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.

Wait – that was last year…

Jun 1st, 2012 11:22 am | By

Ok there’s another thing…

I was re-reading Chris Hallquist’s post, trying to figure out what there is about what DJ said that he finds worth agreeing with, and I noticed something I overlooked before. From the much-quoted bit of the comment that DJ posted on more than one blog (two? more than two? I forget) -

Last year we had 40% women attendees, something I’m really happy about. But this year only about 18% of TAM registrants so far are women, a significant and alarming decrease…

Last year was very soon after The Great Eruption (of misogynist bile in response to elevator item). This year is in the wake of The Great Eruption. That could be part of the explanation right there. Women likely to attend TAM have had most of a year to digest The Great Eruption, and it may be that some of them just think there might be more of the same kind of thing at places like TAM because there is so much of it in other places. I think that myself, actually. I’m not certain about it, but I think it’s quite likely that there will be some Eruptionists at TAM, and that they might do some erupting.

I wonder if DJ has considered that possibility. I suppose even if he has he could still shove the blame onto people objecting to The Great Eruption as opposed to The Great Eruption itself, but still…I wonder.

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

Rebecca explains

Jun 1st, 2012 8:17 am | By

Rebecca Watson explains why she won’t be at TAM this year.

During my visit to Germany last week, I was asked by a conference attendee how I thought we could get more women to attend skeptic and atheist conferences. I gave the answer I nearly always give: when we increase the number of women on stage, we increase the number of women in the audience. As usual, I gave this example: The Amaz!ng Meeting (TAM) run by the James Randi Educational Foundation. I pointed out that when I first started attending (TAM 3), there were very few women on stage and the audience was only about 20% women. I explained that last year (TAM 9) an effort had been made to have women comprise 50% of the speakers. Most of those women were on panels and workshops, but it was a huge step. That, combined with ongoing promotion in places like Skepchick where Surly Amy raised thousands of dollars to give travel grants to dozens of women, helped finally raise the percentage of women in the audience to 40%.

Skepchick helped to promote TAM to women, and to send women to TAM. Skepchick has been good to TAM.

So it’s odd for me to be announcing that I will not attend TAM this year, because I do not feel welcomed or safe and I disagree strongly with the recent actions of the JREF president, DJ Grothe.

I’ve attended TAM since TAM 3 in 2005, and since TAM 4 I’ve actively raised money for grants to send more women. That’s actually how Skepchick got started – selling calendars to raise money for women to go to TAM. Signed calendars were even auctioned off at TAM in order to raise even more money for the JREF. For several years, we at Skepchick actively tried to work with the JREF to help increase the number of women on stage, as well, creating long lists of potential female speakers and suggesting panels and other events that would be of interest to women. TAM was the main event for Skepchick, even after we started running our own event at SkepchickCon.

You would think JREF would be grateful. But then DJ Grothe, president of JREF, blamed women talking about sexism and harassment for a reported decline in women registering for TAM. Say what?

DJ was blaming women skeptics for creating an unwelcoming environment. I found that claim astonishing, since I was only aware of women speaking frankly about their own experiences and their own feelings. I couldn’t imagine that DJ would be literally blaming the victim for speaking out. To be sure, I asked him in that thread to give us examples of what he was talking about. To my surprise, this was his response:

Rebecca: Off the top of my head, your quote in USA Today might suggest that the freethought or skeptics movements are unsafe for women. This is from the article:

“I thought it was a safe space,” Watson said of the freethought community. “The biggest lesson I have learned over the years is that it is not a safe space. . . ”


Over the past several years, I’ve been groped, grabbed, touched in other nonconsensual ways, told I can expect to be raped, told I’m a whore, a slut, a bitch, a prude, a dyke, a cunt, a twat, told I should watch my back at conferences, told I’m too ugly to be raped, told I don’t have a say in my own treatment because I’ve posed for sexy photos, told I should get a better headshot because that one doesn’t convey how sexy I am in person, told I deserve to be raped – by skeptics and atheists. All by skeptics and atheists. Constantly.

This is quite obviously not a safe space for me or for other women who want to be free of the gendered slurs and sexual threats and come-ons we experience in our day-to-day lives. But apparently, DJ thinks I am lying about that, since apparently my feeling that the freethought community is not a safe space is “misinformation.” I should apparently put on a smile and pretend it doesn’t happen, because by reporting on my treatment, I am creating “a climate where women — who otherwise wouldn’t — end up feeling unwelcome and unsafe.”

As Jews in Germany circa 1936 might have created “a climate where Jews — who otherwise wouldn’t — end up feeling unwelcome and unsafe.” As the Southern Poverty Law Center creates a climate where people who are the object of systematic vocal hatred end up feeling unwelcome and unsafe. That’s not to compare TAM with Nazi Germany or racist pockets of the US, of course, but then Rebecca didn’t name TAM in the item DJ quoted, either; she (or rather USA Today, indirectly quoting her) said “the freethought community.”

