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.

It can always get worse

Apr 5th, 2015 10:26 am | By

Daesh has overrun the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus.

Reports of killings and even beheadings were beginning to circulate on Saturday, worsening what is already a longstanding humanitarian nightmare for the 18,000 residents of the Yarmouk refugee camp.

This won’t end well.

[T]he move suggests that as the Islamic State loses ground in Iraq and northeastern Syria, the most daring response it could muster on the ground was to attack one of the most vulnerable populations in Syria.

Most of all, the attack was a perverse answer to the question of how life in Yarmouk could get worse. Many residents’ very presence there is a scar from a previous war; they are descended from Palestinians who fled or were driven from their homes in the 1948 war over Israel’s founding.

The BBC reports that a few have managed to escape.

Unrwa spokesman Chris Gunness told the BBC that the situation in Yarmouk was extremely difficult.

“We now have an intense armed conflict raging in the streets, people are cowering in their homes, too terrified to move,” he said.

Some civilians have managed to leave. Unrwa confirmed that 94 civilians, including 43 women and 20 children, had escaped and been given humanitarian support.

The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in Damascus told the BBC that hundreds more had fled from this area of Damascus over the past two days.

Another zero on humanity’s report card.

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

Four out of the 147

Apr 5th, 2015 10:06 am | By

There’s a Twitter hashtag, , where the murdered students of Garissa are being named and remembered.

Tom Vandenbosch @TVandenbosch 7 hours ago
Mary Muchiri Shee, Miss Garissa University
We will name them one by one.

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Tom Vandenbosch ‏@TVandenbosch 3 hours ago
RIP Elizabeth Nyangarora. Graduated in 2012 from St Andrews Kanga Girls High.
#147notjustanumber #TheyHaveNames

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Maskani Ya Taifa ‏@Maskani254 5 hours ago
Doreen ‘Specialrose’ Gakii #147notjustanumber #TheyHaveNames

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Maskani Ya Taifa ‏@Maskani254 6 hours ago
Dadly Mose #147notjustanumber #TheyHaveNames

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

Guest post

Apr 4th, 2015 5:40 pm | By

Originally a comment by Chris Lawson on The worst the Christian community can do in America.

The problem with the Dear Muslima argument:

1. “Dear Muslima” implies that one should only combat the world’s worst examples of a problem and never the less dramatic examples of the same problem immediately around us.

2. “Dear Muslima” minimises the importance of mild and moderate aspects of a problem by asserting that they’re not worth tackling.

3. “Dear Muslima” minimises the importance of geography by assuming one’s efforts are better spent on addressing a problem on the other side of the world in a culture one is not a part of. (Note: I have nothing against people trying to address a problem in distant lands and unfamiliar cultures, I’m only against the attitude that this is the only acceptable way to do it.)

4. “Dear Muslima” assumes that progress on a problem in better-off countries has no effect on progress on the same problem in countries where the problem is more entrenched, when we know full well that as more and more countries adopt a culture change, the resistant countries become more and more isolated and feel more pressure to change (e.g.: the Arab Spring, the spread of gay marriage equality, the rise of democracy in Europe in C18-20).

5. “Dear Muslima”, at its worst, underplays the severity of problems in better-off countries; as Ophelia and Zug have already pointed out, being denied a wedding cake is NOT the worst thing that can happen to gay people in the US.

6. “Dear Muslima”, on the observational evidence, is exactly what Saad says: a rhetorical tool for dismissing concerns about the treatment of oppressed groups in better-off nations in order to maintain the status quo; it is a deeply conservative message that essentially says “no effort should be made to address local inequities until they have been eradicated in all distant parts of the world”, i.e. never.

Let’s imagine these “Dear Muslima” prescriptions being used in international health.

1. “We cannot treat your malaria here in Brazil because the disease is far more prevalent in Africa.”

2. “We’re not going to treat your testicular cancer because it has a much better 5-year survival rate than pancreatic cancer.”

