Notes and Comment Blog

Our short and pithy observations on the passing scene as it relates to the mission of Butterflies and Wheels. Woolly-headed or razor-sharp comments in the media, anti-rationalist rhetoric in books or magazines or overheard on the bus, it’s all grist to our mill. And sometimes we will hold forth on the basis of no inspiration at all beyond what happens to occur to us.


Apr 8th, 2014 3:35 pm | By

Ahhhhhhh sweet.

Via Facebook.

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


Apr 8th, 2014 3:22 pm | By

Baby’s got a new pair of shoooooes I mean socks. Or rather two.

Snapshot_20140408_1Snapshot_20140408They’re a present from Jen Phillips.

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

Geocentric dalliance

Apr 8th, 2014 12:22 pm | By

Phil Plait watches a silly documentary so that you don’t have to. All right not the documentary itself but the trailer for it. This one is about geocentrism, the idea that the earth is the center of the universe. (That really is silly. I’m the center of the universe.)

The trailer does seem to be making a case for Geocentrism (it’s mentioned specifically), but given the title, I would guess they’re going to try to make a broader point that the Universe itself was made—created, if you will—purposely for us. This idea (broadly speaking) is called the strong anthropic principle (hence the doco title), and as a philosophy it’s not terribly informative. It’s fun to think about in a limited sense, but in the end it always boils down to “God did it,” which is slamming a door in the face of exploration and inquiry. 

That’s what I mean about theism having a built-in obstacle to wanting to understand how the world works. Of course not all theists believe in the strong anthropic principle, but the temptation is always there.

I’ll note that the guy who made this documentary, Robert Sungenis, has been promoting this flavor of nonsense for a while now. I wrote about a Geocentrism conference he ran a few years back (called, seriously, “Galileo Was Wrong, the Church Was Right”). To give you an idea of the guy we’re talking about here, he has a history of saying anti-Semitic things and also of making Holocaust denial claims (and you can find more lovely things about him here). That would fit with the conspiratorial tone of some of the movie trailer, too.

So I expect this movie/documentary will be more of this same flavor of nonsense. We’ll see. As I’ve said before, the path of reality is narrow, and once you step off it, all manners of silliness seem equally plausible.

I like that: the path of reality is narrow. That’s very good. Narrow is the way and strait is the gate. The steep and thorny way versus the primrose path. Beware the primrose path of silliness.


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

More circuses

Apr 8th, 2014 11:39 am | By

The Tories want to introduce interest-free loans for students!

Oh no wait, it’s not for all students.

A new system of “Sharia-compliant” student loans is to be launched to allow more Muslim students to go to university, it has been announced.

David Willetts, the Universities Minister, said an alternative financial model was being created to satisfy Islamic law that forbids Muslims taking out loans that make interest.

Under the system, students would apply for taxpayer-backed loans but repay them into a mutual-style fund that would be ring-fenced to provide future finance to other students with the same religious beliefs.

The move will raise concerns over a two-tier system in which Muslim students pay less than other undergraduates.

But the Government insisted it would be set up in a way that ensured repayments were made at the same rate as students who take out traditional student loans.

How? How can that work? If the loans are “sharia-compliant” and thus don’t make interest, then how can they not be cheaper than non-sharia-compliant loans that do make interest? If you take interest out of the equation, then loans become free, which is obviously cheaper than not free. Interest is the cost of borrowing; no interest, no cost.

Is the idea to rig it in such a way that the students with sharia-compliant loans do pay for the loans but in a way that’s not called “interest”? That seems…childish.

The plans have been set out in a consultation document published by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

It says the Student Loans Company will create a completely new fund based on the “Takaful” structure used in Islamic finance – allowing groups of people to cooperate to provide mutual finance assistance to other members of a group.

Students will borrow up to £9,000 a year to cover tuition fees and start to repay when they earn more than £21,000 – the same as the traditional model.

The document says: “The principles of Sharia law recognise the value of money over time. Given the long period over which most students would make repayments into the fund, the total contribution they would be obligated to make would be based on a benchmark.

“This benchmark would be set relative to the traditional loan system and would ensure that students who made use of either the alternative finance product or traditional loans would be treated the same.”

So it’s basically just repackaging. “Based on a benchmark” is a roundabout way of saying “interest.”

Let’s start thinking up some atheism-compliant stuff we need.

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

You don’t like it? Go back to Atheostan

Apr 7th, 2014 4:32 pm | By

More of the comedy of “politically correct persecution of Christians” from the UK:

Militant atheists should “get over it” and accept that Britain is a Christian country, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has said.

That’s what a “Communities Secretary” is for is it? I wouldn’t know, because we don’t have one in the US, not at the federal level at least. We don’t have one for sport, either, or one for faith. How impoverished we are. Anyway so the job of the Communities Secretary is to piss on people who are part of the wrong kind of “communities”?

“I’ve stopped an attempt by militant atheists to ban councils having prayers at the start of meetings if they wish,” said Mr Pickles.

“Heaven forbid. We’re a Christian nation. We have an Established Church.

“Get over it. And don’t impose your politically correct intolerance on others.”

Get over what? Wanting to keep politics out of religion and religion out of politics?

Funny that he’s accusing other people of intolerance.

