Notes and Comment Blog

Its high price in terms of the misery and suffering it inflicts

Mar 7th, 2014 12:02 pm | By

More from that HRW statement to the Senate committee in 2012.

The proliferation of super-maximum security prisons is a symptom of profound problems in the nation’s prison systems. Beginning in the 1980s, exploding prison populations caused by increasingly lengthy sentences and diminished opportunities for early release, constrained budgets, inappropriately low staff-to-inmate ratios, and punitive correctional philosophies limited the ability of officials to operate safe and humane facilities. Many turned to prolonged solitary confinement in an effort to increase their control over prisoners. A significant impetus for super-maximum security facilities also came from politicians, who found that advocating harsh policies for criminal offenders was politically popular. Reluctant to be accused of “coddling inmates” or being “soft on crime,” few politicians have been willing to publicly challenge the expanded use of solitary confinement on human rights grounds.

Ok let’s take it back a step – why is that? If that’s the case here why isn’t it the case in Canada and Sweden and Japan and New Zealand? Why is advocating harsh policies for criminal offenders so politically popular here that politicians can’t resist doing it? And/or why are politicians here so unprincipled and self-centered that they can’t resist doing the popular but evil thing?

I don’t know what the answer is. Maybe it’s partly because US politicians rely so heavily on tv advertising and because the money for doing that is almost entirely unregulated. (Hello Citizens United, may you rot in hell.) Maybe it has to do with religiosity. Maybe it’s something in the water. I do not know.

There has been scant public debate until recently about the justification for prolonged solitary confinement, its high price in terms of the misery and suffering it inflicts, and the likelihood that it reduces an inmate’s ability to make a successful transition to society upon release. Judicial scrutiny has been limited by both the courts’ tradition of deference to the judgments of prison officials and by jurisprudence that sets an extraordinarily high threshold for finding prison conditions to be unconstitutionally cruel.

This Committee’s hearing marks the end of an era of uncritical acceptance of or indifference to the use of solitary confinement in US prisons. It is particularly welcome because of the Committee’s recognition that solitary confinement raises serious human rights concerns.

Right…I take it nothing much came of that.


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

A blot

Mar 7th, 2014 11:25 am | By

An item that’s been under my radar is the overuse of solitary confinement in prisons in the US. First there’s the radical, off the charts overuse of prisons themselves, then there’s the wild overuse of solitary in those prisons, and you have a shameful human rights situation. SHAMEFUL.

Fresh Air did a couple of interviews on the subject yesterday.

Human Rights Watch prepared a statement for a Senate committee in 2012.

Solitary confinement in US prisons is imposed for different reasons, but most commonly it is used as punishment for breaches of discipline (“disciplinary segregation”) or to manage prisoners considered to be particularly difficult or dangerous (“administrative segregation”).[4] The increase in solitary confinement in the United States has occurred primarily through administrative segregation, particularly the segregation of prisoners in special super-maximum security facilities built solely for this purpose. Indeed, in our judgment, the proliferation of super-maximum security facilities is the most troubling development in US corrections in recent decades.

Other developed countries don’t do this. They don’t throw people in solitary and leave them there. We actually have a constitutional amendment that forbids cruel and unusual punishment, yet here we are, resorting to this cruel and unusual punishment with wild abandon.

Although there are differences between the specific conditions of solitary regimes in different prisons, they share a basic model. Prisoners in solitary typically spend 22 to 24 hours a day locked in small, sometimes windowless, cells sealed with solid steel doors. They lack opportunities for meaningful social interaction with other prisoners; most contact with staff is perfunctory and may be wordless (such as when meals are delivered through a slot in the cell door). Phone calls and visits by family and loved ones are severely restricted or prohibited. A few times a week, prisoners are let out for showers and solitary exercise in a small, enclosed space, sometimes indoors. They often have extremely limited or no access to educational and recreational activities or other sources of mental stimulation, and they are usually handcuffed, shackled, and escorted by correctional officers every time they leave their cells. Assignment to super-maximum security facilities devoted solely to solitary confinement—e.g., Colorado State Penitentiary, Pelican Bay State Prison in California, or Tamms in Illinois—is usually for an indefinite period that often lasts for years.

