a mother. So when I see the only affordable child care in my community being offered at churches, that’s an issue for me that makes me say ‘Wait a minute, there’s a problem here. Why am I not being afforded the opportunity for my child not to be indoctrinated just so my kid has somewhere to play and meet other children?’ I can’t divorce my whole life from my skepticism and for anybody who says, well , talking about female issues or talking about issues that impact black people, oh, that’s taking away from skepticism, I go, well that’s really easy for you to say. This is my life. I can’t divorce the issues. You can choose to not care about them or whatever, but don’t tell me I’m diminishing skepticism because I’m talking about the reality of what my life is.”


If Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris brought a single essential insight to modern atheism, it was the idea that atheists could and should be unapologetic about their disbelief. For Heina Dadhaboy, who blogs on Skepchick, that was critical as she moved away from the traditional Islamic beliefs of her family.

“I think the fact that [Dawkins] was so unapologetic is why a lot of us became quite taken with his writings. It wasn’t so much what he was saying or how he was saying it, it was just the fact that he never apologized or capitulated for being an atheist.” That shamelessness helped Dadhaboy to assert her own voice as an atheist. Like most of mainstream culture, her family expected that if she was going to be an atheist, she would at least have the good sense to pay lip service to religion’s superior worldview.

“They expected me to capitulate,” she says. “They expected me to follow their rules and even if I didn’t believe in their religion, to agree with them that it’s more moral and makes more sense. Reading Dawkins was like, ‘Hey, I don’t need to do that.’”

I still like his work in that area – I’m still glad he did it. But…

Progress has not come easily, by any means. In some ways, it’s been outright nightmarish. The standard use of harassment and rape threats against women who make even relatively mild critiques of gender has put some of the ugliest, sickest parts of atheist communities on public display. It has even cost the movement voices; in 2012, blogger Jen McCreight proposed a new wave of secular activism called “Atheism Plus,” which would explicitly embrace social justice as part of its mission.

“It’s time for a wave that cares about how religion affects everyone and that applies skepticism to everything, including social issues like sexism, racism, politics, poverty, and crime,” she wrote. “We can criticize religion and irrational thinking just as unabashedly and just as publicly, but we need to stop exempting ourselves from that criticism.” The campaign of harassment and abuse that followed, combined with stresses in her personal life, eventually drove her to stop blogging and speaking at atheist events.

But Dawkins is still called Our Thought Leader, so that’s what counts.

When Elliot Rodger went on his shooting spree in Isla Vista, the harm was not to the immortal souls of the people he shot and killed. His bullets tore into their bodies and devastated the lives of people in the real world. It was not a crime against god, or the spirit world, or Allah, or karma, but against fellow human beings who were alive and breathing and may have lived for decades more if he hadn’t pulled the trigger.

But those gunshots didn’t kill just because of chemistry and physics; the bullets were driven just as much by Rodger’s poisonous misogyny as by a sudden expansion of gases in the barrel of the gun. We are social creatures, and racism, misogyny, classism, and other prejudices affect our lives in ways that are just as solid as the earth orbiting the sun or our immune systems’ response to a vaccine. The activists who insist that atheism address matters of social justice are not distracting the movement from its purpose or being divisive; they are insisting it deliver on the promises that attracted so many of us to it in the first place.

Damn right.


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

Taslima speaks

Jun 7th, 2014 12:05 pm | By

Taslima on ABC Radio Australia.

Also on ASIA REVIEW –  We meet Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen, who now lives in exile in Delhi. Over two decades after surviving a series of fatwas against her, the best-selling writer talks to us about misogyny in religions and the fight for women’s protection in South Asia.  

Taslima’s part starts at 20:36. Do listen – she has such a beautiful voice. I teared up at the part where she talks about being banished from Bengal, her home, but also having friends who love her and show her solidarity; she says those friends are her home.


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

The exodus from E-Day

Jun 7th, 2014 11:50 am | By

David Futrelle takes a look at the evasive and/or deceptive ways of the Canadian Association for Equality and Justin “not Justin Trottier” Trottier.

Anyway, so this non-Men’s Rights group decided to hold a concert on Toronto Island celebrating “Equality Day,” a holiday they made up just for the occasion. They found a venue, got some sponsors and even managed to convince a bunch of bands to sign on.

Everything was ready to go until a few days before the concert was scheduled to happen, when some of the people who had been roped into the event discovered just what they had gotten themselves involved with.

The exodus from E-Day kicked off after a post appeared on the lefty Canadian news siteRabble.capointing out what CAFE was really about. Musicians and sponsors quickly distanced themselves from the event, and CAFE lost its venue as well.

CAFE’s response to all this? A press release stating:

CAFE received overwhelming support from musicians, sponsors and the general public for Equality Day. After several months of productive collaboration, the original venue Artscape Gibralter-Point cancelled the use of their location after receiving a small number of misinformed complaints.

That’s a rather … odd way to describe what happened. According to a good number of those who had originally signed on for the concert, it was CAFE that was actively spreading misinformation about their own event and hiding its Men’s Rights agenda.

There’s nothing like having a cause you can be proud of, is there.

A scaled down E-Day celebration of sorts did go ahead last weekend. It consisted of some CAFE volunteers standing on a corner handing out pamphlets and talking to passersby about their support of “boys, men and families.” (That’s a strangely limited notion of equality, huh?)

In their press release last week, CAFE announced that

Equality Day musical activities will be postponed to next Sunday, June 8. Details to be announced.

So far no details have been announced. But, hey, they’ve still got a couple of days to go.

On a totally unrelated note, I will be holding “E-Kwalitee Day” in my apartment sometime this afternoon. I am proud to announce that I have managed to book some outstanding musical acts for this extravaganza. They don’t know it yet, but I have written their names down in my appointment book.

Ah fantasy, what would life be without it.

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

Hanging in Seattle

Jun 7th, 2014 11:32 am | By

It was a fun evening yesterday, the hangout with PZ and friends. The secret location was Olympic Sculpture Park, which was my brilliant idea – I’ve talked about it here before, because it’s one of Seattle’s better urban amenities and it’s in walking distance of where I live. It’s on a slope overlooking Elliot Bay and Puget Sound and the mountains. It was a perfect evening for it, breezy, bright, and with the late sunset of almost-solstice.

Deanna Lyons took some pictures of the killer sunset and she gave me permission to post some.

Deanna Joy Lyons

Deanna Joy Lyons

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

Edwina Rogers departs

Jun 6th, 2014 4:34 pm | By

So here’s why I don’t get to talk to GSC people until Monday (or part of the reason, weekend conferences probably being another). Edwina Rogers has been fired from the SCA. Laurie Goodstein and Mark Oppenheimer report in the NY Times.

Atheists and nonbelievers from across the country will muster on Capitol Hill next week for a summit meeting organized by the Secular Coalition for America, a growing alliance of groups that has been giving the religious right an intensifying case of heartburn by lobbying for the separation of government and religion.

But what the Secular Coalition has not made public is that last week it fired its executive director, Edwina Rogers, an experienced Republican lobbyist whose conservative pedigree elevated the profile of the secular movement when she was hired just over two years ago.

Ms. Rogers said in an interview that she was given no warning and no reason for her termination, but suspects that she is being blamed for organization funds discovered to be missing and allegedly embezzled by two of her subordinates. An internal audit, obtained by The New York Times, found that two employees who handled the Secular Coalition’s finances embezzled $78,805, mostly by using the coalition’s credit cards to pay for restaurant meals, travel and plastic surgery. Ms. Rogers said she discovered the misuse of funds, reported it to the police, fired the two employees and commissioned the audit with the approval of the board.


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