3. “We’re not going to put any money into researching AIDS vaccines because the people who really need the vaccine are in Africa, not here.”

4. “We’re going to stop vaccinating against polio because we feel like ignoring the benefits of vaccinating neighbouring countries to reduce transmission everywhere.”

5. “We shouldn’t treat heart disease because the worst that can happen is unpleasant chest pains.”

6. “Of course we’d like to improve the health of First Nations people in the US, but our hands are tied until Australia and New Zealand close their health gaps; it saddens me to say it, but our First Nations people are just going to have to accept the situation with the admirable resilience they have honed over centuries of mass murder and land displacement. Our thoughts are with them, but not funding or political change.”

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

Tom Cotton’s Dear Muslima

Apr 4th, 2015 5:31 pm | By

Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton said it to Wolf Blitzer on CNN: check your priorities, aka Dear Muslima. Arkansas’s RFRA is no big deal because hey, it doesn’t kill you.

But I also think it’s important we have a sense of perspective about our priorities. In Iran they hang you for the crime of being gay; they’re currently imprisoning an American preacher for spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ in Iran. We should focus on the most important priorities that our country faces right now.

So passing the RFRA was an important-enough priority, and signing it was an important-enough priority, but objecting to it apparently is a frivolous diversion. How does that work, exactly?

Image result for dear muslima



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

What happens when you open a book

Apr 4th, 2015 4:46 pm | By

My eye was caught by a wide yellow-spined book on a shelf at the library, which turned out to be Arguably, a fat collection of essays by Christopher Hitchens. I plucked it off the shelf and checked it out. Later, I opened it at random and started to read – on page 234, under the subheading The Afterlife of Animal Farm, in an essay on Animal Farm that originated as an introduction to a 2010 edition.

It starts with the “some animals are more equal than others” line. It cites communism in Russia and Eastern Europe and its “New Class” system, “with grotesque privileges for the ruling elite and a grinding mediocrity of existence for the majority,” and the moral effects that Orwell’s work had. He moves on to China, and a phone conversation with a Communist friend of his there.

Then a new paragraph, and a new country.

In Burma, one of the longest-lasting totalitarian systems in the world – an amalgam of military fascism, Buddhist dogma, and Communist-style rhetoric about collectivization – George Packer of the New Yorker not long ago heard a saying that had become popular among democratically minded Burmese. “We revere George Orwell very much,” they told him, “because he wrote three books about our country: Burmese Days, Animal Farm, and Nineteen Eighty-four.” Thus far, Animal Farm has not been legally published in China, Burma, or the moral wilderness of North Korea, but one day will see its appearance in all three societies, where it is sure to be greeted with the shock of recognition that it is still capable of inspiring.

I stopped reading there, because a thought struck me.

The thought was how radically different that passage and the mind that was capable of it are from anything the more banal wing of the “horsemen” could come up with. It was how enormously distant he was from the kind of people who think “social justice” is a taunt. He was an informed and lucid social justice warrior his whole adult life, yes even when he was gung-ho for the invasion of Iraq. It was his subject. Atheism was a tributary of that, not the thing itself. He goes on the shelf with Orwell and Arendt, not with Harris and Dawkins.


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

Memphis exalts Jesus!

Apr 4th, 2015 4:03 pm | By

Christians are there protesting though, across the street.

As the American Atheists hold their national convention in Memphis this week, local Christians are responding with a “Memphis Exalts Jesus” worship concert at AutoZone Park.

Amanda Knief tweeted a photo:

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Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.


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

Do not be taken by pity for them

Apr 4th, 2015 12:13 pm | By

Muhammad Syed tweeted this important item from Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s talk:

“If you don’t allow for compassion, that is the end of civilization” @Ayaan #AACon15 in ref to Quran 24:2

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Says it all, doesn’t it. “Do not be taken by pity for them” – WHY NOT? If you flinch at the idea of flogging people for having sex, you have the right intuition. If you stamp out that flinch and go ahead and flog them, you have the wrong intuition.