In some prisons, prisoners in solitary can purchase radios or televisions; participate in educational and skills-enhancing in-cell programs; and access books, newspapers, magazines, and the like. In others, prisoners are denied access to anything more than the basic necessities of survival. The restrictions can exceed the fathomable. In Pennsylvania’s most restrictive units, for example, prisoners have all the usual supermax deprivations plus some that seem gratuitously cruel: they are not permitted to have photographs of family members or newspapers and magazines (unless they are religious).[5] In some prison systems, prisoners who follow the rules and who engage in prescribed programs can earn their way out of solitary; in others, prisoners can languish in segregation for years, even decades, with little idea of what—if anything—they can do to be re-assigned to a less harsh form of imprisonment.

Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib…and Pelican Bay and Tamms.

There is something wrong with us in this country.



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

Behold the great image of authority

Mar 7th, 2014 10:51 am | By

The bishops of the military will retain their grip on the prosecution or non-prosecution of sexual assault cases.

An ambitious bill seeking to stem the rise of sexual assaults in the military died Thursday after senators from both parties refused to limit the role of commanding officers in deciding whether to prosecute such cases.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) pushed the issue to prominence during this congressional session, arguing on behalf of victims who testified that they feared retaliation for pressing assault allegations up the military chain of command. Her bill — which won support from 17 of the 20 women in the Senate — would have shifted sexual assault investigations to military prosecutors.

Instead senators advanced a competing bill sponsored by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who agreed with military brass that removing commanders from investigations would undermine their authority with troops.

And failing to prosecute sexual assault won’t undermine their authority with troops? Which troops are we talking about? Are we assuming that most of the troops are sexual assaulters or fans of sexual assault? Are we assuming that a permissive attitude toward sexual assault is a majority view in the military? If so…might that undermine the authority of the military overall? Might it encourage endemic sexual assault in the military?

The scope of the problem was underscored late Thursday when the Army confirmed it was investigating its top sexual assault prosecutor, Lt. Col. Joseph Morse, on allegations of making unwanted sexual advances two years ago to a lawyer who worked for him.

“We can confirm that this matter is currently under investigation and that the individual in question has been suspended from duties, pending the outcome of the investigation,” an Army spokesperson said.

Also Thursday, Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair, one of the highest-ranking officers ever to face a court-martial, pleaded guilty at the start of his trial to several charges, including having an illicit affair with a female captain, impeding an investigation and pressuring other female officers to send him nude photos.

See what I mean?


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

Single-digit heaven

Mar 6th, 2014 6:29 pm | By

Wendy Doniger reports that Penguin’s failure to continue defending her book has caused it to…become much more popular than it was.

What is new, and heartening, this time is that the best are suddenly full of passionate intensity. The dormant liberal conscience of India was awakened by the stunning blow to freedom of speech that had been dealt by my publisher in giving in to the demands of the claimants, agreeing to take the book out of circulation and pulp all remaining copies.

I think the ugliness of the word “pulp” is what struck a nerve, conjuring up memories of “Fahrenheit 451” and Germany in the 1930s. The outrage had been pent up for many years, as other books, films, paintings and sculptures were forced out of circulation by a mounting wave of censorship.

My case was simply the last straw, in part because of its timing, just when many in India had begun to view with horror the likelihood that the elections in May will put into power Narendra Modi, a member of the ultra-right wing of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

If Mr. Batra’s intention was to keep people from reading the book, it certainly backfired: In India, not a single copy was destroyed (the publisher had only a few copies in stock, and those in bookstores quickly sold out), and e-books circulate freely. You cannot ban a book in the age of the Internet. Its sales rank on Amazon has been in single-digit heaven.

Streisand effect innit.

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

Pastor under fire for pro-LGBTQ stance

Mar 6th, 2014 6:04 pm | By

Sikivu Hutchinson tells an important story at Religion Dispatches.

On Sunday morning I went to a church service for the first time in decades.

I was there as a community member to support Pastor Seth Pickens of Zion Hill Baptist church in South Los Angeles. A few days before, I’d received an urgent plea from Teka-Lark Fleming, publisher of the local Morningside Park Chronicle newspaper, encouraging progressive black folk to show up at Zion Hill in support of Seth’s pro-LGBTQ stance.

After publishing a column entitled “The 10 Reasons I Love LGBTQ folk” in Fleming’s paper, Pickens came under fire from church officials.  The controversy erupted on the heels of internal criticism he’d received for performing a marriage ceremony for a lesbian couple last year.