And once again we see that the tragedy isn’t necessarily in the initial problem – like say a man propositioning a woman who has just said she doesn’t want to be propositioned, at 4am in an elevator – but in the reaction to a mild rebuke from the woman. The nonstop avalanche of rape threats she gets because she had the temerity to say “Guys, don’t do that.”

And so here, the tragedy isn’t in the initial amount of harassment. It was (initially) only slightly more harassment than I had had to deal with in my every day life, after all, outside of this community. No, the tragedy is when the president of the organization that inspired me to join this community tells the world that women feel unsafe and unwelcome because of me. Because I talk about the men who harass me in this community, even while I encourage more women to attend these conferences and stand up and be counted, while I give conference organizers tips on improving the experience for women, and even while I help raise thousands and thousands of dollars to send women to these conferences.

It’s deeply depressing.




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

Good bye DOMA

May 31st, 2012 4:48 pm | By

On the other hand!

A  federal appeals court has ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional because it denies equal rights for legally married same-sex couples. Booyah!

Now it will go to the Supreme Court, which will overrule the appeals court. Or not  – I say those things out of settled pessimism about this Supreme Court, but then Rieux comes along to explain why actually the Supremes are quite unlikely to overturn.

Anyway in the meantime – DOMA has been thrown out. Very good.

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

A disgrace to the good name of Seneca

May 31st, 2012 4:32 pm | By

Curtis Knapp, pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in Seneca, Kansas, says the government should kill homosexuals. (Whatever happened to small government? What about governs best that governs least? Inquiring minds want to know.) He said it in a sermon.

In the sermon, Knapp cites Scripture to back up his point and said among other things: “They should be put to death. That’s what happened in Israel. That’s why homosexuality wouldn’t have grown in Israel. It tends to limit conversations. It tends to limit people coming out of the closet.

“So, you’re saying we should go out and start killing them? No. I’m saying the government should. They won’t, but they should.”

And why? Oh you know – because Jesus. Or Leviticus, or Timothy, or one of those guys. Does it matter? The point is – we hates’em, precious.

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

At the Café Racer

May 31st, 2012 3:38 pm | By

I went to visit Café Racer this afternoon. I felt a little self-disgust or self-doubt that I wanted to – prurience? Murder porn? What are you doing? – but that went away as soon as I got there, and I’m glad I went. I now think one should make a point of visiting murder scenes.

There were a lot of people there. There were a lot of flowers, and a lot of lit candles. There was a slightly goddy message painted on the window, but not too bad, and anyway, none of my biz. It was very, very, very quiet. It was a mourning ritual. Nothing prurient about it.

One woman knelt down on the sidewalk and put two wine glasses down in front of the flowers – in front of the small section of flowers in front of her; she was just one small segment of what was going on – and poured them full of red wine, then took a swig from the bottle. I didn’t look at her any more after that. People were carefully not looking at each other.

I got very chokey right away. It was good that I was wearing a sweatshirt, because the sleeves came in handy.

There were cop cars around, driving past slowly, circling the block slowly. I don’t know exactly what for, but it felt like part of the mourning ritual, and maybe it was. Maybe cops went there for coffee and knew the people. No reason they wouldn’t.

It was, as you can probably tell, overwhelmingly moving, and sad. That’s why I now think one should make a point of visiting murder scenes. Notice should be taken.

It’s desperately sad that it was a place like that, though. Good cafés are among my favorite institutions (along with libraries – long live Kensal Rise branch! and the one in Elephant and Castle that Anthony Grayling and Alom Shaha used to visit often, now also closed – and bookstores and parks). A further terrible detail in this particular tragedy is that the murderer liked the Café Racer too, but he couldn’t go on visiting it because his mental illness made him go off the rails at intervals.

I stood at one end for a bit, where the woman with the wine was, then I moved to the middle, then I moved toward the other end, then I crossed the street and stood there for a bit, then I left.

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

Irresponsible messaging

May 31st, 2012 12:22 pm | By

So yesterday D. J. Grothe was worried about women not registering for TAM. He said people have been emailing him with wild claims such as “JREF is purported to condone child-sex-trafficking” along with other less wild claims. He thinks the source of this is

irresponsible messaging coming from a small number of prominent and well-meaning women skeptics who, in trying to help correct real problems of sexism in skepticism, actually and rather clumsily themselves help create a climate where women — who otherwise wouldn’t — end up feeling unwelcome and unsafe, and I find that unfortunate.

I think the source of at least claims like ”JREF is purported to condone child-sex-trafficking” are much more likely to come from sock puppets trying to make “a small number of prominent and well-meaning women skeptics” look bad, but I don’t know. What I do know though is that TAM now looks vastly less fun and interesting to me than it did 24 hours ago. I’ve seen quite a few people saying the same thing since yesterday. Grothe himself seems to have created the very situation he was warning against, by his “irresponsible messaging.”

Is that irony?

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

Shooting the messenger

May 30th, 2012 6:11 pm | By

So DJ Grothe says the women who are talking about sexism among the skeptics are scaring away women.

