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.

Nobel laureates speak up for Raif Badawi

Jan 21st, 2015 11:39 am | By

Good – another ratchet in the protests to Saudi Arabia about its brutal torture and rights-abrogation of Raif Badawi.

The international outcry over  restrictions on freedom of speech in Saudi Arabia escalated last night as an array of Nobel prizewinners published an open letter calling on the country’s academics to condemn the public flogging of the blogger Raif Badawi.

In their letter, passed to The Independent, the 18 Nobel Laureates urge their Saudi peers to be “heard arguing for the freedom to dissent” by standing up for Mr Badawi, whose case they say has “sent a shock around the world”.

They also hint that if the country’s academics are unable to stand up for free speech they risk being internationally marginalised – a veiled threat that will be of serious concern to the Saudi authorities, who have been keen to market the country as a burgeoning research hub.

What? Do the Saudi authorities think the rest of the world is going to take the KSA seriously as a burgeoning research hub when people there are savagely punished for saying completely ordinary (and true) things?

The letter – signed by a collection of Nobel Laureates including the novelist J M Coetzee – is addressed to Professor Jean-Lou Chameau, president of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST). A multibillion-dollar graduate research institution, it opened to great fanfare in 2009. It warns: “The fabric of international co-operation may be torn apart by dismay at the severe restrictions on freedom of thought and expression still being applied to Saudi Arabian society.”

I certainly hope so. Saudi Arabia should be a pariah state.

“We are confident that influential voices in KAUST will be heard arguing for the freedom to dissent, without which no institution of higher learning can be viable,” the letter continues.

“The time is ripe for new thinking after millions in Paris, supported by the government of Saudi Arabia, demonstrated on behalf of minority views.”

Damn straight. Except I wouldn’t call it minority views; I would call it human views as opposed to goddy views. On the one hand you have people saying “obey ‘god’ or we’ll murder you or torture you to death”; on the other hand you have people saying “god sucks and also doesn’t exist, turn your attention to human needs instead of goddy ones.”

The targeting of KAUST is significant because one of its key aims was to enable Saudi Arabia to compete internationally in science and technology. The Independent understands that many prominent Western scientists are already uncomfortable collaborating with the university due to the country’s disastrous record on human rights – and may begin refusing to co-operate altogether if the letter is ignored.


One of the letter’s signatories is the British biologist Sir John Sulston, who was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2002. He told The Independent that Mr Badawi’s case carried important implications for the “importance of free speech and of academic freedom in particular” – not just in Saudi Arabia but across the world.

“We think it’s right to point out that the environment of a good university has to be one of openness, of discourse,” he said. “This guy, as far as one can understand, has been an entirely peaceful blogger proposing things which are at odds with current Saudi Arabian methods – but nevertheless absolutely consonant with academic freedoms. So we think it’s right to support him in this way.”

He said that while Western governments might condemn Saudi Arabia’s punishment of Mr Badawi in public, any action they might take was often constrained by “commercial interests” which made it even more important for academics to take action. “We all have to work all the time for freedom of speech,” he added.

Especially right now. We’re in a very bad patch.

In Britain, Amnesty has accused the Government of “wearing the Saudi muzzle” over the issue.

A spokesperson for the Foreign Office said: “We remain seriously concerned by Raif Badawi’s case. The UK condemns the use of cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment in all circumstances. We have raised Mr Badawi’s case at a senior level with the Saudi authorities.

“The UK is a strong supporter of freedom of expression around the world. We believe that people must be allowed freely to speak out against violations of human rights wherever they occur.”

Pinch harder.

The signatories

Martin Chalfie, Nobel  Laureate Chemistry (US)

J M Coetzee, Nobel  Laureate Literature  (Australia/South Africa)

Claude Cohen-Tannoudji,  Nobel Laureate Physics (France)

Richard Ernst, Nobel  Laureate Chemistry  (Switzerland)

Gerhard Ertl, Nobel Laureate Chemistry (Germany)

Sheldon Lee Glashow, Nobel  Laureate Physics (US)

Dudley Herschbach, Nobel Laureate Chemistry (US)

Roald Hoffmann, Nobel Laureate Chemistry (US)

Brian Josephson, Nobel Laureate Physics (UK)

Martin Karplus, Nobel  Laureate Chemistry (US)

Harold Kroto, Nobel Laureate Chemistry (UK/US)

Yuan Lee, Nobel Laureate Chemistry (Taiwan/US)

Rudolph Marcus, Nobel Laureate Chemistry (Canada/US)

John Polanyi, Nobel Laureate Chemistry (Canada)

Richard Roberts, Nobel  Laureate Physiology or  Medicine (US)

John Sulston, Nobel Laureate Physiology or Medicine (UK)

Jack Szostak, Nobel Laureate Physiology or Medicine (US)

Eric Wieschaus, Nobel  Laureate Physiology or  Medicine (US)

I’ve met one of them – Harry Kroto, at (appropriately) a CFI conference on secularism.

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

51 percent of students

Jan 21st, 2015 10:59 am | By

Shocking but not really surprising – more than half of students in public schools in the US come from families in poverty.

This week, the Southern Education Foundation reported that 51 percent of students in grades K through 12 received a free or reduced-price school lunch in 2013, meaning that their families lived on less than 185 percent of the poverty line. According to the Washington Post, it is “the first time in at least 50 years” that more than half of the country’s public school kids have qualified as low income. In 1989, the figure was under 32 percent. In 2006, it hit 42 percent, and by 2011, it had ratcheted up to 48 percent.