Well yes; that would be a compelling reason to go to a church service.

The controversy at Zion Hill is emblematic of a national climate in which traditional black churches are increasingly being challenged on their homophobic policies. Nonetheless, the rhetoric that homosexuality is a white European phenomenon artificially imposed on African descent peoples is still a recurring theme in some black churches. Recently the ATLAH church in Harlem made headlines for a viciously homophobic marquee sign equating homosexuality with whiteness. And terrorist anti-gay legislation in Uganda and Nigeria (sparked and endorsed in no small part by the anti-gay crusades of white American evangelicals) has heightened the stereotype that both African and African descent people are inherently more homophobic than other groups.

Leo Igwe and Yemisi Ilesanmi have both written about this “homosexuality is un-African” bullshit. Props to Sikivu for doing what she can to support Pastor Seth Pickens.

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

Upskirt navigation

Mar 6th, 2014 5:45 pm | By

If there’s a thing too ridiculous and hostile and contemptuous to be said, you can be sure there will be people to say it. On Reddit. To be passed on by Manboobz.

Demonspawn [-1] 6 points 7 hours ago (26|20)  Wearing a skirt has consequences. If we use state violence to protect women from the consequences of her choice to wear a skirt, we remove her agency. This man didn't assault her, didn't touch her... all he did was take a picture of what her choice in clothing exposed to the public.  How is that criminal to the point of deserving of state violence upon him?  This is saying that protecting women from the consequences of their choices in clothing is more important than men's freedom.      permalink     save     source     save     give gold     hide child comments  [–]nigglereddit 5 points 6 hours ago (13|8)  You're absolutely correct.  If you wear clothing which exposes parts of your body from some angles, you have to expect that someone at that angle will see those parts of your body.  You can't tell everyone not to see you from those angles because you're not comfortable with that part of your body being seen; that's ridiculous. If you're uncomfortable it is your job to cover that part of your body.      permalink     save     source     save     parent     give gold  [–]DaNiceguy [-2] 4 points 4 hours ago (11|7)  Ah but you see the wrong man saw it. That makes him a criminal, right?

Her choice in clothing didn’t expose what he took a picture of to the public. He didn’t take a picture of her shins or her knees, he took a picture of the section of her that was under the skirt. It’s exposed to the sidewalk and the floor, but it’s not exposed to the public.

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

Massachusetts will no longer be a refuge for upskirters

Mar 6th, 2014 4:53 pm | By

The Massachusetts legislature fixed that particular omission.

Massachusetts lawmakers Thursday passed a bill banning “upskirting” in response to a ruling by the state’s highest court that said a law aimed at criminalizing voyeurism did not apply to the snapping of secret photos up a woman’s skirt.

The bill now goes to Gov. Deval Patrick, who has publicly committed to signing it, his office said Thursday.

The bill would make photographing or recording video under a person’s clothing illegal, according to a statement from the office of Senate President Therese Murray.

Good. Thank you.

By the way…Is it illegal in Massachusetts (and all the other states) to, for instance, drill a hole in a neighbor’s wall to insert a tiny camera for the purpose of spying on them? Is that covered by the law aimed at criminalizing voyeurism?


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

Register now!

Mar 6th, 2014 1:35 pm | By

It creeps me out to do this because it’s so me me me but Melody says it helps so I’m doing it anyway. If you’re planning to go to Women in Secularism 3 but haven’t gotten around to registering you should do it today if you want the chance to win a signed copy of Why Truth Matters.

Register here.

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

Help them pack

Mar 6th, 2014 12:05 pm | By

A very important thing, that I did not know about: the white man march.

If you go to the home page you will see a photo of four of the whitest white people anyone ever saw. They are dazzlingly white; whitely white white. They are posed as a family group but who knows if they are really a family. They could just be the four people who won the contest in each of four divisions:

  • whitest little girl
  • whitest little boy
  • whitest woman
  • whitest man

What Is The White Man March All About?

There’s an explanation or FAQ page for people who wonder what the white man march is all about.

The White Man March is scheduled for March 15th, 2014, and will involve coordinated pro-white activity around the world. The purpose is to spread information through activism, but also to make a statement that White people are united in their love for their race and in their opposition to its destruction.

