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.

Guest post: Nearly all knowledge is provisional

Dec 8th, 2014 2:59 pm | By

Originally a comment by John Horstman on Knowing v accepting.

All knowledge is functionally Bayesian – it’s a matter of probability of being true, which we can sometimes even formally quantify, but it’s never 100%, with the exception of constructed abstractions (like mathematics or other formalized abstract systems, where things can have definite truth values because we construct them that way) and the existence of at least one ‘mind’ – some system capable of cognition such that I can even be here considering the questions.

This is due, as Ibis3 points out, to the solipsism problem, which can never be resolved – not even if there was a god (or some other outside observer of the universe) and you or I met it, because those experiences would still be subjective and questionable (indeed, many people HAVE met a god as far as they are concerned, and I doubt the veracity of those experiences categorically).

What’s ridiculous is the “therefore god [or other mystical claims]” leap Armstrong is implicitly defending – once you know that (nearly) all knowledge is provisional, you need some basis for whether you provisionally accept any proposition, and with what degree of certainty. Evidence that is validated by multiple subjectivities (assuming that other people exist, of course; and if they don’t, then really, none of this matters because I’m just arguing with myself, on the Internet, which is actually a delusion, so whatever) has been demonstrated over a long time to be our very best means of determining what is most likely to be true. Side note: this is why the scientific method has proved so useful, though that epistemic approach shows up everywhere we have groups of humans, as with cultural norms, shared historical or cultural narratives, etc. – we agree, so it is true (even when it isn’t). So what defenders of faith ignore is that lack of certainty does not mean that anything imaginable is thus equally certain – even without the possibility of perfect knowledge or actual independent verification (everyone verifying what I see could also be my own delusion), not all possibilities are equally likely.

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

His right to extraordinary relief is not clear and indisputable

Dec 8th, 2014 12:17 pm | By

Well this is a surprise. A US court declined to dismiss a lawsuit against Pastor Scott Lively. Pink News reports:

An appeals court has refused to dismiss a case against homophobic pastor Scott Lively, who is set to stand trial for crimes against humanity.

Lively is an American pastor who cheered on anti-gay legislation in Russiabranding Putin an ‘unlikely hero’ for passing it.

It previously emerged that he addressed an anti-gay conference in Uganda just before the country’s homophobic law was first drafted, and he is facing a charge of crimes against humanity for his role in encouraging the country’s law, and similar ones around the world.

I’m amazed. I don’t think “free speech” should be extended to advocacy of death to others, but I don’t expect US courts to agree with me, so I’m amazed.

The US First Circuit Court of Appeal this week refused his bid to have the case against him dismissed on free speech grounds – meaning the case will go to trial.

The short judgment said: “Although it is debatable whether the district court has properly parsed the petitioner’s protected speech from any unprotected speech or conduct, his right to extraordinary relief is not clear and indisputable.

“The petition is denied.”



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

Is there a men’s right movement?

Dec 8th, 2014 11:46 am | By

Raw Story reports on a conversation event Dawkins did last month, in which he expressed surprise that there’s such a thing as the Men’s Rights Movement.

During the event on November 21, Kennesaw’s Michael L. Sanseviro asked the outspoken atheist about the contributions of feminism to science. He also asked Dawkin’s opinion of the men’s rights movement.

“Of course feminism has an enormously important role,” he replied. “Feminism, as I understand it, is the political drive towards the equality of women — so that women should not be discriminated against, nobody should be discriminated against on grounds that don’t merit discrimination. So, yes, feminism is enormously important and is a political movement which deserves to be thoroughly well-supported.”

Much to the amusement of the audience, Dawkins expressed confusion about the existence of a “men’s rights movement.”

“I didn’t, I hardly knew — is there a men’s right movement?” he remarked.

This is one reason he should just stop pontificating about feminism. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He doesn’t know, and he doesn’t know he doesn’t know, so he says bad harmful things, and because he is still madly popular among the atheists and Fans of Science, he does a lot of damage.