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

What kind of man actually takes parental leave?

Apr 7th, 2014 3:59 pm | By

The earth shakes as the dinosaurs come trudging into view. Wham, wham, wham.

Dave Zirin at The Nation peers at the enormous footprints.

This is not another shooting-fish-in-a-barrel commentary about the antediluvian swinishness of Boomer Esiason and Mike Francesa. This is not another swipe at their comments criticizing the efforts of Mets second basemen Daniel Murphy for missing opening day to be with his wife for the birth of their child. For those who missed it, Esiason opined, “I would have said, ‘C-section before the season starts. I need to be at Opening Day. I’m sorry, this is what makes our money. This is how we’re going to live our life. This is going to give my child every opportunity to be a success in life. I’ll be able to afford any college I want to send my kid to, because I’m a baseball player.’”

Fellow troglodytic troll of the NYC sports radio airwaves Mike Francesa commented, “You’re a major league baseball player. You can hire a nurse.” Francesa also called the paternity leave at his own company “a scam-and-a-half.”

That’s great, isn’t it? So perceptive, so sensitive. Hey, the guy has money, so what the hell would he take parental leave for? That’s for poor people who can’t pay someone else to have children for them.

I spoke to my friend Martha, who is a midwife—and a Mets fan—about their comments. She said simply, “I would ask if they knew how it sounded, talking about this woman like she is a human incubator to be cut open in a dangerous, often unnecessary surgical procedure so Murphy can make it to Citi Field on time. I would ask that, but honestly, if you can’t see why the asshole-levels on these comments are off the charts, then I can’t help you.”

I also spoke with Joe Ehrmann, a former NFL player and someone who has devoted his life to challenging the ways in which sports have the capacity to communicate a toxic, destructive brand of masculinity. Ehrmann said, “I think these comments are pretty shortsighted and reflect old school thinking about masculinity and fatherhood. Paternity leave is critical in helping dads create life long bonding and sharing in the responsibilities of raising emotionally healthy children. To miss the life altering experience of ‘co-laboring’ in a delivery room due to nonessential work-related responsibilities is to create false values.”

Why would anyone even want to be a man like that? After the age of about 15, I mean.

Ehrmann also pointed out the ways in which these statements create a culture that normalizes the alienation between fathers and children. He said, “Comments like these put every man in a position to think about career and co workers opinions ahead of father/husband/partner roles. So even in companies with paternity leave, many new dads won’t or feel like they can’t take advantage of leave without a stigma being attached to them…. This is one more arena where sports/athletes could be a metaphor for social change and elevate the birth/nurture/fatherhood role and responsibilities over work.”

He then said to me that this kind of sexist mentality not only harms families, not only harms men, but also quite specifically harms athletes. “I’m convinced the number-one common denominator in locker rooms is father-child dysfunction,” he said. “It’s what pathologically elevates many performances. ‘I will prove to [the coach/father figure] I am worthy of my dad’s love and acceptance,’ at the expense of self and others. If any group should understand need for dads in delivery rooms it should be athletes and the athletic world.”

Well, also the tech world, and the STEM world, and the skeptic world, and the Twitter world – quite a lot of worlds really.


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

Guest post on why Scalia really should recuse himself

Apr 7th, 2014 3:25 pm | By

Originally a comment by Pteryxx on Why Justice Scalia should recuse himself from abortion cases.

A spouse’s political views, even views they actively promote and work on, don’t rise to the level of conflict-of-interest that Supreme Court justices have traditionally employed in deciding on recusal.

That’s only because the Supreme Court, specifically, has given itself narrower standards for recusal than federal law applies. That’s all the more reason to challenge them to defend their decisions not to recuse themselves – and recusal motions do get filed.

This article quotes the text of 28 U.S. Code § 455 – Disqualification of justice, judge, or magistrate judge (Link to code)

“Any justice, judge, or magistrate judge of the United States shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” This includes when he “knows that he, individually or as a fiduciary, or his spouse or minor child residing in his household, has a financial interest in the subject matter in controversy or in a party to the proceeding, or any other interest that could be substantially affected by the outcome of the proceeding.”

The statute goes on to define “financial interest” as “ownership of a legal or equitable interest, however small, or a relationship as director, adviser, or other active participant in the affairs of a party.”

Surprisingly, Supreme Court Justices are not bound by the ethical rules all other federal judges are. As a bipartisan group of law professors proposing new rules for Supreme Court recusals recently explained, “While all other federal judges are required to abide by the Code of Conduct, and are subject to investigation and sanctions for failure to do so, Supreme Court justices look to the Code for mere ‘guidance,’ and are not obligated to follow the Code’s rules.”


Further discussion: Health care case again raises recusal controversy

An existing federal statute applies to Supreme Court justices and appears to cover a wide range of conflicts, but the court historically has interpreted the statute tightly. The justices say it applies only in situations where lawyer-relatives have active cases before the court, or when justices stand to benefit financially. The current statute already expressly identifies justices and requires recusal from “any proceeding in which the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned.”

