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.


They meant no harm, they’re just a little highspirited

Aug 4th, 2008 5:48 pm | By

‘Animal rights activists’ apparently firebombed a house where a biologist lives with his family at dawn on Saturday.

Feldheim, whose townhouse was firebombed just after 5:30 a.m., uses mice in laboratory research on brain formation. He told The Chronicle that he and his wife, along with their 7-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter, had to drop a ladder from the window of a second-floor bedroom to escape after smoke filled the home’s first floor.

So…they could easily have been killed or seriously injured. Rather a rough form of ‘activism’ then.

In January, a Molotov cocktail exploded on a UCLA researcher’s porch. A month later, six people in masks tried to force their way into the home of a UC Santa Cruz researcher and hit her husband on the head, police said. And at UC Berkeley, officials said 24 animal researchers and seven staffers have been harassed in recent months, with some homes and cars vandalized.

But don’t fret – they’re just trying to send a message. Jerry Vlasak says so.

A different view was expressed today by Jerry Vlasak, a Los Angeles spokesman for the North American Animal Liberation Press Office, which often posts on its Web site communiques from activists taking credit for attacks. He said the benefit of animal research does not justify its expense or the exploitation of animals. Vlasak said the bombers likely were not trying to hurt Feldheim, but were instead “trying to send a message to this guy, who won’t listen to reason, that if he doesn’t stop hurting animals, more drastic measures will be taken … it’s certainly not an initial tactic, but a tactic of last resort.”

‘The bombers likely were not trying to hurt Feldheim’ – when they firebombed his house at 5:30 in the morning when everyone would be asleep in bed? They likely were not trying to hurt him? They were trying to send a message? Jeezis. If you’re going to support bombers, then be honest about it – don’t support them and pretend to think they’re not trying to hurt anyone when they fling firebombs around the neighbourhood. Your pals are not merely trying to send a message, Mr Vlasak.



Don’t let us interrupt you

Aug 3rd, 2008 10:53 am | By

I keep saying the Free Exercise clause is like an unexploded bomb.

Laura Schubert Pearson’s lawsuit accusing members of the Pleasant Glade Assembly of God Church of subjecting her to a two-day exorcism ordeal in 1996 that left her so distressed she attempted suicide was dismissed by the Texas Supreme Court last month. The judges overturned a lower court’s decision awarding her damages and ruled that because Mrs Schubert Pearson’s claims of injury amounted to a religious dispute over church doctrine it would be “unconstitutional” for the court to get involved.

Interesting. So if you’re tortured within the walls of a church it’s all copacetic because that there’s your free exercise of religion? And that’s the case even if you’re not even an adult at the time? Well, splendid.

So ‘Rev’ Anthony Hopkins (no not the Welsh actor) should just say he was exorcising demons and that’s how his wife ended up dead in the freezer after she discovered he’d been raping some of their children: that way he’ll be able to leave prison and go back to part-time preaching. Amen.



Shocking win for Stephen Green

Aug 2nd, 2008 5:16 pm | By

Do we want ‘Christian Voice’ telling newspapers what they can publish? No, we damn well don’t. We don’t trust ‘Christian Voice’ to choose wisely; we prefer to take our chances with competent newspaper editors rather than with puffed-up publicity-seeking tiny-minded religious zealots.

See the South Wales Echo grovel:

It has come to our attention that in an article on Wednesday, July 16, headlined ‘If God considers gays and abomination why did he create them?’, our columnist Dan O’Neill offended a number of Christians. We would like to apologise for any offence caused to those people who believe the article insulted the Christian faith, Jesus Christ and the Holy Bible.

Well how sickening. Why would they like to apologize? Any columnist is bound to offend a certain percentage of readers. One who is determinedly bland and boring in order not to offend anyone simply offends all the people who don’t like bland boring writing. It’s no good trying to put out a newspaper that won’t offend anyone! 1. it can’t be done, and 2. it damn well shouldn’t be done. And it certainly shouldn’t be done when what is supposed to have been ‘insulted’ is ‘the Christian faith, Jesus Christ and the Holy Bible.’ They can all take care of themselves, one way or another.

Andy Armitage provides the offending passage at Pink Triangle. The columnist was musing on what Stephen Green (Mr ‘Christian Voice’ himself, the dweeb) would have made of that weird Jesus guy:

This Jesus feller swans around all day with a dozen other blokes. No women. Mark that, no women. And he wanders off into the mountains now and again to spend quality time with his, uh, favourites (Mark.9:2). He picks up small boys and girls and puts his hands upon them (Mark 10:16) And he was seen in a garden when one of his mates came up and kissed him (Matthew,26:48). Suspicious, eh?

The point is that Green is a tool, not that Jesus is a child-groper, so what does Green do but act like a tool again. But the Echo simply jumped when Green said jump. We should all get together and go stand around the Echo’s offices complaining about how offended we are. You too, Mediawatchwatch.

The Freethinker set up a petition. I posted it on Facebook as well as in News, but there are only ten more signatures so far. Go on, fill it up, do us proud – and do the Echo embarrassed.



Oh no, not that

Aug 1st, 2008 5:59 pm | By

You spotted the irony, I trust?

Once again, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice misses its goals…The latest action from the commission is to ban the sale of cats and dogs in Riyadh. According to Al-Hayat newspaper, the reason behind the ban is a fatwa and the reason behind the fatwa is that some young men take dogs out into the street and use them to annoy families; the fatwa also points out that the ban aims to preserve public morals.