…this year only about 18% of TAM registrants so far are women, a significant and alarming decrease, and judging from dozens of emails we have received from women on our lists, this may be due to the messaging that some women receive from various quarters that going to TAM or other similar conferences means they will be accosted or harassed…I think this misinformation results from irresponsible messaging coming from a small number of prominent and well-meaning women skeptics who, in trying to help correct real problems of sexism in skepticism, actually and rather clumsily themselves help create a climate where women — who otherwise wouldn’t — end up feeling unwelcome and unsafe, and I find that unfortunate.

Very true. I’ve noticed it myself. A woman says something – “don’t call me a cunt,” perhaps; “guys, don’t do that,” perhaps; “don’t shout at me on the street for not smiling,” perhaps. The possibilities are endless. So a woman says something like that, and by saying it, she helps create a climate where women — who otherwise wouldn’t — end up feeling unwelcome and unsafe, because of the torrent of raving bile that erupts all over her when she says one of those things.

And yet – and yet, DJ seems to be blaming the women who say things rather than the people who respond with torrents of raving bile.

I find that unfortunate.

Rebecca was not much pleased either, and she asked DJ for specifics. He replied that she was one.

Rebecca: Off the top of my head, your quote in USA Today might suggest that the freethought or skeptics movements are unsafe for women. This is from the article:

“I thought it was a safe space,” Watson said of the freethought community. “The biggest lesson I have learned over the years is that it is not a safe space. . . ”


If we tell people that our events or our movements are not safe for women, some women are bound to believe that.

Yes, but then they will be believing what is true. Threats. Campaigns of vilification that have been sustained for almost a year now. Demeaning hostile contemptuous sexist language used throughout. That’s not a safe space.

Is DJ saying Rebecca shouldn’t say that? Is he saying she shouldn’t comment on the way she’s been treated?

If so, I find it unfortunate.

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

Homicide: life in Seattle

May 30th, 2012 3:15 pm | By

Holy shit.

I just walked into the aftermath of a mass shooting.

I took the dog for a frolic in a park, as is my wont, and on this occasion we chose little Ravenna park, on the northern edge of the University District.

(We didn’t frolic in that kind of fragile area, but in a flat grassy area at the top of the ravine.)

I drove up pretty Ravenna Boulevard toward Green Lake to take the scenic route home, but was stymied by a big roadblock full of people and cop cars and tv trucks with the huge towers. Wussup, I thought, and seeing people wandering around, I parked and let the dog out and wandered around myself. I thought it must be a movie, because of all the media trucks, except it was puzzling that they could afford that many cops. But then we were on a side street a block away from the stopped police cars, heading back to the car, when four cops and a civilian came along, the civilian explaining something about a garage or storage area behind a shop, which he hadn’t been in for several days…Two of the cops had machine guns assault rifles.

Machine guns. Assault rifles.

This is not a movie, I said to myself. I watched what the four did – they went up the alley behind the building in question and stood peering at it. The tallest one tried to see onto the flat roof. I decided to go away then.

So I did, and I turned on the radio, and was informed that someone had shot five people at the Cafe Racer, and was out there somewhere. Two of the people were dead. A third was reported dead while I drove past Green Lake.

This is the Roosevelt-Ravenna neighborhood, just north of the U District. I have friends who live around there.

The people shot were in a band, performing.

This freaks me out.

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

Do you at least agree with the principle?

May 30th, 2012 2:55 pm | By

Guest post by Daniel Fincke of Camels With Hammers, replying to a comment on It was a joke, huh huh huh.

May 30, 2012 at 6:49 am  (Edit)

1. It’s not okay to assume that any woman (or non-woman) is at a conference to be your plaything.

(I fail to see such an assumption)

First: this is a general principle Ophelia is laying down. Do you at least agree with the principle?

Second, let’s not get distracted by the semantics of whether literally the couple just looked at Elyse and said, “wow, is that a talking sex doll here at the conference simply for our amusement?? Holy crap, I think it is! Let’s go give her our card with our naked pictures and proposition her for sex!” Of course it is not that simplistic.

But the point is that when your only interaction with a stranger is on the sexual level in a non-sexual context, then what you’re doing is bypassing all other levels of human interaction and saying, “Look, the only thing that I am interested in conveying about the way you strike me is that I’d like to have sex with you.” Now to a stranger, with no context about who you are and no relationship with you, this is objectifying. If the context were, say, an orgy or some other sort of sex party or swingers club or sex website or sex chatroom or strip club or brothel, where this was an understanding of all participants, then maybe the sorts of expectations for how it is permissible to introduce yourself to someone might be a bit different and various ways of (friendly, respectfully) introducing yourself with a sexual pass may be more understandable.