Why is it not surprising? Because poverty is official policy. We keep wages down as a matter of policy, we don’t have a national health service as a matter of policy, we don’t fund universal day care as a matter of policy, and on and on.

It’s how we roll.


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

Limited warranty

Jan 21st, 2015 10:35 am | By

James Croft asked an interesting question in a public Facebook post.

Interesting question which came up at this Clergy Care Summit: what is a Humanist version of “Know that God Loves you?”

There’s a string of comments offering substitutes but they’re not fully convincing. My answer is that there isn’t one. (Ian Cromwell’s is good though – “We’re all in this together”. That has the advantage of being true, along with the disadvantage of being not nearly as comforting as the original.)

There can’t be a humanist or Humanist version of “Know that God Loves you” because people are free to project onto this imagined god the most perfect satisfying consoling love possible. They’re free to reconcile mutual impossibilities – God loves everyone infinitely, but/and God’s love for me is total and undivided and not distracted by God’s love for my siblings or my best friend or those people I hate or anyone. God doesn’t love God’s own self more than God loves me.

Humanism doesn’t work that way, so it can’t possibly offer anything equivalent to that.

It seems silly to pretend otherwise. We just can’t do the consolation thing the way religion does, because we’re constrained by reality.



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

This brand spanking new software

Jan 21st, 2015 9:02 am | By

Originally a comment by Crimson Clupeidae on Quick to sneer.

Not to worry, we here at Islamo-Judeo-Xian software, Inc, LLC, GAWD, are working on an automated version of photoshop (we’re calling it Photochop, to avoid copyright issues).

This brand spanking new software will automagically edit all images in digital form (the retroactive paper version is pending tests of the new high powered laser satellite….) to not only edit out women, pigs, prophets, dogs, etc, that may offend any religious sensibilities*, but it will autodetect blogs, words, and even recipes written by women, pigs, prophets, dogs, etc. and make them appear to be written by manly burly manly men!

Our next release will offer an optional Hindu add-on package, but there is currently strong lobbying by a conflicting group of religious nutters….I mean, believers….who worship Saint Ronald of McDonald, and we are having some issues getting the software to comply with both.

*Sensibilities in this case, being those who make the loudest and most believable threats of violence, although offering more $$$ would potentially win out…..

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

Guest post: To the people at Liberty Counsel

Jan 20th, 2015 5:10 pm | By

Originally a comment by themadtapper on Honoring the Legacy, a press release by a right-wing group for Martin Luther King day claiming to be honoring King by promoting homophobia.

As I read over that press release, which reads like a fundie Mad Lib, I debated over what part to actually comment on.

I could comment on the inanity of comparing to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. those who seek to do the very thing that King fought against: denying goods, service, and basic dignity to a marginalized people whose only desire is to have the same opportunities of life, liberty, and happiness that white conservative Christians enjoy.

I could take the low-hanging fruit and comment on yet another attempt to use the words of Thomas Jefferson to champion a religious cause.

I could comment on the lies about losing businesses (they choose to close up shop to avoid serving those “sexually sinful” people) or being made to choose regarding their personal idea of marriage (they’re not actually asked to make any choice about marriage at all; they’re asked politely, and reasonably, to provide their advertised goods and/or services whether they like the customers or not).

I was tempted to rewrite the press release and replace the same-sex references with interracial ones, which would serve only to beat a long dead horse that, sadly, must be dragged from its grave time and time again because people still don’t get it.

I decided instead to issue a press release of my own to the people at Liberty Counsel, and everyone they support and who supports them:

I pity you. So full of anger, so full of fear, so full of hate. And for what? Because two people you don’t approve of want to get married?

You there. You, holding the “Adam and EVE, not Adam and STEVE” sign. Look to your left. Look at your wife. Yesterday a gay couple got married. Did stop loving her? Did she stop loving you? Did your marriage get any less special, less magical?

You there. You, holding the “One Nation Under GOD” sign. Look to your right. Look at your husband. Tomorrow, another gay couple will get married. Will you stop loving him? Will your marriage fall to pieces? Will your marriage mean any less to you tomorrow than it does today?

I pity you. How much time did you spend today, worrying about what gay people you may never even meet want to do with their lives? How much energy did you spend trying to meddle in their lives? How long could you have held your own loved ones in your arms if you’d not been so busy trying to keep others from doing so?

There is only one person demeaning your marriage. Only one person taking anything away from you.

It’s you.

It’s only you. Every time you choose to stand in the aisle with your arms folded instead of sitting on the pew putting your hands together. Every time you choose to put acrylics on posterboard instead of shoe polish on windshields. Every time you throw stones instead of rice. Every time you shout insults instead of congratulations. Every time you frown at someone else’s marriage instead of smiling at your own. That’s what demeans your marriage. Not them. You.

That’s why I pity you.

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

A groom, and a bouquet, and a set table—but no bride

Jan 20th, 2015 4:33 pm | By

The New Yorker has a piece by Ruth Margalit on the gradual disappearance of women in Israel – not disappearance as in being murdered and buried in an obscure place, but disappearance as in not being allowed to appear.

In 2008, a thirty-year-old religious woman named Rachel Azaria headed a slate of candidates for city council. Her team had arranged to mount an ad campaign on the back of buses in the city that would feature her picture. In order to finalize the details of the campaign, Azaria called Cnaan Media, the company in charge of Jerusalem bus advertisements. “We’ve already had a schedule, we picked out the bus lines, everything,” Azaria told me on the phone this week. She was about to close the deal when the company’s salesperson casually told her: “I just want to make sure you know that we don’t show women on buses in the city.”

