Notes and Comment Blog

A three legged dog

Apr 3rd, 2013 11:29 am | By

Oh lordy. An exchange on Facebook. (SIWOTI. I know. I know.)

I shared a link via Tarek Fatah, Muslim mob targets Christian locality in Gujranwala ‘for disrespecting Islam’.

Mr X: Do these people walk on their knuckles?

(Another friend posts a link to Buddhists target Sri Lanka’s Muslims.)

Mr X: The Buddhists are right to be concerned. Muslim men are savages.

(And he gives a link to Wikipedia.)

Ophelia Benson Oi! That’s WAY too general! And Buddhists in Sri Lanka have done their share of terrorizing and violence.

Mr X: Two wrongs don’t make a right.  If that list is too general for you how would you like me to make it more specific?
Are you aware of what Muslims are doing in Europe?

Ophelia Benson Yes, “Muslim men are savages” is way too general for me, thank you. See the “via” at the top? I found the link via a Muslim man. Tarek Fatah is no savage.

Mr X: I agree that Tarek Fatah is no savage but read the Koran regarding women’s rights and apostasy.
There’s the savagery.

Ophelia Benson I’m aware of the Koran. I posted the above link, after all! It doesn’t follow that your sweeping generalization is either true or a valuable thing to say.

I loathe Islam. That doesn’t mean I generalize about “Muslim men” and especially not in such a loaded way.

Mr X: I think it is possible you don’t understand the gravity of the situation. Do you think we should revere the Koran and allow Sharia Law in the US and Canada? You have not addressed the Muslim situation in Europe. Here in Canada our politicians are becoming concerned about our home grown Muslim terrorists in Iraq.

I told him to go look me up on Google before saying that.

Mr X: So why are you defending Muslims? Even Tarek Fatah doesn’t do that.

Ophelia Benson Oh really? Try telling him “Muslim men are savages” and see how well that goes.

You seem not to understand. Have you never heard of the concept of a too-broad generalization before? I’m saying “Muslim men are savages” is much too broad a statement. Do you really not see why? You concede that Tarek Fatah is not a savage. Well that means your statement is not true.

Mr X: You do not seem to understand. Should I say that dogs are four legged animals I am correct.
It does not matter a jot that you have three legged dog.




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

Welcome to North Dakota

Apr 3rd, 2013 10:29 am | By

Anything to declare?

Photo: Be careful if you were planning on visiting North Dakota any time soon...</p>
<p>In case you missed it: the latest on the attacks on women's health in ND:

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

Possible 10 years in jail for “defaming” a religion

Apr 2nd, 2013 3:48 pm | By

In Bangladesh, police have arrested three atheist bloggers for “defaming” Islam and Mo. This is at the behest of Islamists who want to impose their bullshit deference on the internet.

The arrest of the three, who were paraded in handcuffs at a news conference, followed pressure from Islamists who have organised a march from all over the country to the capital to demand the death penalty for atheist bloggers.

“They have hurt the religious feelings of the people by writing against different religions and their prophets and founders including the Prophet Mohammed,” said deputy commissioner of Dhaka police, Molla Nazrul Islam.

The three could face 10 years in jail if convicted under the country’s cyber laws which outlaw “defaming” a religion, Islam said.

Well the Islamists have hurt my secular feelings by imposing their baseless beliefs and pathetic slavishness on everyone within their reach.

Home Minister Muhiuddin Khan said the three arrested men were among 84 “atheist bloggers” named in a list handed over by an Islamist group to a government panel probing alleged blasphemy against Islam on the Internet.

“The arrests were made on primary information” and further investigation is underway, Khan said, adding the government would act toughly to prevent any attempt to upset “communal harmony” via the Internet.

Oh yes? Well Islam is a bossy domineering sexually warped abusive misogynist sack of shit. How’s that for blasphemy?

Meanwhile, a group of bloggers protested the overnight arrests of the three men and said their detention meant the government is caving in to pressure from Islamist groups.

“We demand their release. The future of Bangladesh is bleak if the freedom expression of the bloggers is curbed,” Fahmidul Haq, a blogger and Dhaka University professor, said at a news conference.

