Notes and Comment Blog

Time check

Mar 28th, 2013 5:19 am | By

I’m leaving for the airport in three hours.

I just thought you’d like to know that.

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

Speaking out

Mar 27th, 2013 5:13 pm | By

Waleed Al-Husseini

Leo Igwe

Marie-Thérèse O’Loughlin

Maryam Namazie

Gina Khan



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

Power to the fertilized eggs

Mar 27th, 2013 4:56 pm | By

So in North Dakota, as I mentioned in passing a few hours ago, the legislature has decided to define eggs as people.

North Dakota lawmakers voted on Friday afternoon to pass a “personhood” abortion ban, which would endow fertilized eggs with all the rights of U.S. citizens and effectively outlaw abortion. The measure, which passed the Senate last month, passed the House by a 57-35 vote and now heads to a ballot vote, likely in the next November election.

The fertilized eggs have all the rights of US citizens with the result that their mothers don’t. All rights for the egg, no rights for the woman the egg is in. The egg is everything the woman is nothing. Some twelve or thirteen years down the line, that egg herself might get pregnant, and goodbye her rights – she’ll be nostalgic for the time when she was just a fertilized egg and had all the rights of a citizen.

A personhood ban could have far-reaching consequences even beyond abortion care, since it will charge doctors who damage embryos with criminal negligence. Doctors in the state say it will also prevent them from performing in vitro fertilization, and some medical professionals have vowed to leave the state if it is signed into law.

Fewer but better North Dakotans.

There’s more.

Lawmakers endorsed a fourth anti-abortion bill last week that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy based on the disputed premise that fetuses feel pain at that point. The governor stopped short of saying he would sign it, but said: “I’ve already signed three bills. Draw your own conclusion.”

The signed measures, which take effect Aug. 1, are fueled in part by an attempt to close the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo — the state’s only abortion clinic.

Or they could just send all pregnant women to prison.


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

Not a dry eye in the house

Mar 27th, 2013 4:36 pm | By

The Onion…

Supreme Court Justices Brought To Tears By Heartfelt Testimony Of Bigot Who Hates Gay People

WASHINGTON—Listening to oral arguments Wednesday regarding the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, all nine Supreme Court justices were reportedly moved to tears by the heartfelt and highly personal testimony of a bigot who despises homosexuals unreservedly. “It’s impossible for anyone who hasn’t spent their whole life in a state of benighted prejudice to know the pain and hardship that people like myself endure every day in our efforts to ensure that gays and lesbians remain oppressed and unequal,” said the immense homophobe, whose stirring, emotional speech about his harrowing daily struggles to impede social progress prompted a weeping Chief Justice John Roberts to halt the proceedings briefly so that he and the 500 individuals in attendance could compose themselves.

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

This thing is not like the other

Mar 27th, 2013 11:52 am | By

Now look here. Politicians get caricatured. There’s a long and glorious tradition of caricaturing politicians. Right? Right.

Therefore, bloggers should get caricatured too. It’s the same thing, after all – being a politician and being a blogger.

Or is it?

No, actually. It’s not. Being a blogger isn’t the same as being a politician.

Frankly it wouldn’t occur to me to caricature a blogger. It wouldn’t occur to me to caricature anyone (even a pol, actually) because it sails way too close to plain old meanness. It would feel awful, for that reason – it would be like pinching a smiling baby or kicking a friendly dog. It makes me flinch just to imagine doing it.

That’s not to say I have any delusion that I’m a super-nice person. I can get very pissy when exasperated. But sit down in cold blood to caricature an ordinary private person? That pissy I’m not.

I think saying “wull politicians” is complete bullshit.

One of the nameless people commenting on Michael Nugent’s blog – nym “Cian” – is a bullshitter of that stripe.

Regarding this issue of “”harassment”” through cartoons of public bloggers like PZ Myers and Benson, by the same token do you think cartoons of politicians ( who are “real people” too, whether you like them or not ) mocking and satirizing their work should not be done?

Please. I’m not Obama, I’m not Romney, I’m not even a North Dakota rep who voted to pass a fetal personhood bill.

And caricatures don’t mock and satirize the work, they mock and satirize the person, including the person’s face.

My face in the Peezus and O “cartoons” is not my face; the photo was doctored.

The photo:


The doctored version.

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

Distinctions, always distinctions

Mar 27th, 2013 10:28 am | By

Adam Lee did a post in Amy’s series a week ago and I missed it. (Too busy stuffing my face with cupcakes, probably.)

Most of us became atheists for intellectual reasons, because we find the arguments for theism unconvincing, or for moral reasons, because we find its teachings intolerable. But it seems to me that there’s a small number of men (and a smaller number of women) who are atheists purely because they delight in being offensive, because they believe no one has the right to tell them what to do. They think this community is a place where they can indulge those impulses: where they can be as crass and boorish as they want, where they can leer at or hit on women in any way they want, or cheer on those who do. And too often, we’ve seen that when women object to this treatment, however politely, they become the targets of a campaign of violent threats, abusive hate mail and dehumanizing filth.

It’s even trickier than that, because there is some merit in being “offensive,” depending on a lot of particulars. But there’s offensive and then there’s offensive. There’s telling the Catholic church it’s an evil institution, and there’s telling a particular nun that she’s ugly and repellent. Or to put it another way, there’s offensive and there’s mean. The people Adam is talking about are blind to that distinction.