And yet one of the names of Allah is “the merciful.” On the basis of what?

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

A free pass to be a whiny baby

Apr 4th, 2015 11:50 am | By

A gay atheist doctor in Indiana wonders if the shiny new RFRA lets him refuse service to assholes.

“Dear Governor Pence and the Republicans in the state legistlature,” Freiheit’s letter begins, “As a gay atheist doctor in a small town in Indiana, I want to applaud your bravery and standing up for your principles, because it would seem that you have given me a chance to finally stop having to treat asshole, bigoted Christians at my practice, based on my own deeply held religious views, and not anything more sinister or petty, of course.”

That is what we want, right? To make all public services and interactions conditional on agreement with each other’s world views? We want to have to fill out applications listing our beliefs and allegiances and political views every time we go to the grocery store, right?

“Governor Pence, I submit that if I am now to be treated as a second class citizen on an arbitrary basis, whenever the personal, religious beliefs of a shop owner or employee butts up against my sexual orientation, then every Christian who believes that in 2015 they still have a right to discriminate based on what makes them feel ‘icky’ and their desire to hold onto antiquated philosophical and mythological texts as if they are hard and fast universal truths will have to go seek medical treatment somewhere else, if that’s okay by you and your friends, Mr. Pence.” Freiheit then writes, “Therefore, I would like to ask directly if I can consider myself protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that you signed to discriminate against Christians based on my religious beliefs. If I am not, then I believe your law is unconstitutional as it is not written equally and does not apply equally to all citizens of Indiana.”

Let’s all invent religions that require us to reject and refuse and deny service to all sorts of people for all sorts of random (but belief-based) reasons. Then when the gridlock stretches from sea to sea, we can point out the consequences of their tiny-minded bigotry.

“The funny thing to me,” Freiheit told our reporter, “is that all day, every day I treat people who I know deep-down think my husband and children and I are all going to Hell and that we shouldn’t even be allowed to be a family in the first place, and I still suck it up and give them their antibiotic prescriptions, diagnose their various illnesses, and ultimately help heal them.” Dr. Freiheit continued, “I don’t know why the baker or the florist in town should be given a free pass to be a whiny, baby about life and the rest of us are expected to suck it up. I don’t get why if we expect doctors and lawyers to take any and all clients that come through their doors, we can’t expect everyone who operates a business in the public square, under state regulated corporate protection for their assets, to behave with the same maturity and respect.”

Because they’re in business, and business is god’s favorite job title description category.

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

Message from Bonya Rafida

Apr 4th, 2015 10:48 am | By

Here is that video address by Bonya Rafida, Avijit Roy’s wife, at the American Atheists’ Convention.


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

Much to agree on

Apr 4th, 2015 10:03 am | By

I’m reading tweets from the American Atheists Convention again – there’s a lot of good stuff going on there, despite all the disagreement over CPAC and humanism/social justice/feminism. My friend Vyckie Garrison is this year’s Atheist of the Year; there was an ex-Muslims panel with Heina Dadabhoy and Muhammad Syed and Sarah Haider, and Asif Mohiuddin just did a talk.

They all stood in solidarity:

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Dave did the same:

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Asif shared a video message from Rafida Ahmet Vanya, widow of Avijit Roy.

Asif? Please don’t return to Dhaka.


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

Guest post: That’s going to be quite a picture

Apr 3rd, 2015 5:02 pm | By

Originally a comment by hotshoe on No snow at the Phillips Station site.

A slow-motion natural disaster which directly affects at least 40 million people – and indirectly affects all 320 million USAians, as well as having international implications – is bound to create a little emotional tension. It’s bound to lead to finger-pointing and blame-games, but those are worthless (even if accurate, which they’re mostly not) unless in turn they lead to actual solutions.

Yes, turning off the fountains is a good minor solution; Las Vegas is criminally wasteful. Turning off the agricultural output — which has up till now been larger than the output of entire countries such as Mexico, Germany, and Canada — is not a good solution. However, turning off CA agriculture has already happened in some degree, and we’re just waiting to find out what fresh disaster that causes.