The broad provision was supposed to make it easier for judges to withdraw rather than fall back on an overly restrictive duty to sit. Jurists typically have interpreted it as forcing them to continue on a case rather than succumb to compelling ethical conflicts that should disqualify them.

and Should Scalia step aside in gay marriage cases

But unlike all other federal judges, whose recusal decisions are subject to review, Supreme Court justices have the final word on their own recusal determinations. The court leaves it up to individual justices to decide whether to step down, and those decisions are not reviewed by the Supreme Court as a whole. Perhaps, as a result, it’s very rare for justices to recuse themselves simply because of the appearance of partiality. I can think of only one example in recent years: when Scalia stepped aside in the court’s consideration of the constitutionality of the Pledge of Allegiance’s phrase, “one nation, under God.” (As Linda Greenhouse explained in a New York Times piece, Scalia had made public remarks about the case before it reached the Supreme Court.)

That NY Times article

More specifically, Scalia has been making statements like “They say they want to talk quietly to the women who are going into these facilities. Now how does that make them protesters?” and “This is not a protest case,” Justice Antonin Scalia said. “These people don’t want to protest abortion. They want to talk to the women who are about to get abortions and try to talk them out of it.” That tells me, and it should be obvious, that he has an unrealistic view of anti-abortion “counseling” that just happens to match how his spouse’s work is described. Even if her specific CPC, part of a supposedly apolitical organization where “saving” one woman and child takes 100 volunteers a year’s work, really lives up to its own promises and has never had its own volunteers go a few blocks down the road to “counsel” the clients of that Planned Parenthood clinic, I don’t think it coincidental that Scalia describes ALL clinic protesters as equivalents to his own family member. And the behavior of “sidewalk counselors” is absolutely key to the clinic buffer zone case under consideration.

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


Apr 7th, 2014 2:49 pm | By

We need more of it. The whole Caesar/God division – we need to apply that more broadly.

It’s not difficult. We already know the basic principle – we won’t come into your churches and mosques and tell you how to do the god thing, and you won’t take over hospitals and government and engineering. Ok?

Here’s why. The god thing isn’t relevant to anything except itself. It’s often harmful to things that aren’t itself. Bridges aren’t designed according to faith. Bridges have to be designed according to this world properties of steel and concrete, not according to other world notions of miracles and faith. There has to be a strict division between the two. Otherwise you get a mess.

Geology, that’s another one. Land management. Resource management. Drainage. Soil types. Slopes. Historical patterns. All this world items. It’s no good looking at the hill and thinking “God will make sure the hill doesn’t fall on the town even if we cut down all the trees.” That’s no good at all.

It’s the same with pharmacies, and clinics, and hospitals. Medicine is science-based, knowledge-based; it’s secular. Ideas about gods and their wishes just get in the way.

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

Another archbishop heard from

Apr 7th, 2014 11:09 am | By

The archbishop of Canterbury claims Christians in Africa are being massacred because of growing acceptance of gay unions in the West.

From Barry Duke at the Freethinker:

Justin Welby said he had stood by a mass grave in Nigeria of 330 Christians who had been massacred by neighbours who had justified the atrocity by saying:

If we leave a Christian community here we will all be made to become homosexual and so we will kill all the Christians.

Who are these “neighbours”? Welby didn’t elaborate, simply saying:

I have stood by gravesides in Africa of a group of Christians who had been attacked because of something that had happened in America. We have to listen to that. We have to be aware of the fact.

And so “we” have to ditch other people’s human rights, because there are theocratic terrorists who will kill people because of them.

Yemisi responds to this idea with admirable ferocity.

Did the Archbishop not read the news stories of the bombings that led to the death of these people before he visited the mass grave? Many of Boko Haram victims were school children who were murdered in their dormitories and not all of these victims were Christians. Boko Haram means ‘No to western Education”, it does not mean ‘No to Gay Marriage’.

Suggesting that a segment of the society be deprived of their inalienable human rights because of the ridiculous and sometimes violent beliefs of another is not justifiable. It is the same silly excuse I hear people spew when they blame the growing legalisation of homophobia in many African countries on the acceptance of LGBT Rights in some western countries. If some African leaders are so stupid as to criminalize a segment of their society because of the actions of some foreign governments, they should be called out on their stupidity, not try to justify it for them. Blaming the government that is respecting the equality of their citizens for the atrocities other governments are committing in reaction to this equality, is indeed ridiculous.

Think harder about this, Mr Welby. You really don’t want to take moral instruction from Boko Haram.



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

Firmly prohibited in Catholic hospitals

Apr 7th, 2014 10:33 am | By

This again. The Savita Halappanavar scenario, in the US, in a Catholic hospital. It happens a lot but it seldom gets reported on. This one got reported on because the woman is a nurse. Most women this happens to aren’t nurses or doctors.

Jennifer had been experiencing heavy vaginal bleeding for over a week when she went to her physician’s office. He told her she was miscarrying and discussed her need for a dilation and curettage (D&C) to stop the bleeding and protect her health. A D&C is a procedure to empty the uterus; the same technique is used for both miscarriage management and abortion.

Abortion, unsurprisingly, is firmly prohibited in Catholic hospitals (along with contraception, sterilization, most fertility treatments and related services). Care must comply with the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services written by the U.S. Bishops.

That “must” is interesting. “Must” according to whom? The bishops, the Vatican, the hospital administration, the hospital staff, the patients, the law?

