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 21st, 2015 3:34 pm | By

I stopped in at that chain drug store that I mentioned yesterday – Bartells – to see if they still carry OTC homeopathic asthma “treatments.” I could find only one thing (and didn’t feel like asking anyone). There’s only one and it’s not right next to other asthma meds; I couldn’t find any other asthma meds. They have everything with pseudoephedrine behind the counter now (because meth, ya know), and maybe all the asthma meds have pseudoephedrine so that’s why I didn’t see any. If that’s the explanation that’s an improvement on the last time I looked at this.

But still there is one item: safecare AsthmaCare for temporary relief of minor asthma symptoms.

In big letters in the middle:

Shortness of breath


Tightness in chest

So it’s saying this stuff is treatment for that. But it’s not. But it says it is.

There is a small red strip at the bottom (so much less noticeable than the list of things it gives “temporary relief” for) that says “Not a rescue inhaler.”

But you know, some people won’t notice that, some won’t believe it, some won’t be sure that it means, some will think it’s just Big Pharma.

On the side, looking super official and technical, it gives instructions on how to take it and says “approximately 100 adult doses.” That makes it sound like real medicine. It’s a small box with an even smaller bottle in it, so if a thing that tiny has 100 doses it must be really powerful. In some way. has it for the low low price of $23. For a tiny bottle of nothing.


It’s hard to see, but there in the top right corner it says HOMEOPATHIC – right on top of GLUTEN FREE

$23 for 2 fluid ounces of nothing.

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

He is concerned about the security risk for delegates

Apr 21st, 2015 1:01 pm | By

Padraig Reidy reports at Little Atoms that Queens University Belfast has canceled a scheduled symposium on

can you guess what?

On Charlie Hebdo.

The irony is so multiple and reflexive that I think it may be about to suck the entire universe into itself and then disappear.

The symposium: Understanding Charlie: New perspectives on contemporary citizenship after Charlie Hebdo, was due to be hosted in June by QUB’s Institute for Collaborative Research in the Humanities. But delegates, including Oxford University philosophy professor Brian Klug, were informed via email on Monday (20 April) that the event would not go ahead.

The email informed speakers: “The Vice Chancellor at Queen’s University Belfast has made the decision just this morning that he does not wish our symposium to go ahead. He is concerned about the security risk for delegates and about the reputation of the university.”

Professor Klug said this morning he is “baffled” and “dismayed” by the decision.

“I don’t understand either of his concerns. The second – the reputation of the university – strikes me as ironic, as his action does not exactly reflect well on Queens,” he told Little Atoms via email.

Just kidding! The duck’s off!

Index on Censorship Chief Executive Jodie Ginsberg commented: “If all public discussion on important issues is shut down because of security fears then the terrorists have won. Free speech – including the free exchange of ideas – is vital for democracy and universities in particular should be the torch bearers for free expression.”

They already have won a huge amount. They already have shut down many discussions, they already have moved Garry Trudeau to spit on his own vocation, they already have trained well-meaning people to think they must never breathe a word of criticism of Islam or Islamists.

Little Atoms has made repeated attempts to acquire a statement from Queen’s University Belfast on this story, but the institution is yet to comment. We will update as soon as we receive a reply. The university has been informed of publication.

Update 6:55pm 21/04/2015: We understand that Queen’s is refusing to talk to the press.

Update 7:03pm 21/04/2015: A spokesperson for QUB has called Little Atoms to confirm that the symposium will not go ahead, and that the university will make no further comment.


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

Thoughtful disagreement

Apr 21st, 2015 11:44 am | By

A Facebook friend posted a link to my Freethinker column (published yesterday), and got some…lively comments.


Paul McEnery “Of course the idea behind the cartoons was to challenge authority: to challenge religious authority, clerical authority, theocratic authority, the authority of public opinion and taboo.”

Total motherfucking hypocritical shit-mouthed arsemongering.

The idea was to be cunts to Muslims on the grounds of they were subhuman mongrels who should get the fuck out of Denmark.


Paul McEnery Nobody’s using cartoonists for scapegoats. YOU personally are pretending that the Danish cartoons weren’t full on racialist hate speech intended to provoke violence. So is Benson.

Nice deflect by pointlessly objecting to “cunts” as if it matters, btw. We’ve been through that before, and you were completely provincial and wrong then too. And I did it again just to show that you’ll take offence at pointless and provincial things while deliberately overlooking the substantial matter.


Paul McEnery BTW: While we’re here, I was guessing that Benson was a Harris atheist and a misandrist, and surprise surprise, right on both counts. She’s a dangerous ideologue, and a very nasty piece of work who is quite happy to lie her face off — and libel enemies — to get her way.

Who would imagine that an actual satirical cartoonist might be better at reading a situation than an extremist headcase?

Paul McEnery Oh, and Ken. Read it again. Benson’s lying lies start with a quote from Trudeau DIRECTLY speaking about the Danish cartoons, which is what she DIRECTLY addresses.

