Notes and Comment Blog

The Texas abortion bill failed

Jun 26th, 2013 8:40 am | By

Even though the Republicans in the Texas Senate tried their best to cheat, the bill still failed.

The final outcome took several hours to sort out.

Initially, Republicans insisted the vote started before the midnight deadline and passed the bill that Democrats spent the day trying to kill. But after official computer records and printouts of the voting record showed the vote took place Wednesday, and then were changed to read Tuesday, senators retreated into a private meeting to reach a conclusion.

At 3 a.m., Dewhurst emerged from the meeting still insisting the 19-10 vote was in time, but said, “with all the ruckus and noise going on, I couldn’t sign the bill” and declared it dead.

Still insisting the vote was in time despite what the pesky record showed. Self-justification much?

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

Supreme Court strikes down DOMA

Jun 26th, 2013 8:32 am | By

Yeah. It’s in the Washington Post, right nearby, so it must be true.

The Supreme Court Wednesday struck down as unconstitutional the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that denies federal benefits to same-sex couples who are legally married in the states where they reside.

The decision was 5 to 4, with Justice Anthony M. Kennedy joining the court’s liberals to form the majority. It did not address the question of whether there was a constitutional right to same-sex marriages.

But the court said it violated equal protection to provide benefits to heterosexual couples while denying them to gay couples in the 12 states plus the District of Columbia where same-sex couples may marry.

Now this is good:

“DOMA instructs all federal officials, and indeed all persons with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their marriage is less worthy than the marriages of others,” Kennedy wrote.

“The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity.”

That’s good. I like that. On the one hand, the State sought to protect a set of people in personhood and dignity; on the other hand, DOMA sought to disparage and to injure that set of people. The people behind DOMA tried to pretend there was a legitimate purpose but that was bullshit.

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

More dubious still

Jun 25th, 2013 6:15 pm | By

David Robert Grimes takes a beady-eyed look at the way theocrats distort scientific research to support their opposition to things.

The abortion debate provides numerous examples of such contrivances. In this paper recently, Breda O’Brien  brandished a study by Ferguson et al (2013) and claimed abortion damages women. However, her championing of this study is textbook cherry-picking that fails to withstand even a cursory examination.

The scientific consensus is that abortion does not damage mental health, a conclusion supported by volumes of meticulous research and recently reiterated in high-quality major reviews by the Royal College of Psychiatrists (2011) and Johns Hopkins University (2008). Ferguson himself has expressed dismay at pro-life groups using this study, calling this use “misleading”.

More dubious still was last September’s “Dublin declaration”, a statement insisting abortion is never necessary to save the life of a mother. Yet even a cursory inspection reveals this is simply not true. Pregnancy is not risk-free and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists states: “Abortions are necessary in a number of circumstances to save the life of a woman.”

Quite a thing to lie about, isn’t it. Yes, Savita Halappanavar merely imagined she was dead, and Praveen and her parents only imagine she’s gone.

David Quinn of the Iona Institute spoke against gay marriage in front of the constitutional committee. Ostensibly citing research from Child Trends (2002), Quinn claimed children fared best with biological parents and gay parents were not good for children. Yet the first page of the study he quotes states: “ . . . neither same-sex parents nor adoptive parents were identified . . . therefore, no conclusions can be drawn from this research about the wellbeing of children raised by same-sex parents or adoptive parents”.

Evidence to date
Quinn is simply wrong. Numerous studies have since found zero difference in parenting between heterosexual and same-sex couples. The American Psychological Association states “ . . . the evidence to date suggests that home environments provided by lesbian and gay parents are as likely as those provided by heterosexual parents to support and enable children’s psychosocial growth”.

God hates people who don’t tell lies, apparently.


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

They don’t think they are especially wonderful

Jun 25th, 2013 4:10 pm | By

I’m still thinking about dissonance theory and self-justification and how it relates to quarrels and feuds and rifts.

I’m wondering if it does me any good at all (in terms of avoiding some of the cognitive dissonance and thus some of the self-justification) that I actually don’t think of myself as an easy person to get along with. I’m well aware that I can be irritable, rude, and sometimes worse. It doesn’t rock my view of myself to realize that I’ve been obnoxious.

Tavris and Aronson address that, on page 199 of Mistakes Were Made, but they do it in an odd way.