But the sexists are not the future of atheism. No matter how much noise they make, they’ll never be anything but an ignorant, resentful minority. I’m confident that most atheists are good, decent people who don’t condone harassment. But to those good and decent people, especially us atheist men, I want to say this: This isn’t just a women’s fight, it’s your fight too. We all have a stake in the future of this movement, so raise your voice, speak out, make yourself heard! Call out the trolls and the harassers; tell them that their behavior is wrong and unacceptable. Don’t sanction them by your silence. They do what they do because they believe that it’s socially condoned, that people who don’t speak up must approve of their behavior.

Don’t sanction them by your silence. And you know what else don’t do? Don’t encourage them by your “dialogue.” Don’t say “we have to start somewhere” when the somewhere in question is just more of the same old harassment. Don’t talk about “grievances” on “both sides.” Don’t encourage the harassers.

On the surface this fight is about the treatment of women, but ultimately it’s about what kind of community we want atheism to be. Do we want it to be an insular and impotent subculture, where we do nothing but complain that the world doesn’t understand us? Or do we want it to be a mass movement that fills streets, that strikes fear in the hearts of theocrats, that shifts the course of history? If we’re willing to do the work necessary to broaden our appeal as much as possible, to make the atheist community a welcoming and tolerant landing place for all kinds of people, it can be the latter. If we divide ourselves and chase away allies by allowing prejudice and hate to spread unchecked, it can only be the former.

To put it another way, you gain harassers but you lose people who dislike harassment. Is that really a good bargain?

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

How can we be multicultural if we don’t allow sharia?

Mar 27th, 2013 9:39 am | By

Anne Marie Waters had a depressing experience a couple of weeks ago.

On Sunday, I spoke at the University of Kent’s Critical Law Society conference under the heading of ‘Equality: Are We There Yet?’

I was invited to speak alongside pro-sharia advocate Aina Khan (more on her later) and a PhD student (more on her later as well) and found myself in a not-too-unfamiliar situation of having to argue against domestic violence in opposition to a room full of “feminists”.

Having described how sharia family law in Britain allows men to beat their wives – as the testimony of women who have been through it confirms – the “feminists” weren’t quite sure whether or not they disapproved. I was met with highly accusatory questions such as How can we be multicultural if we don’t allow sharia?, and comments such as We must tolerate … well, pretty much everything from what I could make out. With the mumblings and applause in favour of my opponents, I was left in no doubt as to the company I was keeping.

Here’s how it seems to go: “We are feminists. We are incredibly right-on. We read the Guardian. We disapprove of women’s breasts getting a public airing and we strongly object to the fact that boards of directors are not 50% female. We will go absolutely ballistic if anyone dare understate how vile domestic violence is, or attempt in any way to justify it. We are feminists you see. Oh, but only when it comes to white women – did we mention that?”

I think I understand where it comes from. (I’m sure so does Anne Marie.) Muslims are underdogs here (here=at the University of Kent; the UK; “the West”; the developed world, the first world, the rich world). There is racism and xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment. We mustn’t add to it by being critical of sharia.

It comes from a benign place, but it’s not benign itself.

I must talk a little more about Aina Khan – Britain’s favourite sharia-loving lawyer who is making quite a name for herself in such circles. I’ve heard Aina speak many times but this weekend her comments were even stranger than usual. This time, upon realising she was defending the indefensible, Khan stated that she doesn’t send her clients to the Islamic Sharia Council or the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal; the two largest sharia court bodies in the country. What they’re doing isn’t proper sharia, she said. It’s strange how this only came to light after I had read out the quotes condoning domestic violence and marital rape from ‘judges’ of both the Islamic Sharia Council and the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal (people Khan has previously boasted about how wonderfully respectfully they treat her, but this time denied having any contact with them).

Anne Marie is having an effect then! Good. But not good that Aina Khan is dodging and weaving. Another thing to keep an eye on.

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

The pulchritude of Mo

Mar 27th, 2013 8:58 am | By

A very pointed Jesus and Mo today.


Aha. It makes him look like Jesus’s wife, and thus his subordinate.

Think about it, Mo.

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

Guest post: what harassment really is

Mar 26th, 2013 4:35 pm | By

Guest post by Tom Foss.

Quoting “vjack”


Harassment involves repeated, unsolicited behavior in which the target is demeaned, threatened, or offended in such a manner that a hostile environment is created for the target.

I wonder if Vjack’s workplace ever includes presentations on sexual harassment. If it does, I wonder if he just spends his time during them sleeping or doodling, because even cursory attentiveness would show what kind of bullshit this is. “Repeated” is often the case (and includes microaggressions that add up to create a hostile environment) but is not a necessary component–and, in fact, the sources I found (like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) don’t include “repeated” as a condition. Instead, the necessary components are severity and pervasiveness (1, 2, 3), with repetition figuring (as one of multiple components) into the “pervasiveness” aspect.

Harassment often involves repeated behavior, but not always. No HR representative worth their salt (and wishing to avoid a legal conflict) would tell a complainant “Well, no, you see, they have to tell you how much better that outfit would look on their floor twice” or “Yes, but if Peterson only called you a ‘lazy w*tb*ck’ once, there’s nothing I can do.”

If we put these pieces together, we’d end up with an understanding of harassment as a pattern of repeated, behavior in which the harasser intentionally acts in such a manner that a reasonable person would find threatening, annoying, intimidating, alarming, or offensive.

More bullshit. Nothing in the law suggests that there must be one “harasser;” in fact, that’s the whole point of the “hostile environment” model of harassment–that there are a variety of aggressions which contribute to an overall air of hostility. The “pattern of repeated behavior” need not come from any one person, but can be a result of many people.