Non-white groups such as La Raza have monthly marches and gatherings with many thousands of participants, while groups advocating for White interests remain relatively silent or hidden from the public. One of the major goals of the White Man March is to demonstrate that pro-White people are able to form a unified front and participate in large-scale action simultaneously, which will send a powerful message to our supporters, our enemies, and those of our race who are still on the fence. We also seek to set a precedent that other pro-white organizations can follow in the future.

Where’s the part about why it’s a white MAN march?

I guess that’s just taken for granted, because why would women be included? Crazy idea, amirite?

3. What are the main political and cultural statements you are hoping to make with the White Man March?

We are planning to show that White people are organized and impassioned, that we know what the anti-white agenda is all about, and that we are dedicated to waking up as many of our folk as possible. We will make it clear that we will not sit idly by as our race is discriminated against, mocked, displaced, and violently attacked, all of which amount to white genocide, according to the United Nation’s own definition of genocide. This is why one of our big messages, which will be displayed on many large banners, is “DIVERSITY” = WHITE GENOCIDE. These banners will spread the message to the public at large in the most effective way possible. This “diversity” agenda is being directed at white countries (and only at white countries) with various programs to ensure that there are less white people at schools and in the work force, which is unfair and discriminatory, taking away money and opportunities from the indigenous white people. “Diversity” is a codeword for White Genocide.

The indigenous white people. This is an American group, a US group, and this guy thinks white people are indigenous here. Oy

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

Guest post: Knowing everything is just not possible

Mar 6th, 2014 11:20 am | By

Originally a comment by mildlymagnificent on Or even another Tosh.

My own feeling about the far too many self titled skeptics that I deal with online is that they’ve not really learned to be appropriately skeptical. The first and most important lesson for a real skeptic is to acknowledge that it is no longer possible, if it ever really was, to be a “renaissance man” or a fully rounded autodidact.

There really is a limit to how much of the available knowledge and skill in any given topic a non-expert can acquire. So the first responsibility of being skeptical is as accurate an assessment as possible of one’s own expertise.It really doesn’t matter how clever you are or whether you’ve acquired advanced qualifications of various sorts. Knowing everything is just not possible and you mustn’t let yourself fall into the trap of thinking you can know everything.

To be thoroughly and conscientiously skeptical, you have to develop the skill needed to judge the value of the baying hordes of people claiming expertise in all sorts of areas. If you prefer to say that you can’t venture an opinion until you’ve worked whatever it is out for yourself, then you’re abrogating your responsibility to stick with properly evidenced positions. You simply cannot check all the work of all the astronomers and microbiologists and road builders and physicists and veterinarians and sociologists and epidemiologists and car mechanics and agricultural hydrographers and your own doctors, you have to pick and choose.

It’s how well you pick and choose the experts you will listen to and how you go about judging the quality of the evidence you rely on that makes you properly skeptical. Not a cynical dismissive waving away of everything you’ve not seen with your own eyes or worked out for yourself from first principles. That’s not skeptical. That’s being arrogant or suspicious or untrusting or fearful or some mixture of any of those.

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

Another “feminists should stfu” message

Mar 6th, 2014 10:27 am | By

So, it’s International Women’s Day on Saturday. Well how fucked up is that, am I right? When is it ever International Men’s Day? When is it Rich People’s Day? White People’s Day? Straight People’s Day? Are we not all human beings???

Fortunately, the president of the Humanist Society of South Australia, Justin Millikan, is on the case. He posted a super-appropriate item on the HSSA page to make this very point. What super-appropriate item is that? A link to an article with the brilliantly aphoristic and wise title:

It is about humanism, not simply feminism

Oh, yes; thank god somebody said that at last. The hell with all this feminism and anti-racism and anti-colonialism and gay rights, the hell with anti-poverty campaigns and affirmative action for dalits and First Nations and indigenous Australians; it is about humanism, period.

Elle Hardy writes:

It is assumed that all women want equality, when many of us simply want opportunity. Indeed there are many of us who stridently oppose quotas, and who believe the merit of the individual should be the sole determinant of success.

Damn, why didn’t I think of that? How stupid of me to think genitalia or skin color or country of origin should be the sole determinant of success.