Who do you imagine would be most likely to blame the victim: perpetrators who think highly of themselves and have strong feelings of self-worth, or those who are insecure and have low self-worth?

Hang on! Why put it that way? Why not say “those with a more realistic self-evaluation?

People who “think highly of themselves” are shits. Come on now. We’re human beings, we’re flawed, there’s a limit to how highly we ought to think of ourselves.

I don’t think it’s “insecure” to be aware of one’s own faults. I think it’s rational and reflective and sensible.

Dissonance theory makes the non-obvious prediction that it will be the former. For people who have low self-esteem, treating others badly or going along mindlessly with what others tell them to do is not terribly dissonant with their self-concept. Moreover, they are more likely to be self-deprecating and modest, because they don’t think they are especially wonderful. It is the people who think the most of themselves who, if they cause someone pain, must convince themselves that the other guy is a rat.

Well, right, so let’s not call that “insecure” and “having low self-worth” – let’s call it a reasonable self-assessment.

It’s Dunning-Kruger all over again. There’s such a thing as thinking too well of oneself, and it causes more harms than just irritating conceit (but that’s bad enough).


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

Texas Senator Wendy Davis filibusters to block abortion bill

Jun 25th, 2013 3:26 pm | By

She started this morning.

At 11:18 this morning, State Senator Wendy Davis took to the floor of the Texas State Senate, beginning a filibuster that Democrats hope will stop the passage of a bill that targets abortion rights in the state. Senator Davis wore pink tennis shoes, ready for the almost 13 hours she must continue speaking to keep Republicans from calling for a vote.

She can’t sit down. She can’t leave to pee.

That makes Senator Davis a lonely combatant in the War on Women. She alone must continue to speak until midnight tonight, when the 30 day special session will expire, along with the abortion bill. Senator Davis says she plans to read the stories of women and their doctors who would be adversely affected by the new restrictions into the record.

The Dems chose her because she was a teenage mother herself.

Strength to your sword arm voice, legs, and bladder, Senator!

Update: the livestream.

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

Point of Inquiry staff moves to Mother Jones

Jun 25th, 2013 1:18 pm | By

It’s a press release, which several people have published already.

On Friday, Point of Inquiry’s two co-hosts—Indre Viskontas and Chris Mooney—resigned from their positions at the Center for Inquiry. On Monday, Point of Inquiry producer Adam Isaak followed suit. This note is to explain our reasons for departing CFI and our future plans.

In May of 2013, when the Women in Secularism II conference took place in Washington, D.C., Point of Inquiry—the flagship podcast of the Center for Inquiry—was more successful that it has ever been. Following a format change in 2010, our audience has increased by 60 percent and our growth rate has doubled in the last year and a half. We’d recently done a highly successful live show featuring Steven Pinker before a packed room at the 2013 American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting, and interviewed guests like Oliver Sacks, Jared Diamond, Paul Krugman, and Mary Roach. We had started to incorporate new, successful video content. 2013 featured our most listened-to show ever and we were averaging well over 2 million total downloads per year.

Then came the events at that conference—including a widely criticized speech by Center for Inquiry President & CEO Ronald Lindsay. Lindsay then went further, writing a blog post which referred to a post by one of his critics—Rebecca Watson—as follows: “It may be the most intellectually dishonest piece of writing since the last communique issued by North Korea.”

In response to public criticism of Lindsay’s speech and blog post, CFI’s Board of Directors issued an ambiguous statement regretting the controversy, but going no further than that.

These actions have generated much discussion, criticism and polarization within our community. In addition, they created an environment at CFI that made it very difficult for our producer, Adam Isaak, to continue working there.

We, like others, welcome Lindsay’s recent apology. That apology, however, was not followed by any direct effort to retain Chris or Indre, nor did it make up for the very real toll this controversy has taken upon our podcast and our ability to produce it.

The actions of Lindsay and the Board have made it overwhelmingly difficult for us to continue in our goal to provide thoughtful and compelling content, including coverage of feminist issues, as in past interviews with guests like Amanda Marcotte, Katha Pollitt, MG Lord, and Carol Tavris.

The Center for Inquiry has supported us in the past and has asked Chris and Indre to speak at many of its conferences. We are thankful for that.  But we’re a team and we do this together. We believe that this controversy has impaired our ability to produce the highest quality podcast under the auspices of CFI and that our talents will be put to better use elsewhere.