The behavior would need to have no other purpose besides impacting the target in this manner,

Bullshit. I mean, this would be great for harassers, right? “When I told her to bend over to pick up those files, I just wanted the files cleaned up!”

and typically, the behavior would be intrusive in some way. If the target has to go out of his or her way to discover the behavior, odds are pretty good that it is not even close to harassment.

So it’s okay, for instance, to hang pornographic images in the stalls in the men’s room, because women won’t see that, right? It’s okay, even, to write long, lewd screeds about the dirty things one imagines their coworkers would do for money, as long as it’s somewhere in the building that they won’t see? If I trade e-mails with all the white coworkers sharing racist jokes where a PoC coworker is the punchline, it’s okay as long as no one tells him about it?

See how well that flies in a workplace, or a courtroom. Because at the very least, such conduct forms an important piece of the context of more overt harassing behavior, and would serve as evidence of a pattern. Maybe “did you know they photoshopped your head onto a whale’s body and hung it up in the men’s room?” won’t come out until you’re filing a grievance over someone dumping a bag of pork rinds into your cubicle, but it would be pretty bad for the harassers when it did.

It’d also be bad for the employer for allowing/not preventing it in the first place, but that’s a little outside the scope.

Of course, by restricting his discussion to “harassment” and the legal definition thereof, Vjack’s missing that a good deal of this falls under the umbrella of bullying, which is related but distinct.

I’ll note the irony of steve harping about “vanity searches” when so much of the Slymepit oeuvre is about the nonstop monitoring of anything an “FtBully” says so they can snark about it. The mental gymnastics of “there are loads of Ophelia Bensons” while ignoring that only one of them uses those particular pictures and avatars, ought to earn a gold medal. Again, flashbacks to grade school. “You can’t prove we were talking about you!”

As to the list:

  1. I think you’ll find that repeated/constant name-calling would result in a hostile environment and would form grounds for a harassment case.
  2. If this were all that were happening, we’d have a very different conversation right now. Then again, if every time a Hispanic employee walked into the lunchroom, his coworkers were all talking about how the “illegals” need to learn English or go home, I think he’d probably have a case too.
  3. Yeah, guess again–whether it’s Harriet Hall’s exercise or the kids who wear “It’s okay to not be gay” and “straight pride” t-shirts to schools, the effect is to intimidate and contribute to a hostile environment.
  4. See #3.
  5. That’s…weird.
  6. Ah, right, the old “public figures” gambit. It was dumb before, it’s dumb now. And again, if one posted a bunch of “satirical” pictures of their supervisor in a lunchroom depicting them as a portly slave driver to protest working conditions, it doesn’t make it any less of a contribution to a hostile environment, even if it is about an issue important to the community.
  7. Oh just fuck off. If you can’t “defend yourself” without invoking Nazi Commie Witch-hunters, you don’t have a place in the conversation.
  8. Depends on the content & context of the review, I suppose.
  9. See #5.
  10. Hold on, I’ve got to set up a Vjack parody account so I can tweet things under his name.
  11. Depends on the content & context. And, of course, the “accuracy.” There’s nothing “inaccurate” about that quote that creationists use about Darwin and the eye, but it doesn’t make their use legitimate.
  12. Depends on the content and context of the “silly images.” If you’re making those “silly images” to call people old/pigs, then yes, it may contribute to a hostile environment.
  13. Depends on the content of the forum, now, doesn’t it?

The thing Vjack seems to mistake (going all the way back to his fallacious assumption that there must be one “harasser” involved) is that you can take all these things in isolation. You can’t. The whole point of “hostile environment” harassment is that a number of factors contribute to a sense of hostility and unwelcomeness. Any one of his bullet points there might be fine in isolation. In isolation, most don’t amount to a case for harassment (some, however, clearly do). But the notion of a “hostile environment” considers the larger context and pattern of those instances. And when you have, say, a dozen things that, each considered on its own, might not be harassment alone, happening to the same group of people? Well, that creates (say it with me, folks) a hostile environment for those people.

But it sure was nice of Vjack to compile such a long (albeit woefully incomplete) list of microaggressions, even if he doesn’t understand how they add up into a hostile environment.

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

So what’s the other side like? Ask Surly Amy

Mar 26th, 2013 4:07 pm | By

It’s psychic Surly Amy!

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

Understanding understanding harassment

Mar 26th, 2013 10:14 am | By

Update March 27 – the tweet was a mistake, and does not reflect AAI’s views on harassment. See comment 33.

Update 2 See also AAI’s post on the subject.*


Aaaaaaaaand there’s this.


Atheist Alliance Int

Understanding Harassment | Atheist Revolution

And it links to the article at Atheist Revolution. There “vjack” explains what harassment is. Guess what!! It just so happens that it’s none of the things that the people I call harassers are doing to us! Is that a coincidence or what.

No, it’s not. It’s the whole point. Understanding Harassment=harassment is not what I’m doing to you.

How fucking convenient.

vjack is worried about the word.

The word “harassment” is being thrown around quite a bit these days in the online atheist community. I find this troubling for two reasons. First, accusations of harassment are highly inflammatory and typically lead to an abrupt end to any discussion in which they occur, followed by increased polarization by the parties involved in the discussion. When the accusations were truly warranted, this may be unavoidable; however, unwarranted accusations seem to be surprisingly common and can do real harm. Second, harassment has legal implications in that it is defined as a criminal offense in most jurisdictions. Because of this, we should exercise caution about using the term to describe all behavior we do not like and reserve it for the occasions where it is clearly appropriate (i.e., real harassment).