Because dogs like to shove their noses unceremoniously into people’s crotches, and cats probably would if they were tall enough. But no, that’s not the irony.

A person can in fact use anything to harass people — mobile phones, the lights of his car, or loud music coming from his car. So are we going to ban the use of mobile phones in public? Or will we wake tomorrow to the news that young men are no longer allowed to drive in public areas? All I am asking for is some logic and reasonable thinking.

That’s the irony. Shock-horror, will we wake tomorrow to the news that young men are no longer allowed to drive in public areas? Good heavens no, but you’ve already woken up to the news that all women are not allowed to drive in public areas. The reductio ad absurdum has already happened, so it seems a little…unobservant to balk at a hypothetical restraint on young men when the same restraint is already in place on all women. But then living in Saudi Arabia probably does make it quite difficult to Spot the Absurdity.



Teach the children well

Aug 1st, 2008 1:14 am | By

Did you have a look at the report on Saudi textbooks? It’s horrible, horrible stuff. It’s sickening to read. You feel despair that there are people in the world going about things in this way, ‘teaching’ children in this way. You feel disgusted with human beings.

A 2005-2006 Fourth Grade textbook on Monotheism and Jurisprudence instructs students to “hate (tubghida) the polytheists and the infidels” as a requirement of “true faith.” Incongruously, the same sentence instructs that they are not to treat the infidels “unjustly,” but does not provide any clarification of what this meant.

“ Is belief true in the following instances?

a. A man prays but hates those who are virtuous.
b. A man professes that there is no deity other than God but loves the infidels.
c. A man worships God alone, loves the believers, and hates the infidels.”

The only right answer is ‘c’ – you have to hate the infidels.

“A Muslim is forbidden to love and aid the unbelieving enemies of God…They are the people of the Sabbath, whose young people God turned into apes, and whose old people God turned into swine to punish them. As cited in Ibn Abbas: The apes are Jews, the keepers of the Sabbath; while the swine are the Christian infidels of the communion of Jesus…They are the Jews, whom God has cursed and with whom He is so angry that He will never again be satisfied [with them].

That’s 8th grade. Then in 9th grade -

“Narrated by Abu Hurayrah: The Prophet said, The hour [of judgment] will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them. [It will not come] until the Jew hides behind rocks and trees. [It will not come] until the rocks or the trees say, ‘O Muslim! O servant of God! There is a Jew behind me. Come and kill him.’ Except for the gharqad, which is a tree of the Jews.”

This is Saudi Arabia – our ‘ally’ – with whom we are told we ‘share values.’ It’s enough to make you sick.



The Catholic constitution

Jul 30th, 2008 12:04 pm | By

‘The Confraternity of Catholic Clergy’ attempts to throw its weight around.

The Confraternity of Catholic Clergy (a national association of 600 priests & deacons) respond to the sacrilegious and blasphemous desecration of the Holy Eucharist by asking for public reparation…We find the actions of University of Minnesota (Morris) Professor Paul Myers reprehensible, inexcusable, and unconstitutional. His flagrant display of irreverence by profaning a consecrated Host from a Catholic church goes beyond the limit of academic freedom and free speech.

Unconstitutional? How’s that?

The same Bill of Rights which protect freedom of speech also protect freedom of religion. The Founding Fathers did not envision a freedom FROM religion, rather a freedom OF religion.

Clever; we’ve never heard that before. But however fresh and original, it’s still stupid and wrong. Freedom of religion of course does include freedom from religion. Freedom of religion necessarily includes the freedom to say No to all the choices on offer; it even includes the freedom to say No to any possible choices. If it doesn’t it isn’t freedom of religion, it’s freedom among religions, which is a much smaller and pettier freedom.

In other words, our nation’s constitution protects the rights of ALL religions, not one and not just a few. Attacking the most sacred elements of a religion is not free speech anymore than would be perjury in a court or libel in a newspaper.

No; wrong again. Our nation’s constitution does not protect the rights of religions. Religions don’t have rights; rights are not things ascribed to abstractions or institutions, they are ascribed to people or people and other sentient beings (animals). Rights are connected to the ability to experience something. Religions don’t have rights. Individual believers have rights; religions do not. And as for the second sentence – that’s just a flat-out absurdity. It’s simply obviously not true. Clearly the priests would like it to be true, but it isn’t true, because the US is not a Catholic dictatorship.

[P]ublicly burning copies of the Christian Bible or the Muslim Koran, especially by a faculty member of a public university, are just as heinous and just as unconstitutional.

No. These guys just can’t get their facts right. Burning copies of the Bible or the Koran is not unconstitutional. It just isn’t.

Individual freedoms are limited by the boundaries created by the inalienable rights of others. The freedom of religion means that no one has the right to attack, malign or grossly offend a faith tradition they personally do not have membership or ascribe allegiance.

Oh, godalmighty…These poor schmucks are so delusional. No, no, no, you saps, the freedom of religion does not mean that no one has the right to ‘malign or grossly offend a faith tradition’ unless they belong to it. Jeezis. I, for one, have the right to malign your horrible faith tradition, that does its best to prevent women from being able to limit how many children they have, that does its best to prevent men from wearing condoms during a raging pandemic of a lethal STD. We all have that right. And people like you telling us we don’t just motivates us to exercise that right all the more. If you stopped trying to force everyone to genuflect to your particular piety, we wouldn’t take the time to play with crackers. But as it is – well gee, bring out the Cheez-whiz.