And how is a hospital that “firmly prohibits” normal legal medical procedures a real hospital? Don’t people generally expect the full range of medical treatment at an institution that calls itself a hospital? Very small and/or underfunded and/or struggling ones may not provide all possible medical treatments, but then it’s a matter of “we can’t,” not “we forbid.” What business does a hospital have forbidding normal legal medical procedures? None, in my view.

Due to her heavy bleeding, Jennifer’s pregnancy wasn’t viable, but there was a chance that the fetus still had cardiac activity. Preferring not to plead with the Ethics Board about the necessity of the doing a D&C, her doctor ordered a transfusion to address her extremely low iron levels from all the bleeding, and advised expectant management, which involved waiting for Jennifer’s body to expel the pregnancy on its own. The transfusion raised her iron levels, but she still wound up in the hospital 12 hours later, as the bleeding continued. She knew she needed a D&C. Unfortunately for her, things did not move quickly in the emergency room.

There you go – Savita Halappanavar all over again. A D&C is standard of care, but instead Jennifer got something much more risky. Why? Because bishops. Not a good reason. A very bad reason.

It might not be completely clear to the lay reader — or the typical patient — where Catholic doctrine slowed down her treatment. But it was clear to Jennifer, since she worked in obstetrics. She knew they were trying to make sure the fetus had died before doing the D&C, so the miscarriage treatment would not be perceived by the Catholic hospital’s Ethics Board as an abortion. Jennifer recalled,

They did so many ultrasounds. They ended up doing, I think, three, although I may have missed one. And I remember telling them over and over again, “This is not a viable pregnancy. I’ve been bleeding enough to need a transfusion for a week. This is not viable.” And they’re like, “Well, we just need to make sure.” And I’m like, “Have you found any cardiac motion?” “No. But we need to check again because maybe we missed it. It’s very early in your pregnancy.”

They “need” to put the woman in danger because they “need” to check for a pulse in a very early pregnancy. That’s where fanaticism gets you.

Then there were more problems later in Jennifer’s life because of the transfusions.

Transfusions present risks. C-sections present risks. Both are necessary and life-saving at times. But Jennifer would have preferred not to endure those risks purely because of the hospital’s religious commitments, especially since those commitments were not her own. Had Jennifer not had so much obstetric knowledge, she would not have necessarily known that in a non-Catholic hospital she would have been offered a D&C at the outset (before the transfusions, before the seven hours of unnecessary ultrasounds). What are the chances that the average patient could understand how Catholic doctrine hindered standard treatment for miscarriage management in this case and caused unnecessary suffering?

They are slim, and of course the hospitals and their staff don’t tell the average patient that Catholic dogma is fucking up their treatment.

The burning question from a variety of outside observers of the controversial problem of Catholic hospital expansion in the U.S., including those on both sides of the debate is: If there is really a problem, why don’t we hear it from patients? Why don’t they sue? Where are their voices in this matter? Everyone wants to know including those who defend the U.S. Bishops’ right to restrict care and those who are concerned about patient autonomy and welfare.

I hope my research collecting patient experiences will shed light on these questions. For now, based on my previous research and Jennifer’s story, I can think of three possible answers: 1) patients who don’t work in obstetric care don’t fully understand how their care was affected by doctrine (i.e. might have differed in a non-Catholic hospital); 2) when patients do understand they don’t want to cast blame on health professionals who were doing their best to care for them given the institutional religious constraints; and/or 3) patients don’t want to be known in their communities for complaining about personal health care experiences that can be highly emotional and potentially stigmatizing.

Don’t forget 4) the hospitals and the bishops don’t tell anyone.


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

The crowd guffawed

Apr 6th, 2014 4:30 pm | By

The New York Times has a long piece about the tech industry and women.

Elissa Shevinsky can pinpoint the moment when she felt that she no longer belonged.

She was at a friend’s house last Sept. 8, watching the live stream of the TechCrunch Disrupt hackathon on her laptop and iPhone. Entrepreneurs were showing off their products, and two young Australian men, David Boulton and Jethro Batts, stood behind the podium to give their presentation. “Titstare is an app where you take photos of yourself staring at tits,” Mr. Boulton began, as photographs of women’s chests on a cellphone flashed on the screen behind him.

After some banter, Mr. Batts concluded, “This is the breast hack ever.”

The crowd — overwhelmingly young, white, hoodie-wearing men — guffawed. Something in Ms. Shevinsky’s mind clicked. If ever there was proof that the tech industry needed more women, she thought, this was it.

Ms. Shevinsky, 35, wasn’t the only one who was disgusted by the presentation. Twitter lit up with outrage. She joined in, writing a blog-post manifesto: “I thought that we didn’t need more women in tech. I was wrong.”

Hunnnnnh. Honestly. Is it too much to ask that men not talk about women the way a ravenous bear would talk about a freshly killed goat if bears could talk?

Tech executives often fault schools, parents or society in general for failing to encourage girls to pursue computer science. But something else is at play in the industry: Among the women who join the field, 56 percent leave by midcareer, a startling attrition rate that is double that for men, according to research from the Harvard Business School.

A culprit, many people in the field say, is a sexist, alpha-male culture that can make women and other people who don’t fit the mold feel unwelcome, demeaned or even endangered.