Except I didn’t think that. What I did think is that the merit of the individual is already not the sole determinant of success, it’s just that people like to assume or pretend it is when in fact other factors play a part in whose “merit” gets evaluated at all. There are filters on who gets called for an interview that are not labeled “merit” but rather things like “similar to me” and “the kind I want to have lunch with” and “the type we are used to seeing in jobs like this” and “looks right for the part” and “seems authoritative and tough.”

Opportunity for women in our country is generally not lacking. We are no longer institutionally subordinated. To phrase it more crisply: one is far better served by being a white female than a black male in Australia.

Er…that’s not the relevant comparison. Is one far better served by being a white female than a white male in Australia? Is one far better served by being a black female than a black male in Australia? Those are the relevant comparisons if you’re trying to claim that women are treated equally or even better.

A couple of women on the HSSA page handed Justin Millikan his head. It’s too bad one of them isn’t president instead of him.



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

Lev Tahor members flee the country

Mar 6th, 2014 9:51 am | By

An eyewitness tells us in a comment that some of the people at Lev Tahor have fled.

I live less than a kilometre from this group’s houses (I can see them from my backyard across the cornfield) and in the country news travels fast… My neighbour called this afternoon to say that seven cop cars were blocking the entrance to the housing units.

It seems these persecuted families are on the move again…. The Chatham Daily News is now reporting that the 13 children who were due to be taken into protective care today and their parents have now fled to the Caribbean to frustrate justice AGAIN.

Before I saw that comment I saw an email from a reader with a link to the CBC reporting the same thing, along with the news that it looks as if the attempt to frustrate justice will fail. It looks as if they will be sent back to Toronto.

Some members of Lev Tahor, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect from Quebec that fled to a town near Windsor, Ont., last November, have apparently flown the coop again, this time to Trinidad and Tobago, where their journey has been halted.

Immigration authorities said the sect members were in transit to Guatemala, but officials in Trinidad and Tobago have prevented the members from flying to Central America after the authorities allegedly found some inconsistencies in their responses.

Well done, officials in Trinidad and Tobago.

Members of Lev Tahor arrived at Piarco International Airport Monday and have refused to leave, an immigration officer at the airport told CBC News.

The members are not being detained as fugitives.

A spokeswoman with Trinidad and Tobago’s Ministry of National Security said the group was offered hotel accommodations, but the sect members refused.

She said sect spokesman Avraham Dinkel has continued to negotiate with local authorities to travel on to Guatemala and not return to Canada.

A statement released Wednesday by Trinidad’s Ministry of National Security said, ”the Immigration Services have been advised to pursue the decision of having the group return to their port of origin,” which is Toronto.

Very good.

The flight south comes as two families were scheduled to appear in a Chatham-Kent, Ont., court today to learn the result of their appeal of an earlier court judgment that demanded the children be returned to Quebec and placed in foster care.

Stephen Doig of Chatham-Kent Children’s Services said his agency has alerted sister agencies with offices along the Canada-U.S. border after the families in southern Ontario could not be found at their homes.

So that will be the seven cop cars our commenter’s neighbor saw.

Last month, an Ontario judge upheld a Quebec ruling ordering 13 children in the Lev Tahor sect to be surrendered to child welfare authorities. After being denied an appeal by a Quebec court, the group issued a request for appeal to an Ontario court.

This came after the Quebec and Ontario provincial police forces raided the Lev Tahor homes in Chatham.

Quebec’s Youth Protection Services alleged in court that children living in the sect were medicated with melatonin to control their behaviour, couldn’t do basic math and were married off as young as 14.

Protect those youths.


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

No reasonable expectation of privacy

Mar 5th, 2014 4:53 pm | By


CNN reports the Massachusetts Supreme Court says upskirt photography is legal.

Massachusetts’ highest court ruled Wednesday that it is not illegal to secretly photograph underneath a person’s clothing — a practice known as “upskirting” — prompting one prosecutor to call for a revision of state law.

The high court ruled that the practice did not violate the law because the women who were photographed while riding Boston public transportation were not nude or partially nude.

Unnnnnnnh? Yes they were – under their clothes, they were stark naked. Remember that book title – Naked Under My Clothes? It was a joke, but – yes, if someone shoves a camera down your pants, you’re naked, which is why the someone shoved the camera down there. It’s the same with upskirt.

The ruling stems from the case against Michael Robertson, 32, who was arrested in 2010 and accused of using his cell phone to take pictures and record video up the skirts and dresses of women on the trolley, according to court documents.