No dogs or atheists allowed

Jul 29th, 2008 3:34 pm | By

Moving on, from the sadistic to the ridiculous – Birmingham Council won’t let its staff read atheist websites. (So can Birmingham Council staffers read B&W? I wonder. I know B&W is banned in Iran [yes, I am proud of that, and so would you be, so quit staring] so perhaps its Bluecoat Software can detect heterodoxy just as well as Iran can. I’d love to know.)

The rules also ban sites that promote witchcraft, the paranormal, sexual deviancy and criminal activity…The authority’s Bluecoat Software computer system allows staff to look at websites relating to Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and other religions but blocks sites to do with “witchcraft or Satanism” and “occult practices, atheistic views, voodoo rituals or any other form of mysticism”.

Gee, thanks. Criminal activities, Satanism, voodoo rituals – and atheism. And then people wonder why atheists get a little crabby now and then.

(Thanks to Roger Lancefield for pointing this out.)



Take a cold shower

Jul 29th, 2008 3:14 pm | By

Next up we have an Archbishop in the Philippines saying why contraception is such a bad terrible wicked thing.

Archbishop Lagdameo argued the bill would not solve the problems of population growth but would only undermine the dignity of marriage and endanger women. He said that artificial contraceptives cause physical and psychological harm to women.

Whereas having children that they don’t want to have causes no physical and psychological harm to women at all, good heavens no. Women are invariably better off if they are forced to produce as many children as they can churn out, no matter how poor they are, no matter how much they might prefer to have one child or two children that they could hope to feed well and educate well rather than five or ten or fifteen that they couldn’t, no matter how desperately they want to do well by a small number of children rather than hopelessly badly by an unmanageable number – no no, that is all an illusion, god knows better and Archbishop Lagdameo knows better and the pope knows better; they all know that really – despite appearances – all those emaciated malaria-ridden illiterate children and their exhausted despairing frustrated parents with their demolished hopes are a far better outcome than a smaller number of healthier educated children. Of course. Because – um – god will provide. As we have seen. There are no starving malaria-ridden illiterate children really – god swoops in at the last minute and makes everything come out all right for them. Archbishop Lagdameo hands out popsicles and college scholarships and everyone has a good laugh and the dog has puppies and roll credits.

Archbishop of Manila Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, addressing the crowd after the Mass, said couples should instead practice sexual self-control.

Why? Why, you miserable shits? Why, when there are ways to have and enjoy sex and prevent conception, should they spurn the harmless technology and practice sexual self-control instead? What is the point?

There is no point. It’s just control-freakery, it’s just pushing people around and making them be miserable for the sake of it. Either do without sex despite being married, or have four times as many children as you can care for properly, or burn in hell for eternity. Why? Because.

Why does this kind of thing get me so riled? Because it’s so hateful. It’s so careful not to be about what is actually good and beneficial for people, it is so careful not to take that into account, or to take it into account only to do the opposite. Because these god-huggers have power, believers listen to them, and the bastards use it to make people worse off. And they do it with a glow of self-righteousness, too. They should be squirming with shame.



Constitutional pharmacology

Jul 29th, 2008 2:52 pm | By

More bullshit from the Catholic News Agency.

Colorado for Equal Rights, an organization backing a measure on the Colorado ballot that would define a person in the state’s Constitution as “any human being from the moment of fertilization,” has released a list of over 70 physicians and pharmacists from around the United States who agree that a person includes any human from the moment of conception.

‘Any human being from the moment of fertilization’…That’s an interesting idea: a microscopic fertilized egg is a human being and a person, even though of course…it isn’t. Let’s define everything that way. A daffodil bulb is a daffodil. A swallow’s egg is a swallow. A caterpillar is a butterfly. A truckload of boards is a house. A bowl of batter is a chocolate cake. Milk is yogurt. Grapes are wine. Yee-ha. Let’s just ignore process, and time, and development, and change, and decide that everything is already what it could become if all the conditions are right for it to become that thing (which will mean some things will be more than one thing, which will be confusing, but no matter), and forget all these bogus distinctions between what is the case now and what will be the case in many days or months or years if a particular process occurs. Let’s just define things any old how we want to. Why not? This is a democracy, god damn it.

It’s a democracy, but it’s a democracy with professionals in it, and more than 70 (that’s a lot) medical professionals ‘agree’ that a person includes any human from the moment of conception. Which is helpful, because it’s a medical and pharmaceutical question. Isn’t it? But then if it is, why could they manage only 70? They could probably get more than 70 physicians and pharmacists to agree that antibiotics are worse than useless for viruses, so if they could get only 70 for this…Hmmwell maybe that doesn’t actually mean much of anything.

“We are honored to have received these endorsements from such respected physicians,” stated Kristi Burton, head of Colorado for Equal Rights. “Science clearly proves that life begins at the time of fertilization. We are secure in the fact that we have science and reason on our side, and we are pleased to have the medical community supporting our efforts.”

Life? What’s life got to do with it? You didn’t say life, you said person. What are we talking about here?

Really; what are we talking about here? Life is the wrong criterion; life is completely beside the point on this issue. Life is everywhere; lots and lots of things are alive; we don’t preserve everything that’s alive. Dandelions; mildew; bacteria; viruses; fleas; chickens; beans. The dispute isn’t about whether or not the fertilized egg is alive. Start over.



What’s the difference?

