Notes and Comment Blog

Our short and pithy observations on the passing scene as it relates to the mission of Butterflies and Wheels. Woolly-headed or razor-sharp comments in the media, anti-rationalist rhetoric in books or magazines or overheard on the bus, it’s all grist to our mill. And sometimes we will hold forth on the basis of no inspiration at all beyond what happens to occur to us.

Jesus and Mo Six

Oct 5th, 2012 5:48 pm | By

There’s a new Jesus and Mo book!


And it has a foreword by Richard Dawkins, which RD has posted at RDF.

…if I had to award the Palme d’Orfor the most original and wittiest of all (amid stiff competition from such gems as Brian Dalton’s Mr Deity and the songs of Roy Zimmerman) I would have to nominate an unassuming strip cartoon from my home country: Jesus and Mo.

Folie à Dieu is the latest in a marvellous series of collections of Jesus and Mo cartoons. Every intelligent observer of contemporary disputation will enjoy it. The central protagonists, Jesus and Mo themselves, are drawn with such disarming affection, it would be hard to take offence – even given the voracious appetite for offence that the faithful uniquely indulge. Smile your way through this book, and you end up with a real liking for Jesus and Mo, a sympathy for their touchingly insecure tussles with each other, an empathy with their endearingly naïve struggle to justify their respective faiths in the teeth of harsh reality: the reality of science and critical reason, often given voice by the never seen character of the friendly but no-nonsense barmaid.

Barmaid rumored to be none other than your humble servant. I couldn’t possibly comment.

…of all the victims of this splendid mockery, perhaps the most deeply wounded will be “sophisticated theologians”, those paragons of puffed-up vacuity, puffing out their soggy, infinitely yielding clouds of self-deceiving, apophatic obscurity. “Sophisticated theology” is oxymoronic because, in truth, there is nothing in theology to be sophisticated about, but it has pretensions that are interminably spun out in verbiage whose very length contrasts with the devastating economy with which the Jesus and Mo author slices it up. To do this so effectively requires a firm grasp not just of “theology” but of philosophy too. The laconic elegance with which our Author takes out the “theologians” could only be achieved by somebody who has taken the trouble to immerse himself thoroughly in their self-deluding claptrap. Where a professional philosopher might take 1000 words to puncture the balloon of apophatuous obscurantism, the J & M strip achieves the same result at a fraction of the length and no diminution of critical effect.

Well he has to, dunne. There’s only so much room in those boxes.

But seriously. It’s a very pleasing foreword.


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

Honorary members perhaps

Oct 5th, 2012 1:07 pm | By

I’ve seen some strange exclamations about the “hunting down” of Justin Vacula, from a couple of people not…what shall I call it…not paid-up members of the Slime Institute. Exclamations that “vengeance is haunting Salem” and it really really was “a witch hunt” and the hunters (or is it witches?) are “vicious, hateful ideologues.”

But there’s a problem there, given the non-membership. The problem is that the people in question have never said a word about the much more sustained, much more vengeful, much more vicious, much more hateful, much more ideological “hunting down” of for instance Rebecca Watson. Or Surly Amy. Or (not to put too fine a point on it) me. Not a word. On the contrary, they have supported some of it, by praising the hunters, by circulating their photoshopped caricatures of us, by echoing many of their stupider accusations.

Has anybody called Vacula any sexist names? Has anybody been monitoring every single thing he says for a year and a half in order to jump all over it? Has anybody circulated malicious caricatures of him? Not that I’ve seen.

So no. I call bullshit.

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

Either the pineapple goes, or you do

Oct 5th, 2012 11:31 am | By

And on the same day, in another part of the forest…

…another busy representative of another university Student Union meddled with another Atheist, Humanist, and Secularist Society. Reading University this time, and RUSU and RAHS. This time not a Jesus and Mo toon on a Facebook page, but a pineapple named Mohammed.

The NSS quotes a statement by Tim Rouse of the Atheist, Humanist and Secularist Society:

Among the material displayed on our stall was a pineapple. We labelled this pineapple “Mohammed”, to encourage discussion about blasphemy, religion, and liberty, as well as to celebrate the fact that we live in a country in which free speech is protected, and where it is lawful to call a pineapple by whatever name one chooses.