Just as we should distinguish between real rape and the other kind, which is just a bit of fun with some drunk girl who shouldn’t have gone to that party in the first place because football.

According to, legal definitions of harassment vary from state to state but it “is generally defined as a course of conduct which annoys, threatens intimidates, alarms, or puts a person in fear of their safety.” They go on to explain:

Harassment is unwanted, unwelcomed and uninvited behavior that demeans, threatens or offends the victim and results in a hostile environment for the victim. Harassing behavior may include, but is not limited to, epithets, derogatory comments or slurs and lewd propositions, assault, impeding or blocking movement, offensive touching or any physical interference with normal work or movement, and visual insults, such as derogatory posters or cartoons.

Huh. There are quite a few items in that list that match exactly what I’ve been calling harassment: epithets, derogatory comments or slurs, and visual insults, such as derogatory posters or cartoons.

vjack adds some refinements.

  • Harassment involves repeated, unsolicited behavior in which the target is demeaned, threatened, or offended in such a manner that a hostile environment is created for the target.
  • Harassment can involve speech (e.g., threatening statements, derogatory cartoons) as well as observable behavior (e.g., touching, physical interference with someone’s movement).

If we put these pieces together, we’d end up with an understanding of harassment as a pattern of repeated, behavior in which the harasser intentionally acts in such a manner that a reasonable person would find threatening, annoying, intimidating, alarming, or offensive. The behavior would need to have no other purpose besides impacting the target in this manner, and typically, the behavior would be intrusive in some way. If the target has to go out of his or her way to discover the behavior, odds are pretty good that it is not even close to harassment.

Ah what do you know – that link in “go out of his or her way” leads to a post by another nym, “unbelieve steve” this time, about…me. You can tell it’s about me because of the title. Ophelia Benson takes offense to parody accounts she scoured the interwebs to find.

Ok before I read that post, I’ll say – yes, I keep track to some extent of what kind of shit people are saying about me on the interwebs. It’s a meme among the harassers – yes, the harassers – that this is me doing “vanity searches.” Vanity! Hardly. And there are reasons for trying to keep track of shit people say about you in public. I don’t think I’ll even bother explaining that, because it seems pretty obvious.

[reads] Oh look, there it is already – “vanity search.”

A truly amazing feat. Ophelia Benson makes it her god given right and duty to conduct vanity searches for any mention of her name in any form of digital conversation.

She goes one step further and scours twitter feeds and monitors satirical accounts for the slightest WTF comments to be offended by.

Two satirical twitter accounts engage in a comedic conversation completely unrelated to any direct reference to the real Ophelia Benson.

I must say the back and forth by the two parody tweeters left me chuckling whilst enjoying my morning coffee.

Ophelia took offense to the content of the conversation and decided this is something that needs to be documented on her blog as some sort of proof of harassment.

“Two satirical twitter accounts engage in a comedic conversation completely unrelated to any direct reference to the real Ophelia Benson” except for the fact that both of them use my real name.

The fantasy world these people live in, where a person’s real name is completely unrelated to the real person.

Ophelia Benson is not a name exclusively owned by just one person. Census statistics show that in the United States alone, 17490 entries recorded for the use of “Ophelia” as a first name. “Benson” is not rare, showing 84233 instances recorded. Vital records show 31 entries for “Ophelia Benson” recorded in the United States. I feel ya O’Feel’ya, but a person is not identified by name alone. Impersonation is hardly the correct term to describe the parody accounts. One’s a pope and the other a parody Nazi nincompoop.

TIP: Stop doing vanity searches. Stick to blogging, and if at all possible, try keep it on topic of “free thought”. Just sayin’.

No harassment there! Nothing to see here folks, move along, keep the sidewalks clear.

So vjack draws on this scholarly and thoughtful source to explain that harassment you keep track of is not even close to harassment.

And then he moves on the the specifics.

Behavior That is Clearly NOT Harassment
Some of the behavior I have seen being labeled as harassment that does not appear to warrant the label, no matter how objectionable it may be, includes the following:

  1. Using the #FtBullies hashtag on Twitter.
  2. Expressing disagreement with someone’s position, no matter how cherished that opinion might be (e.g., one’s religious beliefs or one’s preferred brand of feminism).
  3. Wearing clothing with social or political messages, including those that are critical of a particular group, to a conference.
  4. Wearing “fake jewelry” to a conference.
  5. Inserting yourself into someone else’s conversation and making absurd accusations against them.
  6. Using mockery or satire in one’s work to lampoon public figures, call attention to relevant issues in the community, etc.
  7. Defending oneself against public criticism from others.
  8. Critiquing someone else’s public work (e.g., writing a book review).
  9. Calling someone a misogynist because they had the nerve to disagree with Rebecca Watson.
  10. Running a silly parody account on Twitter.
  11. Accurately quoting someone.
  12. Making silly images to mock someone.
  13. Belonging to an Internet forum.

Item 7 is weirdly gratuitous, because the link is to Shermer’s eSkeptic piece that shouts at me. It’s gratuitous because no one ever called it harassment, that I know of.

Some of the items are true enough if that’s all there is to it – but if it isn’t, they’re not. Others are highly dubious even if you don’t know they’re part of a pattern and practice of extended non-stop harassment. Making images to mock people? That’s just self-evidently not harassment? Certainly not.

So the “dialogue” proceeds.

*AAI’s post didn’t sit well with everyone.