“It’s a thousand tiny paper cuts,” is how Ashe Dryden, a programmer who now consults on increasing diversity in technology, described working in tech. “I’ve been a programmer for 13 years, and I’ve always been one of the only women and queer people in the room. I’ve been harassed, I’ve had people make suggestive comments to me, I’ve had people basically dismiss my expertise. I’ve gotten rape and death threats just for speaking out about this stuff.”

And that’s a problem?

Yes. It is.

Ms. Shevinsky’s epiphany, however, wasn’t just about Mr. Dickinson or a couple of engineers. It was about computer-engineering culture and her relationship with it. She had enjoyed being “one of the bros” — throwing back whiskey and rubbing shoulders with M.I.T. graduates. And if that sometimes meant fake-laughing as her colleagues cracked jokes about porn, so be it.

“For years, all I wanted to do was work and code and make software,” she said in an interview. “That’s why I didn’t care about feminism. I just wanted to build stuff.”

“But Titstare showed me that was no longer a viable option,” she said. “We had to address our culture, because something was really not working.”

Or, feminism ate her brain. You decide.

“We see these stories, ‘Why aren’t there more women in computer science and engineering?’ and there’s all these complicated answers like, ‘School advisers don’t have them take math and physics,’ and it’s probably true,” said Lauren Weinstein, a man who has spent his four-decade career in tech working mostly with other men, and is currently a consultant for Google.

“But I think there’s probably a simpler reason,” he said, “which is these guys are just jerks, and women know it.”

The choice for people who are uncomfortable with the “bro” culture is to try to change it or to leave — and even women who are fed up don’t always agree on how to go about making a change. But leaving can be hard too.

Obviously it can. If you’re leaving the very thing you want to do – yes, that’s difficult.

After the Titstare presentation, a commenter calling himself White_N_Nerdy wrote on Reddit, “I’m honestly trying to understand why anyone says that females are ‘needed’ in the tech industry.” He continued: “The tech community works fine without females, just like any other mostly male industry. Feminists probably just want women making more money.”

Online gathering spots for engineers, like Reddit, Hacker News and 4chan, where people often post anonymously, can feel like hostile territory for women.

“Many women have come to me and said they basically have had to hide on the Net now,” said Mr. Weinstein, who works on issues of identity and anonymity online. “They use male names, they don’t put their real photos up, because they are immediately targeted and harassed.”

That sense of being targeted as a minority happens at the office, too. That is part of the reason nearly a third of the women who leave technology jobs move to nontechnical ones, according to the Harvard study.

“It’s a boys’ club, and you have to try to get into it, and they’re trying as hard as they can to prove you can’t,” said Ephrat Bitton, the director of algorithms at FutureAdvisor, an online investment start-up that she says has a better culture because almost half the engineers are women.

It all seems so high school. Wouldn’t you think adults could do better?



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

Lobbying for specialness

Apr 6th, 2014 3:34 pm | By

Religions teaming up to demand special status for religion, again.

Churches and faith groups are calling for the role of religion to be recognised in any written constitution for Scotland.

They plan to hold an interfaith conference on the subject in Coatbridge, North Lanarkshire, in July.

The call follows an interfaith meeting convened by the Church of Scotland.

Why? Why are they doing that? Why can’t they just do what they do without trying to make it mandatory and part of the government and official and something that everyone has to defer to?

And what role is it that they want to be recognised in any written constitution for Scotland? Religion’s role in making stupid arbitrary rules that stunt people’s lives? Religion’s role in sowing guilt and fear? Religion’s role in distracting people from the real world? Religion’s role in interfering with education? Religion’s role in keeping women down? Religion’s role in marginalizing people who are sexually non-conformist?

The Church of Scotland and the Catholic Church have joined forces with other major religious and faith groups to “stake a claim” for recognition in a written constitution.

A joint statement released by those who attended the interfaith meeting said: “At a meeting, chaired by the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Right Reverend Lorna Hood, representatives of Scotland’s diverse faith traditions were united in the view that the contribution of faith to Scottish society should be properly recognised whatever the future holds.

“All the churches and faith communities present agreed Scotland’s diversity of religious belief is an important reflection of Scotland’s wider society.”

How nauseating. A constitution isn’t a prize ceremony. It’s not the job of a constitution to single out special groups for “recognition.” Religions shouldn’t be “staking a claim” to anything. Religions should do their own jobs and leave other people’s alone.

A Scottish government spokesman said: “We propose no change to the legal status of any religion or Scotland’s churches.

“The interim constitution will, however, give full legal force to the ECHR (European Convention on Human Rights) which guarantees freedom of conscience and religion.

And that’s all that’s required. Freedom, yes; recognition, get out of here.

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

Born with a vagina and pattern matching

Apr 6th, 2014 12:46 pm | By

Lea Verou is (via the New York Times) an incoming Ph.D. candidate in electrical engineering and computer science at M.I.T. She wrote a much-read essay on Women in Technology initiatives, which she thinks mostly do more harm than good. Near the beginning she says this:

I want to be invited for my skills as a developer and a speaker, not because I happened to be born with a vagina.