Towards the end of the afternoon, we were informed by a member of RUSU staff that there had been complaints about the pineapple, despite the fact that no complaints had been made at any point to anybody on the stall. Our commitment to freedom of expression meant that we refused to remove the pineapple from our stall. After a few minutes, we were told by another member of RUSU staff that “Either the pineapple goes, or you do”, whereupon they seized the pineapple and tried to leave. However, the pineapple was swiftly returned, and shortly was displayed again, with the name Mohammed changed to that of Jesus.

Shortly afterwards, the second RUSU staff member returned and ordered RAHS to leave the Freshers’ Fayre. At this point, a group of around five students, some of whom self-identified as Muslim, approached the stall and began to criticise us, asking and telling us to remove the pineapple. Though these students mainly engaged in discussion, one removed the label from the pineapple without our permission.

And on it went, wrangle wrangle, until they felt forced to leave, although they continued to hand out leaflets outside the event.

One fire is put out while another is set ablaze.

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

LSESU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society wins

Oct 5th, 2012 11:01 am | By

A good outcome. Not the best outcome, but a good one. LSE has ruled that its Student Union Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society does not have to remove any Jesus and Mo cartoons from its Facebook page, nor does it have to remove the prefix LSESU from its name. It has also ruled that the crappy things the LSESU said about LSESU ASH were crappy things to say (or rather, in bureaucratic language, that they were inappropriate).

LSESU ASH President Chris Moos made a statement on behalf of the Society’s committee, saying, ‘We wish that LSESU could have engaged with us originally in order to resolve the situation when it arose and remain disappointed that they have not apologised for their unjustified defamatory remarks against us. However, we are very pleased that no action is being taken to interfere with our right to free expression, nor to remain a society clearly affiliated with our university. The cartoons on our Facebook page criticised religion in a satirical way and we continue to reject any claim that their publications could constitute any sort of harassment or intimidation of Muslims or Christians. ‘

Andrew Copson, BHA Chief Executive, said, ‘It is good that free speech has not been curtailed at the end of this saga, but it is a great shame that non-religious students were let down by their union in this way. The conflation of offence with intimidation, which allowed this situation to escalate as it did, is totally out of place in a university, where the challenging of deeply held believe should be a routine activity.’


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

They try it again

Oct 4th, 2012 5:31 pm | By

Another one. Another medical coughcoughcoughcough threatens to sue Simon Singh to make him stop saying the medical coughcoughcoughcough is full of coughcoughcoughcoughcoughcough. Josephine Jones collects all the links again, and many links there are.

The medical coughcoughcoughcough is a new “alternative health” magazine jauntily called What Doctors Don’t Tell You. Jones has a picture, so you can see what it’s like:


See? Every item looks like coughcoughcoughcough. Doctors don’t know shit but listen to us and we will fix whatever it is, because it’s that simple.

Singh dared to suggest that it could be irresponsible of high street retailers to stock the title and shared his concerns with the distributor, Comag.

They apparently (essentially) told him to shove off and when he suggested he might blog the email exchange, things really went to pieces.

Comag wrote in an email to Singh:

I should inform you that we have sought legal advice in respect of this matter. We would take any attempts to damage our reputation on social media or elsewhere very seriously.

And in a subsequent email, they confirmed that they had instructed legal counsel.

This is somewhat ironic considering that the magazine’s owner, Lynne McTaggart had argued in favour of free speech, even referring to critics such as Singh and Hayley Stevens as ‘bully boys’ and ‘trolls’.

It seems it’s fine to suggest women should lock up their daughters to spare them from the HPV vaccine (page 3 of the October edition) and to assert that researchers say popular sunscreens cause skin cancer (page 9), but wrong to suggest that it might be irresponsible to allow this misleading, alarmist nonsense a high street presence.

If Comag are concerned about their reputation then threatening to sue was perhaps not a wise move.

The British Chiropractic Association may be inclined to agree, as might the Burzynski Clinic.

Can you say Streisand? I thought you could. Can you say Rhys Morgan? Can you say Marc Stephens? Can you say Popehat? I thought you could.

The Nightingale Collaboration sent 26 complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority about ads in the magazine, which they think is a record.

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

Erasing the women

Oct 4th, 2012 4:24 pm | By

The Jerusalem bus company Egged has decided to stop carrying any advertising on its buses – not because it dislikes advertising but because of “Haredi violence and vandalism.”