Make no mistake: Benson is the same kind of human being as those Danish cartoonists, and her aim is PRECISELY to suborn the issue of free speech into hatred of Muslims.

Which is to say: the difference between her and the Kouachi brothers is she hides behind words while harming people and stirring violence.


Paul McEnery She IS a Harris atheist. She IS a misandrist. She IS a liar — the first thing she says in this article is a lie; but she’s libeled a lot more people to get her way. And the opening of this article is quite clear in her attempt to libel Trudeau.

Paul McEnery And while we’re here, her actual issue with Trudeau is that he calls out Western bigots and hate speechers for their part in perpetuating the cycle of violence.

Which would include her.

He seems nice.

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

Guest post: There is no one answer for all patients

Apr 21st, 2015 10:49 am | By

Originally a comment by karmacat on Psychiatry is an important skeptical and social justice issue.

My anger comes from working as a psychiatrist and watching my patients suffer and scared that maybe there is nothing I can do for some patients. SC does have valid criticisms because the brain is so complicated that we have a limited understanding of it.

Mental illnesses do exist but we still don’t really understand the pathophysiology of the brain. We can see how patients with schizophrenia have different brains from “normal.” but one patient with schizophrenia can be different from another patient with schizophrenia even though they have the same diagnosis.

The problem with the DSM is that it is just a description of symptoms but doesn’t describe the physiology of the brain. But, right now, it is the best way of standardizing the diagnoses of mental illnesses.

Another issue is that patients and doctors can expect too much from medications. Most antidepressants are prescribed by primary care physicians and they don’t have a lot of time to figure out what is really causing depression. The problem is most people don’t have access to therapists or even psychiatrists, so they only get treated for one aspect of the illness. they don’t get treatment for the psychological and social aspects of their illness.
Another question that is important is to ask how much depression, anxiety, hallucinations or mania interfere with a person’s life. If a patient is managing his or her moods, then the risks of medicines outweigh the benefits. If medicine is taking away all emotions then it is time to switch medicines and/or focus on therapy more.

I could go on and on, of course. the point is that there are people who are suffering a lot and we need to find ways that are effective and with minimization of risks and side effects. We have a long way to go. If you look at the history of psychiatry there are a lot of screw-ups but there are some breakthroughs, especially for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Through the years, there have been more legal safeguards for patients and in research. As SC has pointed out, there are still a lot of problems.

Psychiatry can be frustrating because there , the treatments are limited, the brain is complicated but the suffering continues. All I can do for my patients is to keep reading articles and keep trying. I hope I haven’t rambled too much.

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

Aron and Lilandra in Dublin

Apr 21st, 2015 10:23 am | By

Aron Ra is giving a talk in Dublin an hour from now.

Via Twitter

Embedded image permalink

Should be interesting.

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

Thursday it was flannel, Friday they wore orange

Apr 21st, 2015 9:12 am | By

Manly men fight back.

McGuffey High School in Claysville, Pennsylvania made headlines over the weekend when a group of students organized an “Anti-Gay Day’ in direct retaliation to the LGBT youth-supportive National Day of Silence (NDOS) on Friday.

So it’s necessary to “retaliate” against the LGBT youth-supportive National Day of Silence? So a group of high school students want to go on record as saying LGBT youth should be bullied and harassed at school?

About the Day of Silence:

GLSENs Day of Silence is a national day of action in which students across the country vow to take a form of silence to call attention to the silencing effect of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools.


Founded in 1996, the Day of Silence has become the largest single student-led action towards creating safer schools for all, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. From the first-ever Day of Silence at the University of Virginia in 1996, to the organizing efforts in over 8,000 middle schools, high schools, colleges and universities across the country in 2008, its textured history reflects its diversity in both numbers and reach.

Back to McGuffey High School:

A student named Ashley, wrote to G Philly saying that organizers of the anti-gay movement asked students to wear flannel shirts and write “anti-gay” on their hands if they opposed the LGBT community. “Stickers and flyers are also being placed around the school and on queer kids’ lockers that read ‘ANTI-GAY,’ she wrote. “This movement is a retaliation of the Day Of Silence that was set in place to remember people whose lives have ended due to LQBTIA bullying. The ‘Anti-Gay’ club, to begin with, is an obvious sign of bullying and discrimination. These kids need help. We are all people and we all deserve to be treated as such. ”

I wonder if the school also has a Racist Club, a Misogynist Club, a Nazi Club, a KKK Club, a Rapists Club, a Bullies Club.

WPXI suggests that Anti-Gay Day organizers expect to continue its protest through the week, with organizers choosing a different shirt color each day. Thursday it was flannel, Friday they wore orange and they “allegedly have another five days’ worth of anti-gay attire planned for [this] week.”

There’s just nothing so inspirational as organized bullying, is there.

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

The fox would be delighted to guard the hen house

Apr 20th, 2015 4:08 pm | By

John Tozzi at Bloomberg is also on the homeopathy story.