On female role models

I’m tired of being told I will be a good “role model” for other female web developers at a conference. If somebody is a good role model, they’re a good role model for everyone, regardless of gender. I never cared if my role models had dark eyes like I do, why should I care if they are the same gender? It’s equally meaningless. The whole notion that women need female role models springs from the notion that gender is this incredibly important characteristic that defines who you are. I call shenanigans on that.

Then later she says this:

I can’t say that I’ve experienced more sexism in tech than outside the industry. Quite the contrary. Engineers (yes, including male ones) are some of the most open-minded people I’ve met. It’s not our industry that has a sexism problem, our society has a sexism problem. In many cases, a lot of what we consider sexism is just pattern matching gone wrong: If you don’t meet many technical women, your brain tends to pick up the pattern. It even happens to women and I know a few who were brave enough to admit it. Instead of shaming people, it would be much more efficient to change the pattern in the first place.

The second passage is a rebuke to the first.

Yes, of course it’s not ideal to have all this god damn affirmative action and reaching out and making sure to remember to invite some women and all the rest of it. Of course it’s not. Of course it trails with it some unpleasant implications, including the whole being invited because of having the Other kind of genitalia instead of because of having the appropriate talents issue (or canard, which it usually is). Of course it does. But as she points out herself: If you don’t meet many technical women, your brain tends to pick up the pattern. Yeah, it does, and then you think and say it’s more of a guy thing, and the pattern gets that little bit more entrenched, and everybody gets even more convinced that it’s more of a guy thing, and we spiral on and on forever.

So there it is. We need to deal with that pattern matching gone wrong problem. Doing that entails weariness with being asked to be a role model and all the rest of it, but you know what? Too bad.

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

Why Justice Scalia should recuse himself from abortion cases

Apr 6th, 2014 12:05 pm | By

Why should Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia recuse himself from abortion rights cases and related cases like McCullen v. Coakley? Because he’s married to an anti-abortion rights campaigner. See her page at the anti-abortion Nurturing Network:

Maureen Scalia
Crisis Pregnancy Counselor
Pro-Life Advocate

“I have been moved by the courage of so many who in their loneliness struggle to protect the life they nurture within.  Serving on the Board of the Nurturing Network is the culmination of my experience in working to protect and defend life.”

That is a big honkin conflict of interest.

The Nurturing Network is a response to the legalization of abortion – there was no such network before Roe v Wade. Its purpose is to persuade women to stay pregnant.

The Nurturing Network is an international charitable organization that responds to the immediate and comprehensive needs of a woman facing the crisis of an unplanned pregnancy. Founded and managed by Mary Cunningham Agee, TNN’s nearly 50,000 volunteer Resource Members provide all of the practical support a woman needs to nurture her child’s life—and make the most of hers as well.

During the past twenty-eight years, 24,000 women and children have been served through this grassroots Network that is active in all fifty states and in thirty foreign countries. Assistance is provided without charge and is available without regard to a person’s race, creed or economic circumstances.

The Nurturing Network’s objective is not a political one but a most practical one: to provide an authentic and life-affirming choice to women whose own support networks have let them down. Each woman served by TNN is empowered to move beyond her economic, emotional and social constraints in order to exercise her choice to have a healthy pregnancy and nurture the life of her child.

Not political at all. Right.

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

Rayhaneh Jabbari could be hanged at any moment

Apr 6th, 2014 9:59 am | By

Rayhaneh Jabbari is sentenced to hang for killing her rapist in self defense in Iran. There is a petition to get this stopped.

Reyhaneh Jabbari is at risk of imminent execution for having killed a member of the Iranian intelligence services, Morteza Abdolali Sarbandi, a physician, who was attempting to rape her. Her execution verdict has been upheld by the Supreme Court.

Rayhaneh Jabbari is a 26 six year old woman who has been in prison for the last 7 years and is awaiting imminent execution[ by hanging].

Rayhaneh, an interior designer, was speaking on the phone about her work in a coffee shop, a conversation which was coincidentally overheard by Morteza who approached her for professional advice about renovating his office. They then set a date to meet at his office in order to see and discuss Morteza’s renovation project.

On the day of the meeting, Morteza picked up Rayhaneh in his car. On the way to his office, Morteza stopped at a pharmacy, purchased an item (while Rayhaneh waited in the car), got into the car again and drove to his office. After arriving at their destination, Rayhaneh realized that the place did not look like a work place at all as it was a rundown house. Inside the house, Rayhaneh saw two drinks on the table, Morteza went inside and quickly locked the door from inside, put his arms around Rayhaneh’s waist and told her that “she had no way of escaping”. A struggle soon ensued. Rayhaneh trying to defend herself stabbed Morteza in the shoulder and escaped. Morteza died from bleeding.

Lab analysis showed the drinks Morteza intended to serve to Rayhaneh contained sedatives. Regardless, Rayhaneh was arrested. There she was told by the authorities that the murder had been set up [by them] and was “politically motivated”. Nevertheless, Rayhaneh was tortured until she confessed to the murder, after she was given the death penalty which was upheld by the Supreme Court. As a result she is to be executed at any moment.

An interrogator went to the apartment and made a report. At that time Reyhaneh clearly stated to the investigator that she was innocent, that she had met Morteza for business meeting, and that said she killed him only in self defense to stop him from rape.