“This matter has something important to say to Israeli society,” says [the religious freedom movement] Yerushalmim CEO Uri Ayalon. “We can’t abandon the capital city.  Today, there are no pictures of men or women in Jerusalem. Tomorrow,  there won’t be any in Tel Aviv. It’s inconceivable.”

“Egged’s  decision is absurd,” says [Rachel] Azaria, the [Jerusalem] councilwoman [and Yerushalmim activist who successfully petitioned Israel's High Court of Justice to stop Egged's and Cnaan's censorship of women's faces and bodies]. “If Egged buses are  vandalized, then instead of going to the police and demanding  enforcement, they’re making men and women invisible. It’s like not  letting the kids go out to recess if there’s a bully in school, instead  of dealing with the bully.”

Disappearing all women is the new normal.

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

A timely article on FGM by Will Bordell

Oct 4th, 2012 3:58 pm | By

At ur-B&W. Here is a big excerpt.

In the time it takes you to read this article, over 50 young girls will have their clitoris hacked out. What are you going to do about it?

Each girl will be pinned down, with no anaesthetic, whilst 8,000 nerve endings cringe at the touch of an unclean scalpel. Each girl will scream and writhe and howl – but you won’t hear any of them. Each girl will be irreversibly, unbearably, agonisingly mutilated.

“I heard it,” described Ayaan Hirsi Ali, “like a butcher snipping the fat off a piece of meat. A piercing pain shot up between my legs”. Skin rips, blood pours, cries screech. But it wasn’t over for her just yet: next “came the sewing… the long, blunt needle clumsily pushed into my bleeding outer labia,” thread weaving through thread to leave behind only a miniscule opening for urination and menstruation.

The scars of this torture, butchery on a factory-line scale – and that is the only way to describe it – will never fade. Premenstrual cramps, traumatic periods, an interminable stench of soured blood (caused by menstrual difficulties), problems with pregnancy and childbirth, pain during sexual intercourse, psychological damage and the risk of fistula are but a few of the long, long list of health complications that will haunt every girl’s adulthood. That’s if they survive the immediate blood loss, infection and severe trauma. It’s an experience from which a child may never fully recover.

Conservative estimates suggest that over 100 million women worldwide have been subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM). Article Five of the UN Declaration of Human Rights decrees that no one “shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. And surely such human rights are universal; or else they are nothing.

Read on.

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

Politics and the bloggish language

Oct 4th, 2012 11:56 am | By

Since Vacula used his resignation as an opportunity to do more hissing and finger-pointing, I’ll give it a bit more attention. Apart from anything else the editor in me is refusing to be silent. He writes really badly, which is another drawback in a director.

Following a lengthy period of self-reflection and deliberation, I am freely resigning from my position…

Bad right out of the gate. Tin ear. “A lengthy period”? “Of self-reflection and deliberation”? Who talks like that? Dude, just say you’ve thought about it carefully. Talk normal. This impulse to inflate the vocabulary is fatal.

Unfortunately, some persons in this community who have been quite vocal in objecting to my appointment – and many who were quick to dismiss me — do not seem to be interested in that.

Same again. “Some persons”?

…a ‘you are with us or against us’ attitude is coupled with personal vendettas and whispering campaigns taking the stage regardless of concerns about the cohesion of the secular movement.

How did the stage get in there? It doesn’t fit. But never mind that. What a joke: Vacula has been relentlessly pursuing personal vendettas himself, and he’s been right in there with the whispering. The pious above-it-all act is just that: an act. (Oh maybe that’s how the stage got in.)

Organizations are attacked, leaders of major organizations are condemned, prominent authors are boycotted, and ‘real-life’ careers are targeted as a result of disagreements or misunderstandings which likely could have been resolved by a simple telephone call…or ignored.

Passive voice, passive voice, passive voice – with no agents. One reason the passive voice is often a bad choice is because it evades the need to provide a subject of the verb.

And then the substance again applies to him at least as much as to anyone else. Vacula targeted me, for one, and I’m not alone in that. He too attacks and condemns and targets.

Almost immediately following my appointment with the Secular Coalition for America, I was the target of a campaign of lies, character attacks, and distortions.

Sounds like your podcast about me, which you never corrected. On the contrary, you did a blogpost complaining about my pointing out that you’d misrepresented me in your podcast. That takes a lot of gall – and very little in the way of “self-reflection and deliberation.”