We’re going to see renewed unemployment, worsened poverty in the already poorest rural counties, plus widespread child malnutrition due to unavailable/unaffordable produce.

The massive federal, not state, Central Valley Project has notified all customers that it must deliver zero water to farms this year (in hopes of being able to provide about 25% of contracted allocations to drinking-water utilities and to wildlife refuges). That missing irrigation water would have gone to about 3 million acres of vegetables and fruit in six out of seven of the most productive farm counties. Last year, some fields were fallowed and some – particularly orchards which are too expensive to replant – were kept in production or at least kept alive by drawing on new deep groundwater wells, This year, who knows. Already, so much groundwater has been pumped that the land is subsiding as much as a foot per year. It’s not sustainable. Imagine the damage to bridges, levees, buildings’ foundations. Worse, the water table in some areas has been sucked dry below the reach of residential wells and we now have thousands of scattered homes without running water.

I’m not a farmer. I know some ranchers but I don’t personally know anyone who farms. As they say, I don’t have a horse in this race … except that I’m a human being, a fellow citizen, concerned, or to be honest, rather panicked about the welfare of all the parents and children who have nowhere else to go. That, and the only reservoir from which my town can draw its water is filled not by rain but by the CVP. I don’t expect to see people in my town lining up at the water truck for their water ration this year, but it could happen someday, and will almost certainly happen to other CA communities of as many as 10,000 people by next month.

That’s going to be quite a picture.


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

The worst the Christian community can do in America

Apr 3rd, 2015 4:32 pm | By

Ayaan Hirsi Ali gave the keynote at the AA Convention, and James Croft livetweeted it. There was some…dubious stuff in it.

Such as a Dear Muslima for teh gayz.

James Croft @JFLCroft 5 hours ago
“If you are gay the worst the Christian community can do in America is not serve you cake.” @Ayaan #AAcon15 Privilege check needed!

Oy. That’s so not the worst the Christian community can do in America.

There this story in Outsports, for instance. A high school basketball game in rural Kentucky. One of the winning players called Dalton Maldonado a faggot. Maldonado had a meltdown in the locker room.

After collecting their clothes and bags the team headed to the bus, where some of the opposing team had assembled. They were yelling at the “faggot,” ordering him to stay out of the bus and face them. When Maldonado boarded, the opposing team proceeded to pound the nearest window of the bus with their fists as they yelled more gay slurs. When a couple opposing players tried to board the bus to get to him, Maldonado’s teammates and coaches forced them back. Once the Betsy Lane team was inside, the bus pulled away.

The opposing team wasn’t done. Several of the players got in their cars and pursued the bus. Whether they actually wanted to assault Maldonado or not, they certainly wanted to scare the hell out of him.

I suppose it’s possible that they were all atheists or some atheists and some Jews and Muslims – but in rural Kentucky, it’s not likely.

And then she went after feminists. Of course she did; it’s the hot new thing in the atheist “community.”

James Croft @JFLCroft  5 hours ago
“I’m disappointed with some of my feminist friends: they only want to go after white sexist men. What about the rest of us?” @Ayaan #AAcon15

Sometimes people have to deal with the problems that are right in front of them before they can move on to ones that are farther away. Solidarity is better than Dear Muslima.

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

Yesterday in Memphis

Apr 3rd, 2015 3:58 pm | By

The American Atheists Convention is on this weekend.

There was a CAH tournament:

Nick Fish @NotNickFish 21 hours ago
Playing Cards Against of Humanity with donations going to Planned Parenthood of Memphis. Awesome.

And the winner is -

Nick Fish @NotNickFish 19 hours ago
Of course this was the winning play for our Cards Against Humanity tournament. #AAcon15

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

Do the right thing

Apr 3rd, 2015 12:54 pm | By

Ensaf Haidar asks Obama and Kerry to do what 60 members of Congress have done, and demand the immediate release of Raif Badawi.