“The evening I was there, I knew that he wanted to rape me, so because of self defense I stabbed him and escaped,” she said.

During a meeting concerning the case at the Criminal Court Branch 74, the family of the victim — one girl and two boys — stood up and demanded a “death sentence.”

Reyhaneh explained that she had to defend herself:

Now, any moment it is possible for her to be hanged. Her crime is self defense and she does not deserve to die.
Please do not allow her to be hanged; she is now waiting for our help and support.

NOTE: In Iran men and women, including some minors, face execution everyday for some 131 offenses punishable by death under the fundamentalist Islamic Republic. Some of these crimes include adultery, theft, homosexuality, drug possession and political dissidence. Iran hangs more people per capita than any other country in the world, Since President Rohani’s election; there has been a sharp increase in executions. Trials in Iran fall short of International standards and the majority of those hanged did not even have access to a lawyer, jury, or even evidence.


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

Falangism in Ireland

Apr 6th, 2014 9:51 am | By

Behold, the entanglement of church and state in Ireland. The very police forces brandish bibles at their graduation ceremony. The Irish Times has the photographic record:

Garda Reserve Xiao Du from Finglas  at the Reserve Graduation ceremony at the Garda College, Templemore. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

That’s a truly frightening picture. These are police officers, agents of state power. They’re not supposed to work for any church.

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

Guest post: There is a fundamental difference

Apr 6th, 2014 9:42 am | By

Originally a comment by Gordon Willis on How different?

The major point is that the desire to learn about the world as it is in itself is not and cannot be the same as the desire to understand god’s creation. There is a fundamental difference which the words “learn more about the world around us” conceals. The one leads to knowledge regardless of any desire for human or personal “significance”, the other has as its goal an interpretation of the world related only to personal meaning (whatever “meaning” means). There is a search for knowledge and a search for meaning, and although these seem to go together there is a point at which the ways divide. Stedman seems to be trying to pretend that such a division can be slurred over, but it effectively destroys common ground except in the most trivial sense: we all “want to know” something or other about the world we live in.

We could suppose that we all find our meaning in response to what we know. For the atheist, “what we know” are observed and established facts, for the Christian “what we know” before anything else is the redemption of God’s fallen creation through the sufferings of Christ and how all things — whatever they are — work together for good to them that love the one supernal Fact. So an atheist might be outraged at the needless suffering and waste of women’s lives that is the result of Catholic policy, while the Christian will humbly submit to God for the outcome — whatever it is, and reject actual knowledge as a proper basis of action.

In this way, the desire to know about the world and to act on the basis of what is known would seem, from the atheist’s point-of-view, to be corrupted at the outset in the case of the believer. Perhaps you could say that for the atheist, meaning is what we make, but for the believer, meaning is truth. For the atheist, meaning emerges in personal life and is not mistaken for reality, whereas for the believer, meaning is something prior to what exists and is imposed upon it and ultimately revealed by the divine fiat.

we’re all trying to construct meaningful lives

Well, not really, not if, for some of us, the meaning is already granted. We atheists might be doing that, but the Christians’ task is to learn obedience. Stedman is like a blind man trying to blind people so that he can lead them. He wishes us to assume that we’re all the same really. No, we are not, and we will never agree; our only common ground is our humanity, and we can’t even agree on what that means.

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

She only wants to talk to women

Apr 5th, 2014 5:36 pm | By

Is there a First Amendment right to bother strangers in the street? I sure as hell hope not.

By the end of June, the U.S. Supreme Court will have decided one of the most contentious topics facing abortion clinics and their patients today: at what point does a protester’s First Amendment rights interfere with a clinic patient’s right to seek medical care without nonconsensual proselytizing? That is the issue in McCullen v. Coakley, and a 35-foot buffer zone surrounding women’s reproductive healthcare facilities in Massachusetts. Mark Rienzi, on behalf of the anti-abortion activists who are challenging the state’s law, argued that being made to stand outside of a buffer zone inhibits his clients’ opportunities to speak with patients, and therefore is a violation of their First Amendment right to free speech.

No. Absolutely not. I say that not as a lawyer – obviously, since I’m not one – but as a person. Nobody has a “First Amendment right” to get in my face and talk to me. Insisting on talking to someone who doesn’t want to be talked to is harassment, plain and simple. I experienced it regularly as a teenager in Paris, and it’s a nightmare.

Women don’t suddenly become public property or public figures because they’re going to an abortion clinic. People in general aren’t obliged to be captive audiences for strangers who want to pester them. We’re all protected by the great and foundational Fuck Off principle.

Eleanor McCullen, the 77-year-old self-proclaimed “sidewalk counselor” and plaintiff in the lawsuit, claims that she is different from the other anti-abortion protesters because she only wants to talk to women who are seeking healthcare.

Fuck off, Eleanor McCullen. The women don’t want to talk to you, so fuck off out of it.

Scalia, of course, is all for Eleanor McCullen.

Her message seemed to resonate with Justice Antonin Scalia, who interrupted when the attorney representing Massachusetts used the word “protesters”:

“I object to you calling these people protesters, which you’ve been doing here during the whole presentation. That is not how they present themselves. They do not say they want to make protests. They say they want to talk quietly to the women who are going into these facilities. Now how does that make them protesters?”