“I was stunned,” Azaria recounted. She hung up the phone, walked out to the street, and looked around her at passing buses. One featured an ad for a wedding venue. “It showed a groom, and a bouquet, and a set table—but no bride,” she said. “I couldn’t believe that this was happening. It was a gradual process in which women literally disappeared from Jerusalem.”

Azaria petitioned the High Court of Justice to force Cnaan Media to run the ads and, before the local elections, the judge ruled in her favor. Her face was plastered on the back of five buses, and she ended up winning a seat on the council, but the old restrictions soon resurfaced. Azaria also discovered that women were no longer appearing on Jerusalem billboards. During the months before the 2009 general elections, images of Tzipi Livni, the foreign minister and leader of the Kadima party, were blacked out on posters across Jerusalem. In 2012, a credit-card company replaced the face of Gila Almagor, a renowned theatre actress, with that of a man in its Jerusalem ads. Honigman, a fashion brand, “adjusted” its campaign featuring the model Sendi Bar to show, in Jerusalem, only her torso. That year, posters for the Jerusalem Marathon portrayed only male runners—until public outcry caused the city to add images of women.

We have a similar thing in the US, except that it’s not (as far as I know) orchestrated or planned. We wouldn’t notice a woman being replaced by a man in a movie, for instance, because we’re so used to movies starring five men, with a woman or two in supporting parts. That’s normal. It’s normal on most tv shows. It’s normal on talk shows. It’s normal normal normal, so if some religious zealots got enough power to start deleting women systematically as opposed to just absent-mindedly not casting them and not inviting them – no one would notice.

Azaria, who is now the city’s deputy mayor and holds the women’s issues portfolio, says that the fact that showing images of women has become a public issue means that she has made some progress. She partly credits this growing awareness to the broader social-protest movement in Israel, started in 2011, which championed values of equal rights and personal freedom. But much of her support, she says, comes from Haredi women, who are tired of not being seen. Haredi women traditionally do not take part in politics, but now a group of Haredi women, The Mothers’ List, is seeking representation in the Jerusalem council. In fact, Azaria often has to argue with the city’s secular population, she says. “In the so-called name of multiculturalism, they tell me, ‘What do you care? That’s how the Haredim want to live.’ But I tell them that as a religious woman it affects me, that it’s a mixed city. There’s no separation here.”

Do they call her a racist?

A new book by Elana Maryles Sztokman called “The War on Women in Israel” also takes to task the secular population—which includes Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat—for not putting an end to the exclusion and suppression of women. “What is perhaps most surprising about the rising oppression of women in Israel is the ease with which non-ultra-Orthodox people and groups capitulate to ultra-Orthodox demands to erase women from the public,” Sztokman writes.

Ugh – it doesn’t surprise me. It’s all too familiar from other disputes between religious zealots and everyone else – most people are abashed about challenging the grip of religion.

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


Jan 20th, 2015 4:11 pm | By

Ha. The Tablet took its revenge on that Haredi newspaper that photoshopped out the women who walked with the other heads of state and public officials in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo.

Check out the Million Merkel March.

Merkel Merkel Merkel.

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

Honoring the Legacy

Jan 20th, 2015 3:56 pm | By

Have a press release from the “Liberty Counsel.” (That’s really their name, but it’s so sick-making I find I can’t type it without scare quotes.)

January 19, 2015

Honoring the Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Orlando, FL – As we remember today the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we are inspired by his courage to combat injustice that had become imbedded in our culture and our law.

Writing from a jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama, Dr. King said, “I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that ‘an unjust law is no law at all.’”

“Marriage as the union of one man and one woman was not created by government or religion. It is rooted in natural law,” said Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel. “Same-sex marriage is contrary to the natural created order of God Almighty. Laws deconstructing natural marriage and which compel people to affirm sinful sexual behavior or unions are unjust.”

Sir William Blackstone, whose Commentaries was the impetus of the Declaration of Independence and the foundation of American law, said, “This law of nature, being coequal with mankind and dictated by God himself, is of course superior in any obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe in all countries, and at all times; no human laws are of any validity, if contrary to this.”

Today, the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is being lived out by bakers, photographers, florists, ministers, county clerks, and owners of wedding venues who have lost their businesses, been forced to pay exorbitant fines, been threatened with jail, and made to choose between the natural created order of marriage between one man and one woman and judges who side with same-sex couples.

Thomas Jefferson is credited with writing, “When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty.”

Liberty Counsel is an international nonprofit, litigation, education, and policy organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and the family since 1989, by providing pro bono assistance and representation on these and related topics.

Ain’t that a pip?

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

Quick to sneer

Jan 20th, 2015 1:04 pm | By

A brilliant piece by Leigh Phillips from last week on clueless accusations that Charlie Hebdo is racist and homophobic, accusations obviously emanating from the left (the right seldom bothers accusing people of racism, much less homophobia).

In the 48 hours after the Paris massacre, much of the anglophone activist and academic left were quick to sneer at public displays of solidarity with the murdered cartoonists and journalists of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and criticized the vigils, demonstrations and editorial cartoons from other artists as siding with racists.

Of course the killing of journalists is a bad thing, so the argument goes, but come on, Charlie Hebdo is “a racist publication.” So what do you expect? is the implicit, victim-blaming conclusion.