Two separate complaints were filed against Robertson with the transit police. Authorities then staged “a decoy operation” to catch Robertson, who was eventually arrested and charged with two counts of attempting to secretly photograph a person in a state of partial nudity. Police observed him point a cell phone video camera up the dress of a female officer, court documents state.

Secretly – key word there. If the women wanted guys photographing their crotches, they would leave the skirt at home, or they would just invite guys to shove cameras up their skirts. When the aspiring photographers do it secretly, it’s a safe bet the women didn’t want them doing that.

Prosecutors had argued that the current statute, which prohibits secretly photographing or videotaping a person who is “nude or partially nude,” includes upskirting, according to documents.

But Robertson’s lawyers that the female passenger on the trolley was not “nude or partially nude” and was not in a place where she had a reasonable expectation of privacy, according to court documents.

Excuse me? Not in a place where she had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the sense of not having her clothes torn off or cameras shoved up between her legs? Really? Passengers on trolleys don’t have a reasonable expectation that they will be allowed to retain their clothes and not have strangers sticking cameras or phones under their hems? Silly me, I thought they did. I guess we should all solder everything closed before we get on the bus.



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

Value in a godless community

Mar 5th, 2014 4:10 pm | By

Amy has a good project: skeptics and atheists do good things and say you’re doing them.

Over the years I have self-identified as an atheist and as a skeptic. But lately, I look around these communities and I don’t see much that reflects who I am or how I feel about the world. I see no need to go into details about that. If you read this blog, you know that over the years many of us who have dedicated our time and money to advancing skepticism in particular, have been let down by the majority of people in leadership positions. Those leaders are not my leaders anymore. They do not stand for my ethical principles. And the good news about that, is those leaders are not needed for the majority of us to make a positive impact in this world.

I have been thinking a lot about the value of ones life in a godless community. As an atheist, I do not get to find solace in the idea that I have an afterlife to plan for. I have to make peace with the idea that this one life is all that I have and that every single solitary moment counts right now. It counts in moments, that are slowly ticking away. And while I also have to realize that while there is no God keeping track of those moments and my actions within them, that none-the-less they matter. They matter because each of us has in their power in every single moment, an opportunity to lead by positive example to make the world a better place each and everyday. A place where we can peacefully co-exist and grow without religion and without superstition as a driving force.

There actually are reasons atheists could be better at this than theists are. They’re not reasons atheist must be better, but they’re potential reasons for atheists to be better at it. Atheists have some advantages when it comes to doing good.

Atheists aren’t misdirected in the way theists are. They don’t waste their good deeds on an entity that doesn’t need or care about them. Atheists realize that the proper recipients of kindness are human beings and other animals, not gods, any more than pots and pans or bricks.

We should be doing a better job of building on that advantage.

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

Guest post on Humans, gods, and morality

Mar 5th, 2014 2:53 pm | By

Originally a comment by Marcus Ranum on Separating god from morality.

Morality is such a human concept, it’s hard to see how it would apply to a god, anyway. What does “fairness” mean to a god? Or “honesty”? Can you “steal” from a god? Could a human and a god have a meaningful conversation about morality, especially given the vast power-differential between us?

Epicurus touched on this in one of his sayings:

A blessed and indestructible being has no trouble himself and brings no trouble upon any other being; so he is free from anger and partiality, for all such things imply weakness.

By the same token, I think the idea of a god loving a human (or all humans) makes about as much sense as loving your intestinal flora. Suppose I had moral expectations of my intestinal flora. What would those expectations look like, perhaps? And how could I communicate them to my intestinal flora in such a way as to transfer the moral burden of compliance to those bacteria? Let us imagine that I have a dictate I wish to make to my intestinal flora, namely that they not produce too much methane. Because, I their god, am an angry god when I fart in elevators. So, um, see the problem? I can hardly blame my intestinal flora for making methane when, after all, that’s how they work. And I didn’t really tell them “no hydrogen, either” but mostly the problem is that they are not equipped to understand the will of god so they can’t be blamed for just doing what bacteria do. Socrates let Euthyphro off lightly, really.

Atheism is a statement about morality because it discards the “sky hook” that there is a divine moral expectation or some kind of external moral code. Atheism forces us to define “morality” in terms of purely human concepts, which is why we get mired down in moral nihilism: we can’t(*) Belief in a god is often used to sweep the whole question under the carpet.