On a recent afternoon in midtown Manhattan, I popped into a chain drug store and picked up some $12 sleep tablets whose label promises both “courage and peace of mind” and “focus when ungrounded.” I also got a $17 tube of cream offering “rapid, soothing relief of pain” from conditions as varied as arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and bug bites. Both products sat on shelves alongside familiar drugs such as Tylenol and Claritin, which regulators have carefully scrutinized for safety and effectiveness. The half- dozen products I bought—labelled as “homeopathic”—aren’t vetted for either.

Tablets that give you courage and peace of mind – that’s funny. I suppose it wouldn’t have sounded spiritual enough to say “calms you the fuck down” – not that it does that either.

About 3.3 million Americans spent $2.9 billion on homeopathic treatments in 2007, according to the latest estimates from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), though private industry research suggests a smaller market. The industry has “mushroomed” since the early 1980s, when homeopathic sales were just $1.5 million a year, says Bill Nychis, who worked at the FDA for 39 years in compliance and enforcement. At the time, the agency was midway through a decades-long process reviewing older over-the-counter drugs for safety and efficacy. The FDA had the authority to regulate homeopathic remedies, but because sales were so small, the agency opted to outsource much of that job to the industry itself. “Risk is always depending upon the number of products on the market and the sales volume of the products,” says Nychis, who now advises importers at

In 1988, the FDA issued a policy guide “where we basically allow these drugs to come to the market without premarket approval,” says Cynthia Schnedar, director of compliance for the agency’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. Federal regulators allow the sale of any substance listed in the Homeopathic Pharmacopeia, a document published since the 1800s and maintained by a nonprofit industry association. The remedies need to meet certain FDA manufacturing guidelines and can be marketed over the counter only for “self-limiting” conditions, meaning illnesses like colds that go away on their own.

Oh? Is that right? Then why are homeopathic asthma “treatments” sitting on the shelf at the chain drugstore less than a mile from where I am at this moment? Sitting on the shelf with the real asthma medications?

Critics of homeopathy say FDA action is overdue. Stephen Barrett, a retired North Carolina psychiatrist who operates the fraud-busting site Quackwatch, petitioned the agency in 1994 to require that homeopathic remedies meet the same standards for safety and effectiveness as other drugs. The agency has cracked down on claims that homeopathic products can treat cancer or substitute for flu vaccines, but Barrett says it hasn’t done enough to warn consumers about common over-the-counter remedies. “You can’t separate safety from effectiveness,” he says. “If it’s not effective, it’s not safe.”

And there are homeopathic asthma “treatments” out there. I can’t emphasize this enough. It’s not just for headaches and other things that can be hard to treat and aren’t fatal. Asthma.

Manufacturers of homeopathic products argue that the consumer should be the judge. “Millions of Americans use homeopathic medicines and want access to them,” says John P. Borneman, chief executive of Hyland’s Homeopathic and president of the industry association that publishes the Homeopathic Pharmacopeia. “These medicines are very effective, people like using them, [and] it’s part of consumer choice in the United States.”

No. Medicine is a technical subject. People can’t evaluate medicines on their own, and manufacturers can’t (and shouldn’t and mustn’t) be trusted to give all the necessary information on the package. Manufacturers of homeopathic products are doing it to make money, and they’re not going to say on the label “THIS IS FAKE MEDICINE.” It has to be an outside body that does that, one with no financial stake in the outcome – a disinterested party.

In the U.S., homeopathic remedies have become more common at national pharmacy chains, says Yale historian Naomi Rogers, who has studied the history of medicine and homeopathy. “Homeopathic drugs didn’t disappear, but they moved from prescription drugs to all over-the-counter drugs,” she says. “They start to be seen as—or even packaged as—the equivalent of special vitamins, special kinds of extra things you can take to stay healthy, or to get healthy, or to treat something that you have that you don’t want to go to a doctor for.”

Or just as one of the several asthma treatments on the shelf, and one that is cheaper than the others.

At this week’s hearing, the FDA will consider whether its current approach is “appropriate to protect and promote public health in light of the tremendous growth of the homeopathic market.” Barrett says the answer is no, and he suggested a way 20 years ago to deal with it: “Hold homeopathic drugs to the same standards as other drugs.” Which would probably make them harder to find at your local pharmacy.

I sure as hell hope so. It horrified me to find homeopathic asthma “treatments” right there on the shelf.

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

It’s a tough question

Apr 20th, 2015 3:16 pm | By

NPR covers the homeopathy issue in its usual insouciant way. It starts with a human interest story about a practitioner named Anthony Aurigemma in Bethesda (handy for NPR).

Aurigemma went to medical school and practiced as a regular doctor before switching to homeopathy more than 30 years ago. He says he got disillusioned by mainstream medicine because of the side effects caused by many drugs. “I don’t reject conventional medicine. I use it when I have to,” Aurigemma says.

Throughout his career, homeopathy has been regulated differently from mainstream medicine.

In 1988, the Food and Drug Administration decided not to require homeopathic remedies to go through the same drug-approval process as standard medical treatments. Now the FDA isrevisiting that decision. It will hold two days of hearings this week to decide whether homeopathic remedies should have to be proven safe and effective.