To that end, we are in the process of formalizing a new podcast that will allow us to continue to provide the in-depth interviews with leading intellectuals that made Point of Inquiry such a success. We’ll announce the name and more details about the new podcast shortly but as of right now, we can already announce something we’re all incredibly excited about: the new show will be produced in collaboration with the nonprofit news organization Mother Jones. You can follow @MotherJones on Twitter to get the latest updates on the show’s official launch. We all look forward to turning our attention to the work at hand, and leaving this controversy behind.

Adam Isaak, Indre Viskontas, and Chris Mooney


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

I cannot ask Allah!

Jun 25th, 2013 12:33 pm | By

What were we saying about FGM? Egyptian cleric Sheikh Yussef al-Badri sets us straight, explaining to the Beeb’s Aleem Maqbool why it’s such a great idea.

I transcribed the heart of it. The ellipses represent his pauses to hunt for the word; he’s not fluent in English so make allowances for that.

Allah gives us orders, we don’t understand them.

But we have no real reason to think it is “Allah” giving us the orders. We have better reason to think it was a human being writing down either hallucinations or his own ideas dressed up as those of “Allah”.

This make the girl control her common sense about sex. Because the woman is quickly… feel…sex. Before man, for this. If we make Islamic circumcision, it will control her common sense, sex common sense, then she cannot be…feel…in need for man.

It’s clear enough what he means – women can get aroused quickly because of those pesky dangly bits, so if you shave them off, it’s much harder to arouse her – hey, maybe even impossible! Score! So that way she won’t be just wandering around feeling the need to grab a man all the time.

Maqbool: Man feels need for woman, as well.

Sheikh: Oh, Allah control this with marriage. [beams] Marriage! [beams more broadly]

Maqbool: Why would God make a woman like this if he wanted an operation?

Sheikh: [beams again] Ohh, I cannot ask Allah!

No, you cannot, and that’s exactly why you should shut the fuck up about it!

But I am his servant! I should obey! Because…in the [inaudible] of doom, he will give the punishment!

If you cannot ask Allah, then how the hell do you think you know any of that? It’s not something to laugh off as a jolly good joke, it’s a total deal-breaker. But of course he doesn’t see that, and he thinks this contradictory mess is a perfectly valid reason to shave off the genitalia of small girls.

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

Not a small problem

Jun 25th, 2013 11:33 am | By

The scope of the FGM problem is appalling to contemplate. It’s huge, and hidden, and implacably hard to deal with.

More than 70 women and girls in Britain seek treatment every month after undergoing female genital mutilation (FGM), with the actual number subjected to the illegal practice likely to be far higher, figures reveal.

The NSPCC is launching a helpline on Monday to protect children from FGM after research found that more than 1,700 victims were referred to specialist clinics in the past two years, likely to be a fraction of the true figure for women affected. The youngest victim was seven.

That’s just within Britain. It’s much worse elsewhere, obviously.

“The UK’s child victims of female genital mutilation are hidden behind a wall of silence. Like other forms of abuse, if female genital mutilation is not exposed it will continue to thrive and more children will suffer,” she said.

Harker said children who were victims of FGM or at risk often did not know it was abusive and harmful, because it was being done at the behest of their family. “They are told they are unclean and immoral if they are not ‘cut’ and that it is in their best interest,” she said. “There is also a huge pressure within these communities to keep quiet about female genital mutilation, with some people even being threatened with violence if they speak out. This is why we believe a dedicated helpline with specially trained child protection advisers is needed to help overcome the difficulties in protecting children from such a complex and secretive form of abuse.”

It’s done when they’re very young. Very young children believe what they’re told. If they’re told their genitals are dirty, they’ll believe it.

Efua Dorkenoo, advocacy director of the FGM Programme at Equality Now – which alongside anti-FGM organisation Daughters of Eve is providing training for the helpline – has worked in the field for more than two decades and called the new move a “sea change in attitudes towards FGM”. She said: “For the first time in this country we are giving a voice to the young people from these communities who have not been able to speak out. The government, the police and health professionals have been frightened and this is bringing it out into the open at last.”