Jul 28th, 2008 12:15 pm | By

The Cairo Declaration differs sharply from the Universal Declaration overall in its emphatic rejection of universalism, in rejecting the UD’s ‘without exception’ in favour of firm, decided exceptions. In the detail, the CD differs from the UD in its avoidance of clarity, precision and openness and hence accountability and reliability. The Cairo Declaration injects exceptions into its concept of human rights, without spelling out exactly what they entail; this introduces a whole new element of doubt, uncertainty and fear into what is supposed to be a human rights document. Worse, it presents itself as a human rights document (of sorts) when in fact it puts anyone who subscribes to it in the position of (perhaps unknowingly) endorsing laws, restrictions and punishments that are human rights violations rather than human rights.

The raison d’être of the Cairo Declaration is the idea that the Universal Declaration is not in fact universal – that it is ‘Western’ and Judeo-Christian, that it does not work for non-Western cultures, that it ‘could not be implemented by Muslims,’ in the words of the Iranian representative to the UN. So by comparing the two and finding how they differ it is possible to figure out what – in the view of the people who drew up the Cairo Declaration and those who signed on to it, at least – can be ‘implemented by Muslims.’

We find out, generally, via Articles 24 and 25, that all rights are subject to Sharia, and via the Cairo Declaration as a whole, we find out that the authors are willing to make human rights subordinate to Sharia without ever spelling out what that could mean, what it presumably means, what in many countries governed by Sharia it in fact does mean. The Cairo Declaration doesn’t mention stoning to death for adultery, or the death penalty for apostasy, or forced marriage, or child marriage, or guardian laws, or laws forbidding women to travel, work, or go to school without male permission. The Cairo Declaration rejects the Universal Declaration, and stands out for its own version of human rights, yet it does it in a secretive way.

In fact it is difficult not to conclude that the authors of the Cairo Declaration did not start with first principles and attempt to create the best human rights document they could, but rather that they started with existing regimes and legal codes in existing majority-Muslim countries, and then wrote the Cairo Declaration so that it would match the existing laws – adding 24 and 25 at the end in case they’d left anything out. This is bad enough, and the fact that this is done without transparency makes it even worse. The Cairo Declaration takes a declaration of rights that is, deliberately, as clear and open and explicit as possible, and renders it vague instead of precise, obscure instead of clear, tacit instead of explicit. It injects an element – a large element – of uncertainty, blurring, non-precision, danger, threat; in article after article, it merely invokes Sharia without saying what that means. With the Universal Declaration we know where we are and with the Cairo Declaration we don’t – the rights are limited, and in ways that are not specified or spelled out. The Universal Declaration is both general and specific; the Cairo Declaration is particular where the Universal Declaration is general and vague where the UD is precise.

The result is that the Cairo Declaration does away with the transparency, clarity, and specificity and hence the accountability and also the confidence. With the Universal Declaration it is easy to understand what is meant. With the Cairo Declaration, repeatedly, there is a trap door: an impossibility of knowing what is meant. We go from open, clear, spelled out intentions, which are clearly meant to maximize the well-being of all people, without exceptions, to secretive, cryptic, frightening stipulations whose benevolence is by no means clear.



Cheap at twice the price

Jul 26th, 2008 4:02 pm | By

A Vatican spokesman in the shape of a priest (a celibate male, in other words) called the open letter to the pope ‘paid propaganda to promote the use of contraceptives’. Well, yes: it was paid in the sense that it was a paid advertisement in the Corriere della Sera and it was propaganda in the sense that it was an attempt at persuasion – but nevertheless calling it that is 1. somewhat tendentious and 2. a bad joke coming from the not exactly unpaid Vatican which spends quite a lot of time and effort on its own propaganda, well backed up with commands which are in turn backed up with threats of excommunication and burning in hell for eternity. And then, ‘Father’ Federico Lombardi isn’t going to have to live with the consequences of any unwanted pregnancy or any sexually transmitted disease that comes into being as a result of the Vatican’s paid propaganda to forbid the use of contraceptives – unless of course he’s a celibate priest in name only. Either way there is and always has been something very repellent about the Vatican’s passion to impose conditions on other people that it is itself exempt from. It is of course a great deal more repellent that the Vatican is so irresponsible about this – that it insists on pretending to think that an invented theological scruple about contraception is worth imposing involuntary childbirth and childrearing on millions upon millions of women all over the planet. The disproportion there is disgusting. Does the Vatican even stop to think, to name just one obvious item, of the parents who have to see their children die of starvation or malnutrition or malaria or diarrhea or other childhood diseases because the parents have more children than they can raise in healthy conditions? If it does, it doesn’t act on the thinking. The Vatican is an arbitrary authoritarian heedless callous essentially frivolous outfit that preens itself on bogus moral scruples while causing real (and appalling) suffering on poor people in their millions. The Vatican has a nerve, and so does its spokesman.

“First and foremost,” said Fr. Lombardi, “the authors are a part of a number of groups that are well known for their dissenting positions which are not limited to the mere teaching of marital morality but are also concerned with many other subjects (for instance the ordination of women) and that therefore for some time have been against the Magisterium of the Church.”

Yeah. And for good reason. The ordination of men-only just perpetuates this arrangement where unmarried men impose absurd laws on women while remaining immune themselves. The ‘Magisterium of the Church’ is a racket, and a sadistic one at that.

Above all, the Vatican’s spokesman highlighted that the letter “does not remotely broach the true issue that is at the heart of the Humanae Vitae, i.e. the connection among the human and spiritual relation between husband and wife, the practice of sexuality as its expression, and its fecundity.” In the “letter,” pointed out Fr. Lombardi, “the word ‘love’ never appears. It seems the groups that wrote the letter are not interested in it at all. It seems the only hope of the couples and the world lies in contraception alone.”