But in the non-sex-specific contexts, people expect to be first addressed and considered and treated on grounds other than their sexual desirability to you. That should be our default assumption. To convey otherwise where this expectation is implicitly in place is to effectively risk being interpreted by the recipient of your sexual request that you are so uninterested in them for anything but sex that you refuse even to take the normal steps of acquaintance and friendship and trust-building but insist instead of just seeing if they are willing to be a sex partner first since that is all that matters. This disregards their own sexual ethics or interests (which you have decided not even to take any steps to inquire about, whether implicitly or explicitly). It disregards any concerns they might have for what sorts of gestures make them feel good or bad about themselves. It disregards any emotions that they may have according to which they would are concerned about being judged on the merits of their arguments or insights or other abilities and not their sexual desirability. It disregards all the possible fears they may have that no matter what they do of merit others will only be judging them by crude standards of whether they want to fuck them.

It disregards all of this and instead treats them first and only in a sexual way as one would treat a sexual plaything. Even in the situations of orgies and brothels and sex chatrooms and strip joints one is not doing this because the context sets up certain assumptions of certain forms of consent. You have in those contexts some consent to proposition people a bit more quickly. You still do not have consent to have sex or touch without the other’s agreement but the context frees things up a bit to be more sexually forward.

Without contextual consent to be sexually forward like that, the default assumptionshould be that the person you are engaging with does not want to be propositioned first and have questions asked later as though they were primarily interested in being perceived as and treated as a potential sex partner.

2. It’s not okay to assume a stranger welcomes your nakedness.

(I fail to see such an assumption)

They gave her a picture of themselves naked to her without first asking whether she would like to see it. Therefore they either assumed that she welcomed seeing their nakedness or they realized she might not and didn’t care that it would repulse and upset her.

You say they didn’t assume she welcomed their nakedness. Okay, then they realized that quite possibly that she would not welcome this and that it would repulse and upset her. So they took the (quite likely) chance of repulsing her and upsetting her rather than erring on the side of avoiding any unnecessary repulsion and dismay. That’s really selfish and inconsiderate and obnoxious behavior on their part. They are no different than unsolicited flashers in this regard.

How you could defend that is beyond me.

3. It’s not okay to remove another person’s ability to have a say in the situation you’ve put them in.

(I fail to see such a removal)

They ran away. They refused to give her a chance to express her feelings directly to their faces—unless she were to call them and arrange a meeting just to yell at them, I guess. That’s an unreasonable demand to put on her. This was effectively, again, like an unsolicited flasher coming up flashing and running away like a coward, not staying to allow the victim to express her feelings in response. They wanted to make the agency to make an aggressive advance but denied the person on the receiving end agency to express her feelings to them.

4. It’s not okay to proposition someone while they are at work.

(a matter of opinion, when it’s a one-off and there is no hint of persistence)

I imagine this depends on the job. In most jobs, it’s not okay and even where it may be justifiable, it should only be where there is already an established mutual rapport, friendship, and trust in which one can be reasonably confident that there are good odds, already expressed to you, that they like you enough, trust you enough, and treat you flirtatiously enough that they seriously could be interested in accepting the offer.

5. Your speaker’s looks are irrelevant to everything else she brings to your conference. And so is your boner.

And so is the basis for this outrage.


No, the basis for the outrage is not irrelevant. The point is that if every time women speakers stepped down from the podium they were treated like they just got off the strip pole and solicited for sexually related activities, then women would have an unfair choice between being speakers and avoiding being treated in a sexual way by strangers. That’s the kind of burden that is put on the speaker if this sort of behavior is condoned/normalized. The speaker has every right that the people who approach her will show respect for her as a speaker first and foremost. It’s extraordinarily rude to send the message that “yeah, whatever you were talking about may be nice and all, but let me cut to what I’m really interested in, ‘wanna fuck?’”

6. If there is a conference policy on not propositioning people at your conference, don’t approach people for sex.

Was there such in this situation?

7. I cannot think of a single situation where it’s ever appropriate to hand someone an invitation to group sex if you haven’t already had or discussed having sex.

Argument from lack of imagination.


There could be scenarios, I guess, like your presence at a swinger’s club where your first discussion of sex might involve a discussion of group sex in particular. But this was not a swinger’s club or any other place specifically designated for greater tolerance of sexual advances. In non-sex-specific contexts where a certain level of consent to discuss sex is not implied by the nature of the event or space, stages of intimacy usually require that one move from less familiar and probing to more familiar and probing. One’s interests, or lack thereof, in group sex are fairly personal for many people. Not for all people but for most people and so it is intrusively abrupt to raise the topic with just anyone since the default assumption is that the person you are speaking with has a typical sense of propriety and a typical aversion to jumping stages of intimacy before being asked about or propositioned for any particularly kinky form of sex. You have to respect the average person’s sensibilities, and when dealing with a woman in particular you must think about the average woman’s sensibilities in thinking about what is generally appropriate. The average woman is put off by questions that leap to very intimate questions of sexual interests before rapport, then trust, then trust with sexual questions have been established.

8. Outnumbering a stranger while putting them in an uncomfortable situation is a dick thing to do.

How does one “outnumber” a stranger?