It will hold two days of hearings this week to decide whether homeopathic remedies should have to be proven safe and effective.

It will hold two days of hearings this week to decide whether homeopathic remedies should have to be proven safe and effective.

Let’s see…should they?

Naaaaaaaaaaaah. So they’re dangerous and useless – so what?! What’s the harm?

Remember that time I read something about homeopathic asthma “medication” and went ballistic? Remember I went to the local chain drugstore to see if they carried it and sure enough they did, with the actual asthma medication? That’s the harm. It’s cheaper than the real stuff. A naïve shopper could buy the homeopathic stuff not realizing it’s not real medication. Asthma can kill you, quickly.

That’s what’s the harm.

So yes, FDA, since homeopathic remedies claim to be medically effective, yes of course they should have to be proven safe and effective.

Homeopathic medicine has long been controversial. It’s based on an idea known as “like cures like,” which means if you give somebody a dose of a substance — such as a plant or a mineral — that can cause the symptoms of their illness, it can, in theory, cure that illness if the substance has been diluted so much that it’s essentially no longer in the dose.

“We believe that there is a memory left in the solution. You might call it a memory. You might call it energy,” Aurigemma says. “Each substance in nature has a certain set of characteristics. And when a patient comes who matches the physical, mental and emotional symptoms that a remedy produces — that medicine may heal the person’s problem.”

And then he spun around three times and disappeared, leaving behind only a frog in a football jersey.

“Homeopathy is an excellent example of the purest form of pseudoscience,” saysSteven Novella, a neurologist at Yale and executive editor of the website Science-Based Medicine. “These are principles that are not based upon science.”

Novella thinks consumers are wasting their money on homeopathic remedies. The cost of such treatments vary, with some over-the-counter products costing less than $10.

Some of the costs, such as visits to doctors and the therapies they prescribe, may be covered by insurance. But Novella says with so many people using homeopathic remedies, the costs add up.

Plus, it’s money for nothing. $9 for a pretend pizza may be not much money, but on the other hand a pretend pizza is worth zero.

Plus there’s the whole killing you thing.

There’s also some concern that homeopathic remedies could be dangerous if they’re contaminated or not completely diluted, or even if they simply don’t work.

I don’t know what that “even” is doing there. Yes of course medicine that doesn’t work could be dangerous!

Somebody who’s having an acute asthma attack, for example, who takes a homeopathic asthma remedy, “may very well die of their acute asthma attack because they were relying on a completely inert and ineffective treatment,” Novella says.

Precisely. Yet there it is sitting on the shelf at the big chain drugstore, mixed in with the real medicine! Not marked “DOES NOT WORK”.

For years, critics like Novella have been asking the FDA to regulate homeopathy more aggressively. The FDA’s decision to revisit the issue now was motivated by several factors, including the growing popularity of homeopathic remedies and the length of time that has passed since the agency last considered the issue.

What’s the thinking here? That it’s part of our sacred freedom to let people sell water labeled medicine?

The FDA’s decision to examine the issue is making homeopathic practitioners like Aurigemma and their patients nervous. “It would be a terrible loss to this country if they were to do something drastic,” he says.

Yeah, quack medicine is what makes this world a better place.

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

Psychiatry is an important skeptical and social justice issue

Apr 20th, 2015 2:33 pm | By

Salty Current has an updated psychiatry-skepticism-social justice reading list on her eponymous blog. That’s a subject I know little about, so I appreciate having the list.

Back in 2012, I wrote about why psychiatry is an important skeptical and social justice issue and created a short list of reading suggestions for approaching psychiatry from these perspectives. The impending release later this week of Psychiatry Under the Influence has nudged me to update it.

Much has changed since 2012, and all of the developments point to the urgency of critically examining and speaking out about psychiatry and psychopharmaceuticals. Just prior to the publication of the DSM-5 in 2013, the NIMH announced that it would no longer use psychiatric diagnoses, acknowledging that they’re not scientifically valid,* which was then publicly admitted (again) by the leaders of the APA. Studies completed over the past three years have provided more evidence of the ineffectiveness andharms of psychiatric drugs, and others have demonstrated the profound psychological effectsof marginalization and socioeconomic trauma. Professional movements challenging biopsychiatry and its drugs have continued to grow.

Today, many continue desperately to try to sell the myths about brain diseases and disorders and chemical imbalances, at the same time as others have taken to claiming astonishingly that reputable psychiatrists never made such claims at all. Countless people, including children, have had their rights violated and been injured or killed by psychiatric drugs since 2012, while pharma has reaped the profits and its representatives in psychiatry continue to operate with impunity.** Tragically, the skeptical community continues to exclude and attempt to silence critical perspectiveswhile promoting psychiatric myths. I have no doubt that they believe their arguments and recommendations to be compassionate and helpful, but genuinely helpful approaches should be based in reality and not pseudoscience.

Head over there to get the list.