When I am allowed to speak with Raif, I brief him about all that is being done on his behalf. Because of a global outcry by citizens and governments of the world, Raif has not been flogged for 11 consecutive weeks. But I know that as soon as the media spotlight fades and pressure on the repressive Saudi monarchy eases, Saudi Arabia may seek to do what it pleases with my husband. It is critical that the pressure not abate, not even for an instant.

More than a million people around the world have demanded that the Saudi Arabian authorities release my husband, including more than 60 members of Congress who have sent a letter to the Saudi king calling for his release. But despite this, neither the White House nor Secretary of State John Kerry has followed suit. I beg members of the administration to follow their congressional colleagues’ lead and demand that Raif be released immediately. The United States presents itself as a champion of human rights throughout the world. It cannot allow its important strategic relationship with the kingdom to overshadow its moral standing. Raif must be returned to my arms, not dragged to his death.

Do it, Barack Obama. Do it, John Kerry.

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

A better fundraiser

Apr 3rd, 2015 12:21 pm | By

The fundraiser for the pizza family in Walkerton, Indiana is now at $749,741 and still rapidly climbing. Quite a reward for making public their religious opposition to same-sex marriage.

A more worthy fundraiser is one to send Sunil Khandbahale to MIT.

Born and raised in a rural farming village in Nashik, India to uneducated and illiterate parents who firmly believed in the power of education to unlock their children’s potential, Sunil was the first in his family to go to university and now he’s been acccepted to MIT Sloan’s fellowship program.

Sunil has spent the past 14 years overcoming many obstacles and building from nothing to what is now a free technology enabled multilingual translation platform  that is being used by over 120 million users in 150 countries!

Additionally, he has also set his sights on ensuring that young children in and around his rural village get a strong foundation by building a family-run preschool attached to his parents home that now serves nearly 100 preschoolers.

The only problem is that there’s one thing Sunil didn’t do on his quest to impact the lives of hundreds of millions of people….and that’s focus on making a financial return. While it has never been what motivates him, the fact of the matter is that MIT’s program costs more money than Sunil has ever dreamed of.

Please join us in proving to Sunil that good things happen to people who commit themselves selflessly to improving the lives of others. We can think of no future leader more deserving of becoming equipped with the tools that MIT’s program offers than Sunil, and we hope that by using the power of technology and the same online platform that Sunil has used to improve the lives of so many, we can join together and raise the money needed to send Sunil to MIT.

H/t Kausik.

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

Even drinking water

Apr 3rd, 2015 11:27 am | By

Ouch. More on that drought in California:

Southeast of Lake McClure is the town of East Porterville, where waterways aren’t the only thing drying out. The town’s residents have also run out of well water, the primary source of drinking water for many of the area’s homes, according to the New York Times.

Residents haven’t had running water in months and rely on donated water tanks to bathe, wash clothes and eat, the report added. To drink, many of the city’s residents rely on bottled water, either donated or purchased on their own.

The town is largely made up of Mexican immigrants who work in the fields all day, toiling under the sun. The local high school has allowed students to come in early to take showers in the locker rooms, if needed, the report added.

Mexican immigrants who work in the fields all day, toiling under the sun, who have to buy drinking water.

H/t Dave Ricks.


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

C’est normal

Apr 3rd, 2015 11:18 am | By

Saudi Arabia has tried to order Quebec to back off in its criticism of Saudi’s appalling human rights record. Quebec has said Nope.

The CBC has seen the letter:

Quebec’s premier is not backing down in his opposition to the imprisonment and torture of blogger Raif Badawi, despite the Saudi ambassador’s written caution to Quebec politicians to mind their own business.

“We have made our opinion known. It’s normal that we did so,” Philippe Couillard told reporters as he made his way to a cabinet meeting in Quebec City Wednesday.

Naif Bin Bandir Al-Sudairy, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Canada, sent a letter to Quebec’s National Assembly in March telling them not to meddle in the case of the jailed blogger or criticize the country’s human rights record.