What true issue? What true issue is that? What about its ‘fecundity’? What makes you think the Vatican is interested in ‘love’? What makes you think ordering people to risk pregnancy every time they have sex somehow produces more ‘love’ in the world? What makes you think it doesn’t work exactly the other way? Why do you skate right past the obvious likelihood that an intentional pregnancy is much more likely to lead to a loved child than an inadvertent one is? Anyone would think that the Vatican had never heard there are incompetent or unkind parents in the world, and that it’s safer to improve the odds than it is to worsen them.

After all, concluded Lombardi, “it’s clear it is not an article that expresses a theological or moral position, it is paid propaganda to promote the use of contraceptives. One should also wonder who paid for it and why.”

Okay – and who paid for Lombardi? And why?



Universal or selective?

Jul 23rd, 2008 5:34 pm | By

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) begins with a preamble, the first clause of which says

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world…

The Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam (CDHRI) also begins with a preamble; its first clause is quite different:

Reaffirming the civilizing and historical role of the Islamic Ummah which God made the best nation that has given mankind a universal and well-balanced civilization in which harmony is established between this life and the hereafter and knowledge is combined with faith; and the role that this Ummah should play to guide a humanity confused by competing trends and ideologies and to provide solutions to the chronic problems of this materialistic civilization…

We are in different worlds already. The UDHR, because it is universal and because the universality is the whole point, does not carve up the human family into nations or religions, while the CDHRI does exactly that from the very beginning. The UDHR starts with the rights of all human beings, the CDHRI starts with the superiority of the Islamic Ummah. In short the CDHRI subverts the entire purpose of the UDHR in its very first words.

The UDHR preamble’s second clause makes clear why the universality and equality of rights are so important and why the invocation of the superiority of a particular community is so sharply – so pointedly, even wickedly – at odds with the purpose of the UDHR.

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind…

The UDHR was drawn up in the aftermath of World War II and the Nazi genocide. The human rights in question had to be universal in order to address ‘barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind’; if the human rights are particular then we’re right back where we started, committing barbarous acts against people who are not members of ‘the best nation.’ So with the CDHRI we’re right back where we started.



How special

Jul 22nd, 2008 3:30 pm | By

And then there’s Prince Charles’s surprise colleague.

Captured war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic was living in Serbia’s capital Belgrade and practising alternative medicine, Serb officials say. He was sporting a long white beard…

Good good; glad he looked the part. And so appropriate…’alternative medicine’ – yes that’s one of those ironic euphemisms that murdering bastards go in for, isn’t it, like Sonderbehandlung. Killing people wholesale is special handling all right, and it’s also alternative medicine, very alternative indeed. Very droll, Rado.

“He was involved with alternative medicine, earning his money from practising alternative medicine… he was working in a private practice.”…He even gave public lectures and was a regular contributor to Healthy Life magazine, editor Goran Kojic said.

Okay that’s carrying irony a little too far. There is such a thing as good taste.



Allah stop playing with your food

Jul 22nd, 2008 2:59 pm | By

Let’s see – fish? Check. Barrel? Check. Shooter? Check.

But what else can I do?

Diners have been flocking to a restaurant in northern Nigeria to see pieces of meat which the owner says are inscribed with the name of Allah. What looks like the Arabic word for God and the name of the prophet Muhammad were discovered in pieces of beef by a diner in Birnin Kebbi. He was about to eat it, when he suddenly noticed the words in the gristle, the restaurant owner said.

Ah, in the gristle – that’s a nice touch. I remember gristle from my childhood – I was always spitting it out, and having to be instructed in the polite way to remove gristle from the mouth and leave it daintily on the edge of the plate. Funny that Allah chose the gristle instead of the nice chewable meat. Maybe it was a precaution against being accidentally or blasphemously eaten. Imagine the horror if some apostate or kafir in Birnin Kebbi spotted the name and just went ‘Ha, Allah’s name, yum yum,’ and gobbled it down with some horseradish. Thinks of everything, that Allah. Well, everything except a slightly more exciting or in the public eye place to do his gristle-signing.

The meat was boiled and then fried before being served, owner Kabiru Haliru told newspaper Weekly Trust. “When the writings were discovered there were some Islamic scholars who come and eat here and they all commented that it was a sign to show that Islam is the only true religion for mankind,” he said.

Ah yes, quite right too. Of course it was! Because what else would Allah do to give a sign to show that Islam is the only true religion for mankind? Write his name in letters of fire across the night sky, high enough and large enough for a whole hemisphere to read? Send his only begotten daughter to be tortured to death? Dictate another really boring book about camels and finance? Pick up the Chrysler building and move it to Ponca City Oklahoma? Issue the 11th commandment, forbidding people to wear their baseball caps backward? Of course not. The only sensible way to give a sign to show that Islam is the only true religion for mankind is to write your name and your prophet’s name on three pieces of meat the gristle thereof in the kitchen of a restaurant in Birnin Kebbi, Nigeria.

A vet told the newspaper the words “defied scientific explanation”. “Supposing only one piece of meat was found then it would be suspicious, but given the circumstances there is no explanation,” Dr Yakubu Dominic said.

Absolutely. You have only to look at the accompanying illustration to see that. There are some random bumps in the meat; that defies scientific explanation all right. I’m thinking of converting. The apostasy thing is a bit of a discourager though; I do like being allowed to change my mind about things.