On the other hand, after that, he said good things.

Sanseviro then asked Dawkins about same-sex marriage, and whether it violated “the evolution principle.”

“I don’t care what’s against the evolution principle. I’m all for going against the evolution principle,” Dawkins replied.

He warned against turning the survival of the fittest into public policy.

“Evolution by natural selection is the explanation for why we exist. It is not something to guide our lives in our own society. If we were to be guided by the evolution principle, then we would be living in a kind of ultra-Thatcherite, Reaganite society.”

“Study your Darwinism for two reasons,” he implored, “because it explains why you’re here, and the second reason is, study your Darwinism in order to learn what to avoid in setting up society. What we need is a truly anti-Darwinian society. Anti-Darwinian in the sense that we don’t wish to live in a society where the weakest go to the wall, where the strongest suppress the weak, and even kill the weak. We — I, at least — do not wish to live in that kind of society. I want to live in the sort of society where we take care of the sick, where we take care of the weak, take care of the oppressed, which is a very anti-Darwinian society.”

He said the same thing in the eponymous first essay in A Devil’s Chaplain. He starts with Darwin on the cruelty of natural selection:

Darwin was less than half joking when he coined the phrase Devil’s Chaplain in a letter to his friend Hooker in 1856.

What a book a Devil’s Chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering low and horridly cruel works of nature,

A process of trial and error, completely unplanned and on the massive scale of natural selection, can be expected to be clumsy, wasteful and blundering. Of waste there is no doubt. As I have put it before, the racing elegance of cheetahs and gazelles is bought at huge cost in blood and the suffering of countless antecedents on both sides. Clumsy and blundering though the process undoubtedly is, its results are opposite. There is nothing clumsy about a swallow; nothing blundering about a shark. What is clumsy and blundering, by the standards of human drawing boards, is the Darwinian algorithm that led to their evolution. As for cruelty, here is Darwin again, in a letter to Asa Gray of 1860:

I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars.

He runs through some examples on each side – hooray for natural selection v natural selection is a bastard – and then says he’s with T H Huxley:

Here is T. H., in his Romanes Lecture in Oxford in 1893, on ‘Evolution and Ethics’:

Let us understand, once for all, that the ethical progress of society depends, not on Imitating the cosmic process, still less in running away from It, but in combating it.

That is G. C. Williams’s recommendation today, and it is mine. I hear the bleak sermon of the Devil’s Chaplain as a call to arms. As an academic scientist I am a passionate Darwinian, believing that natural selection is, if not the only driving force in evolution, certainly the only known force capable of producing the illusion of purpose which so strikes all who contemplate nature. But at the same time as I support Darwinism as a scientist, I am a passionate anti-Darwinian when it comes to politics and how we should conduct our human affairs. My previous books, such as The Selfish Gene and The Blind Watchmaker, extol the inescapable factual correctness of the Devil’s Chaplain (had Darwin decided to extend the list of melancholy adjectives in the Chaplain’s indictment, he would very probably have chosen both ‘selfish’ and ‘blind’). At the same time I have always held true to the closing words of my first book, ‘We, alone on earth, can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators.’

Just so.

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

How not to frame

Dec 8th, 2014 10:38 am | By

BBC – don’t do that. Use your heads. Have some god damn sense.

Don’t do that headline.

Uber banned in Delhi over taxi driver ‘rape’

Yes I get that scare quotes take up less space in a headline than “alleged” – but that’s not a good enough reason to use them. Don’t do that.

Authorities in the Indian capital, Delhi, have banned international taxi-booking service Uber after a driver allegedly raped a female passenger.

A transport department official said the company had been “blacklisted” for “misleading customers”.

The 26-year-old woman used the smartphone app to book a taxi home on Friday but says she was taken to a secluded area and raped.

The driver has been remanded in custody for three days.