Haq said the lives of the 84 bloggers who were named in the list prepared by Islamists now were at risk.

Scores of bloggers held hands to form a human chain in Dhaka to protest the arrests while a popular blog site,, said it was shutting down until the bloggers were freed “unconditionally”.

The Islamists don’t own Bangladesh. Never lose sight of that.

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

Guest post: Give her a ringy-dingy

Apr 2nd, 2013 2:31 pm | By

Because it’s too funny to blush unseen in a comment, Anthony K on the coming utopia when we will all pick up the phone, instead.

This is great!

Problem with Jenny McCarthy’s anti-vaxxerism? Give her a ringy-dingy.

Don’t like Pope Francis’ take on condoms, abortion, or same-sex marriage? Call him up and say ‘Ciao’.

Ken Ham’s creationism got you down? Chat him up over coffee.

Unless one subscribes to a Manichean worldview in which there are atheoskeptics to which such friendly benefit-of-the-doubting applies and everybody else to which it doesn’t, these policies spell the end of professional atheoskepticism, ostensibly to be replaced by a massive call centre.

“Hi, Judd Miller? This is Anthony K, calling on behalf of the International Brotherhood of Atheists and Skeptics. Yes, I’m calling in regard to a recent rally you held to preserve the white race from Jewish infiltration? Yes, I’m calling to correct a few misapprehensions you may be holding about Jews—*click*! Damn.  *Dials another number* Hi, Judith Miller, this is Anthony K, calling on behalf of the International Brotherhood of Atheists and Skeptics. Yes, how are you? I’m sorry if I caught you at dinner and over a decade too late, but I wanted to chat with you about how you were wrong with regard to the WMDs—*click*! Damn. *Dials another number* Hello, Gregory Millhearn? Yes, this is Anthony K calling on behalf of the International Brotherhood of Atheists and Skeptics. I understand you wrote a letter to the editor in the Podunk Star Tribune Herald about a link between high voltage power transmission lines and birth defects in the latest litter by your cat mittens? Yes, I’m giving you the courtesy of a telephone call to correct some misinformation…”

But I am curious: if the idea is to protect the church from public embarrassment at all costs, why not just phone up the Vatican and get a copy of their handbook?

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

Wozzat down there?

Apr 2nd, 2013 12:52 pm | By

Hey guess what the plane flew over yesterday evening?

It was well on in the flight, and the medical emergency was under control, and we’d drunk our orange juice and left Texas behind and the land had turned red and was pretty flattish and empty and a bit dull, and I looked out again and saw a river ahead, and as we got closer I could see gently sloping walls above the river, which is a common sight, but then as we got more closer I started to frown and squint and think “that’s actually a pretty deep canyon…wait a second…wait why couldn’t that be the grand one? How do we know that’s not THE GRAND CANYON?” Just as I thought it the captain came on and said “Hi folks, we’re just approaching an arm of the Grand Canyon.”

W00t! Bucket list. I’ve always wanted to see that. Debbie Goddard and I were just talking about window geekery and wanting to fly over the Grand Canyon, on Saturday. Done!

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

Pick up what phone?

Apr 2nd, 2013 12:32 pm | By

Secular Woman also has a response to “An Open Letter to the Secular Community.”

Today, the leaders of several prominent secular organizations published a document titled “An Open Letter to the Secular Community.” Our name is not attached, and our members may be wondering why Secular Woman declined to endorse this document. As a secular organization, our mission is to amplify the voice, presence and influence of non-religious women. We recognize that part of our mission takes place in online communities. Although promoting better online communication is a worthy goal, we reject the current statement’s conception of civil discourse because we feel that it gives equal voice to the sexist ideas and beliefs that have been perpetuated as differing “interpretations” of feminism.

So let’s take a look at the open letter.

There’s a section for bullet points saying how to do things better.

• Go offline before going online: pick up the phone.
When you hear that an organization or member of our community is doing something that you think is wrong or bad for the community, call and talk with them, find out what they are actually doing and why they are doing it.  If you don’t have a phone number, send a private email and arrange a time to talk.  So much of the time there’s more to the story, and talking to another person on the other side of the issue can help us more fully understand the situation.  Plus, a phone call makes it easier for people who are making mistakes to change course, because they aren’t on the defensive as they would be after being called out publicly.