The millions of people, atheist, Christian, Jew and Muslim — including trade unionists bearing the drapeaux rouges of the communist CGT union and activists from far-left groups such as the Parti de Gauche and the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste — who spontaneously filled the streets of towns and villages across France in solidarity with the slain journalists and in defence against this manifest attack on freedom of speech, or who changed their social media avatars to a black square with the words Je suis Charlie were, in the words of prominent British socialist commentator Richard Seymour writing in Jacobin magazine and on his own blog, “platitudinous,” “mawkish and narcissistic” and engaging in a “blackmail that forces us into solidarity with a racist institution.”

I don’t think Richard Seymour qualifies as prominent. He is well known to people who keep track of this kind of absurdity, yes, but not to many other people.

Elsewhere many leftists such as Jon Wilson writing on LabourList have declared “Je ne suis pas Charlie” and that this is about Islamophobia and war.

Evincing that same confusion between Islam and Islamism that I mentioned on a previous post, to the outrage of a few. Well, two, maybe.

The last few days have been a humiliation for the anglophone left, showcasing to the world how poor our ability to translate is these days, as so many people have posted cartoons on social media that they found trawling Google Images as evidence ofCharlie Hebdo’s “obvious racism,” only to be told by French speakers how, when translated and put into context, these cartoons actually are explicitly anti-racist or mocking of racists and fascists.

Then he goes through them: the Christiane Taubira one, the Boko Haram one, the “l’amour plus fort que la haine” one. On the last, he says:

In this context, the cartoon can only be seen as expressly anti-homophobic, giving a big, wet, cheeky kiss to the likely homophobic Islamists who had tried to kill them. (One friend told me after I explained the context behind this cartoon that it was still problematic because “at a time when Muslims in Western countries are the target of Islamophobic prejudice, we should be sensitive to their religious sensibilities. A cartoon of two men kissing is offensive to them.” To my mind, if there’s anything homophobic going on here, it’s the idea that gays should hide themselves so as not to offend those who maintain a hatred of homosexuals.)

Also note the assumption that all Muslims share the homophobic “sensibilities.” Well guess what: they don’t. There really are progressive liberal Muslims, and they really do need our support, so why side with people who despise them?

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

She told the midwife, “It’s fine, it’s opened”

Jan 20th, 2015 12:36 pm | By

More detail on the FGM case.

Mounting the first prosecution against someone for carrying out FGM in England and Wales, the Crown alleged that Dr Dhanuson Dharmasena, a junior registrar in obstetrics and gynaecology at the Whittington hospital, had mutilated a 24-year-old mother by the manner in which he had sewn her up after childbirth.

The woman had undergone type 3 FGM – in which part of the labia are sewn together – as a child in Africa, and during labour the doctor had made two cuts to her vaginal opening to ensure the safe delivery of her baby. When Dharmasena sewed her up, a midwife warned him that what he had done was illegal. He asked a consultant for advice, and the more senior doctor said it would be “painful and humiliating” to remove the stitch he had made, and it remained in place, the court heard.

It’s the sewing up that’s being prosecuted.

The doctor, who qualified in 2005, and began specialising in obstetrics and gynaecology in 2008, had been at the Whittington for a month when the events took place in 2012.

Under the 2003 Female Genital Mutilation Act, a doctor does not commit an offence if his actions involve a surgical operation on a woman in any stage of labour, or immediately after birth, for purposes connected with the labour or birth.

Bex told the jury of seven women and five men: “It will be for you to decide if Dr Dharmasena’s admitted act of sewing [her] labia together was necessary for her physical health or was for purposes connected with the labour or birth.”

You know…I would hate to be on that jury. Given this account I would consider him guilty as charged, and I would feel horrible about it. I wish the first prosecution were of an actual cutter or a parent forcing the cutting on a child.

She said the case was not what might be expected of an FGM prosecution. “If you do know a little about FGM you may be expecting to hear that the offence took place in a back-street clinic by an unqualified and uncaring person on a young child. This trial is quite different but it nevertheless involves FGM.”

Yeah see that’s just it. It’s difficult.

Pregnant with her first child, the woman had been seen in antenatal appointments by midwives at the hospital, the jury was told. When asked standard questions about whether she had been subjected to FGM, she told the midwife, “It’s fine, it’s opened”, referring to a revision of her circumcision which had taken place in February 2011.

The midwife should have organised a birth plan for her which would have involved deinfibulation – reopening the vaginal opening – well in advance of going into labour. This was not done. Instead, AB arrived in labour at 8.55am, where her FGM was discovered.

Dharmasena arrived in the delivery room at 10.10am and saw the woman was progressing fast. Concerned about the baby, he made two cuts to facilitate the birth, one of which involved cutting through the scar tissue from the FGM.

In half an hour he delivered the baby. A senior house officer stitched up the mother, but at the insistence of Mohamed, Dharmasena followed up by sewing up the labia with a single continuous stitch around 1.5cm to 2cm long, the Crown said.

At the insistence of Mohamed – who is this Mohamed who gets to insist that a woman’s labia be sewn shut? Do they keep an Islamic chaplain hanging around the delivery room?

More likely of course is that he’s her husband – in which case – uggghhhhhhhh.

When she saw his stitch, the midwife, Aimma Ali, said it was illegal and spoke privately to Dharmasena. He consulted the on-call consultant, Vibha Ruparelia, and explained that he did not know the stitch was illegal.

The consultant said it would be too painful and humiliating to remove the stitch, and it was left in. In his notes, Dharmasena wrote: “Had discussion with consultant post delivery. In hindsight should not have closed stitches. Decision made not to reopen sutures.”