He was arrested on Sunday and appeared in court on Monday afternoon.

He hasn’t been convicted. I get that. But don’t call it a ‘rape’ in the headline. Scare quotes are not the equivalent of “alleged” and they’re not a good substitute for it.


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

Consider the maggot

Dec 8th, 2014 10:25 am | By

It’s Monday morning, so let’s have some deep thought to start the week. This deep thought is courtesy of the Huffington Post and typed by Debbie Davis, a “writer, communicator, journalist.” (All three of those? Wow, she wear many hats.)

I have a strong faith in God. I believe He is our Creator, and made us in His image. I pray for His guidance and wisdom daily.

To say it is “foreign” to me to consider that not all people feel this way, is not a very broad-minded view, and is not realistic in today’s world.

Wait what? Who’s the accused here? Who said it’s foreign to her, who took this not very broad-minded view? Why’s she fuming at this unknown person right at the start of her article? She’s a writer and a communicator and a journalist, so you’d think she could be clearer and tidier than that.

I realize there are those who have never experienced or tried to understand the relationship between God and mankind.

Ah, no. Stacking the deck there, deep thinker. Assumes facts not in evidence. We don’t know there is any “relationship” between god and humans because we don’t know there is god.

Without judgment, each person must decide where their faith is, or isn’t.

But how can they do that without judgment? You need judgment to decide things.

No, she doesn’t mean it that way, she means something like “each person must decide and people shouldn’t judge each other.” But she’s such an inept writer, communicator, journalist that she couldn’t manage to word that comprehensibly.

So I’ll spare you much more of her clumsy writing…well except this one more bit of clumsy:

However, it was not until the day at the luggage store that I was confronted with how to respond to someone who called himself an atheist.

It was near Christmas time, and I, along with one of my teenage sons at the time, went to the local mall to find a present in the luggage store.

One of her sons at the time. Now he’s her uncle.

So anyhow – the way she was “confronted with how to respond to someone who called himself an atheist” is like this: the guy on the till was a grumpy old geezer (like me only a guy), and when she said “Merry Christmas!” at him he said he was an atheist, at which point her world teetered on its axis. She expressed incredulity at him, he was unmoved, and it looked for awhile as if Christmas might be over for good. Then she realized what she had to say. She asked him if he’d ever pondered a bird (emphasis hers), and he said no.

“Well, will you do me a favor, do yourself a favor, and next time you are at a park, sit down on a bench, and wait until a bird perches nearby. Then take a close look, a really close look, and watch the bird’s chest, where you see its heartbeat. Watch the bird’s chest go in and out, breathing, and you can see its tiny heartbeat. Even if it’s a tiny hummingbird,” I said, “you can see its heartbeat beating up and down.”

The man said nothing. Then he said, “So?”

I responded “When you gaze upon that bird’s heartbeat, you will see how wonderful a creation there is, and I hope you will ponder that bird, along with Creation. Ponder the bird’s heart beating, its beak, its feathers, its amazing beauty, and know that no human, no man or woman, could ever create such beauty. Only something much much bigger than ourselves could do that.”

Notice she didn’t tell him to ponder a rat, or a slug, or a slide of bacteria under a miscroscope, or a rotting corpse, or an earthquake, or the genocides of the past several decades, or anything else that doesn’t fall under the heading “beauty.”

I say this as someone who loves hummingbirds and ponders them every chance she gets.

Histoire naturelle des oiseaux-mouches, ou, Colibris

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

Hugh Hefner’s best friend

Dec 7th, 2014 6:15 pm | By

What was that about Bill Cosby now? Ten women? Fifteen?

Make that thirty-three.

A former Playboy Club waitress is the latest woman to come forward with accusations that she was drugged and raped by Bill Cosby — and she says there are at least 12 more.