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

Dedicated dialogue

Mar 26th, 2013 8:42 am | By

It’s still going on, Michael Nugent’s project to create a “dialogue” between harassers and the people they harass. He doesn’t call it that. In fact he doesn’t call it anything – he’s being so carefully neutral that he refers to it as just two “perceived sides.”

I find the whole thing rebarbative, because nearly all the participation so far is by people who have been harassing me and others for months–>almost two years now. I don’t want to talk to them. I don’t want to talk to them on the forum they set up to harass me and others, I don’t want to talk to them here, I don’t want to talk to them on Twitter, I don’t want to talk to them under the auspices of Lee Moore and his friends, and I don’t want to talk to them on Nugent’s blog. Nugent is doing this over the heads of the people who have been and still are being harassed. It’s not two “sides”; it’s people harassing and people being harassed.

So far all the project has accomplished is to give the harassers a new and much better place to post their “grievances”…and their compliments to each other on the quality of their harassment. Like just now, on this new post of Nugent’s announcing a new phase and a new website – we get a compliment to “Skepsheik” -


Phil Giordana March 26, 2013 at 10:14 a.m.


(Love your Peezus and O series, so that’s out of the way).

Ah yes, “Skepsheik”‘s Peezus and O series, Yes who could fail to love that, when it’s so witty and sophisticated and sharp?



That’s it, the whole brilliant series.

“Dialogue” – seriously?

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


Mar 25th, 2013 5:37 pm | By

Desperate Syrian women who find themselves refugees in Jordan can…sell themselves or their daughters, for usually a very small sum of money.

Her daughter Aya is their best hope.

“My daughter is willing to sacrifice herself for her family,” Nezar says. “If the war had not happened I would not marry my daughter to a Saudi. But the Syrians here are poor and have no money.”

Nezar’s daughter is 17. The Saudi groom is 70.

Maybe he’ll turn out to be a nice guy.

The surplus of desperate Syrian refugees means marriage has become a buyer’s market with some grooms offering as little as $100 cash for a bride.

The legal age of marriage in Jordan is 18 but some religious clerics will marry underage girls for a small fee. This puts the girls at even greater risk for exploitation because some of Um Majed’s clients want a temporary union lasting a few weeks or months after which the girl is returned to her parents.

In other words, it is religiously sanctioned prostitution.

“One of my brides has been married three, four times,” Um Majed says. “She is 15.”

So her family maybe got 400 whole dollars out of the deal.

“I have 10 families looking for grooms,” she says. “Their girls are between 12 and 21. The grooms are always in their 40s, 50s, or 70s. They want beautiful girls, the younger the better.”

She pauses and takes a drag of the cigarette.

“The Saudis usually ask for 12-year-olds.”

Oh do they.

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

Thinking fast and slow and gun lobby

Mar 25th, 2013 4:23 pm | By

David Robert Grimes has the unmitigated temerity to consider evidence for claims that guns make us safer.

Academics such as John Lott and Gary Kleck have long claimed that more firearms reduce crime. But is this really the case? Stripped of machismo bluster, this is at heart a testable claim that merely requires sturdy epidemiological analysis. And this was precisely what Prof Charles Branas and his colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania examined in their 2009 paper investigating the link between gun possession and gun assault. They compared 677 cases in which people were injured in a shooting incident with 684 people living in the same area that had not suffered a gun injury. The researchers matched these “controls” for age, race and gender. They found that those with firearms were about 4.5 times more likely to be shot than those who did not carry, utterly belying this oft repeated mantra.

Yes but that’s all those other people. That’s statistics. I am different. If I had a gun I would use it the right way and never get overconfident or belligerent and never accidentally shoot my foot off. By the same token, if I opened a restaurant, it would succeed, and if I gambled invested in the stock market, I would make millions, and if I smoked, I would get healthier.

This result is not particularly unexpected. Prof David Hemenway of Harvard school of public health has published numerous academic investigations in this area and found that such claims are rooted far more in myth than fact. While defensive gun use may occasionally occur successfully, it is rare and very much the exception – it doesn’t change the fact that actually owning and using a firearm hugely increases the risk of being shot. This is a finding supported by numerous other studies in health policy, including several articles in the New England Journal of Medicine. Arguments to the contrary are not rooted in reality; the Branas study also found that for individuals who had time to resist and counter in a gun assault, the odds of actually being shot actually increased to 5.45 fold relative to an individual not carrying.

Well…the thing to do then is just make sure that the people who can affect the legislation are hindered from finding out about all these pesky studies.

Until the 1990s, research into gun violence wasn’t a threat to the gun lobby, because it essentially didn’t exist. Most policymakers and public-health specialists viewed gun injuries simply as accidents that couldn’t be prevented.

But a group of CDC researchers disagreed, viewing gun injuries instead as predictable and preventable—and seeing a desperate need for rigorous research into how reduce them.

“We said, there’s two injuries that are the leading cause of death in the U.S. right now: cars and guns,” recalled Mark Rosenberg, who helped establish the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC), in part to study gun violence. “We spend hundreds of millions on cars, we spend nothing on guns.”

And so, the NCIPC began collecting data on gun violence, as well as funding outside research on the subject, including the two studies led by Kellermann. “It was producing very, very helpful information,” said Rosenberg.

But in doing so, thanks in part to the Kellerman studies, the agency provoked the ire of the gun lobby. After Republicans won control of Congress in 1994, lawmakers allied with the NRA zeroed in on the NCIPC. “There was an immediate push not just to stop gun research, but to terminate the entire center,” Kellermann recounted.