I wonder why they say when you “hear that”…Could it be in order to create the impression that hearsay and personal conversation are the only two sources of information? Often we know perfectly well that “an organization or member of our community is doing something that you think is wrong or bad” because it was done in writing, in a public place, and you have read the writing.

So that’s the first thing. It’s not alway gossip; often it’s in writing.

Second thing – if it is in writing, why should we “pick up the phone”? Not to mention the fact that we don’t all know each other personally. If we see a banker or a CEO “doing something that you think is wrong or bad” we don’t “pick up the phone”; we blog or tweet or set up a petition.

This is insider talk, boss talk, top down talk – “heads” talk. “We always have our reasons, little people, so if we do something you don’t like, be sure it’s for a reason, and call us or email us to arrange a chat but don’t ever go public with it, because We know what we’re doing and you are nobody in particular.”

On the other hand – there is this:

Unfortunately, the discussion of these issues has suffered from the same problems that plague online discussion in general—although arguably to a greater extent.  Some blogs and comments actually exhibit hatred, including rape threats and insults denigrating women. Hatred has no place in our movement. We unequivocally and unreservedly condemn those who resort to communicating in such a vile and despicable manner.

So that’s a start.

Update: Rebecca has a post. Dana has a post.


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

The big city

Apr 2nd, 2013 11:55 am | By

Wow, I’m amazed. I read some bit of promotional/informational bumf about Austin that was part of the hotel room furniture, and goggled at the bit that said Austin is #14 among US cities in population. What?! thought I. That can’t be right. There are too many other bigger cities in the way – Seattle being one.

But you know what? I’m wrong. I have a vague memory of Seattle being at about 17 or 19, but now I think about it that was probably decades ago. Anyway sure enough, as of 2010 (the last census) Austin is at 14; Seattle is at 23.

That still feels surprising. Austin’s downtown is weirdly diffuse, vertical only in spots. It has these shiny new condo towers but they’re all isolated. I went past all the super-tall ones west of Congress Avenue yesterday and they are bizarre – they sprout up in a nowhere-land, as if built after a bombing raid. No shops and fellow condos next door, but empty lots and the back of the power station.

And the airport is tiny. Ok, so I managed to figure that out…Seattle is in a very urbanized county, and maybe Austin isn’t, or maybe SeaTac is a hub and Austin isn’t, or maybe both. Anyway – thus we learn that my talent for seat of the pants demographics-estimation is nil.

I was surprised by a lot of the cities in the top 20. San Antonio! Jacksonville! Indianapolis!! (Indianapolis?! Seriously? How did that happen? Not St Louis or Minneapolis or Cleveland, but Indianapolis. Dang. I had no idea.)

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

Why the American Secular Census didn’t sign

Apr 2nd, 2013 11:29 am | By

Also there’s this:

Why the American Secular Census didn’t sign ‘An Open Letter to the Secular Community’

More later, but see what you think in the meantime. (Dang everything was busy while I was busy-elsewhere. How can I catch up if people won’t suspend activity while I’m otherwise engaged?! I ask you.)



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

Press release

Apr 2nd, 2013 10:21 am | By

I’m back!

More later.

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

Godlessness and the Boy Scouts

Apr 1st, 2013 4:37 am | By

One of the talks at the convention was Katherine Stewart’s about the Good News club and what it means; another was Margaret Downey’s about the Boy Scouts of America’s rejection of atheism and atheists. Katherine Stewart had a piece on the latter subject in the Guardian about ten days ago.

The BSA sent out a questionnaire recently to assess attitudes to its anti-gay policies.

There is a certain irony, of course, in using a questionnaire to establish individual rights. After all, the point of rights is to protect individuals and minorities against the tyranny of a majority. The irony is compounded by the fact that the Boy Scouts claims to be an organization dedicated to moral principles.