The doctor’s actions were against hospital policy which is written and available and Dharmasena was expected to be aware of it, said Bex.

Well there you go – he was expected to be aware of it. That’s what I said yesterday: there had to be a policy and he had to know it.

Still. I wish the defendant were a cutter rather than a doctor who screwed up.

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

Get thee to a church

Jan 20th, 2015 12:16 pm | By

Judicial theocracy in the UK – a judge orders a father to take his children to Catholic mass.

A judge has ordered a father to take his children to Roman Catholic mass as part of a divorce settlement, even though he is not Catholic.

The man, who can only be identified as “Steve” because of reporting restrictions on the case, faces possible contempt of court and a jail sentence if he fails to go to church when he has custody of the children.

The church attendance requirement was imposed by Judge James Orrell during a hearing at an undisclosed county court in the Midlands.

County court, be it noted – not ecclesiastical court.

Court transcripts seen by The Telegraph show that Judge Orrell discussed his own Catholic faith during the course of the hearing into contact arrangements for Steve’s two sons.

The legal requirement to attend mass at Christmas applies only to Steve, who is not a Roman Catholic.

His ex-wife is Catholic but is not subject to the same conditions in the residence and contact order.

It reads: “If the children are with their father at Christmas he will undertake that they will attend the Christmas mass.”

Well that makes sense – no need to order the wife, because she’s already a Catholic. It’s the non-Catholic who has to be forced to go.

Steve, a 51-year-old psychologist, said: “It’s all very bizarre. This aspect of the contact order was not requested by the other side in the case.

“The judge decided that I would commit to taking the children to mass and he put it in the court order.

“What I think is really concerning is that it does not allow me or my children any freedom of religious expression.”

His oldest kid, who is ten, has already talked about being a non-believer – well no wonder the judge is trying to force them all to be Catholics!

The ruling has been subjected to a series of legal challenges since it was imposed in 2009 but the church attendance requirement remains in force.

Steve went to the Court of Appeal on the grounds that the order was a breach of his human rights under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

However, a ruling by appeal judges and a later judicial review in the High Court did not support his application.

Steve also complained to the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office which, he said, upheld other aspects of his application but declined to give a decision on the Article 9 points, claiming they were a matter for the legal appeal process.

That is bizarre. Horrible, and bizarre.

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

The line that separates free speech from toxic talk

Jan 20th, 2015 11:16 am | By

DeWayne Wickham at USA Today says Charlie Hebdo has gone too far with the “all is forgiven” cover. Right; forgiveness is going way too far. So extreme much fanatical.

Charlie Hebdo has gone too far.

In its first publication following the Jan. 7 attack on its Paris office, in which two Muslim gunmen massacred 12 people, the once little-known French satirical news weekly crossed the line that separates free speech from toxic talk.

Toxic talk? Portraying a Mohammed who cares is toxic talk? Portraying a Mohammed who is saddened by what three of his more hateful followers did is toxic talk? How does that work, exactly? How is it toxic to offer a Mo who doesn’t rejoice at piles of fresh corpses but instead weeps at them?

Charlie Hebdo‘s latest depiction of the prophet Mohammed — a repeat of the very action that is thought to have sparked the murderous attack on its office — predictably has given rise to widespread violence in nations with large Muslim populations.

Ok that’s a two-parter. First, apparently the idea is “how dare they repeat the very action that is thought to have sparked the murderous attack on its office?” So the idea is that they did a very wicked thing in again doing something they and we and everyone have every right to do. That’s like saying it’s very wicked to do something a Mafia enforcer has told you, with menaces, not to do. We are allowed to draw images of Mohammed. We are allowed to draw images of Mohammed, Jesus, god, Shiva, Vishnu, Buddha, Athena, Loki – any god, any prophet, any cleric, any godling, angel, demon, hymn-singer, anyone we like. People are not allowed to kill us for doing that, and they are not allowed to threaten us with violence for doing that.

Second, the utter nonsense about predictability and “given rise to” and blaming the victims for that. This isn’t plate tectonics; people can choose not to engage in violence because someone drew a cartoon; we can’t decide what we’re allowed to do based on predictions about unreasonable and unlawful violent responses to what we do.

While the Obama administration condemned these deadly attacks, it probably wasn’t surprised. Two years ago, then-press secretary Jay Carney questioned the judgment of Charlie Hebdo‘s editors when they published an offensive depiction of Mohammed. That came a year after the newspaper’s office was firebombed when it tauntingly named Mohammed its guest editor. That portrayal came with a caption that read: “100 lashes if you don’t die laughing.”

Then-press secretary Jay Carney was wrong. Obama was wrong when he said the future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam. DeWayne Wickham is wrong.

Ten people have been killed during protests in Niger, a former French colony. Other anti-French riots have erupted from North Africa to Asia. In reaction to all of this, Pope Francis has said of the magazine, “You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”

The French, of course, are no more bound to accept the findings of the bishop of Rome than they are to be guided by the Supreme Court’s rulings on our Constitution’s free speech guarantee. But given the possible ripple effects of Charlie Hebdo‘s mistreatment of Islam’s most sacred religious figure, at least people in this country should understand the limits America’s highest court has placed on free speech.

That is just flagrantly saying “Surrender to the threats. Give up. Let the murderers have their veto.”

In 1919, the Supreme Court ruled speech that presents a “clear and present danger” is not protected by the First Amendment. Crying “fire” in a quiet, uninhabited place is one thing, the court said. But “the most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic.”