(Sophistry is sophistic)

There were two of them propositioning one person for sex. This was not “one” outnumbering a stranger. It was two doing so. Two people saying, we both are lurking around here with sexual designs on you is creepier than even just one person doing it.

care to establish your basis for opining that the example provided constitutes creepy, sexist behavior?

(Is it really so very creepy that poly people take a chance in inviting you in? Me, I’d be flattered)


It was a fucking invitation, one that (need I repeat?) I would be flattered to receive.

What sort of world is it where a one-off, indirect but apparently sincere offer is ‘creepy’?

Creepy behavior is whatever disrespects someone’s boundaries or signals a willingness to disregard boundaries. It is disrespectful. When you ignore the typical boundaries of the average person you are showing a disregard for social norms. Now your own private norms may be much different than social norms. You may privately be polyamorous or open to sexual advances from strangers who you have not yourself yet given any implicit or explicit sexual green lights to. But the average woman’s norms are mirrored in social norms which find both of those things transgressive of proper boundaries. Until you have established a private relationship with someone and come to learn her particular private norms and establisher her particular level of rapport, trust, and sexual interest in you, your default assumptions must be that she is one of the “normals” and not like you.

The fact that you would be flattered by the invitation does not mean women are. Humans are not all the same. Men in our culture tend to be more flattered by unsolicited bold come-ons than women. I know I am. But men and women obviously live in wildly different social contexts though and we must respect that. We must respect that women live in a context in which they are turned into both idealized and denigrated sex objects constantly. We must respect that women are in the culturally dictated position of being the ones typically propositioned and so the propositions come far more frequently and far more annoyingly (on that account alone if none other). We have to respect that women are constantly having their capabilities and accomplishments in other areas of life put second to their sexual desirability (or presumed lack thereof) and so propositions in many contexts (such as in the one in the case under discussion) are not flattering at all but a signal that what they would like to people to be focusing on about them is being ignored so that they can be viewed on only a sexual level. Again.

We have to respect that women are often physically smaller and less muscular than the men propositioning them and often in less powerful positions to them and so propositions come with imposing physical, social, and professional threats as possibilities in many cases. Also, many men are socialized to ignore initial (or even all) refusals to propositions that women in various contexts make and so propositions come with them the scary and frustrating possibility of follow up harassment even if they say no.

I could go on listing the ways that the social world in which women are propositioned makes it hard in many cases for them to simply feel flattered. They have good reasons to associate propositions with many unflattering attitudes towards them and good reasons to have Pavlovian fears of follow up harassment and cajoling when they are propositioned—even when dealing with people they like and have sexual interest in but still feel the need to refuse for one reason or another. Even the people they have rapport and trust and a degree of physical intimacy with could turn into date rapists and even have in many women’s experiences. So, in that context, a stranger who signals first and foremost a disregard of social norms and a cluelessness or apathy about how they experience things is creepy to them and rightly so.

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

The girls complained of headaches, dizziness and vomiting

May 30th, 2012 10:29 am | By

And another thing that’s actually like the actual Taliban. Poisoning 160 schoolgirls in their school is more like the Taliban than a policy against “booth babes” at atheist and skeptic conventions is. Much more.

Don’t go thinking you already know about this, as I did when I first saw it, because this isn’t that one, this is a new one. That’s right: this is a second poisoning of schoolgirls in their school in Afghanistan.

A hospital in northern Afghanistan admitted 160 schoolgirls Tuesday after they were poisoned, a Takhar province police official said.

Their classrooms might have been sprayed with a toxic material before the girls entered, police spokesman Khalilullah Aseer said. He blamed the Taliban.

The incident, the second in a week’s time, was reported at the Aahan Dara Girls School in Taluqan, the provincial capital.

The girls, ages 10 to 20, complained of headaches, dizziness and vomiting before being taken to the hospital, said Hafizullah Safi, director of the provincial health department.

Their punishment for attempting to get an education.

Last week, more than 120 girls and three teachers were admitted to a hospital after a similar suspected poisoning.

“The Afghan people know that the terrorists and the Taliban are doing these things to threaten girls and stop them going to school,” Aseer said last week. “That’s something we and the people believe. Now we are implementing democracy in Afghanistan and we want girls to be educated, but the government’s enemies don’t want this.”

But earlier this week, the Taliban denied responsibility, instead blaming U.S. and NATO forces for the poisonings in an attempt to “defame” the insurgent group.

No, no, it was teh feminists who did it!

There have been several instances of girls being poisoned in schools in recent years.

In April, also in Takhar province, more than 170 women and girls were hospitalized after drinking apparently poisoned well water at a school. Local health officials blamed the acts on extremists opposed to women’s education.

While nearly all the incidents involve girls, earlier this month, nearly 400 boys at a school in Khost province fell ill after drinking water from a well that a health official said may have been poisoned.

Aha, you see? That proves it was teh feminists who did it. All the ones done to girls were to throw everyone off the scent.