The NSPCC gathered information from the past two years from six clinics in England which specialise in helping victims of FGM; however, there are currently 14 clinics that provide treatment for FGM but data is not collected for children who go to hospital or doctors, nor the children who never have contact with the authorities. “This is not a small problem, it is hidden,” said Dorkenoo.

She added that in some African, Asian and Middle Eastern communities – including but not exclusive to Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, Kenya, Liberia and Sierra Leone – 90% of female children were subjected to FGM and that the figure was likely to be similar for girls living within those communities in the UK.

Not small, but hidden.

Contact the 24-hour helpline at 0800 028 3550 or at




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


Jun 25th, 2013 10:32 am | By

Let’s talk about mumbling and muttering.

I mean – lsss tbb mmmmmnmmmmmmmnga.

Too many actors mumble their way through their lines, neither enunciating nor projecting words clearly enough for audiences to understand them, according to leading figures in theatre.

Edward Kemp, artistic director of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (Rada) and actress Imogen Stubbs are infuriated by the mutterers, who they believe let down playwrights and audiences. Kemp said that some directors and producers encouraged mumbling, believing that “laidback mumbling is more truthful”.

Well sometimes it is, but you don’t want it to be so “truthful” that no one can understand it. Think Brando in the cab with Steiger. “You shoulda looked out for me a liddle bit.” “Truthful” but still clear.

Or, for a counter-example, think Ira Glass. He’s a great producer but he’s a wretched radio-speaker because he mumbles, and it drives me nuts. You’re on the radio, dammit, it’s your job, you’re a professional – why do you keep saying “Itsis Merican Life” when you should be saying “it’s This American Life”? He sounds like a teenager who hasn’t broken the mumbling habit yet, but he’s in his 40s.

Stubbs, who has appeared in scores of stage roles, including the part of Sally Bowles in Cabaret and Desdemona in Othello as well as film and television dramas, added that muttering – with its lack of variety and tonal interest – was perhaps a misguided attempt to imitate American film stars. “It was so drummed into us at drama school that ‘it’s unforgiveable not to be clear and heard’,” she said.

Hmm. Maybe, but the tv genre where I have the most trouble making out what the actors are saying is imported cop shows from the UK. Maybe that’s because they too are trying to imitate US movie stars, but still – they can be astonishingly inaudible. It’s not accents, I’m familiar with the accents, it’s mumbling, hypermumbling such that you can’t make out syllables, it’s just a blur of sound.

The problem is so serious that Kemp fears “plays of language” – including works by Shakespeare, Wilde, Coward and Pinter – could eventually become so opaque that audiences will stay away. Already, he said, “we are on a knife-edge with Restoration comedy … It’s hard to find people who can teach and direct it”.

Rada – whose alumni include Peter O’Toole, Vivien Leigh and Ralph Fiennes and which today attracts 3,000 applicants a year for 28 places – had to scrap its long-standing sight-reading test of a Dickens passage from its auditions because it was “so painful” to hear.

Ok, new hobby for me – reading Dickens aloud.

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

Not welcome at tryouts for the football team

Jun 24th, 2013 6:35 pm | By

Girl likes football. Girl plays on team in 6th grade. Girl gets kicked off team in 7th grade because Impure Thoughts.

A private school outside Atlanta recently informed 12-year-old Madison Baxter that she would not be welcome at tryouts for the 7th-grade football team, even though she started on the sixth-grade team and has been playing football since second grade. The reason she won’t be allowed on the field? Because her male teammates are beginning to have “impure thoughts” about her, Strong Rock Christian Academy school administrator Patrick Stuart told Baxter’s mother.

Uh huh. And that’s not Christian, so female people have to be kept at a distance. In the kitchen, once the war is won, but in the meantime – at least off the fuckin football team. If God wanted girls to play football God would have sealed over their naughty bits with cement.

Baxter’s case, now part of a Facebook page pushing the school to “Let her play,” is unfortunately not unique: A Philadelphia youth league banned an 11-year-old girl last fall before reinstating her after a nationwide petition drive called attention to her case. And the logic behind Baxter’s case, sadly, isn’t unique either. The misguided assumption that the problem is the person who is “different” rather than those who are incapable of accepting and adjusting to the difference has been used to urge gay players to remain in the closet, lest they become a distraction, and to keep female reporters out of male lockerrooms.

But everything is perfectly fine just the way it is right now, and that includes with Madison Baxter off the football team. Anybody who says it isn’t is just a troublemaker. God doesn’t like troublemakers.