Twenty-two years later, the Supreme Court ruled that forms of expression that “inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace” are fighting words that are not protected by the First Amendment.

If Charlie Hebdo‘s irreverent portrayal of Mohammed before the Jan. 7 attack wasn’t thought to constitute fighting words, or a clear and present danger, there should be no doubt now that the newspaper’s continued mocking of the Islamic prophet incites violence. And it pushes Charlie Hebdo‘s free speech claim beyond the limits of the endurable.

Triumph for the late Kouachi brothers. Next there will be a violently enforced veto on blunt criticism of Islam, then maybe Catholicists will get in on the act – the possibilities are endless.

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

She was 11 years old

Jan 20th, 2015 10:08 am | By

This is desperately sad. From the Toronto Star:

Makayla Sault, the Ojibwa girl who refused chemotherapy last year in favour of indigenous medicine, died on Monday, with her parents reportedly blaming modern treatment for their daughter’s death.

She was 11 years old.

The Two Row Times reported that the New Credit girl suffered a stroke Sunday morning. In a statement to the paper, her family said: “Chemotherapy did irreversible damage to her heart and major organs. This was the cause of the stroke.”

I doubt that her family knows that.

Makayla was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia last January. She refused chemotherapy at McMaster Children’s Hospital after 12 weeks, opting for indigenous medicine and other alternative therapies, despite the high likelihood she would have been cured through modern treatment.

She was the first of two Ontario First Nations girl to reject chemotherapy to treat her leukemia. “She was a trailblazer,” Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation Chief Bryan LaForme told the Hamilton Spectator. “She sent out a strong message that you as an individual can make your own choices.”

A trailblazer for early death that could have been avoided. That’s not really a trail that needs blazing.

Brant Family and Children’s Services investigated Makayla’s case, but did not intervene, with executive director Andrew Koster telling the Spectator: “We feel Makayla is in a loving, caring home and that they are carrying on with medicine that would be very appropriate for her family.”

Makayla said that chemotherapy was “killing my body” in a letter she read out on a video uploaded to YouTube last year. She had been suffering from the side effects including constant vomiting and weakness.

The treatments sounds miserable and horrendous, as chemo does, but…it would have been temporary, and as I understand it it had a very good shot at curing her altogether, unlike most chemo.

“I have asked my mom and dad to take me off the treatment because I don’t want to go this way anymore,” she said. “I was sick to my stomach all the time and I lost about ten pounds because I couldn’t keep nothing down. I know that what I have can kill me, but I don’t want to die in a hospital in chemo, weak and sick.

“But when Jesus came into my room and he told me not to be afraid, so if I live or if I die I am not afraid. Oh, the biggest part is that Jesus told me that I am healed so it doesn’t matter what anybody says. God, the Creator has the final say over my life.”

She said that since leaving hospital and starting alternative treatments, she was feeling “awesome” and had gained some weight back. “I wish that the doctors would listen to me because I live in this body, and they don’t.”

Ten-year-olds don’t have all the knowledge and judgement needed to make the best medical decisions for themselves. Jesus makes no difference to that, tradition makes no difference to that.

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

8 Senators protest the torture of Raif Badawi

Jan 19th, 2015 6:06 pm | By

Yes eight. You’d think it could be 100, wouldn’t you – unless the other 92 are afraid King Abdullah will write back to ask difficult questions about electrocutions and Eric Garner and the like?

Anyway eight did write.

Eight senior US senators have sent a letter to Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, decrying the harsh sentence imposed on progressive Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to ten years in prison and 1,000 lashes, which are to be carried out in installments of 50 lashes across 20 weeks.

Badawi received the first 50 lashes a week and a half ago, and was set to receive another 50 last Friday, however the punishment was postponed following a medical examination.

The senators, six Democrats and two Republicans, including Marco Rubio, who is considered by some to be a possible contender in the upcoming Republican primaries for the 2016 presidential elections, called the public floggings “barbaric” and noted that the harsh repression of political dissidents in the Gulf kingdom may put Saudi-US relations at stake.

“Any further violence or criminal proceedings against Saudi citizens exercising nonviolent freedoms of speech and religion will unfortunately be a source of continued divergence between our countries,” the letter said.

Good that they did, but the fact that it’s only eight makes it kind of…feeble.

Stupidly, the story doesn’t say who the other seven are.

The United States, Sweden, and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) have denounced the flogging as a horrific form of punishment, saying Badawi was exercising his right to freedom of expression.

Canada has also condemned the sentence and called for a pardon.

Tick tock, tick tock.

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

The doctor sewed her back up

Jan 19th, 2015 4:02 pm | By

The first prosecution of FGM in the UK is happening at Southwark Crown Court.

A British doctor performed female genital mutilation on a young mother after she gave birth in hospital, a court has heard.

Dhanuson Dharmasena, 32, is accused of carrying out the illegal procedure at the Whittington Hospital in north London.

The junior registrar, of Ilford, Essex, denies the charge in what is the first prosecution of its kind in the UK.

A second man, Hasan Mohamed, 41, denies encouraging and abetting the offence.

The mother-of-two, who cannot be identified, first underwent FGM aged six in Somalia, London’s Southwark Crown Court heard.

She was 24 and living in Britain when she give birth to her first child in November 2012.

The court heard that during labour, her FGM stitches were torn and Dr Dharmasena, a junior registrar in obstetrics and gynaecology, sewed her back up in a procedure that amounted to FGM.