(* DIsclaimer, I am a moral nihilist, in that I am unconvinced that objective moral frameworks – other than self-referential/tautological definitions like Richard Carrier attempts – are possible or even desirable)

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

The pope tries the Dolan approach

Mar 5th, 2014 11:24 am | By

I wonder what the fans of pope Francis will make of his claim that the church has been the best ever at rooting out sexual abuse of children. I know what I make of it, but then I’m not a fan.

Pope Francis has defended the Catholic Church’s record on tackling the sexual abuse of children by priests, saying “no-one else has done more” to root out paedophilia.

“The Catholic Church is perhaps the only public institution to have acted with transparency and responsibility. No-one else has done more. Yet the Church is the only one to have been attacked,” he said in an interview with Il Corriere della Sera daily published Wednesday.

Transparency! All that sending abuser priests to a different parish to predate on other children, all that never reporting abuser priests to the police, all that insistence that it was a matter for the church to deal with – that’s transparency?

Isn’t not bearing false witness one of the ten? One of the three that actually make any sense?

Last month, the United Nations denounced the Vatican for failing to stamp out child abuse and allowing systematic cover-ups, calling on the Church to remove clergy suspected of raping or molesting children.

It accused the Vatican of systematically placing the “preservation of the reputation of the Church and the alleged offender over the protection of child victims” – an accusation which was heatedly rebuffed.

The Argentine pontiff, who will celebrate the one-year anniversary of his election on March 13, said in the interview that the abuse cases “are terrible because they leave very deep wounds.”

“The statistics on the phenomenon of violence against children are shocking, but they also clearly show that the great majority of abuses are carried out in family or neighbourhood environments,” he said.

Ahhhhhhh Mr Pontiff that’s not the point at all. No no no no no no. How could you think it is? Since when are holy people supposed to point and shout, “they do it way more than we do!!”?

I’m surprised at you, Mr Pontiff. I thought you were better at PR than that.



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

Or even another Tosh

Mar 5th, 2014 9:56 am | By

What’s the thing about skeptics?

Is there a thing about them? Yes, I think there is. They tend to attract assholes. They tend to be assholes. I know lots who aren’t assholes, but I also know, and know of, lots who are. More than many other groups and movements and “communities,” skepticism seems to be a recruiting hall for assholes. Why is that?

Jason talked about this issue yesterday:

I do not consent to the skeptical “brand”, insofar as there is one, being represented by malicious con-men and other ne’er-do-wells. The skeptical way of thinking is a toolset that supplements a person’s identity. Not every person’s identity toolset is complete — many people lack empathy or a strong moral compass, among other numerous lacks. The skeptical toolset has too long been associated with amoral Libertarian con-artists that comprise the big-name skeptics, like Dunning, and I’d very much like that to end now.

That, I think, is the thing, the one I asked about above. What’s the thing about skeptics? That. The fact that skepticism is not enough, not nearly enough. It’s useful, but it’s woefully inadequate as a foundation for morality or a worldview. It has nothing to do with concern for fairness or equality, it has no connection to kindness or generosity or even politeness. It presents a constant temptation to be a smug superior jerk.

It’s not enough, and it attracts a lot of people who seem to think it is enough – people whose first loyalty is to the skeptical “movement” and other skeptics. It’s becoming more obvious all the time that the result is a movement packed to the rafters with noisy abrasive belligerent assholes, people who think they’re another Christopher Hitchens but are actually another Penn Jillette.

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

Separating god from morality

Mar 5th, 2014 9:08 am | By

About this god person.

I’ve been arguing about it with Michael Nugent on the Atheist Ireland Facebook group. It started from an aphoristic remark Michael made there yesterday:

Because theism is a statement about the nature of reality and morality, atheism is also a statement about the nature of reality and morality.

I said

I think both theism and atheism are statements about reality. I’m not sure either is necessarily a statement about morality.

There could be a theism that posited a “god” with no interest in humans and thus no interest in giving them moral instructions.

Michael’s view is that belief even in a god with no interest in humans is still a belief about morality.

I agree that it can be, but I disagree that it has to be. Believing that an infinite array of things have nothing to do with morality isn’t a substantive belief about morality (except in the attenuated sense that it’s a belief that some things are about morality while others are not). I don’t think the moon has anything to do with morality; that’s not really a belief about morality.