My detractors did not only brand me as an ‘enemy of the people’ in a similar fashion to the eponymous play written by Henrik Ibsen…

Oh good god. Avoid the self-important note! Plus avoid using big words if you don’t know what they mean.

I have indeed made some mistakes and handled some situations poorly in past months. These mistakes were errors of judgment and were not, by any means, coupled with malicious intent. My detractors have blown these mistakes out of proportion almost never bothering to mention my concessions, never to personally contact me in a constructive manner to address grievances, or correct their own mistakes — and treated me unfairly.

Bullshit. Just outright bullshit. I did “personally contact” him – but maybe by “in a constructive manner” means not actually pointing out a substantive misrepresentation. Maybe treating him unfairly is criticizing him for doing something bad. Heads he wins tails everyone else loses, eh?

I am thus putting my personal wants aside and resigning from my position as co-chair of the Secular Coalition for America’s Pennsylvania chapter in order to end this toxic controversy. I do not wish to see the organization and its staff which I will continue to support – and many individuals who support me — buttressed with attacks.

Ha! Mustn’t rub it in. That wouldn’t be constructive, or fair.

Anyway there you have it. Spiteful, self-regarding, self-important, incapable of recognizing error. That’s Justin the Martyr.



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

Vacula resigns

Oct 4th, 2012 9:39 am | By

And blames his critics.

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

Popular culture and the human condition

Oct 3rd, 2012 3:32 pm | By

Arvind Iyer has a wonderful post at Nirmukta arguing that tales of shared ancestry or the threat of a common enemy are not the only way to unite people around a cause. Popular culture can also do that.

There was this Japanese tv series in the early ’90s, Oshin, which is affectionately remembered by people all over Asia.

What makes people even of warring nations forget their differences while watching this show, is not just a single dialogue like the impassioned imploring of the conscientious army deserter Shunsaku Anchan2a that “War is not the answer” to resolve differences. The forgetting of differences is thanks to some reminders which suffuse this show’s every episode in both their everyday settings and their unsettling moments, reminders of the essential sameness of the human condition regardless of borders.  This cultural product which people of a divided world together recall with fondness, is an unsung triumph of secular humanism in its own right. This series can be thought of as a resource for the secular humanist project of cultivating ‘educated feeling’3 and complementing Reason with Compassion.

Like the last book of The Iliad, or The Winter’s Tale. The example that occurred to me when Arvind alerted me to the post was Northern Exposure. There are more. You got any?

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

If you don’t love Jesus, you gotta love somebody

Oct 3rd, 2012 2:54 pm | By

The Washington Post blog The Root has an African-American atheist, Mark Hatcher, saying what that’s like.

[One day] I’m walking across campus, and normally don’t have it on, but I had my Atheist t-shirt on. Somebody came up to me and said “Oh my God, I thought I was crazy, I thought I was the only one. Thank you for letting me know I’m not insane.” That’s understandable in our community. You gotta love Jesus. If you don’t love Jesus, you gotta love somebody. My mom’s first question to me was ‘What, so you don’t believe in anything?!” And that’s hard in the black community. You gotta believe in something in order to be a complete person. This person coming up to me, saying that they thought they were insane because of the type of pressure that was on them to believe in something that they just simply couldn’t, I was like, “You know what? We need a community here”…

There are other things you can believe in though. You can believe in a better future for humans. You can believe in hope, in solidarity, in compassion…you can even (though you will get a lot of people yelling at you) believe in progress. You can believe in music, in art, in love, in sex, in nature, in beauty – damn, you can believe in a lot of things. They don’t have to be a person, especially not a magical person.

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

Over 140 medical professionals

Oct 3rd, 2012 11:10 am | By

Great. There was a “symposium” in Ireland at which some boffins concluded to their own satisfaction that “abortion is not necessary to save the mother’s life in any circumstance” so PersonhoodUSA naturally gives a yell of triumph. Go right ahead and force Catholic hospitals to let pregnant women die rather than provide an abortion, Catholic church!

According to the Irish organization Youth Defence, “Leading medical experts speaking at a major International Symposium on Excellence in Maternal Healthcare held in Dublin have concluded that ‘direct abortion is not medically necessary to save the life of a mother.’”