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

One book

Apr 20th, 2015 11:36 am | By

Hillary Clinton said something very startling in an interview for the New York Times last June.

If you had to name one book that made you who you are today, what would it be?

At the risk of appearing predictable, the Bible was and remains the biggest influence on my thinking. I was raised reading it, memorizing passages from it and being guided by it. I still find it a source of wisdom, comfort and encouragement.

At the risk of appearing predictable, that’s an astonishingly fatuous thing to say. She must be pandering, but it’s fatuous anyway. Mind you it’s also a fatuous question, so maybe it’s forgivable to give a fatuous answer…but honestly.

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

A book for the global feminist struggle

Apr 20th, 2015 9:59 am | By

Denise Balkissoon at the Globe and Mail talks to Mona Eltahawy.

In Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution, she dismantles what she calls the “trifecta of oppression” working against Arab women: the state, the street and the home, which “work together for their own benefit by keeping girls and women down.”

She takes the reader to Jordan, where a man can escape a rape charge by marrying his victim; to Egypt, where unending street harassment leads families to impose curfews on their daughters; and to Lebanon, which recently decriminalized marital rape.

It’s a must-read.

You say many people are “all too happy to hear how badly Muslim men treat their women,” even when their own behaviour is sexist.

It troubles me deeply that the group that speaks the loudest about the niqab and how the niqab is misogynist is the right wing, Islamophobic, xenophobic racists. My point all along has been that it is possible to talk about misogyny within my own community and also call it out in the right-wing racist community that tries to use my words against Muslim men.

That’s one reason I do my best to amplify voices that are not in the group right wing, anti-Muslim, xenophobic racists; voices that belong to ex-Muslim and Muslim feminists and secularists and liberals. There are a lot of them, with strong voices.

Almost an entire chapter is about your opposition to the niqab. Are you worried that in coming out so strongly, you might alienate women who consider themselves feminists and believe that wearing it is their choice?

This idea of the niqab being feminist is an idea I totally reject. I think it directly contributes to erasing women and it directly contributes to a very dangerous idea of piety, equating it to the disappearance of women. I know there are some who oppose my position on this vehemently, and that is their right. And it’s my right to say: Just because a woman does something doesn’t mean that I have to support her.

Actually that chapter is about the hijab, not the niqab. Mona wore hijab herself for years.

You’ve been criticized for writing in English. Who is the book for?

My book is in English for a very personal reason: When I was 7, my family left Egypt, and English has been my main language, through no choosing of my own.

This is going to sound very dramatic and egotistical, but the book is for the global feminist struggle. I think this is a real moment in which women of various ethnic backgrounds can see each other standing up. You can’t take down something like patriarchy and misogyny without naming it, and I wanted to put together all of these examples and name them. I wanted to name the women who are standing up in this part of the world.

It doesn’t sound dramatic and egotistical at all. Mona is well placed to write a book of that kind, having lived in Egypt and the UK, Saudi Arabia and the US. Certainly her book is for the global feminist struggle.

I hope it’s a best-seller.

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

Cartoons that are detrimental to public order

Apr 20th, 2015 9:34 am | By

Kate Mayberry at Al Jazeera talks to the Malaysian political cartoonist Zunar.

Zulkiflee Sm Anwar Ulhaque, better known by his pen name of Zunar, is one of Malaysia’s most acerbic and controversial cartoonists, picking apart the government in a country where deference to those in power has long been the norm.

Well let’s get real – deference to those in power has long been the norm everywhere, or almost everywhere. What’s the point of power if you can’t use it to make underlings deferential?! It’s not some quaint eccentricity of Malaysia to make deference to those in power a norm. But over the past couple of centuries that norm has had a rival norm of egalitarianism to deal with, and as communication has become more and more global and instantaneous, it has become every more difficult to confine that genie to the bottle.

So Zunar is a cartoonist in a country where deference to those in power has long been the norm and the state still strongly enforces that norm.

Zunar is accused of producing cartoons that are detrimental to public order.

Zunar was formally charged this month with nine counts of sedition. He faces as many as 43 years in prison if found guilty. Out on bail ahead of the trial, he spoke to Al Jazeera about why he continues to draw.

Al Jazeera:You seem to have attracted more sedition charges than anyone else in Malaysia. Why do you carry on cartooning?

Zunar: For me talent is not a gift, it’s a responsibility. In facing a crisis you need to make a stand. You can’t keep quiet or try to be neutral, if neutral means you support an oppressive government.

Malaysia has been governed by the same political party for more than 58 years and people are getting restless.

I am a cartoonist. I use cartoons to push for reform. It’s a duty for me to do that. People say, ‘Why don’t you stop?’ Stop is a choice. Continuing is a choice. But this is not a choice. This is a duty. As an artist, I really think that’s important. The talent is God-sent. The talent is not mine. It is God’s gift and it comes with responsibility.

Courageous, isn’t he.

I wonder if the Garry Trudeaus of the world will line up to rebuke him for his courage and dedication and self-sacrifice.