Shoot that god damn messenger, eh?

Ultimately, NCIPC survived, but in 1996, Rep. Jay Dickey, an Arkansas Republican and the NRA’s point man in Congress, engineered an effort to cut $2.6 million from its budget—exactly the amount it had spent on gun violence research the previous year. (The funding was later restored by the Senate, but earmarked for traumatic brain injury, ensuring it couldn’t be used for gun violence work.) And the following sentence was added to the law funding CDC: “None of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”

No stinkin’ research for them. Shut it down.

Shaming, isn’t it.


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

Learn to spot the signs

Mar 25th, 2013 2:53 pm | By

Remember the Islamic University of Gaza? That the LSE Student Union twinned with a few days ago? The Boston Globe did quite a flattering piece on it in February 2010.

The first sign that this is a different place from the Western universities it resembles comes when a bell rings in the library. Quickly the students on odd-numbered floors  – all men  – gather their books and file into the stairwells. Women file in to take their turn. In keeping with a puritanical interpretation of Islamic law, men and women aren’t allowed to study together, so they switch floors every two hours. They lounge in separate student unions and eat in separate cafeterias. At intervals during the day, the call to prayer sounds from the minarets of the campus mosque, and classes come to a halt.

Their strict observance might sound extreme, but the Islamic University is no fringe institution: It’s the top university in Gaza. The majority of students here study secular topics; not all of them are even religious. If you want to get a degree in Gaza, a territory that is home to more than a million people, it’s simply the best place to go.

At the same time, the university is something else again: the brain trust and engine room of Hamas, the Islamist movement that governs Gaza and has been a standard-bearer in the renaissance of radical Islamist militant politics across the Middle East. Thinkers here generate the big ideas that have driven Hamas to power; they have written treatises on Islamic governance, warfare, and justice that serve as the blueprints for the movement’s political and militant platforms. And the university’s goal is even more radical and ambitious than that of Hamas itself, an organization devoted primarily to war against Israel and the pursuit of political power. Its mission is to Islamicize society at every level, with a focus on Gaza but aspirations to influence the entire Islamic world.

The language is…odd. It’s odd to talk of a “renaissance of radical Islamist militant politics.” Do newspapers talk about a “renaissance of fascist militant politics”? I don’t think they do, I think they use words like return or resurgence or rise instead of renaissance.

In recent decades, as Islamism has grown from a set of isolated radical movements to a fully realized political philosophy, its powerful fusion of intellect, pragmatism, and fundamentalist faith has refashioned societies from the Gulf to Turkey, Egypt to Pakistan. For outsiders who want to understand its power and appeal, the Islamic University of Gaza is probably the best place to begin.

There again. The wording veils the sinister quality of the “ fully realized political philosophy” that’s at stake here.

When the Islamic University was founded in 1978, there wasn’t a single institution of higher education in the Gaza Strip. Its founders were members of the militant Muslim Brotherhood, believers that society should be organized according to Koranic principles, and they conceived the university as a sort of greenhouse for their brand of pure, uncompromising Islamism.

There again. Evasive. Silent about what kind of “pure, uncompromising” we’re talking about.

The male students wear the uniform of contemporary Islamism: pressed dress shirts, modest polyester jackets, baggy trousers, clean-shaven faces or short, trimmed beards. The women all wear head scarves. Their dress and professional demeanor are meant to connote not only modesty and seriousness of purpose, but also engagement with the modern world. Like Hamas, the university embodies a brand of Islamism advanced through earnest, utilitarian labor, not by a radical rejection of modernity. The prayer beads and austere white robes of the otherworldly Salafist movement are as unusual here as they would be on a totally secular campus.

That’s “engagement with the modern world”? Gender segregation, all women in hijab? That’s not the modern world that I know of.

To the extent that students rebel here, it’s against what they view as the secular excesses of the outside world. These university students support arranged marriage, Saudi-style morality police, and a hard-line theology that sees even their own religious parents as insufficiently pious. This campus culture might surprise an American or European public steeped in a history of libertine student activism, but in the Arab world for half a century, the idea of rebellion against authority has been closely associated with Islamists, the only constituency prepared to confront the region’s ossified authoritarian dictators.

This kind of activism meshes perfectly with the university’s most ambitious goals. “Our role as a university is to empower people, by teaching them to reform their lives in line with the revolutionary side of religion,” explains the associate dean, a British-educated political scientist named Waleed Al Modallal.

This marks a change for Palestinian society, which traditionally has bred political militancy but not religious fanaticism. Today new generations of Palestinian leaders are steeped not only in the struggle against Israel, but in a current of Islamist thought. The young learn the benefits of prayer, a lifestyle free of alcohol and fornication, and ultimately, Modallal says, will embrace Islamism in all aspects of life, from armed resistance against Israel to quotidian matters like marriage and banking.

Libertine? Fornication?

In any field  – including math, engineering, and medicine  – scholars are expected to consult the Koran, or Islamic jurists, as well as academic texts. In the natural sciences, the results don’t look all that different from scholarship in the West, such as a recent research study that assessed the value of a particular protein for diagnosing rheumatoid arthritis. But in the social sciences, the imperative of hard-line Sunni Islam has yielded a body of work with a nearly Soviet ideological rigidity and predictability. One paper in the Series of Islamic Studies “proves” that a country’s social development increases in proportion to the number of people who memorize the Koran. Another considers and dismisses Shia Muslim conceptions of the attributes of God for “contradicting the Koran” and other canonical Islamic texts.