Over 140 medical professionals attended the Symposium where new research and extensive clinical experience was presented by experts in obstetrics and gynecology, mental health, and molecular epidemiology. The symposium’s final determinations were published in a declaration titled “Dublin Declaration on Maternal Healthcare” which reads:

“As experienced practitioners and researchers in Obstetrics and Gynaecology, we affirm that direct abortion is not medically necessary to save the life of a woman. We uphold that there is a fundamental difference between abortion, and necessary medical treatments that are carried out to save the life of the mother, even if such treatment results in the loss of life of her unborn child. We confirm that the prohibition of abortion does not affect, in any way, the availability of optimal care to pregnant women.”

Science has spoken! Well, at least medical expertise has spoken. Or some medical expertise has spoken. Or a bit of medical expertise combined with an agenda has spoken.

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

Binding, cutting, stitching

Oct 3rd, 2012 10:26 am | By

Seen Half the Sky? It’s pretty good, not surprisingly. One thing I liked is that they specifically took on cultural relativism, and said no thank you. Sheryl WuDunn made a point that I often raise, because it illustrates the issue very well – but she could make it even better, because of her grandmother. Her grandmother had bound feet. She simply said that, and that said she’s delighted that that particular “cultural” item is dead and gone.

It took force to make it dead and gone, you know. The commies did it. The commies forced that cultural tradition to die out, by forcing people to stop breaking all the bones in their daughters’ feet. How cruel and coercive of them, yes?

The show was quite graphic about FGM – about how fucking horrible it is for the little girls it’s done to. There’s no anaesthetic – it’s just slice slice slice. Then their legs are tied together and they’re left to lie still for a week, with no food so that they won’t crap on themselves.

And then they die in childbirth, because the whole thing fucks up the process. Obviously. It’s all sewn tightly together with just one tiny hole to let the urine and blood out. This does not aid childbirth. It doesn’t matter, because women are expendable.

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

They could not agree

Oct 3rd, 2012 9:53 am | By

News on the Deanna De Jesus case, the woman who was being prosecuted for “letting” her husband stab their child to death.

She’s been found guilty of child neglect.

The jury in the case of Deanna DeJesus has found her guilty of child neglect  but the trial is not over yet.

They could not, however, agree on the aggravated manslaughter charge for failing to try and stop her husband from killing their son, resulting in a hung  jury. That resulted in a mistrial on that charge. She will therefore have to face another trial on that charge.

I wonder what the thinking is here. That the whole thing is actually a very late-term abortion? That wicked Deanna De Jesus forgot to get an abortion while she was pregnant and then finally realized she wanted one when the kid was nine, and was delighted when her husband wigged out, killed a random guy and stabbed her and their other kid and “aborted” the nine-year-old? Is that what they think?

Or is it that they think mothers are supposed to be magical beings who can save their children from anything, no matter what – a tornado, an explosion, a car crash, being stabbed?

Or is it that they think women just are lying bitches so they might as well prosecute Deanna De Jesus just in case something will stick?

It’s puzzling.

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

The sacred right of creepy dudes

Oct 2nd, 2012 4:50 pm | By

David Futrelle is on the Vacula story, in a post titled Why is the Secular Coalition for America giving Justin Vacula — online bully, A Voice for Men contributor — a leadership position? Why indeed.

The assholes of the internet still haven’tforgivenWatsonfor her assault on the sacred right of creepy dudes to creep women out 24 hours a day, every day.

Watson is hardly the only skeptic to face vicious misogynist harassment for the crime of blogging while feminist. Last month, Jen McCreight of Blag Hag announced that near constant harassment from online bullies was wearing her down to such a degree that she felt it necessary to shut down her blog – hopefully only temporarily.

McCreight’s harassers and their enablers were delighted in this “victory,” taking to Twitter to give McCreight some final kicks on the way out the door. “Good riddance, #jennifurret , you simple minded dolt,” wrote @skepticaljoe. “I couldn’t be happier,” added @SUICIDEBOMBS. “Eat shit you rape-faking scum.”

One of the celebrators that day was an atheist activist named Justin Vacula, who joked that “Jen’s allegedly finished blogging…and this time it’s not her boyfriend who kicked her off the internet.”

Not a friendly joke, not a hahaha we’re all in this together joke, not a between-colleagues joke. Not really a joke at all; more of a jeer. A bullying taunting giggling jeer. (I hear a voice from the audience crying out that Jen has a “big platform” while Justin has a “small platform” and therefore Justin can’t be the bully. Oh really; is that a fact. Well in that case why wasn’t “Dear Muslima” a case of bullying, given the relative platforms? Why wasn’t “irresponsible messaging coming from a small number of prominent and well-meaning women skeptics” a case of bullying, given the relative platforms? I would love to know.)