(It’s thoughtful of the BBC to provide a list of other inexplicable signings and sightings. Message from Allah in tomato; thief steals Nun Bun; miracle chapati. Hours of fun for the whole family.)



Defining terms

Jul 21st, 2008 11:07 am | By

That unrepentant one has thought deeply and then pronounced. He has expanded on the elegant brevity of ‘How appropriate that a smug, shitty, rightwing publication like “Butterflies and Wheels” shares the name of a sentence in a book that is key to the plot of an idiotic movie like “Shattered”‘; he has explained what is shitty (smug and rightwing we can figure out for ourselves) about B&W.

[A] fountainhead of Islamophobia…There is the usual defense of the Danish Mohammad cartoons, etc. There are attacks on other religions as well…

So maybe ‘Islamophobia’ is a little inaccurate? Never mind.

In addition to religion, the website mounts attacks on multiculturalism…Kenan Malik, a Spiked Online regular, seems to be a designated hitter when it comes to such matters.

No. Kenan’s an occasional contributor, I’m pleased to say, but there are plenty of other contributors who are skeptical about multiculturalism, as well as plenty of other contributors who write about other things. There are no ‘designated hitters’ around here.

This clever phrase is just the sort of thing you can find on New Criterion, a magazine edited by the neoconservative Hilton Cramer or any other rightwing standard bearer in the “culture wars”.

Ah yes! And therefore they are all the same kind of thing, and no further thought or investigation is required.

It took about five years to figure out that things were not so simple.

Ah did it. Imagine my surprise.

The B&W website is not particularly concerned with such issues, preferring to bash religion rather than environmentalism. There is one exception, however. They do seem to get worked into a lather when it comes to the animal rights movement, which they obviously consider an impudent assault on the absolute rights of Scientific Research. They have taken up the cause of Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS), a company that has been the target of the Animal Liberation Front.

Funny the way he makes a plural of everything, as if nothing were signed around here. Who’s this ‘they’? He’s obviously referring to my republished article on the ALF, which wasn’t written by ‘them,’ it was written by me. And it’s not about ‘taking up the cause’ of HLS, it’s about questioning the tactics and morals of the ALF. Different thing. I don’t think there is such a thing as the absolute rights of scientific research, and I certainly don’t think animal research should be beyond question and protest. But it doesn’t follow from that that the ALF is without flaw.

I would not be surprised to discover that B&W gets some funding from Huntington and other such animal torturers.

Oh, wouldn’t you? Well I would! I would be surprised to discover that B&W gets funding from anywhere at all. B&W gets zero funding of any kind, thank you.

I was just going to point this out, but (of course – I should have known) I got intrigued by the absurd claims. Lenny’s at it too but I can’t be bothered to tease that one.



Tom Clark on the epistemic weakness of faith

Jul 20th, 2008 4:46 pm | By

Tom Clark points out that ‘an essential disagreement between secularists and their opponents is epistemological, about how we hold and justify our factual beliefs.’

Are they arrived at empirically, by consideration of public evidence potentially available to any observer (so that the evidence is intersubjective, not merely subjective), or are they more a function of religious tradition or faith? Are beliefs held to be fallible and thus corrigible by open inquiry and empirical testing, or are they held to be the infallible and unquestionable deliverances of authority, whether scriptural or institutional?

Yup; that’s an essential disagreement all right. In fact without that disagreement the others kind of drift away like smoke, because they are at least in principle resolvable through further discussion and inquiry. But with that disagreement, they aren’t.

On what basis do we choose between these opposing epistemologies? Why should we, or anyone, side with Dacey and the secularists, not the Iranians and other fundamentalists in deciding where to place our cognitive bets? To defend secularism, this root issue of our epistemic commitments must be brought into the public square…The beginning of such an argument is obvious but too often left unstated. It is simply that beliefs arrived at via publicly available (thus intersubjective) evidence, science, critical reason, logic, and open debate – what we might call open intersubjective empiricism – are far more reliable than beliefs based in faith and non-empirical modes of justification, such as appeals to scriptural authority.

Just so. And, Clark goes on to say, even fundamentalists know this when dealing with quotidian matters. I’ve pointed this out a few times myself. Nobody mumbles about faith when she wants to know how to get from Buffalo to Skaneateles, or when to plant tomatoes, or what to put on poison ivy. There are double standards in play. When we actually want to know something in the real world, we do what we know we have to do to find out. When we just want to believe something, we use completely different (and noticeably lax) methods.

But of course these same true believers abandon the epistemic commitment to intersubjective empiricism when deciding about matters of god, human nature, human flourishing and ethics – all the traditional domains of religious belief. They have a double standard of justification, falling back on intuition, faith, scripture and authority when it comes to the basic metaphysical and moral content of their worldviews. The fundamentalist/authoritarian proposition is that we are warranted, when considering matters of ultimate import that make up our worldview, in carving out an exception to the basic epistemic norms that rule our everyday lives.

But we’re not warranted in doing that. The world isn’t divided into two parts, one knowable via intersubjective empiricism and the other knowable via guesswork and fantasy and wishes. It’s odd to think it is.

The question that should be raised publicly, while we still have the chance, is whether and why this exemption is warranted. What is its rational basis? Why are we suddenly permitted to abandon the normal empirical constraints on belief when deciding about such things as god, life after death, the soul, free will, and the status of women, homosexuals, and those of other races and creeds? Is it because there are means of deciding the truth of such matters that are superior to logic, science, public evidence, and critical inquiry? If so, what are these and why are they trustworthy?