A similar irony is at work in the atheist (or skeptical) movement right now, in which one faction insists that treating women as equals is an “imposition” of a political ideology on unwilling victims. Yeah no. It’s not as if equal rights or equality or egalitarianism is an ideology while its opposite isn’t. I don’t want the ideology of not treating women as equals, either, so stalemate, so let’s choose the better option.

the questionnaire, like much of the coverage surrounding it, is silent about the role of religion in shaping the Boy Scout’s discriminatory policies in another area, one that is distinct from and yet intimately connected with its bigotry toward gay people.

Adult leaders in the Boy Scouts must sign a Declaration of Religious Principles, and Scouts must take an oath “to do my duty to God”. Both adults and children can and have been excluded from the organization for lack of belief in a supreme being (or beings). Neil Polzin, who had been in the Scouts for nearly two decades, says he was fired in 2009 from his job as an aquatics director at a Boy Scout camp and told to “sever any ties” with the organization after his superiors found out about his non-belief.

Even the irreligion of parents can be a basis for excluding children from the group. In 1991, 12-year-old scout Matthew Schottmiller was not allowed to renew his membership after it was learned that he was raised in a non-theist household. His mother, Margaret Downey – who was rearing her son to be a freethinker – filed suit. But the supreme court ruled in 2000 that, as a private organization, the Boy Scouts is free to decide their own membership criteria.

The supreme court is right – at least, in some sense. In the US, private groups can and should be allowed to control their membership without legal interference. On the other hand, private groups aren’t necessarily entitled to a congressional charter, regular support from government agencies, and endorsement from government officials – all of which the Boy Scouts do enjoy.

Also lots of respect and status and deference, all of which are open to debate given their warm embrace of religious and anti-gay bigotry.

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

Bat flight

Mar 31st, 2013 7:04 pm | By

I saw them! I saw the bats – the Congress Avenue Bridge bats. It’s the biggest urban bat roost in the country. Their twilight emergence is indeed spectacular. Smelly, but spectacular.

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

In the coffee area

Mar 31st, 2013 6:41 am | By

I just had a chat with the guy who came up with the idea of de-baptism.


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

Why the ____ community hates feminists

Mar 31st, 2013 5:24 am | By

The panel yesterday was fun, and it got a friendly reception. There are a lot of women here, on the stage and attending in general, with the expected result that it doesn’t feel like a frat house. There is at least one “get out of my clubhouse” type here though, and I cleverly managed to sit next to him at dinner last night. That was unpleasant.

Alice Marwick in Wired says that it’s a growing thing, which is sad to hear.

Rather than attempting to discern whether Richards was in the right or the wrong, I’ve been thinking about why the issue blew up and what it reveals. Because it’s far from the first time this kind of thing has happened. The Richards incident and resulting backlash not only reveals the lack of diversity and presence of misogyny in tech culture, but the myth of meritocracy and the growing belief in “misandry” online.

Regardless of the nuances of the incident, the fact remains that Richards faced a gargantuan backlash that included death threats, rape threats, a flood of racist and sexually violent speech, a DDOS attack on her employer — and a photoshopped picture of a naked, bound, decapitated woman. The use of mob justice to punish women who advocate feminist ideals is nothing new, but why does this happen so regularly when women criticize the tech industry? Just stating that the tech industry has a sexism problem — something that’s supported by reams of scholarly evidence — riles up the trolls.

One reason for this is the growing popularity of “Men’s Rights Activism” (MRA) — groups of men who refer to feminism as “misandry” and advocate vociferously that men face more discrimination than women. Its popularity is growing and is especially active online on sites such as Hacker News and Reddit, where much of the public controversy around Donglegate has played out in the comments. Even sites like GitHub, where the PyCon conference code of conduct was posted, are not immune.

Nothing is immune. But…here we still are. And we have better allies.

Marwick argues that the myth of meritocracy is central to the problem.

Yet the myth of equality persists, since the technology industry considers itself a meritocracy where the “good” ones — for example, talented engineers and programmers — will rise to the top regardless of nationality, background, race, or gender. When considering the dismal numbers of women (as well as African-American and Latino men) in tech, the meritocratic presumption is that these minorities aren’t good at or interested in technology; otherwise, there would be more of them.