Many students at the Islamic University see themselves as a privileged elite with an obligation to help the transnational “ummah,” or global Islamic community. Almost every student I met  – I was only allowed to speak to men  – expressed a desire to continue his studies abroad.

Dude! You were only “allowed” to speak to men! That is not “engagement with the modern world.”


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

He was just trying to compliment you

Mar 25th, 2013 11:53 am | By

Ah yes – the ever-popular “random man tells woman to smile” number.

When I did not smile (I continued looking for my keys in my purse and avoided all eye contact, in fact), he told me my “pretty face was going to waste.”

Ah, no. It’s not. It’s being put to good use keeping her eyes in their right place so that she can see to find her keys and make her way around, and keeping her mouth where it belongs so that she can eat. It’s not going to waste at all. Its function isn’t to provide something for that random man.

There are lots of comments. Some are interesting.

  • A guy did this to me recently as I passed him on a sidewalk, and I was so thrown that I actually did smile a little. Then he frowned and said “No, that looks fake.”
  • Oh, god. I don’t even want to see the array of comments about how dude meant no harm, feminists are crazy, yadda yadda. You people don’t get it. It’s basically a command to play cute for a random guy. Hard to imagine a random street guy telling another man to smile? There’s a reason for that. Fume.
  • It must be tricky to get through each day when every interaction is forcibly turned into a power struggle.

    He was just trying to compliment you.  He did not literally mean your face is a waste unless you are smiling.  All he did was call you pretty.  You brought all the drama.

    I love how people say the Seattle Freeze is not real when I read things like this.  This could not be more passive aggressive.

He, a complete stranger and random person, was just trying to compliment you. And we all want complete strangers trying to compliment us on our appearance (by ordering us to smile)?

Think, people. It’s not that difficult.

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

What blocks empathy?

Mar 25th, 2013 10:08 am | By

It can be so puzzling, looking back at even quite recent history, trying to figure out “what were they thinking?” What were the people who ran Irish industrial “schools” thinking when they treated the children like shit? What were the people who screamed abuse outside Little Rock High School in 1957 thinking? What were the people who owned slaves thinking? What were the people who sold slaves thinking? What were the people who captured human beings and sold them into slavery thinking?

What were the people who stole children from unmarried mothers in Australia thinking?

Hundreds of mothers and their families gathered yesterday to hear a historic national apology from Australia’s prime minister Julia Gillard. Forced to give up their babies, these women were among the thousands of young mothers who endured a cruel and often illegal approach by governments, churches, hospitals and charities towards pregnancy out of wedlock in Australia from the 1950s to the 1970s, whereby unmarried mothers were coerced or deceived into giving up their babies to adoption by married couples.

I could see what they were thinking if it were a question of pressure and persuasion. I wouldn’t agree with it, but I could see it. But it wasn’t a question of pressure and persuasion.

The stories are nightmarish – from the abandonment by furious families of frightened, pregnant daughters into homes for wayward girls, to the truly excruciating accounts of the births themselves, where young girls were drugged during labour and forcibly restrained with pillows over their faces so they could not see their babies as they were born. It says something about how intentional the shattering of the maternal bond was that mother and baby were not even allowed to lay eyes upon one another.

One mother interviewed in the Senate committee report described what it was like to know what was coming during your pregnancy:

“I’d lie in bed every night with my arms wrapped around my baby inside of me knowing that I would never hold him after birth. I’d feel his feet and hands through my own stomach as he moved around, knowing that I wasn’t ever going to feel them after he was born. I’d talk to him and tell him that I would find him again one day and that I and his father loved him.”

The more young women resisted, the greater the malice against them – babies were pulled from clinging arms, moved to different hospitals, and dishonestly recorded as dead so as to stop young women continuing to fight for them. For the mothers who experienced these events, even the term “forced adoption” is too soft; “kidnapping newborn babies” is how they describe it.

That’s why it’s hard to figure out what they were thinking: because you would think compassion or empathy would get in the way, and it’s hard to see what kind of thinking would trump the compassion or empathy.

Maybe disgust helped. Maybe they saw the girls and young women as so disgusting that it blocked or reduced the compassion or empathy. That probably answers the other ones, too. If you feel enough disgust or contempt or hatred for a person or set of people, then your capacity for empathy may be impaired.

Andie Fox goes on to say much the same thing, but in slightly different terms.

These stories illustrate a frightening capacity to dehumanise women from the institutions involved. That these women’s own communities would believe mothers could possibly get past an experience like that, let alone forget it entirely upon leaving the hospital, is extraordinary.

It is. Hence the “what were they thinking?” Disgust is probably part of the answer.

It seems to be very, very deeply-rooted, this ready disgust for women and girls in connection with sex.

Not surprisingly, the experience of forced adoption has for many led to pathological levels of grief. An abyss of trauma opened up in their lives that engulfed the babies’ fathers, other family members, future siblings, and in many cases even the adopting parents and adopted children themselves. One mother, Julienne, described her haunting loss: “I always felt the weight of a ghost baby on my arm and never left a room without feeling that I had left something behind”.

Disgust is the parent of a lot of monsters.

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

Foote was defying a longstanding taboo

Mar 24th, 2013 3:54 pm | By

I’m reading a little book published in 1982: Vision and Realism: a hundred years of The Freethinker, by Jim Herrick.

There are some things that sound very familiar, amusingly so.