No I don’t, not really. What I wonder is why they wouldn’t do that to him but would do it to Charlie Hebdo.

Al Jazeera:It’s hard to imagine now that there was a time before the internet. Do you think people appreciated back then just how important the internet would turn out to be?

Zunar: In Malaysia, Twitter and Facebook are not social media, they’re alternative media. People use it to exchange news and views. The growth is very fast because the situation of press freedom in Malaysia makes that happen. Whereas press freedom is going backwards, people are going forward.

The people’s mindset in this era is totally different than the ’70s and ’80s. They are more critical, more challenging and want to take part in debate. They want to talk about the issues.

Zuckerberg had no idea what he was starting.

Al Jazeera:There’s obviously a lot of focus on political cartooning now, following the attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris.Can cartoonists sometimes go too far?

Zunar: Let me ask a question, if the Prophet Muhammad were still alive would he have ordered the cartoonists to be killed?

He would not. Prophet Muhammad would never have told us to do that.

You have a right not to agree with the content of the cartoon. Me, as a Muslim, I also don’t agree. But cartoonists have a right to draw what they draw, but sentiment and perspective is very subjective.

I’m the small scale of Charlie Hebdo. I’m being attacked by the Malaysian government. If they don’t agree with my cartoon fine, but don’t use criminal law against me. If you say my cartoons are defamatory, you can sue me. But why use criminal law to put me behind bars before the trial?

When it comes to Charlie Hebdo, it’s also like that. You didn’t give them a chance to explain themselves, you just went and shot them. Deal with it in a civilised manner. If you don’t agree, you can rebut it. It’s just a cartoon. So what?

Ah but “just a cartoon” can be a very powerful thing.

Strength to your pen hand, Zunar.

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

Help them shorten the distance

Apr 19th, 2015 5:18 pm | By

Via A Mighty Girl

At the Paris Marathon last Sunday, Siabatou Sanneh of Gambia stood out from the other racers — in addition to her race number, she wore traditional Gambian garb and carried 45 pounds of water on her head. Sanneh, who had never left her home country before, participated in the marathon as part of an effort to raise awareness of the difficulties African women face in accessing clean water. While she walked the race, she also wore a sign that read: “In Africa, women travel this distance everyday to get potable water. Help us shorten the distance.”

Sanneh, a mother of four, lives in a small village of 300 people and started carrying water when she was five years old. Now, she and two of her daughters, 12-year-old Nyima and 20-year-old Mamina, carry water together: “I wake up in the morning, and go and collect water from a well. I have to walk 8 km (5 miles) there and back. I do this three times a day at least.” Each woman carries over 40 pounds of water on the return trip, wearing flip flops and often walking in extreme heat.

Sanneh was walking on behalf of Water For Africa, a charitable organization that’s working to draw attention for the need for bore-dug wells with water pumps, rather than the hand-dug wells that are common there. In Sanneh’s home country, Water For Africa estimates 200 to 300 water pumps would supply the needs of the whole population — an urgent need, since 40 to 60 percent of the current wells and pumping systems are deteriorating. Sanneh says, “I want them to help us dig bore holes, a sustainable water source, but not only more holes, I want more sustainable ones too. That’s all we need.”

While she couldn’t walk the full length of the marathon because “it was too long and the container on my head was too heavy,” Sanneh still captured the attention of people around the world. She’s pleased that her efforts have helped draw attention to the need for greater action to improve water access. For Sanneh, it would be a dream come true: “I don’t want my children and their children to be collecting water from the well when they are my age.”

To help support the building of boreholes in Gambia, visit The Marathon Walker, or learn more at Water for Africa.

An excellent novel that explores how the lack of access to potable water affects girls’ lives is “A Long Walk To Water,” for ages 9 to 14.

For two stories set in Africa which show how small changes can transform lives, check out “Beatrice’s Goat” for ages 4 to 8 and “Mimi’s Village: And How Basic Health Care Transformed It” for ages 6 to 9.

For more stories about the challenges faced by girls and women living in poverty, visit our “Poverty & Hardship” section.

And, for more true stories of inspiring girls and women who worked to change the world, visit our “Activist” section in Biographies.

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

Still punishing the harlots

Apr 19th, 2015 4:58 pm | By

Here’s something I didn’t know about Israel, via Failed Messiah:

Does Israel really have religious freedom?

Many observers believe it does not, and the country’s secular High Court of Justice showed again last week that those observers are correct when it ruled that official state rabbinical courts can blacklist women – but not men – they believe have committed adultery, putting their names on secret lists that  prevent them from marrying ‘pure’ Jews of unblemished linage and effectively preventing them from marrying at all.

In response to a petition filed against that blacklisting, Ha’aretz reported the High Court ruled that Israel’s haredi-controlled state chief rabbinate had sufficiently fixed the problems with the blacklist and, based on that it tossed out the petition filed against it by a woman who divorced in 2002 and only afterward found out that her name had been placed on that blacklist by a state the Rabbinical Court without her knowledge and without the ability for her and her alleged lover to present evidence against the move. Her petition was supported by women’s rights groups who all noted that only women (and any children they may have with a man who is not their husband) are subject to this blacklisting – not men who cheat on their wives.