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

Something that is actually like the Taliban

May 30th, 2012 8:19 am | By

Mariz Tadros gives a vastly depressing account of life for women in Egypt.

…on the streets of Egypt, inch by inch, bit by bit, women’s rights are shrinking. Women, Muslim and Christian, who do not cover their hair or who wear mid-sleeved clothing are met with insults, spitting and in some cases physical abuse. In the urban squatter settlement of Mouasset el Zakat, in Al Marg, Greater Cairo, women told me that they hated walking in the streets now. Thanks to the lax security situation, they have restricted their mobility to all but the most essential of errands. Whereas a couple of years ago they could just inform their husbands where they were going (visiting parents, friends or going to the hairdresser for example), now they have to get their husbands or older sons to accompany them if they go out after sunset.

And the Islamists have made it worse. A Coptic Christian woman said to me “we and our Muslim friends who do not cover our hair get yelled at by men passing by telling us ‘just you wait, those who will cover you up and make you stay at home are coming, and then there will no more of this lewdness’”. It was, she said, as if they were gloating over the fact that we were being pushed off the streets.

As if? Surely there’s no “as if” about it – gloating is exactly what they were doing.

Another woman told me that girls and women wearing mid-sleeved clothing had been slapped on their bare arms by men on bicycles shouting slurs. Another told me she had been spat on by men telling her to cover up. Another told me that she had her hair up in a pony tail and a young man pulled it so hard that she thought her head was going to fall off. Another recounts how she was pushed and elbowed by a passerby telling her to cover her nakedness (she was wearing a mid-sleeved blouse and trousers).

This seems to be about 80% of what Islamism is about – rabid hatred of women. Hatred, loathing, contempt, disgust, and desire for anihilation. They want women not just to “cover up” but to stay at home – i.e. inside, locked up, out of the public realm, thus non-existent in the larger world. They feel entitled to assault any woman they see.

And some Coptic Christian bossy types are imitating the Islamists, telling “their” women to “cover up.” Some of those women staged a protest on May 18. Tadros was one of them.

As one of the organisers of this protest, I tried to explain why we couldn’t wait. I explained that if there is talk of women’s modesty today, tomorrow there is more pressure on veiling, the day after it is going to be a socially imposed ban on trousers, after that a ban on women’s freedom of mobility, until bit by bit, inch by inch we are driven back home.

Back to the world our great-grandmothers had to put up with. No thank you.

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

It was a joke, huh huh huh

May 29th, 2012 5:51 pm | By

Elyse Anders was the keynote speaker at Skepticamp Ohio last weekend, and had an unpleasant experience at the end.

Then, at the very end, when everyone was preparing to leave, and I was packing up the Hug Me table, answering questions, and generally socializing with other speakers and attendees, thinking about how fat my check is going to be from Big Pharma when one man and his wife, whom I’ve become vaguely acquainted with on Facebook in the last week, approached my table. He said, “Here’s a little something to remember us by” and handed me an upside-down card. I turned it halfway over, glanced at it peripherally, then thanked them.

A minute or so later, I had a “wait… what?” moment, then flipped the card over and looked at it not peripherally to discover I had not been handed a business card, but a card with a naked photo of the two of them, with their information on how to contact them should I want to fuck.

TMI – with “I” meaning not information but intimacy. Too much intimacy with strangers, without invitation or permission or preliminaries. People, don’t do that.

I cannot think of a single situation where it’s ever appropriate to hand someone an invitation to group sex if you haven’t already had or discussed having sex. I think a nice rule of thumb on handing out such things is: Have you discussed or engaged in sexual activity with this person? If yes, hand them the card. If not, do not hand them the card. If you’re sad because you never had the opportunity to discuss such an opportunity with them, the thing to do is not to shove your card in their face. The thing to do is accept that sometimes, it just doesn’t happen. There isn’t a shortage of humans in the world. You can find another one to have sex with.

There you go, you see –  If not, do not hand them the card. Don’t start from zero with “wanna fuck?”

Also sprach the Taliban, I know. The cool right on anti-Taliban thing to do is just say “wanna fuck?” to anyone you consider hot enough to fuck, just in case. Treat the whole world as a cruisey park where people are there for instant fucking, to let the Taliban know it’s not the boss of us. Except no, don’t. Don’t treat women who are there to work as if they’re really, under the mask of doing-something-else, there to have sex with you.

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

The sacking of a library in the middle of the night

May 29th, 2012 5:09 pm | By

The what? Yes – and by a Labour council at that. The Kensal Rise branch library, at 2 a.m., with an army of cops.

Kensal Rise library was emptied of its books and stripped of the plaque commemorating its opening 112 years ago by Mark Twain in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

Residents who for more than a year campaigned to keep the library open were alerted in the middle of the night that Brent council workers, backed up by police, were stripping the branch of books, furniture, murals painted in the 1930s and the plaque marking the opening in 1900 by Twain. The move follows the council’s failed attempt to clear the library earlier this month, when they were stopped from removing books by protesters.