Go Like that Facebook page. It was 16 thousand something a few minutes ago when I shared it, and it’s now 17 thousand something. The numbers are rocketing. Tell Strong Rock Christian Academy what you think of this crap.


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

Next weekend

Jun 24th, 2013 5:43 pm | By

The schedule for Empowering Women Through Secularism is online.

Saturday 29th of June

9.30am-10.15am - Introduction – Annie Laurie Gaylor

10.15am-11.30am  Session 1 – Reproductive rights and Irish abortion law Ophelia Benson, Clare Daly, Anthea McTiernan, Ailbhe Smyth, Doctors for Choice

11.45am-1 pm - Session 2 – Secular Values in Society Leonie Hilliard, Nina Sankari, Farhana Shakir, PZ Myers

2.15pm-3.30pm - Session 3 – Separation of Church and State Ann Brusseel, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Rebecca Watson, Michael Nugent

4.45pm-6.00pm - Session 4 – Human Rights Jane Donnelly, Maryam Namazie, To Be Confirmed, Dan Barker

6.15pm-7.00pm - Keynote Speaker – Taslima Nasrin

Sunday 30th of June

10.15am-11.30am - Session 5 – Politics and Campaigning Rachel Donnelly, Maryam Namazie, Ann Marie Waters, Carlos Diaz

11.45am-1pm - Session 6 – Finalising the Declaration Panelists representing outcomes of each of sessions 1-5

2.15pm-3.30pm – Session 7 – Review of Conference and What Next Kate Smurthwaite, others to be confirmed

3.30pm – 4.15pm - Closing speeches

This is going to be great.

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


Jun 24th, 2013 3:37 pm | By

It’s supposed to be a good thing to accept apologies, isn’t it? I’m seeing a lot of bizarre grumbling, and accusations of “back-pedaling.” It’s not back-pedaling to accept an apology. Jeez. And another word for “back-pedaling” is just “changing your mind” (ok three words), and changing your mind when there are reasons to do so is also supposed to be a good thing. It’s not “back-pedaling” unless you have shitty reasons for it.

This morning on Twitter.


Ron Lindsay tweets [in reverse, hence chronological, order]

My apology re talk at WIS2 was not a victory or defeat for anyone; it was not forced or half-hearted; it was an expression of my heart

Secularists of good will need to try to find common ground and move forward; the community is heartsick and discouraged by the acrimony

Rare is the occasion when I reference (favorably) a verse from the New Testament, but I will here: Matthew 5: 23-24

 Well then.

I replied

@RALindsay Thank you. I mean, THANK YOU.

Yes let’s. Let’s do that, I say!

Oh crap, now I have to get the Gideon.


I actually do reference the NT favorably fairly often. There are some good phrases in there, in the KJV.

You want Matthew 5: 23-24?

23 Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;

24 Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.

Amanda Marcotte has also accepted.

As one of the people who [was] openly calling for Ron Lindsay’s resignation after his unfortunate, condescending behavior at the Women in Secularism conference this year, it would be consistent for me to stick by that position now that he’s apologized without resigning. But consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, and after reading his apology and his defense of it on Twitter, I have one thing to say:

Apology accepted. Thank you, Ron. Apologizing is hard, and you sucked up and did it. I will now take back my demands for your resignation and return to supporting the Center for Inquiry and all the great work they do.

So, good.

Now I have to run to the store to find a gift to bring to the altar.



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

The people have bought into the evils

Jun 24th, 2013 12:11 pm | By

In Ireland a group of priests – who have an official group, called Association of Catholic Priests, ACP, which makes it official and substantial and everything – got together with some other priests and mostly a bishop except for that one bishop who had to be somewhere. They got together and talked about things, and then issued a report on the things. This is that report on things.

They talked about how being a priest isn’t a red-hot popular career these days.

There is no doubt that priests are under great pressure, and that was generally acknowledged.  But we did meet with a fair degree of disagreement with our analysis of the situation. There seems to be a substantial number of bishops, and some priests, who believe that the problems we are facing are not due to any difficulties in the Church or with the priesthood, but are caused by a lack of faith in the people.  The people, they told us, have bought into the evils of materialism and consumerism, and don’t have time or interest in faith any more. They have, to all intents and purposes, become pagan.