That’s rather tangled. The High Court ruled that official state rabbinical courts can put women – and women only – on blacklists for having “committed adultery.” It sounds like the end of Mansfield Park, where Maria is sent off to live in outcast isolation because she “committed adultery.” The man went on his way rejoicing.

Petitioners argued that this blacklisting invades women’s privacy and undermines gender equality. Blacklisting also prevents women from forming a new family – a right Israeli law should protect, the petitioners claimed. They also argued state rabbinical courts are not legally allowed to rule on adultery issues when the divorce is, as was in this specific case, consensual.

But Israel is far closer to a theocracy than a democracy, and the claims of the woman and her supporters fell on the High Court’s nearly deaf ears.

This god thing is such a nuisance. It’s what some people came up with a long time ago, and we’re still stuck with it – which is ridiculous. Everything else is allowed to change as we change, our views change, technology changes, but the religious nonsense that traps and constrains so many people is stuck in amber.

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

The smugglers are capitalizing on the migrants’ desperation

Apr 19th, 2015 3:53 pm | By

More on that mass drowning in the Mediterranean last night, from the CBC.

Italian prosecutors said a Bangladeshi survivor flown to Sicily for treatment told them 950 people were aboard, including hundreds who had been locked in the hold by smugglers. Earlier, authorities said a survivor told them 700 migrants were on board.

It wasn’t immediately clear if they were referring to the same survivor, and Italian Premier Matteo Renzi said authorities were “not in a position to confirm or verify” the death toll.

Locked in the hold. [shudder]

By nightfall Sunday, rescuers on 18 ships had found 28 survivors and “alas, 24 dead,” he said.

The premier of Malta, whose island nation participated in the search and rescue mission, put the number of survivors at 50 total.

Renzi said a total of 18 ships, including nearby commercial vessels pressed into service, were helping in the search mission. An Italian Navy helicopter carried one injured survivor to a hospital in Sicily.

The 20-meter vessel may have overturned because migrants rushed to one side of the craft late Saturday night when they saw an approaching Portuguese-flagged container ship, the King Jacob, which the Italian Coast Guard had dispatched to help them.

The ship was sent to the area in Libyan waters by Italy’s Coast Guard, and once the crew spotted the overloaded boat, it “immediately deployed rescue boats, gangway, nets and life rings,” a spokesman for the ship’s owner said in a statement.

Renzi praised the King Jacob, saying the ship “immediately went into action” on what would become its fifth recent rescue operation.

The ship was sent there to help, and its arrival may have caused the capsizing.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said in a statement Sunday that 219,000 people crossed the Mediterranean by sea and 3,500 died last year. This year, 35,000 asylum seekers and migrants have reached Europe so far and more than 900 are known to have died in failed crossings. Last week, 400 people were presumed drowned when another boat capsized.

The smugglers are capitalizing on the migrants’ desperation and taking advantage of chaos and violence in Libya, where rival militias, tribal factions and other political forces have destabilized the country since bloody end of the long dictatorship of Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.

Not much of a spring.

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

A battle between faith and blasphemy, between truth and falsehood

Apr 19th, 2015 3:35 pm | By

Daesh is at it again, apparently. (I wouldn’t want Daesh suing me for defamation, now would I.) The Washington Post reports that they claim to have killed two groups of Christians.

Islamic State militants in Libya shot and beheaded two groups of Ethiopian Christians, a video purportedly from the extremists showed Sunday, according to the Associated Press.

The new 29-minute video showing captured Ethiopian Christians starts with what it called a history of Christian-Muslim relations and includes scenes of militants destroying churches, graves and icons.

“Despite the cross, we have returned,” the narrator says.

The video shows Islamic State militants marching their victims, in orange jumpsuits, along a coastline. The second group, dressed in black jumpsuits, is executed in the desert.

Mass murder is a war crime…but of course they don’t care about that, because they think they’re acting in the name of Allah or some such horsepiss.

A masked fighter says Christians must convert to Islam or pay a tax prescribed by the Koran.

“You will not have safety even in your dreams, until you accept Islam,” he says. “Our battle is a battle between faith and blasphemy, between truth and falsehood.”

If you win, the world will be hell. Acceptance of your Islam is acceptance of hell.

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

At sea

Apr 19th, 2015 12:07 pm | By

One of those pictures that says more than a lot of words.

Embedded image permalink

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

As a cultural awareness activity

Apr 19th, 2015 12:00 pm | By

Maajid Nawaz pointed to an article about

Ohio school students asked to “cover” for a day in “solidarity” with “Muslims”. Thankfully cancelled. Where do I even begin?

The article, in the Washington Post, explains the idea:

A public high school in Mason, Ohio, has apologized for an event called the “Covered For a Day” that encouraged all girls to wear a hijab — a head scarf worn by Islamic women — as a cultural awareness activity.