The women who are going into these facilities don’t want to be talked to “quietly” by them. That’s not what they’re there for. I don’t want to be talked to “quietly” by some random pestering stranger who wants to convert me to her point of view when I’m on my way into the grocery store or the post office, so why the hell would women on their way into the abortion clinic want that? It’s harassment. Trying to force them to be talked to is harassment. Fuck off.

The author of the piece, Ashley Gray, is a clinic escort. She describes what these creeps are like.

One group is comprised of Catholic women who are affiliated with a crisis pregnancy center across the street and refer to themselves as “sidewalk counselors,” just like Eleanor McCullen. The characterization they use is intentional, as these women want to distinguish themselves from other, more overtly aggressive groups. These women sometimes carry signs and try to distribute pamphlets, but they prefer a more subtle approach to influencing patients and their companions.

They might begin by knocking on a patient’s car window, an aggressive action in itself, but done with a friendly smile. Then they make their pitch, “We have free sonograms across the street, here is some literature for you on the dangers of abortion, would you like a rosary?”

In my experience, few, if any, patients want to speak with these women. Some patients are polite and say, “No thank you,” while others just ignore them or ask to be left alone. When that happens, the sidewalk counselors step up their game.




That is harassment. As Gray says, knocking on the damn car window is aggressive. Fuck off.

By this time, however, the patients are actively trying to get away from the women, who nevertheless continue to stalk them for as far as they can, often right up to the clinic doors while trying to tell the patients, “It’s not too late, Mom!” They thrust gestational models of fetuses in the patients’ faces and say, “This is what your baby looks like inside of you.” They try to hand pieces of chocolate to patients, saying, “You must be hungry,” knowing that if a woman ingests food within twenty-four hours before she’s supposed to have anesthesia, her appointment will be successfully sabotaged. In short, the end justifies the means, even when, as is often the case, the patient is afraid or in tears.

It’s disgusting. There are five shits on the court so no doubt this will be declared a First Amendment “right,” but it’s disgusting.

The “sidewalk counselors” may not be your typical anti-choice protesters, who have become known for carrying bloody signs and loud “street preaching,” but they are just as upsetting, and perhaps even more so, because they do it under the disguise of a loving and caring person. They are not certified therapists or counselors. They have no degrees in psychology. Just because they prefer to talk, and not scream, does not make a difference in the impact or invasiveness of their actions on patients and their companions.

These people are using the First Amendment as justification to force patients, against their will, to listen to their evangelizing and to try to prevent them from exercising their right to obtain abortions. Justice Scalia’s comments reflected a profound misunderstanding of what it’s really like in front of abortion clinics, but whether you call them “sidewalk counselors” or “protesters,” the outcome is exactly the same: women feeling threatened, frightened, and harassed for obtaining reproductive medical care.

Harassment is not a god damn free speech right.

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

Some mirror

Apr 5th, 2014 1:46 pm | By

Google Earth street view from a road along a fjord on Austvågøy island which is one of the Lofoten islands in Norway (way up in Norway).

Click on it to get the full effect.


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

How different?

Apr 5th, 2014 12:45 pm | By

Chris Stedman asks at Religion News what misconceptions people have about atheists. There are lots of them, he notes, and that’s probably because most people don’t know many atheists, or don’t realize they do.

But when people meet atheists, they have an opportunity to revise their ideas about who we are and what we believe.

In that spirit, the Yale Humanist Community is cosponsoring an “Ask an Atheist” panel with Hartford Faith & Values—Connecticut’s nonsectarian, nonprofit religion news website and an affiliate of Religion News Service—this Monday, April 7 as the kickoff event for our first ever Humanism at Yale Week.

Great idea. He gets the other panelists to give some misconceptions, then he adds one.

I think another misconception is the idea that atheists and theists do not and cannot identify shared values or areas of mutual concern.

This is a harmful and ultimately dehumanizing assumption, predicated for some on the idea that atheists are so completely unlike theists—and that the chasm between believers and nonbelievers is so vast—that it isn’t valuable or even possible to work together for the common good.

But the reality is that we aren’t as different as we may think. Theist or atheist, we’re all trying to construct meaningful lives, understand ourselves and others, and learn more about the world around us. So let’s get together and get to know one another better.

I think that overstates the common ground a little bit. I don’t think it’s true that all theists are trying to learn more about the world around us. That’s one of the things I really don’t have in common with theists, as I understand theism. I think theism entails a belief in something that depends on non-rational non-empirical support – that depends, in short, on faith. I think that fact interferes with wanting to learn more about the world around us. I think theism is a motivation to try to ignore or deny some parts of the world around us – the ones that interfere with belief in a god, which is what theism is.

On the other hand people can compartmentalize. I get that. They can and do. But that’s not reliable; it’s not built in; it can’t be assumed. You never know when the door to the compartment is going to be breached, and the god-belief breaks through to distort the cognitive functioning.

To put it another way, I can easily agree that I can work with theists on many kinds of projects. I don’t quite agree that I can – necessarily – work with theists on trying to learn more about the world around us. Maybe I can, but maybe I can’t; it depends on the theists and how tightly closed they keep the compartment.

It seems to me that’s something the two parties really don’t have in common.

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