No, there are no such means. We know what the proposed alternatives are and we know they’re not trustworthy.

The nut of the article:

The future of secularism may depend on using the open public square to expose the epistemic weakness of faith and non-empirical justifications for belief.

Send me in, coach.



Feminism at the Saudi Conference

Jul 20th, 2008 4:13 pm | By

Okay this is a joke.

Clerics need to “restore the dignity of women,” Juan Jose Tamayo, director of theology at Madrid’s Juan Carlos III university, told a roundtable on Thursday, July 17…”Women have been forgotten and marginalized in religions,” Tamayo said as reported by the AFP news agency. “They are organized hierarchically and patriarchically, excluding women in all fields of knowledge and religious matters.”

Yes indeed – and Juan José Tamayo is urging the Vatican to reverse its position on women in the church and allow them to become priests and bishops and popes, is he? He’s urging Muslim clerics to do the same? I don’t know, maybe he is, but since this conference was organized by the World Muslim League, it seems unlikely.

Ahmad Ibn Saifuddin, a Saudi professor of theology, agreed that women’s role had been misunderstood and that it was time to re-examine the issue. “Eve was born from Adam, so women and men are the same,” he said.

Um…no. Eve was born from Adam, so women are inferior to men – that’s how that goes. Jeez, you’d think a Saudi professor of theology would know that. Don’t the Saudis teach their professors of theology anything any more?



Three decades of incitement against women

Jul 19th, 2008 3:24 pm | By

The Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights did a study on sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment of women in Egypt is on the increase and observing Islamic dress code is no deterrent, according to a survey published this week…ECWR head Nihad Abu El-Qoumsan said that even veiled women who were victims of harassment blamed themselves. Western women who took part in the study demonstrated a strong belief in their entitlement to personal safety and freedom of movement, she says, but this was totally absent among Egyptian respondents. No-one spoke about freedom of choice, freedom of movement or the right to legal protection. No-one showed any awareness that the harasser was a criminal, regardless of what clothes the victim was wearing.

So…’Western’ women believe strongly that they ought to be able to walk around outside without being pestered by men, and Egyptian women don’t believe that. Well I guess I’m one of the first kind then, because I certainly believe I ought to be able to walk around outside with no pestering or opposition or impertinent interruption of any kind. I think I was almost born with that belief. I’m serious – I had a habit of bolting when I was a child. I did it once when I was about three – we lived in the country and one evening I was playing innocently outside among the apple trees and then simply turned that into a long walk up Bedensbrook Road and along the Great Road. I was brought home by a stranger, which must have been exciting for everyone. I did it again when I was about five, we lived in town then and were walking up Mercer Street and I just turned around and rushed off for a more private walk of my own. I’ve been like that ever since. The idea that women are in some way public property, subject to interference from strangers, as soon as they go outside, has always been anathema to me. We’re not children, we’re not broken, we’re not feeble in our intellects, we’re not ill, we’re not weak, we’re not damage, we don’t need help or supervision or attention or moral instruction, and we don’t need men just helping themselves to us. Women of Egypt: tell them all to piss off.

After Noha’s story was published in the Badeel daily, editor-in-chief Muhammad El Sayyed Said wrote that the behaviour of the crowd was characteristic of oppressed societies, where the majority identified with the oppressor. He blamed the increase in sexual harassment on what he said were “three decades of incitement against women” from the pulpits of some of Egypt’s mosques. “This verbal incitement is based on the extremely sordid and impudent allegation that our women are not modestly dressed. This was, and still is, a flagrant lie, used to justify violence against women in the name of religion.”

Women of Egypt: push back.



A correspondence

Jul 18th, 2008 5:57 pm | By

I got a surprise email from a stranger yesterday. It read, in its entirety, so:

How appropriate that a smug, shitty, rightwing publication like “Butterflies and Wheels” shares the name of a sentence in a book that is key to the plot of an idiotic movie like “Shattered”. Both the ‘zine and the movie are worthless.

No greeting or signature or anything stuffy like that, just that rather random observation. It made me laugh a good deal, I must say. I also forwarded it to Jeremy, knowing it would cause him to grin sharkishly with delight. He’s always wanted abusive mail about B&W. In fact it’s really very sad: he thought there would be abusive email, he thought it would pour in and keep on pouring, he thought B&W would attract hostility and contempt as soon as anyone noticed it. He was looking forward to it. A month or so before he started creating B&W ex nihilo he had a nice little exchange about something at TPM Online with some guy in Prague, full of rough and tumble and raillery; he told me that soon I would be luxuriating in that sort of thing too. But…that was six years ago, and it never really happened. There haven’t been any really furious emails. Some mild dissents and criticisms, yes, but nothing like what Jeremy was expecting. Six years of waiting – so you can imagine how pleased I was to be able to forward him a genuine example at last.

Jeremy asked if he could reply, and I (being a byword for generosity, and besides I hadn’t been planning to reply) said sure. You’ll be wondering who sent the abrupt little note. It was the Unrepentant Marxist himself, Louis Proyect. Jeremy’s affable reply went as follows:

Dear Louis

It’s always lovely to receive fan mail from sophisticated and erudite readers such as yourself.

I’ve seen it said many times of you that you should stick to film reviewing. But I say no, Louis, no! I can see a role for you after the revolution – don’t worry, it’s just around the corner! – as a kind of ambassador of goodwill; a communist love machine, if you like, fostering a common humanity wherever you go, bringing joy to the masses, that sort of thing.