The event was supposed to take place at the 830-student, high-performing school on Thursday, but has been canceled. It was sponsored by the Mason High School Muslim Student Association…

I have an idea. How about the Mason High School Haredi Student Association encourages all boys to refuse to sit next to girls in the cafeteria, as a cultural awareness activity?

How about the Mason High School Christian Student Association encourages all students to stage protests in science class demanding equal time for god, as a cultural awareness activity? How about all the school bullies encourage all students to take a beating in silence, as a cultural awareness activity?

Or, how about not?

Maajid elaborated on his view in a comment:

As a liberal, I disagree with the notion of women believing they must wear a hijab to be “good Muslims”, or “more pious”, or that it makes them somehow morally better in God’s eyes [compared] to women who do not wear it, and I disagree with promoting the hijab. However, also as a liberal I will defend the legal right of women to wear it, because dress is a personal matter, and have done so many times on TV (despite the same women failing to defend others’ rights to wear cartoons on their t-shirts) yet I maintain my legal and moral right to continue to speak out against this practice. This is because, there are still countries that enforce hijab on women as a matter of law, Saudi and Iran being two cases in point. There are also many more in which dressing “immodestly” is liable to male moral judgement (Pakistan, Egypt and many other developing countries), where sexual violence has sky-rocketed based on presumptions of female “immodest behaviour”. Finally, there are many dissenting Muslims and ex-Muslims who are persecuted for daring to be different the world over. The neo-orientalist assumption that “Muslim women” wear hijab, when so many Muslim women actually do not, must also be challenged. If it is not, it increases the peer pressure to conform to medieval-inspired dress codes. Until such practices are ended, I think that a “take your Hijab off” day would be more appropriate, and even then I would not propose it because it would place hijabi women on the spot, whose rights I also defend.

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

Though not proven

Apr 19th, 2015 11:30 am | By

In one Irish diocese there were more than 100 accusations that priests had sexually abused children over a 40 year period, the Irish Examiner reported last year.

The review of the Dublin Archdiocese by the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church found that allegations were made against three more priests in the last year, bringing to 101 the total of diocesan priests accused of abuse since 1975.

Concerns about 40 of them arose in the past 10 years. Of those, four were convicted in the criminal courts and 23 were found to involve concerns that were credible, although not proven. In those 27 cases, the diocese substantially restricted or terminated their ministries.

The diocese acted on even the cases that were found to be credible, although not proven. That’s odd. You’d think they would just say “well it’s not proven, so yaboosucks, we’re not going to do anything.” That’s the standard, isn’t it? Either it’s proven, or it’s not proven and that’s the same as it never happened. Isn’t it? That’s what people keep saying, anyway.

Of the total 101 accused, 49 are deceased, 34 are living and remain priests of the diocese, and 18 have left the priesthood and/or the diocese. In total, they faced 432 separate allegations of abuse.

Only nine priests have been convicted of abuse in the criminal courts since 1975, and just 12 in total since 1940, but the diocese has accepted civil responsibility for many more.

Oh, civil responsibility. Huh. So there is something between conviction in criminal court, and nothing at all. Who knew?

Some 236 civil actions have been taken against 51 priests or former priests of the diocese, of which 187 have been concluded at a total cost of €20.4m, with 49 cases still continuing.

Pricey. Maybe for the future they should tell their priests it would be better to skip the child abuse altogether, as a cost-saving measure.

While acknowledging the legacy of unacknowledged abuse in the diocese, the board described its current performance on child protection issues and abuse allegations in glowing terms.

That’s fair. So the diocese made the lives of hundreds of children hell for decades, hey, at least they’re doing something about it now. That’s so heroic of them!

Director of safeguarding in the diocese, Andrew Fagan welcomed the positive comments but said there no room for complacency and he encouraged anyone affected by abuse, who had not yet come forward to try and do so in order to get the help and support they need.

As opposed to hostility and denial and counterattack? That would be welcome.

Updating to add: Jason did a very relevant and useful flowchart back in September. Check it out and laugh a bitter laugh.

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

Nobody should be allowed to die this way

Apr 19th, 2015 9:38 am | By

A fishing boat packed with an estimated 700 people capsized in the Mediterranean last night.

Bloomberg reports:

Italy and Malta immediately deployed navy and coast guard ships in an effort to rescue survivors. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said Sunday that 28 bodies had been recovered and that the number is “bound to increase.” Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said 49 people had been rescued.

“If confirmed, this would be the largest tragedy ever in the Mediterranean involving migrants,” Muscat said in a telephone interview. “Nobody should be allowed to die this way.”

A Maltese military official, who asked not be identified, confirmed Italian news reports that about 700 migrants were on board when the boat left the Libyan port of Zuara. The official said the boat capsized about 61 nautical miles (113 kilometers) north of Libya late Saturday.

Italian news reports said the boat capsized when the passengers rushed to one side after spotting a merchant ship, in hopes of being rescued.

One of god’s little jokes, I suppose.

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