Foote joined with G.J. Holyoake when the two of them started the Secularist in 1876. They parted after two months, differing over the extent to which religion should be attacked…[p 6]

Oh yes? So it’s not just us, and it’s not just Paul Kurtz and Madalyn Murray O’Hair. It feels vaguely reassuring to know that.

The extent to which freethought journals should be aggressively anti-Christian was – and has remained – contentious. [p 9]

And in Foote’s case it was so contentious that he was sent to prison for a year for “blasphemy.”

In criticising religion by ridicule and sarcasm, Foote was defying a longstanding taboo. He challenged the assumption, which even respectable agnostics held, that religious views should be treated with reverence. He sought to establish that religion is a social phenomenon which should be open to the same range of comment, from vigorous intellectual analysis to polemical jibes, as other aspects of human behaviour. [p 10]

Very familiar.



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

It is revelation to that person only

Mar 24th, 2013 12:05 pm | By

I’ve always liked Thomas Paine’s point about revelation in The Age of Reason.

Every national church or religion has established itself by pretending some special mission from God, communicated to certain individuals. The Jews have their Moses; the Christians their Jesus Christ, their apostles and saints; and the Turks their Mahomet; as if the way to God was not open to every man alike.

Each of those churches shows certain books, which they call revelation, or the Word of God. The Jews say that their Word of God was given by God to Moses face to face; the Christians say, that their Word of God came by divine inspiration; and the Turks say, that their Word of God (the Koran) was brought by an angel from heaven. Each of those churches accuses the other of unbelief; and, for my own part, I disbelieve them all.

As it is necessary to affix right ideas to words, I will, before I proceed further into the subject, offer some observations on the word ‘revelation.’ Revelation when applied to religion, means something communicated immediately from God to man.

No one will deny or dispute the power of the Almighty to make such a communication if he pleases. But admitting, for the sake of a case, that something has been revealed to a certain person, and not revealed to any other person, it is revelation to that person only. When he tells it to a second person, a second to a third, a third to a fourth, and so on, it ceases to be a revelation to all those persons. It is revelation to the first person only, and hearsay to every other, and, consequently, they are not obliged to believe it.

It is a contradiction in terms and ideas to call anything a revelation that comes to us at second hand, either verbally or in writing. Revelation is necessarily limited to the first communication. After this, it is only an account of something which that person says was a revelation made to him; and though he may find himself obliged to believe it, it cannot be incumbent on me to believe it in the same manner, for it was not a revelation made to me, and I have only his word for it that it was made to him.

When Moses told the children of Israel that he received the two tables of the commandments from the hand of God, they were not obliged to believe him, because they had no other authority for it than his telling them so; and I have no other authority for it than some historian telling me so, the commandments carrying no internal evidence of divinity with them. They contain some good moral precepts such as any man qualified to be a lawgiver or a legislator could produce himself, without having recourse to supernatural intervention. [NOTE: It is, however, necessary to except the declamation which says that God 'visits the sins of the fathers upon the children'. This is contrary to every principle of moral justice.—Author.]

When I am told that the Koran was written in Heaven, and brought to Mahomet by an angel, the account comes to near the same kind of hearsay evidence and second hand authority as the former. I did not see the angel myself, and therefore I have a right not to believe it.

When also I am told that a woman, called the Virgin Mary, said, or gave out, that she was with child without any cohabitation with a man, and that her betrothed husband, Joseph, said that an angel told him so, I have a right to believe them or not: such a circumstance required a much stronger evidence than their bare word for it: but we have not even this; for neither Joseph nor Mary wrote any such matter themselves. It is only reported by others that they said so. It is hearsay upon hearsay, and I do not chose to rest my belief upon such evidence.

1793, he wrote that. Yet it hasn’t sunk in yet.

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

Read better

Mar 24th, 2013 10:47 am | By

The “Atheist Missionary” came back, to do two more pointless tweets at me, because that works so well. His tweets went so:

Your “bend a knee” comment suggests @michaelshermer somehow bows to popular figures in freethought movement or …

…it suggests that @michaelshermer expects you to bow to him. Both suggestions are BS, IMHO.

That’s why it’s stupid to try to have complicated arguments on Twitter. Another reason is that he left as soon as he fired those shots. There are so many reasons it’s stupid to try to have complicated arguments on Twitter.

I told him

No it doesn’t. It’s in direct response to his claim about “our most prominent leaders.”

 But it was futile, because no reply. Why do people do this?

Anyway, to repeat – what I said was in direct reponse to what Shermer said.

Shermer however genuinely does seem to think that “prominence” should confer immunity to challenge. After he mentions the putative purge of “such prominent advocates as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris” he says that “I have stayed out of this witch hunt against our most prominent leaders.” Our what? Whose “leaders”? I don’t recall joining any army, or even a party. I don’t consider Dawkins and Harris my “leaders”; I don’t consider anyone that.

No, I’m sorry, that won’t do. I’m not going to bend the knee to “our most prominent leaders” and I’m not going to refrain from criticizing them and go looking for less prominent people to dispute. On the contrary: the prominence itself is a reason to dispute a bit of thoughtless sexism. The honcho dudes are influential, so it’s all the more unfortunate if they’re recycling dopy sexist stereotypes.

What I said there suggests neither that Shermer “bows to popular figures in freethought movement” nor that he expects me to bow to him. What it suggests, if you’re paying attention to the words on the page, is that Shermer thinks it’s out of bounds to criticize things that “our most prominent leaders” – his words, not mine – say. My refusal to bend the knee is (surely obviously) a repudiation of the demand for deference implicit in what Shermer said. It’s not that difficult to grasp.

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