I know what you’re thinking. Nobody takes you seriously, right (except maybe that strange fella with the odd surname at Lenin’s Tomb – though come to think of it that might be you)? Don’t despair, I’m sure that will change! A bit of collective ownership, and you’ll be right up there in the pantheon of communist greats: Trofim Lysenko, Nadia Comaneci, Falco… and Louis Proyect.

Hey, it’s even possible that someday somebody will read your blog. Okay maybe that’s pushing it, but hope, Louis, hope!

Anyway, my friend – comrade even – please keep in touch; it has been a joy.

Love

Jerry (fraternal, of course – though, if I may say so, you look damned sexy in that picture of yours – xxx)

The unrepentant one replied, as elegantly as before:

Neocon scumbag, your “philosophical” credentials are one rung beneath those of Dennis Miller and Michelle Malkin. I once told Alan Sokal that there are a lot of creepy, crawly things drawn to his writings, you included.

Impressive, isn’t it. Substantive; well-reasoned; cogent; rigorous but civil; erudite. How could either of us not be persuaded? Jeremy admitted defeat:

Dear Louis, You Old Goat

You seem troubled, my friend. This is not good!

Has your life not turned out as you hoped? I imagine as you rage against the dying of the light that you look back and wonder whether you should have taken an alternative course. Perhaps you wish that you’d chosen charkhas rather than dialectics, Himalayan goat-herding rather than… what is it you do exactly?

But I say again, Louis, despair not! There’s still time. There are projects to complete. Indigenous peoples to patronize. Small archives to create. Your life has meaning, Louis, you must believe it. Do not fear the existential void, my friend, for you are… <--- dramatic pause - an unrepentant Marxist!

This is lovely, isn’t it – that we get to talk like this.

I’ve lunched with Alan (Sokal) a couple of times. He never mentioned you. Odd that…

Love

Jerry, xxx

The UM shot back:

How are you spending the riches accumulated from sales of “Little Book of Big Ideas”, by the way?

Amazon.com Sales Rank: #756,628 in Books

I love how you are obsessed with how many people read or don’t read my blog. This kind of Norman Podhoretz desire to “make it” is an odd obsession of snot-nosed ambitious neocons like yourself. Too bad you don’t have Podhoretz’s dubious talents otherwise you too might get invited to pontificate like your hero Hitchens.

And there the matter will rest, because Jeremy is content to let him have the last word. But it’s interesting that people feel free to do this kind of thing, and it’s also interesting when people on the left, who presumably think they are working for a better world with more peace and harmony and solidarity, think the road to utopia is paved with vituperation. Proyect is very reminiscent of Bill Donohue of the ‘Catholic League,’ a guy so full of Christian compassion and mercy and agape that he tries hard to get students expelled and professors fired or perhaps kicked out of Minnesota, for trivial and invalid reasons. That’s why we thought the exchange worth publishing. It’s interesting that supposedly idealistic types give themselves permission to engage in various kinds of unprovoked bullying.

(I should add that I don’t feel the smallest compunction about publishing Proyect’s emails, because I never requested them.)



Wahhabi wisdom

Jul 17th, 2008 10:57 am | By

What the Saudi king said.

This message declares that Islam is a religion of moderation and tolerance, a message that calls for constructive dialogue among followers of religions, a message that promises to open a new page for humanity in which, God willing, concord will replace conflict.

And God not willing? What then?

More to the point, of course, the idea that Islam and especially Wahhabi Islam is a religion of moderation and tolerance is a bad joke. Saudi Arabia tolerates almost nothing, especially if women want to do or drive or walk into or sit down in or refuse or accept or look at or listen to or read it.

Mankind is suffering today from a loss of values and conceptual confusion, and is passing through a critical phase which, in spite of all the scientific progress, is witnessing a proliferation of crime, an increase in terrorism, the disintegration of the family, subversion of the minds of the young by drug-abuse, exploitation of the poor by the strong, and odious racist tendencies. This is all a consequence of the spiritual void from which people suffer when they forget God…There is no solution for us other than to agree on a united approach, through dialogue among religions and civilizations.

Okay – one at a time. Don’t push. Notice anything missing? No mention of oppression of women. No mention of women, for that matter; it’s mankind that is suffering. (Don’t tell me he means women too; he doesn’t.) No mention of women, instead mention of ‘the disintegration of the family,’ which of course is code for women not being submissive enough. And then there’s the bit about exploitation of the poor by the strong, and odious racist tendencies. The Saudi king has a fucking nerve lecturing anyone about that, given the way Saudis treat domestic servants from other countries. Just ask Nour Miyati.

[The third time in Riyadh], the wife of the employer beat me, she did not work. Everyday she beat me. She beat my head, so I would cover it with my hands. She hit my foot with her sharp high heels. Everyday she did this until my foot was injured. When I told the husband about his wife’s behavior, he also beat me. After she beat my hands and they became swollen, [they made me] wash my hands with … one whole cup of bleach. I felt very hurt and had a lot of pain. I never got enough food. After one year, they still had not paid my salary.

If there is no solution for this loss of values because of forgetting God, other than dialogue among religions, then why is Saudi Arabia such a shitty cruel oppressive nightmare place? Saudi Arabia hasn’t forgotten God, S.A. never shuts up about the bastard, so why are we supposed to think that remembering God makes people nicer to the poor and to other races? Because the Wahhabi king says so, that’s all.