“Torture” – note that the CBC calls it torture, which it is. Most mainstream media refuse to be that blunt about it. After all, Saudia Arabia is a sovereign blah blah blah blah blah.

In a letter obtained by CBC News and addressed to the speaker, the ambassador writes Saudi Arabia “does not accept any form of interference in its internal affairs.”

“The Kingdom does not accept at all any attack on it in the name of human rights, especially when its constitution is based on Islamic law, which guarantees human rights (sic),” the letter, dated March 10, reads.

Nice (sic) too.

Islamic law does the very opposite of guaranteeing human rights. That’s why there is such a thing as the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam: it’s in order to rule out any human rights that are not “compatible with sharia,” as so many important ones are not.

And we can see the truth of this when we consider what Saudi Arabia actually does, such as for instance sentencing Raif Badawi to 1000 lashes, 10 years in prison, and a fine of one million riyals, for writing his opinions about religion on a website. That’s not a situation in which human rights have been guaranteed.

Couillard and other Quebec politicians of all stripes have strongly denounced the kingdom’s treatment of Badawi.

On Wednesday, Kathleen Weil, Quebec’s immigration minister, said the government’s position has not wavered.

“It’s mostly important for us to reiterate our firm opposition to his imprisonment and our defence of human rights,” she said.

In February, the National Assembly unanimously passed a motion condemning the whipping of Badawi, and expressing support for his wife, Ensaf Haidar, and their three children, who are refugees living in Sherbrooke, Que.

Bien fait, Québec.

And the speaker’s office sent a copy of the motion to the Saudi ambassador in Ottawa.

Badawi’s supporters believe the ambassador’s letter to Quebec politicians shows the Saudi government is feeling the public pressure over the case.

“We are happy they responded because it seems that they find the need to respond because the pressure is so great, but of course the content of what they say is not true,” said Mireille Elchacar, a friend of the Badawi family who works for Amnesty International.

It’s not only not true, it’s the reverse of what is true. It’s not divergent from the truth but the opposite of the truth.

“Quebec has shown a unified, political stance against this and I think that has somewhat shocked Saudi Arabia,” said Kyle Matthews, senior deputy director of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies at Concordia University.

“It’s embarrassed them and they feel they have to do something to set the record straight or at least try to be seen as arguing their position from a moral and legal perspective, but it’s really hard to take that seriously,” he said.

And in fact it left itself open to even more scorn and contempt. I wrote my most recent Free Inquiry column on this subject. I enjoyed writing it, I have to say.

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

How they are now

Apr 3rd, 2015 10:39 am | By

Since it came up, I’ll just share the 2012 news about how Malala’s classmates recovered from being shot on that little bus going home from school.

“Which one is Malala?” he barked. Terrified, the girls fell silent. Malala Yousafzai was their 15-year-old schoolmate, a well-known children’s rights advocate who frequently challenged the Pakistani Taliban’s stance against girls education. She was sitting to Shazia’s right. “I think we must have looked at her,” admits Shazia. “We didn’t say anything, but we must have looked, because then he shot her. He shot her in the head.” Shazia screamed when she saw Malala slump forward. The gunman turned and shot Shazia twice, just below her left collarbone, and in her left hand when she tried to protect herself. Then he aimed his Chinese-made imitation Colt 45 at Kainat Riaz, the 16-year-old 10th grader sitting to Shazia’s left. He shot her in the shoulder, then dropped off the back of the truck and disappeared.

They both recovered.

Shazia and Kainat, however, returned to the Kushal School and College for girls on Nov. 29, determined to continue their education no matter the threat. “I love to study, and nothing will stop me, not even a bullet,” Kainat told TIME on her first day back in class. Shazia was equally defiant: “Even if they attack me three more times, I will always go back to school.”

Their courage is awe-inspiring, but it would be so much better if they didn’t need courage to go to school. I would be so happy to do without any awe or inspiration in exchange for a world where girls can go to school and atheists can utter their thoughts without needing heroic courage.