Because those are the only two choices – being goddy, or being consumerist.

To their credit, the Association priests disagree.

It is a convenient belief, in that the blame lies elsewhere than among ourselves.  But, apart from stating their understanding of the problem, there didn’t seem to us to be any practical ideas, or indeed energy, around how this evangelisation could be progressed.  One bishop told us bluntly that he totally disagreed with our analysis, and another felt that dialogue with us would be very difficult while we held such unacceptable views about priesthood. We consider there are real problems here for the Irish Church. If there are such radically different understandings of the current situation, it is hard to see how we can make headway in working towards a solution.

Deep rifts.

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

The Apostasy Project

Jun 24th, 2013 11:50 am | By

Caspar Melville talks about what the Apostasy Project can do, and what it can’t.

Since we launched our funding drive for the Apostasy Project – our initiative to help those who feel trapped in their faith and want to leave – we’ve received a lot of messages of interest and support. Two hundred people have so far donated, and as of writing we are at just over £4,000, which is 20% of our target of £20,000.

Along the many messages of support and offers of help we we also get messages like this:

I am an ex Muslim living in Kenya. I am in the closet because if I go public I will lose my job, my children, my security and even my life. Would you please advice and assist me.”

They goes on to say that they feel their only option is to look for asylum in a more liberal country, and to ask for our assistance in this.

The Project can’t give assistance with asylum, which is heartbreaking, but true.

That’s one of the things Michael DeDora and I talked about at WiS2. There are so many people who would like to escape theocratic oppression…and it just isn’t possible for CFI or any other non-profit to help all of them emigrate. It’s horribly sad.

But messages like this – and we’ve had many from all over the world – do show how widespread the problem of people being trapped within faith is, and why something like the Apostasy Project is necessary. While there is much we won’t be able to do, we can provide resources, personalised advice and a sense that there are people out there who have gone through the same thing, people who care. We can provide some hope.

So for those who have contacted us asking for specific help with asylum or financial assistance I hope you understand why we can’t do this. But we want you to know that we support you in your plight and that it’s worth persevering.

We still have a long way to go until we can really get going offering this support. We need another £15,000 and though we are in talks to get additional grant funding we won’t succeed without the financial support of concerned individuals. So please donate if you can, and spread the word.

Apostasy solidarity forever.


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

We’re making progress

Jun 23rd, 2013 4:12 pm | By

Guest post by Martha, originally a comment on Stephanie’s post Apologies Are Hard.

I think those who wish to reject Ron’s apology are forgetting that the goal here is not to have a movement only for feminist atheists, but to bring together a large coalition of people committed to social justice and atheism. Such a movement cannot exist without a commitment to feminism. Nonetheless, our culture makes such a commitment difficult for many decent and otherwise reasonable people – all the other side has to do is say “shrill” and all the buttons are pushed for many white men of privilege – and not just for white men of privilege.

I started reading atheist blogs – mostly here at FtB – about the time that DJ Grothe started blaming people calling for sexual harassment polices for the dropoff in women’s registration at JREF. I was appalled, but unsurprised by some of the misogynistic responses during the arguments that followed Groethe’s boneheaded statement. What really upset me, though, was the hyperskepticism of so many toward the feminists.

That didn’t surprise me; it’s pretty much a normal day at the office for someone in academic chemistry, but it did make me almost stop reading atheist blogs altogether. Yeah, I have to put up with this at work, but I don’t have to put up with it in my free time. I reasoned that with both atheist groups and UUs, there is a segment of the population I agree with pretty much completely, and a segment that drives me crazy. With the UUs, it’s the woo crowd that drives me crazy, and with the atheists, it’s the antifeminist/libertarian strain. I was willing to self-identify as a UU, because I shared a commitment to social justice and the inherent dignity of women even with those who I wished were more rational. I wasn’t willing to self-identify as atheist with those who promote or condone antifeminism.

There are basically two reasons I stayed and have slowly become more increasingly involved. First, I saw a couple clips from the first WiS conference and realized that there are many people involved in the atheist movement who share my values. The clips also made it clear that there are a lot of intelligent, witty and fun women in this movement, and I’ve enjoyed getting to know many of you better through your writings, and, more recently, in person at WiS2.