Members of the writers’ community are not amused.

Local people, backed by literary names, including Philip Pullman and Alan Bennett, have challenged the decision to close six libraries in the north-west London borough at the high court and supreme court, but were told in February no further appeal would be heard. They are now hoping to run the Kensal Rise branch themselves as a volunteer facility, and pledged this morning that the removal of books from the library would not stop them.

“The cowardice of Brent’s Labour council in stripping Kensal Rise library, and the philistinism of unscrewing the brass plaque remembering Mark Twain from its wall, in the middle of the night, would horrify anyone who still recalls Labour’s founding mission to share education, knowledge and hope with the people. We will continue to fight for our library,” said the author Maggie Gee, vice-president of the Royal Society of Literature.

The playwright Michael Frayn also condemned the move. “They took the books out and the plaque down? So the library is now an unlibrary, in the way that people became unpersons in the darkest days of the Soviet Union. I hope they took the titles of the books off as well. Removing unbooks from an unlibrary – who could possibly object?”

The biographer Sir Michael Holroyd said: “The wanton destruction of the Kensal Rise Library – its books removed, its history erased – is a gross act of philistinism which will bring lasting shame to all involved.”

I don’t know the background, but…I don’t like to see libraries closed.

Kensal Rise Library - opened by Mark Twain


Photos via Save Kensal Rise Library


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

The myriad other ways the comparison to the Taliban doesn’t fit

May 29th, 2012 4:50 pm | By

‘Ere we go ‘ere we go ‘ere we go – the “Taliban” thing is becoming the latest casus belli for the you know whos. I’ve got one of them right here playing musical IP addresses and calling me every name in the book. Misogyny lives!

Jason has a good post on the subject.

The repeated comparison of this harassment policy to Taliban-like laws, is entirely about the “sexualized clothing” bit. Apparently all the rest of the proposed policy is perfectly fine to these people, and anyone pushing back against the meme is just strawmanning. Never mind all the myriad other ways the comparison to the Taliban doesn’t fit — like the actual protection of women, rather than slut-shaming and stoning them to death; like allowing them autonomy and self-direction instead of subjugating them to man’s will.

And don’t forget the part about not blowing up schools!

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

Not ready for the flood

May 29th, 2012 11:29 am | By

Paul Fidalgo did another good roundup of Stuff on Women in Secularism last week (“another” in addition to the one I linked to before that one).

He quoted Jen on the perils in talking about “commonly-showcased speakers who are also bad-actors toward women”:

Look at what happened to Rebecca Watson when she simply said “guys, don’t do that” about an anonymous conference attendee. Imagine the shitstorm if there were public accusations of sexual misconduct of some very famous speakers. I’m not ready for the flood of rape and death threats. I’m not ready to be blacklisted and have my atheist “career” ruined by people more powerful and influential than me. I’m not ready to be sued for libel or slander. I’m not ready for the SSA or other organizations I’m affiliated with to also be harmed by association. And that’s exactly how all of these other women feel – hence the silence.

And commented on this situation himself:

The fact that we have a prominent leader in our movement—or anyone in our community—who has to be concerned about a “flood of rape and death threats” has to be a screaming alarm for us to change our attitudes and confront reality. We are the reality-based community, after all. And we are also (many of us) humanists, and the fear and repression that this atmosphere represents is contrary to those values, contrary to basic morality, and is truly the very thing we as a community claim to be against when it comes in a religious context. I hope that a result of this discussion is not more vitriol and defensiveness, but a newfound resolve to act and make things better. We’re hypocrites if we don’t.

So far there has been some more vitriol and defensiveness, but also their opposites, so I’m cautiously optimistic.

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

The Take the Flour Back group did not have enough support

May 29th, 2012 11:00 am | By

Another message from Sile Lane (Sense About Science):

Dear Petition Signatory,

The planned direct action against the GM wheat experiment at Rothamsted did not happen yesterday. The Take the Flour Back group did not have enough support to storm the field and the local police kept them off Rothamsted’s grounds. Last night hackers attacked Rothamsted Research’s website but it is now back online. Your support has not only helped the scientists bear up under the pressure of the last few weeks but also made the threat to their research retreat in the face of opposition. There has been lots of media coverage in the last few days, including editorials in the Observer and the Times and articles in the Telegraph and Independent (links below).

Some of you came to Rothamsted Park yesterday to tell the protest group why you didn’t want them to destroy publicly funded research. We have gathered some of the comments of support from the 6000 petition signatories as a PDF on our website at

If you would like to get general news from Sense About Science you can sign up for our newsletter here and keep up to date with the fantastic work of the researchers at Rothamsted on their website

Thank you again for your support.

Best wishes,

Síle Lane

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

No religious test except for this one tiny thing

May 29th, 2012 10:16 am | By

When I sat next to Wafa Sultan at the dinner weekend before last, she asked me if there were any penalties for being an atheist in the US, and I told her there were two states that ban atheists from running for office. She was amazed and incredulous, and I assured her it was true; Tennessee and I think Arkansas, I added.