If we admit there are structural barriers to entry, and a culture that actively discourages and women and men of color from participating, then it logically follows that technology is not a meritocracy. And this threatens many dearly held beliefs of technology workers: It suggests those at the top aren’t there because they’re the best, but because of hard work and privilege. It suggests that the enormous wealth generated by tech startups and founders isn’t justified by their superior intelligence. It requires change from a culture in which male normativity is, well, the norm — to a more inclusive one where penis jokes and booth babes are no longer acceptable (and the mere suggestion to discard them isn’t met with a hailstorm of protest).

In short, it requires geeks to re-examine their own revenge fantasies of being outsiders who now rule the world and admit that they might, themselves, be actively excluding others.

Their reward for doing so? More and better allies, friends, comrades.


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

Quel matin

Mar 30th, 2013 10:49 am | By

Katherine Stewart gave an amazing (and terrifying) talk this morning about the good news clubs and how they take over everything and trick small children into thinking they’re part of School.

I don’t have time to find it on this tragically slow notebook right now but I remember doing a long post on Stewart’s very long article on this subject when it came out a few years ago. If anybody would like to find it and post the link for us, that would be helpful. On the old B&W I think.

Hector Avalos did an amazing talk on religion and violence. Matt Dillahunty ditto on skepticism and atheism. Abby Hafer ditto on intelligent design and why it isn’t.

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


Mar 30th, 2013 10:38 am | By

Brilliant – the #AAcon13 hashtag is being invaded by harassers. A lot. Good thinking! Way to demonstrate to a whole bunch of new people just what we’ve been talking about! Way to get a big chunk of “the broader community” to think of you and your project to demonize us as a bunch of assholes with an asshole project.


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


Mar 29th, 2013 4:01 pm | By

Dave is pissed. A judge ruled in the World Trade Center cross case today – Dave was brandishing the actual ruling, with a big red blob visible on it (I’m assuming a seal). The judge dismissed it – the cross is just “secular.”

That’s such a crock of shit, just as it is with the ten commandments slab here at the state house – it’s highly conspicuous, there’s nothing secular apparent, and at the top it naturally begins with god god god god god. Worship god, have no other god, blah blah blah.  Secular?

This is why we need American Atheists.

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

Morning session

Mar 29th, 2013 9:36 am | By

I went to sleep very late last night and woke up very early so I was perilously close to falling asleep but then Anthony Grayling came in and sat next to me and Dave did his talk so I WOKE RIGHT UP.

It was a great talk. Dave’s a rouser, and a rouser is what we need, which is what he said. American Atheists is doing people like the Harvard Humanists a favor because now there are the bad atheists over here and the good atheists over here and what does that mean?

That there are good atheists!

You should say it in a shout, the way Dave does.

I was telling Anthony how Dave can stand up to O’Reilly, which hardly anybody is good at doing.

Near the end Dave said and also we need to work together, we need unity, so if you’re someone who is taking potshots at other atheists just because it’s fun, cut it out.


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

U mad bro?

Mar 29th, 2013 7:43 am | By

Aha. My response to Shermer’s response to me is now online.

At Free Inquiry

Outraged shouting and tweets and photoshops in 5, 4, 3….

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

And another thing

Mar 29th, 2013 7:36 am | By


My god the bird life here. I don’t know what the birds are – they’re not the birds you see in Seattle, so I don’t know. There’s a ubiquitous one that’s black with a long tail and a very loud voice. After I crossed the Congress Avenue bridge and Cesar Chavez Street I approached a cluster of oak trees on the corner and my god the din – it was an absolutely deafening racket of those black birds, whatever they are, shouting. You never hear bird noise like that in Seattle – let alone in downtown Seattle! It was very impressive and foreign and cool.

In the Capitol grounds there were a lot of mourning doves making that call. Also very nice.

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

What I saw

Mar 29th, 2013 7:25 am | By

1. On the Capitol grounds (which are very nice, very broad and seweeping and parklike) a memorial thing to brave…Confederate soldiers. Signed by Jefferson Davis.

Oh right. This is the Confederacy.

2. Also on the Capitol grounds, on the north side, a big granite slab with…the ten commandments.

Oh Dave, I thought. Actually I said, because there was no one around; it was very early. Oh Dave; got one for ya.

3. On Congress Avenue, a statue of a ragey woman firing a cannon.

She made me giggle.

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