The second reason I stayed – and this is more relevant to the current discussion – is even during the worst of the battles, people like Stephanie and Greta convinced me that we’re making progress. I started to see comments from men who explained that their minds had been changed during these discussions, and I watched many of these men become strong advocates of feminism in atheism. I found that incredibly encouraging, and it’s a fight I can take part in. It was pretty clear to me that a split between those who embrace egalitarianism and those who don’t would eventually lead to a larger, more productive community than an atheist community so worried about divisions that it was willing to countenance MRAs and other misogynists and their apologists. Yes, a split at some level has to happen, but the end goal is to become the mainstream segment of the atheist community as the other groups become increasingly marginalized. How long it takes for that to happen depends a great deal on how much of the current movement is willing to get on board.

The question is not about whether there are enough people out there to build such a movement, but about whether current instituions are capable of leading such a movement. Abandoning institutions with similar goals is a measure designed to (a) get those institutions to respond to under-served groups or (b) lead to the formation of newer institutions who can lead professionally. Those are not necessarily mutually exclusive goals.

I take Ron Lindsay’s apology as an important sign that, whether or not the CFI board as a whole is listening to feminst atheists, he cares enough about the feminist atheists who work for him to put his ego aside and begin to listen. Yes, we might wish that this weren’t as difficult a task as it is, but I think we nonetheless have to give him credit for moving in this direction in spite of the difficulty.

I don’t mean that it’s not necessary to develop institutions with a primary focus on feminist atheism; indeed, I think we’ll need effective institutions that lead in this area. And, yes, I’d be more inclined to give my financial support to those institutions than to CFI or American Atheists. But I contributed to AA to show my appreciation for Dave’s support of the feminist community.  I think I will now follow Stephanie’s lead and make a contribution to CFI earmarked for Melody’s salary.

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

The shamed person has nowhere to go

Jun 23rd, 2013 3:46 pm | By

More from Mistakes Were Made.

Chapter 6 is on self-justification in marriage, but it applies to other kinds of relationships too. One particularly striking observation is on page 171.

Social psychologist June Tangney has found that being criticized for who you are rather than for what you did evokes a deep sense of shame and helplessness: it makes a person want to hide, disappear. Because the shamed person has nowhere to go to escape the desolate feeling of humiliation, Tangney found, shamed spouses tend to strike back in anger.

One which ends with “you must be reprehensible to humiliate me this way.”

Well yes. Shaming and humiliation prompt especially strong anger.

By the time a couple’s style of argument has escalated into shaming and blaming each other, the very purpose of their quarrels has shifted. It is no longer and effort to solve a problem or even to get the other person to modify his or her behavior; it’s just to wound, to insult, to score. That is why shaming leads to fierce, renewed efforts at self-justification, a refusal to compromise, and the most destructive emotion a relationship can evoke: contempt.

And contempt spells doom.

It’s interesting, isn’t it. It’s ammunition for Dan Fincke’s civility pledge and all that, because it argues that the move from criticism of behavior (or ideas) to criticism of who the person is will do nothing but inflame, and inflaming leads only to doom.

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

Wherever she chooses

Jun 23rd, 2013 2:54 pm | By

A sign on a bus in Israel:

Photo: When the wrong admin has to travel and then moves house, the result is a few weeks silence, now broken. This snapshot illustrates the state of play in the Israeli bus segregation issue. The sign reads "Every passenger may sit wherever he chooses (with the exception of those places marked for people with disabilities), harassment of a passenger on this matter may be considered a criminal act." Other than the (somewhat misleading) use of the male gender for the passenger, a step in the right direction.

Translation: “Every passenger may sit wherever he chooses (with the exception of those places marked for people with disabilities), harassment of a passenger on this matter may be considered a criminal act.”

“He” is the wrong pronoun there, but good about the sign.

Photo and translation by Gnu Atheism.

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

The intersection between rationalists and feminists

Jun 23rd, 2013 12:39 pm | By

Jason discusses Ron Lindsay’s apology and, while accepting it, suggests ways to expand it.

“My talk repeated tropes that are used against feminists and feminism in many of the same ways that creationists attack atheism and evolution. Accusations of dogmatic atheism, suggestions that Piltdown Man disproves evolution, and accusations of attempting to control the scientific discourse by not ‘teaching the controversy’, all would have been as ill-received at an atheists’ convention as were my assertions about dogmatic feminism and silencing of men was received by the feminists in attendance. Knowing that the conference we’d put together would specifically attract the intersection between rationalists and feminists, raising the spectre of the more irrational complaints against this crowd was every bit as ill-received as it should have been.”