The prosecution alleges the doctor did so at Mr Mohamed’s “insistence or encouragement”.

Confusingly, the BBC neglects to tell us what Mr Mohamed was doing there and why the doctor paid any attention to him. Is he the woman’s husband, father, brother, imam, block captain? Whoever he is, if he was insisting the doctor re-mutilate the patient, that’s…gross.

The hospital trust launched an investigation into the incident within a few weeks.

In a statement, Dr Dharmasena said he had carried out the procedure because he thought the woman wanted him to. He also said Mr Mohamed had urged him to do so.

He said: “At no point in time did I intentionally or deliberately want to cause any harm to the patient. I had obeyed all of the patient’s wishes.”

Hospitals must have clear rules in place by this time. It doesn’t seem possible that a doctor could just not know that it’s not ok to sew a woman’s genitalia closed.

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

Colleagues don’t fancy being called “kuffar”

Jan 19th, 2015 3:20 pm | By

A site called Legal Cheek reported a few days ago on a tricky situation at a high-powered London law firm:

A trainee at magic circle law firm Clifford Chance has pulled a YouTube video in which he called on British Muslims to adopt a more robust stance against western concepts of freedom of speech. An Instagram clip from the video can be viewed below.

In a move directly linked to the fall-out from last week’s terror attacks in Paris, the trainee — whom Legal Cheek has agreed not to name — tells Muslims that Islam is “superior” to Western ideologies, while at the same time berating moderates for allowing their minds to become “colonised”.

The video — posted on YouTube on 11 January where it received more than 700 views — puts one of the world’s biggest global law firms in a highly embarrassing position.

The trainee’s 21-minute online rant — delivered mostly in English, but interspersed with Arabic — has already caused concern among lawyers at the firm. Legal Cheek understands that colleagues have been particularly upset by repeated references to “kuffar”, the plural of the slang Arabic word for non-Muslims.

I would imagine so, yes. It’s a very contemptuous and derogatory word.

The trainee’s LinkedIn page says he gained a first-class honours degree in law from London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).

I wonder if students at SOAS call their fellow students “kuffar.”

The trainee is part of an organsiation called Call of Dawah. Strictly translated from Arabic, dawah means an invitation; but it is commonly used to refer to preaching or proselytising of Islam.

In the video, the trainee repeatedly refers to viewers as “brothers and sisters” and says he is specifically addressing “the events in Paris that have taken place over the last few days”.

He goes on to lambast moderate British Muslims for being too apologetic for the Paris attacks:

“Brothers and sisters, we would not be here had it not been for the fact that the kuffar had gone to our lands and killed our people and raped and pillaged our resources,” he says, adding:

“This, brothers and sisters, is what we need to understand. We need to move away from this apologetic tone and to have confidence in Islam because we are enslaved otherwise.”

The trainee maintains that moderate Muslims are betraying true Islam by adopting western concepts around freedom of speech.

In short, he’s a fascist.

Not fun at the office.

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

It didn’t seem right that they were all men

Jan 19th, 2015 12:47 pm | By

The Guardian talks to Shaista Gohir, the chair of the Muslim Women’s Network UK, which launched a national helpline on January 15.

The charity – whose three part-time staff run a network of more than 700 organisations and members – offers specialised help and support to women on issues from mental health to abortion, taking into account their cultural and religious backgrounds. It also campaigns and provides training and workshops. The helpline, staffed by 10 trained volunteers, will allow it to reach more women than ever before, says Gohir, whose relentless energy fuels the small charity’s big ambitions. What motivates her? Dressed in smart businesswear, she replies calmly but bluntly: “Anger drives me.”

Brought up by a single mother who worked long hours in a clothing factory, Gohir says she understood from an early age the injustices women can face. “I had to come home from school and feed my brothers and cook and clean – an 11-year-old acting like an adult. Even in a single-parent family, I saw how women would take responsibility for men’s bad behaviour.”

After graduating with a science degree, she was pressured into marrying and ran away from home.

Several reasons a helpline is needed, right there in those two paragraphs.

But after marrying “the best husband in the world” and having three children, something changed. “I don’t know what happened,” she laughs. “It was around 2004, and I kept seeing the Muslim Council of Britain on TV. They were the only [Muslim] voices on TV, the only ones talking to the government. It didn’t seem right that they were all men.”

All men and all very conservative and theocratic.

Last year, the charity’s harrowing report into the sexual exploitation of Asian girls was cited in the Jay report into the Rotherham scandal. More than 1,400 victims, most of whom were white, were said to have been attacked in the town by men, the majority of whom were British Pakistani. But MWN’s report suggested Asian victims faced extra barriers to reporting abuse and had not been spotted by the services that worked with other abuse victims.

Gohir and her colleagues had collated case studies from charities across the country that detailed the experiences of girls and young women who had been repeatedly raped by multiple attackers, often beaten, and blackmailed into silence. The conclusion was that Asian victims were not only less likely to report abuse, thanks to cultural barriers, but they were also at risk of being “revictimised” if they did; forced into marriages, or disowned by their families for “shaming” them. Gohir says she was shocked by the scale and the brutality involved, but not by the fact there were more Asian victims. “After Rochdale [where nine men were jailed for abusing young girls], I was going to meetings and no one was taking me seriously, because [Asian victims] don’t show up in the statistics. I started looking for case studies – and they were there.”

Honor and shame are obstacles to reporting.