(Well I suppose you could make a case that it is, in the sense that it’s a belief that gravity isn’t the foundation of morality, that morality isn’t influenced by the tides, and faintly absurd notes like that. But I don’t think that’s what we mean by “about morality.”)

My objection to the idea (and I do object to it, as well as just disagreeing with it) is that it buys into the conventional assumption that god just is about morality, when instead we should realize that that’s a contingent belief, not an inherent aspect of belief in a god or some gods.

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

Found guilty of “adopting liberal thought”

Mar 4th, 2014 6:07 pm | By

An interview with Ensaf Haider, wife of the imprisoned Saudi blogger Raef Badawi.

The background:

Saudi Arabian blogger and editor of a liberal website, Raef Badawi, was arrested on 17 June 2012 in Jeddah.

Over a year later, in July 2013, Badawi was convicted under Saudi Arabia’s anti-cybercrime law and sentenced to 600 lashes and seven years and three months in prison.

He was found guilty of “insulting Islam”, “founding a liberal website” and “adopting liberal thought”. He was also convicted of “insulting religious symbols” and criticising the religious police and officials calling for gender segregation in the Shura Council. The online forum, Liberal Saudi Network – created to foster political and social debate in Saudi Arabia – was ordered closed by the judge.

It’s startling, isn’t it? Even when you already know what Saudi Arabia is like? He was “convicted” of founding a liberal website…as if that’s any kind of crime in the first place.

Why did Raef decide to set up Free Saudi Liberals?

For Raef, liberalism is an intellectual project, which aspired to achieve an official status and to represent Saudi liberals on the ground and to fight injustice wherever it exists. This was the idea in 2008 when Raef first set up the Free Saudi Liberals website as a platform for this project to take shape.

Can you talk about the aims and objectives of the ‘day of liberalism’ conference that Raef was organising? Why was it important to him?

The idea for the ‘day of liberalism’ conference came from the belief, held by Raef and by Saudi liberals specifically, as well as others in the Gulf more generally, that there is a need for our voice to be heard in the international and local communities. It also accused the opponents of liberals of distorting the image of liberalism by claiming that this thought leads to degeneration, vice and so on.

And so that’s why the bosses decided to punish him.

How did you find out that Raef may face apostasy charges in court? What were your reactions? What are the legal next steps? Are you in contact with his lawyer?

I am in regular contact with his lawyer, and that is how I found out. We are currently waiting for the Court of Appeal to make a decision on his case. I consider Raef’s trial as an inquisition, just like the ones that took place during the European Dark Ages. To kill a person just for their opinion, that is the real crime.

It does indeed seem astonishingly medieval.

Do you believe the legal consequences faced by Raif and other prisoners of conscious in the country will work to deter or frighten others from engaging in similar activism?

No not at all, I believe that there is a will for freedom in the country that will not be deterred. When Raef heard the judge tell him ‘we will kill you’, Raef responded with a wide smile and the victory sign.

It makes me want to weep.

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

By indirections find directions out

Mar 4th, 2014 5:01 pm | By

More of Ben Radford’s…indirectness, from the comments on that public Facebook post.

benradTorkel Ødegård and now that this is out in open, let the rageblogging commence!

Scott Mardis Good luck, ben.

Ben Radford I will not be participating in any discussions, debates, or blogging about this. This is now a legal matter, and it will be decided by a judge or jury.

Torkel Ødegård I wasn’t referring to you. I was referring to THOSE people.

Laurie Miller Tarr Yes, Torkel, they are going to blog about it, and they are going to say that all Karen did was speak out, and Ben is being a bully and and further punishing her. But the truth is she accused Ben of both sexual harassment and sexual assault, without providing any evidence. They are taking her accusation as proof of Ben’s guilt. But in court Ben will finally have a chance to answer her, for the first time. And Ben has evidence, and the truth, on his side.

Note what Radford said. (Note also the stupid malice about “rageblogging”, but what Radford said is what I’m getting at.) He will not be participating in any blogging about this, it’s now a legal matter.

But he did participate in blogging about it. He wrote a whole long post about false accusations last week. The date on it is February 26. The date on the lawsuit – which is right there on Facebook, in a public post – is February 17.

That’s very…indirect.

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