So here’s the latest twist:

Justin Vacula has just been given a leadership position in the Pennsylvania chapter of the Secular Coalition for America, a lobbying group for secular Americans whose advisory board includes such big names as Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Susan Jacoby, Wendy Kaminer, Steven Pinker, Salman Rushdie and Julia Sweeney.

It’s an astonishing choice. In addition to gloating that bullies had led McCreight to shut down her blog, Vacula has harassed atheist blogger and activist Surly Amy, including writing a post on A Voice for Men (yes, that A Voice for Men) cataloging all the sordid details of his supposed case against her. At one point he even posted her address, and a photo of her apartment building, on a site devoted to hating on feminist atheist bloggers.

Yes but. They’re in a hurry. They want to have lots of state chapters. What kind of chapters doesn’t seem to be part of the equation.

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

Varieties of relativism, and Eric Hobsbawm

Oct 2nd, 2012 3:48 pm | By

In memory of Eric Hobsbawm, an old post from 2007.

From Taliban, Ahmed Rashid, page 114:

Until Kabul, the UN’s disastrous lack of a policy had been ignored but then it became a scandal and the UN came in for scathing criticism from feminist groups. Finally the UN agencies were forced to draw up a common position. A statement spoke of ‘maintaining and promoting the inherent equality and dignity of all people’ and ‘not discriminating between the sexes, races, ethnic groups or religions.’ But the same UN document also stated that ‘international agencies hold local customs and cultures in high respect.’ It was a classic UN compromise, which gave the Taliban the lever to continue stalling…

In the chapter ‘Women and Cultural Universals’ in Sex and Social Justice Martha Nussbaum tells ‘true stories’ of conversations at the World Institute for Development Economics Research, ‘in which the anti-universalist position seemed to have alarming implications for women’s lives.’ Pp 35-6.

At a conference on ‘Value and Technology’ the economist Stephen Marglin, a leftwing critic of classical economics, gives a paper urging the preservation of traditional ways of life in a rural part of Orissa, India, citing for example the fact that unlike in the West there is no split between values that prevail at work and those that prevail at home. His example of this: ‘Just as in the home a menstruating woman is thought to pollute the kitchen and therefore may not enter it, so too in the workplace a menstruating woman is taken to pollute the loom and may not enter the room where looms are kept.’ Some feminists object. Frédérique Apffel Marglin replies: ‘Don’t we realize that there is, in these matters, no privileged place to stand? This, after all, has been shown by both Derrida and Foucault.’ Those who object are neglecting the otherness of Indian ideas by bringing their Western essentialist ideas into the picture.

Then Frédérique Apffel Marglin gives her paper, which expresses regret that the British introduction of smallpox vaccines to India eradicated the cult of the goddess Sittala Devi. Another example of Western neglect of difference. Someone (‘it might have been me’ says Nussbaum) objects that surely it is better to be healthy than ill. But no:  ‘Western essentialist medicine conceives of things in terms of binary oppositions: life is opposed to death, health to disease. But if we cast away this binary way of thinking, we will begin to comprehend the otherness of Indian traditions.’

This is where it gets really good. Eric Hobsbawm has been listening ‘in increasingly uneasy silence’; now he rises to deliver a ‘blistering indictment of the traditionalism and relativism’ on offer. He gives historical examples of ways appeals to tradition have been used to support oppression and violence. ‘In the confusion that ensues, most of the relativist social scientists – above all those from far away, who do not know who Hobsbawm is – demand that Hobsbawm be asked to leave the room.’ Stephen Marglin, disconcerted by the tension between his leftism and his relativism, manages to persuade them to let Hobsbawm stay.

That’s good, isn’t it? Feel for poor Stephen Marglin, confronted by outraged relativist social scientist colleagues who don’t know who this tiresome old geezer is and don’t like his blistering indictment, demanding that Eric Hobsbawm be thrown out! It would be funny if it weren’t, at bottom, so disgusting.


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

Journalism at its finest

Oct 2nd, 2012 3:27 pm | By

Good old glib smug “mainstream” journalism, sneering at anything non-majoritarian or insurrectionist. Dana Milbank at the Washington Post apparently thinks secularism is just a big joke.