Gohir is outraged that offenders can go unpunished because of the cultural emphasis on “honour”, and women’s role in upholding it, that means someone reporting the abuse of a girl could be accused of bringing “shame” on her family. “I wish the words shame and honour could be deleted,” she tells me. “That is the root of our problems – from forced marriages to not reporting domestic violence.”

It’s being raped that brings “shame” on the family, not raping.

To contact the Muslim Women’s Network UK helpline, call 0800 999 5786 or visit

H/t opposablethumbs

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

Guest post: He was unapologetic, right?

Jan 19th, 2015 12:27 pm | By

Originally a comment by Dave Ricks on Religion should not be a political argument.

A few minutes before NBC aired Meet the Press yesterday, Chuck Todd talked with local NBC Washington DC co-anchors Angie Goff and Adam Tuss to introduce the broadcast of Meet the Press as a whole. I transcribed what they said about the interview with Gérard Biard:

ADAM TUSS: He was unapologetic, right?

CHUCK TODD: Unapologetic, but tried to offer the explanation of what he says is the editorial line that he draws when it comes to satirizing religion.

He says they only choose to satirize religion when people are trying to use the prophet Mohammed, Jesus, as ways to advance a political agenda. And he says they are not mocking believers, that he is trying to draw that line. Now a lot of people don’t view that there is a difference between doing that, but that was his explanation, that they’re not attacking people who believe, that have faith, they are only attacking those who are trying to use it for political purposes. But it’s a — you know — I understand the nuanced argument, but it is a tough one to sell to folks of faith, I think.

ANGIE GOFF: Since all this, we’ve seen more protests erupt, as well as more terror plots foiled in the last week. So when we’re talking strategy — what the US is doing to avoid these near-misses — are we at a point where we need to change strategy, as we see this global terrorism network continue to evolve and just get bigger? US officials have admitted that.

CHUCK TODD: Well there seems to be, the one piece of the strategy that has never really worked is an old phrase I’m going to borrow from Vietnam: Hearts and Minds. That’s the missing piece here, because we kill a lot of the enemy, but we haven’t defeated the enemy — right, the radicalization part of it — so the question is why. Why is it that they can cut off a snake head, and four other groups pop up. It’s been constantly a problem, and it moves around, so the name has changed, but the ideology is the same. And I think now we’re at 14 years of this. And so the Hearts and Minds aspect of this, that you hear the President talk about it, you hear others talk about it — but it is, I think there — there’s this feeling there isn’t a lot of good answers right now.

I don’t have good answers either, but part of the problem occurs to me: Even if political satirists are careful to maintain the distinction Biard explained — to satirize the use of religion for political purposes, not satirize individual belief — the religious individuals who want religious government are bent on conflating those things. As Pat Paulsen said when he ran for US President in 1968, “Freedom of speech in no way guarantees freedom of hearing.”

I still think the political satire should exist. The alternative would put totalitarianism off-limits from satire.

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

Hooray for Hollywood

Jan 19th, 2015 12:02 pm | By

Oh, ugh.

I’ve been only vaguely aware that there’s a movie out called American Sniper…

and now this:

Embedded image permalink

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

Affirmative action for the posh

Jan 19th, 2015 11:18 am | By

Rich pop star flames shadow culture minister for saying there should be more diversity in the arts. Sounds promising…

James Blunt, the singer, has issued a robust response to an MP who criticised his privileged background, saying his “populist, envy-based, vote-hunting” ideas were making the country worse.

Blunt told Chris Bryant, the shadow culture minister, he was teaching the “politics of jealousy”, after the MP spoke out to condemn a lack of diversity in the arts.

Mr Bryant told the Guardian one of his priorities if he became a minister would be to encourage fairer funding, encouraging organisations to hire from a wider variety of backgrounds rather than just “arts graduates from Cambridge”.

“I am delighted that Eddie Redmayne won [a Golden Globe for best actor], but we can’t just have a culture dominated by Eddie Redmayne and James Blunt and their ilk,” he said.

Yes we can! Because they’re the best. Everybody knows that the way this works is 100% fair because it’s 100% based on merit and talent and quality and gooditude. If you mess with it in the name of “a wider variety of backgrounds” you’ll just end up with a bucket of shit, because talent invariably rises to the top on its own, no matter what.

I kid.

Excerpts from James Blunt’s elegant letter to Chris Bryant:

Dear Chris Bryant MP,

You classist gimp. I happened to go to a boarding school. No one helped me at boarding school to get into the music business.

Every step of the way, my background has been AGAINST me succeeding in the music business. And when I have managed to break through, I was STILL scoffed at for being too posh for the industry.

And then you come along, looking for votes, telling working class people that posh people like me don’t deserve it, and that we must redress the balance. But it is your populist, envy-based, vote-hunting ideas which make our country crap, far more than me and my shit songs, and my plummy accent.

I got signed in America, where they don’t give a stuff about, or even understand what you mean by me and “my ilk”, you prejudiced wazzock, and I worked my arse off. What you teach is the politics of jealousy. Rather than celebrating success and figuring out how we can all exploit it further as the Americans do, you instead talk about how we can hobble that success and “level the playing field”. Perhaps what you’ve failed to realise is that the only head-start my school gave me in the music business, where the VAST majority of people are NOT from boarding school, is to tell me that I should aim high. Perhaps it protected me from your kind of narrow-minded, self-defeating, lead-us-to-a-dead-end, remove-the-‘G’-from-‘GB’ thinking, which is to look at others’ success and say, “it’s not fair.”

Up yours,

James Cucking Funt

So really what should be happening is that the music industry should be energetically recruiting talent from the posher public schools.

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