Shazia and Kainat are true illustrations of how Malala is no outlier, but rather an example of the kind of students coming out of Khushal school: courageous, intelligent and articulate. Samar Minallah Khan, a documentary filmmaker who filmed the school in 2010, was astounded by the ambition and character of all the girls she met. “There has to be something exceptional going on with either the school or the person running the school if all these girls are as confident, as inspiring and as courageous as Malala,” says Khan.

Maybe the credit goes to the Taliban. What a horrible thought.

Both still struggle with fear, and how to quell the panic that rises every time the memories come flooding back. Kainat, a slim, pretty girl with a ready smile and gemstone-flecked glasses, has trouble sleeping. Still, she says, the attack has strengthened her determination to fight for girls’ education. Before the shooting it was always something abstract—after all, she is one of the lucky ones, with a family willing to pay for her education all the way through graduation. Now that she has seen first hand how far some people are willing to go to take away that right, she knows what is at stake. “I feel myself stronger now,” she says, as she sits on a traditional rope bed in her family’s high-walled courtyard. “It was an unfortunate situation, but it gave me courage. It made me realize that it is the duty of every girl to encourage education. Now that Malala is in the UK, we have to fulfill her mission.”

We want a world where girls are secure enough to be bratty spoiled teenagers who don’t need that kind of strength.

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

No snow at the Phillips Station site

Apr 2nd, 2015 5:20 pm | By

Drought in California. Jerry Brown ordered mandatory restrictions yesterday, standing on a mountaintop that should be snowy but isn’t.

The governor’s emergency order comes after a year of requests for voluntary conservation — and a record-breaking warm and dry spell culminating in the worst April snowpack in recorded history — have failed to alarm many Californians enough to cut back on water.

Do they think it will just be there anyway? Like magic?

Snow surveyors found no snow at the Phillips Station site — the first time that’s happened in 75 years of early-April measurements. In an average year, the site would have 5.5 feet of snow. Across the Sierra, electronic readings indicate the water content of the snowpack is only 5 percent of average.

5 percent!! That’s no good. That’s no good at all. Lots of people, lots of agriculture…not good at all.

That shattered the previous low record of 25 percent of the average April snowpack, set last year and in 1977. The implications are huge for the cities, farms and wildlife that depend on melting snowpack to yield water during the spring, summer and fall.

Snowpack traditionally is at its peak by early April, before it begins to melt. With the state’s historically wettest winter months now gone, the drought is now firmly rooted in its fourth consecutive year.

Not a good portent.

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

Children frolic in Alabama

Apr 2nd, 2015 1:07 pm | By

What a good idea. No, I mean, what a bone-achingly bad idea. Alabama wants to see children carrying hand guns.

…lawmakers have proposed an amendment to the state’s gun laws that would allow minors to acquire their very own pistols. At the moment, the law is on a bit more even keel, stipulating that “no person shall deliver a pistol to any person under the age of 18.” Lawmakers want that changed to allow minors to have pistols, but only if they get the permission of a “parent, guardian, or spouse who is 18 or older (?)”

So little George age 5 who is married to Tina age 19 will be able to pack heat as long as darling Tina says yes. That’s sweet.

The measure is sponsored by three state senators: Arthur Orr, Greg Reed and Clay Scofield (all Republicans). A matching House bill is being sponsored by Ed Henry, Micky Hammon, Barry Moore and Corey Harbison (all Republicans). It’s unclear why the group of lawmakers felt that kids needed additional relaxation of existing gun laws.

On the flip side, we do know that childhood shooting accidents are in the top ten leading causes of accidental death among children. We should use the term “accidental” very loosely here because in almost every case the child stumbled across a loaded and unsecured gun somewhere in their own or a family member’s home. Now, in Alabama, children won’t even need to “stumble” on a gun, they’ll legally be allowed to possess it.

Get ready for fun!


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