The nation’s atheists went to Capitol Hill on Monday to launch an effort that they hope will someday give them the lobbying clout of the Christian conservative movement.

They don’t have a prayer.

He sneers smugly. Is he pleased that theocrats have more lobbying clout than secularists? Does he think theocracy would be a good thing?

But that obvious fact won’t stop them from exercising their God-given right to petition their government for a redress of grievances. And their grievances are many, including:

● the “In God We Trust” national motto.

● the National Day of Prayer.

● the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.

● the practice of opening sessions of Congress with a prayer and ending oaths of office with “so help me God.”

“What does that do to our non-theist community?” asked Edwina Rogers, executive director of the Secular Coalition for America, which bills itself as the only full-time lobbying group for atheists, agnostics, humanists and the like. “What does that do to our minority religions like voodooism, etcetera?”

No doubt it makes them mad enough to cast a hex.

Again with the smug jokes. Is shallowness a requirement for doing mainstream journalism? Yes, probably. Shallowness and casual conformity.

Rogers, in a glittery gold blouse and knee-high boots with four-inch heels, acknowledges that she has a bit of a challenge to match the $390 million she says religious groups spend on lobbying each year.

Milbank, in a vomit-stained T shirt and a purple thong, should switch to writing copy for clothing catalogues.

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

Secularism in Warsaw

Oct 2nd, 2012 1:04 pm | By

Michael Nugent of Atheist Ireland attended the annual OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) human rights meeting in Warsaw in Poland yesterday.

Ireland and Poland – both priest-ridden countries, to use Joyce’s phrase.

 …we will speak against blasphemy laws, religious oaths and the need for secular education. Atheist Ireland will also host a side meeting to highlight the need to respect the human rights of atheists and nonbelievers.

We believe that the western world is in danger of crossing a significant line in the historic battle for freedom of conscience and freedom of expression. We are in danger of conceding the step between the state respecting somebody’s right to believe what they want, and the state automatically respecting the content of the belief itself – and insisting by law that citizens do so also.

The Atheist Ireland delegation at the OSCE meeting is Michael Nugent, Chairperson Atheist Ireland; Prof David Nash, Oxford Brookes University UK, who is an expert on blasphemy laws; and Jane Donnelly, Education Policy Officer Atheist Ireland, who is an expert on secular education.

Good luck to them.

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

Teach the conflict

Oct 2nd, 2012 11:23 am | By

Some interesting comments on Rebecca’s post yesterday on the SCA and Vacula.

Dale Husband:

 Voice for Men? How about a Voice for White People, a Voice for Christians, and a Voice for the Wealthy? Oh yes, we must always ensure that those who are already privileged in society get to yell louder then their opponents, to maintain the status quo in society, even if they are abusive and dishonest.

To which nymchimpsky replies:

What about the straight people?  WHY DON’T YOU CARE ABOUT THEM?

*weeps for the straight people*

Of course there are equivalents of Voices for white people, rich people, Christians, and straight people…But they don’t call themselves A Voice for. (The one for rich people pretty much calls itself the US government, frankly.)

Bjarte Foshaug makes a good point (as he so often does) -

…when the haters, and hyperskeptics and false-equivalence-spouting bothsiders go on about keeping politics/ideology out of atheism/skepticism, we should not let them get away with framing the most conservative and outright reactionary views imaginable as the “unpolitical”, “non ideological” position.

Nor should we buy into the “let bygones be bygones” view when nothing has changed.



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

Reading material

Oct 1st, 2012 11:08 am | By

I have to rush off – Josh Spokesgay is in town! – but here for your reading enjoyment is Rebecca on the SCA and Vacula.

As I was traveling to the conference Friday, a story broke that I found astounding: Men’s Rights Activist Justin Vacula was appointed co-chair of the Pennsylvania chapter of the Secular Coalition for America, the organization that recently came under fire for hiring Republican lobbyist Edwina Rogers.

In case you’re not familiar with him, Vacula has written about the “feminist lies” of Surly Amy for A Voice For Men (the same site where Paul Elam wrote a short novella on what a “stupid, lying whore” I am, and some pseudonymous grandfather called me a “bitch”).

He participated in the gleeful bullying of Jen McCreight, who was driven off her blog last month by trolls

Read on.

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