I think that part about attracting the intersection between rationalists and feminists is absolutely key. I’ve been wanting to tell Ron the same thing ever since the talk. I think now the lines are open again, and I think he’ll listen.

It’s as if he’d forgotten what kind of people are drawn to CFI in the first place. Here’s a hint: it’s not woo-huggers! It’s not people who love bad arguments or woolly legless generalizations. It’s people who want reasoned discussion, not people who break out in hives at the very thought of such things.

There is one fundamental commitment. Notice I didn’t say dogmatic, I said fundamental. (Well there’s probably more than one, but I’m talking about the one that’s a stumbling block for some people – but not, I think, for Ron.) It’s the commitment to equality, or to egalitarianism. That brings with it, however itchy it makes some people, worries about under-representation. It’s always been my understanding that that’s why a conference specifically by and about women was seen as a good idea.

But none of that means that the women who would be interested in participating in such a conference would be dogmatic woo-heads, because the conference would still not be at the Center for Dogmatic Woo. People who like dogmatic woo aren’t drawn to CFI. People who are drawn to CFI aren’t drawn to dogmatic woo.

The conference that actually took place demonstrated that. It was a fantastic conference. I look forward to being able to post the videos that will show that.

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

Correct, diplomatic, and timely

Jun 23rd, 2013 10:07 am | By

Reactions from the other direction also give us reasons to take Ron’s apology as genuine.

Like this for instance:


Center for Inquiry @center4inquiry tweets

CEO Ron Lindsay apologizes. This weekend, Ron also gave a heartfelt apology in person to CFI staff and branch leaders

Russell Blackford @Metamagician tweets

@Center4inquiry This was a terrible thing for Ron to do. He has handed a victory to the people who bully, vilify, and intimidate.

What a horrible thing to say. Even what Ron said to CFI staff and branch leaders is terrible? Russell is so confident that all the staff and all the branch leaders are completely wrong to be upset about anything that he knows it was terrible for Ron to apologize to them? I don’t see how he can possibly know that, and I don’t see how he can possibly be unaware that he doesn’t know that, so I don’t see how he can reasonably make such a sweeping and savage assertion.

He goes on in the same vein.


Russell Blackford @Metamagician tweets

By giving an apology, @RALindsay hands a victory to people who trash and vilify opponents for reasonable disagreement.

There was nothing wrong with @RALindsay’s remarks. They were correct, diplomatic, and timely. He should withdraw his apology.

@RALindsay should not have apologised for anything.

You know…I’m all for internationalism, but internationalism doesn’t mean just brashly meddling in other people’s organizations and internecine quarrels from the far side of the planet. That’s colonialism rather than internationalism. I’ve never been able to understand why Russell feels entitled to meddle so energetically in the affairs of US secularist organizations. I don’t feel entitled to do that when it comes to UK or Indian or Australian organizations. Why does Russell carry on as if CFI were accountable to him?

I don’t know.

Note: avoid name-calling if you respond. Seriously.

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


Jun 23rd, 2013 9:29 am | By

So now I think my post yesterday on Ron’s apology was too grudging. It read as chilly to me then, but see Stephanie’s post for reasons to think it’s not.

Some specifics on the remarks and the circumstances surrounding them.

  • While the remarks don’t contain much in the way of specifics, the apologies there are solid apologies. I’ve heard them referred to as not-pologies. They are not. They apologize for both the behavior and the results of that behavior.
  • CFI is holding a branch leaders meeting at the moment. Several people who are there are telling me (in varying degrees of public settings) that discussions there have been intense. They are also confirming that when Lindsay says he’s starting to understand what the letters told him. He is listening again.
  • Lindsay has apologized to CFI staff. Official communications from CFI refer to this apology as “heartfelt”, and people at the meeting confirm this. Both in terms of professionalism and in terms of him dealing with people I care about, this is huge to me.

Yes. The hell with being grudging. I apologize for being grudging. I take it back.

Amy too is optimistic.

You know what would be great for WiS3 (assuming it happens)? Martha Nussbaum and Christina Hoff Sommers doing a dialogue.



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