But I was wrong. It’s not two, it’s seven.

[Update for clarification: these are all articles of state constitutions, and (I'm told) (by Matt Dillahunty) they could never be enforced. I kind of assumed that anyway, but it's better to spell it out.]

Matthew Bulger of American Humanists lists them.

Arkansas, Article 19, Section 1: No person who denies the being of a God shall hold any office in the civil departments of this State, nor be competent to testify as a witness in any Court.

Maryland, Article 37: That no religious test ought ever to be required as a qualification for any office of profit or trust in this State, other than a declaration of belief in the existence of God; nor shall the Legislature prescribe any other oath of office than the oath prescribed by this Constitution.

Mississippi, Article 14, Section 265: No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office in this state.

North Carolina, Article 6, Section 8 The following persons shall be disqualified for office: Any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God.

South Carolina, Article 17, Section 4: No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office under this Constitution.

Tennessee, Article 9, Section 2: No person who denies the being of God, or a future state of rewards and punishments, shall hold any office in the civil department of this state.

Texas, Article 1, Section 4: No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office, or public trust, in this State; nor shall any one be excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being.

I love the Maryland one – no religious test except for belief in the existence of God. Oh is that all!

Via Paul Fidalgo.

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

Go, and report child rape no more

May 29th, 2012 9:28 am | By

Good to see the Catholic church learning (however slowly) from its mistakes.

The Italian Bishop’s Conference (CIE) has issued guidelines on child  protection that inform its bishops that they are ‘not obliged to report illicit  facts’ of child abuse to the police.

In their new five page document which advised Italian Bishops on how to deal  with paedophilia they failed to focus on one of the most important and obvious  means of combating the crime – informing police authorities.

Instead the document read: “Under Italian law, the bishop, given that he  holds no public office nor is he a public servant, is not obliged to report  illicit facts of the type covered by this document to the relevant state  judicial authorities.”

Not learning from their mistakes after all, then.

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

The Taliban comes to Foggy Bottom

May 28th, 2012 5:39 pm | By

Is sexual harassment a thing? Is it just a fantasy of whack-job feminists (who of course are all way too ugly to be sexually harassed)? What about the military, for example? Lots of discipline there; probably there’s no sexual harassment in among all that discipline, right?

Well, one third of women in the military reported being sexually harassed in 2008. That seems like a thing. Maybe they were all whack-job feminists, but given the bad press feminism gets, I kind of doubt it.

The ACLU considers it a thing.

While it is estimated that over 19,000 sexual assaults occurred in the military in 2010, a rate far higher than among civilians, the government has failed systematically to investigate complaints, appropriately punish perpetrators, and treat trauma and other health conditions suffered by survivors. The profound personal and social consequences that arise from the government’s systemic failures are powerfully profiled in the new film, The Invisible War. Turning a blind eye to these crimes has allowed them to continue, imperiling the lives of victims and degrading their service.

Is it Talibanesque to think that’s a bad situation?

The US State Department has a sexual harassment policy. Is that Talibanesque? Should the State Department allow sexual harassment to go on its merry way, as one of our precious freedoms that we don’t want the Taliban to destroy?

You be the judge.


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

Bleaching away the autism

May 28th, 2012 5:02 pm | By

Annals of horror. “Recovering” children from autism by dosing them with MMS, “Miracle Mineral Solution” aka bleach.

Basically, MMS is 28% sodium chlorite in distilled water. In essence, MMS is equivalent to industrial strength bleach. Proponents recommend diluting MMS in either water or a food acid, such as lemon juice, which results in the formation of chlorine dioxide.

MMS is what got Rhys Morgan started on his anti-quackery career, when he encountered people online recommending it for Crohn’s disease.

David Gorski has learned that now people are recommending it for autism.

Autism One, whose organizers claim that their conference is “all about the science,” featured a talk by a woman whose preferred form of therapy, besides hyperbaric oxygen, is to subject autistic children to industrial bleach in the deluded belief that she can “recover” autism with it. Rivera runs a clinic in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico that she calls AutismO2 Clinica Hyperbarica. If her website is any indication, Rivera gives autistic children MMS by mouth and by enema. (Yes, she subjects autistic children to bleach enemas.)

Does it make them be not autistic? No.

This is also the second time that I’ve seen autism quacks subjecting autistic children to what is, in essence, potentially nasty industrial chemicals. A couple of years ago, disgraced chemistry professor and mercury warrior Boyd Haley pumped autistic children full of an industrial chelator, claiming it was a “supplement.” Ultimately, Haley drew the attention of the FDA, which shut him down. Now, we’re seeing quacks douse autistic children in bleach, pump their colons full of it, and feed it to them until they start to have fevers and diarrhea, believing that the diarrhea and fever are evidence that the bleach is working to reverse autism. The diarrhea and fever might well be working to do something, but reversing autism is not part of that something. Making children sick is.


Thanks to Rhys for alerting me to this new annal.

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