According to P.J. Masten, who worked as a “bunny manager” at Playboy’s Chicago club in 1979, she was one of at least 13 Playboy Club waitresses who were sexually assaulted by Cosby when the married comedian was a regular at the club.

“[There are] 12 former bunnies that I know of that are ashamed to come forward, frightened to come forward, married with families, don’t want to come forward.” Masten told CNN‘s Alisyn Camerota. “But they were also drugged and raped by Bill Cosby.”

They don’t want to come forward? But I thought it was such fun to report being drugged and raped by a big star man.

The details of Masten’s story echo the more than 20 public accusations against Cosby that depict assaults dating back to the 1970s. After offering to take Masten out to dinner, Cosby asked her if she wanted a cocktail in his room beforehand, preparing a glass of Grand Marnier and ice. “The next thing I knew,” Masten says, “it was 4 o’clock in the morning. I woke up in a bed naked, bruised. He was laying next to me, and I slithered out of the bed … I got myself together, I went downstairs, I got in a cab, and went home.”

Masten told CNN that she knew exactly what had happened to her while she was out. “I knew I was raped. There were bruise marks all over me. I knew I was raped by him.”

Updating to add next para which explains the title. I thought I’d included it in the post, but I hadn’t.

She says that she told her supervisor at the Playboy Club about the assault, but her allegations fell on deaf ears. “She said to me, ‘You know that’s [Hugh Hefner’s] best friend, right?'” Masten said. “I said, ‘Yes.’ She said, ‘Well, nobody is going to believe you. I suggest you keep your mouth shut.'”

But he was Hefner’s bestie. She was told to keep quiet about it.

It was only after connecting with other former bunnies on Facebook that Masten realized she wasn’t the only one with horror stories about Cosby. “A couple of [them] private messaged me and said, ‘He did me too. It happened to me, too.'” At least a dozen, by Masten’s count, remain silent.

This brings the number of women who have either publicly or privately accused Cosby of assaulting them to 33.


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

No travel for Samar Badawi

Dec 7th, 2014 5:37 pm | By

A new piece of hateful cruelty and suppression out of Saudi Arabia, land of glorious life-giving oil. Via the Gulf Center for Human Rights:

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) is deeply concerned following the travel ban that has been imposed on human rights defender Samar Badawi, who works on defending people’s rights in Saudi Arabia, in particular the rights of prisoners of conscience.

On 2 December 2014, Badawi was informed by staff in the Passport Office at King Abdulaziz International Airport that she is not allowed to travel abroad anymore by an order from the Ministry of Interior, without any reason given or any prior investigations.

She was on her way to get a flight to participate in the 16th European Union (EU) NGOs Forum on Human Rights being held on 4 and 5 December in Brussels, Belgium. According to the EU, “The EU-NGO Forum on Human Rights is an annual conference that provides a venue for direct interaction and in depth discussion between representatives of global civil society and the EU institutions, EU Member States and international organisations on various topics related to the promotion and protection of human rights.” The theme of this year’s Forum is “Freedoms of expression on line and offline”.

So naturally the Saudis decided the best thing to do was to grab away Samar Badawi’s freedom of expression and travel, in order to prevent her from exercising her freedom of expression in Brussels, where Saudia Arabia might come off not looking too good.

Reports confirm that the travel ban was ordered by the Ministry of Interior following her speech in September about the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. Badawi appeared before the Council and called for the release of her husband, prominent human rights lawyer Waleed Abu Al-Khair, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison earlier this year. To watch Badawi’s presentation at the UN HRC (in Arabic), see the following link:

The GCHR believes that this travel ban was imposed on Samar Badawi as a result of her human rights activities, in particular her work to defend freedom of expression in Saudi Arabia, and is a blatant attempt to prevent her from carrying out advocacy with international bodies such as the EU or the UN.

Remember Saudi Arabia as you tool around in your car.




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

Sarcastic waving

Dec 7th, 2014 4:33 pm | By

Oh dear god. Worse than ever.

There’s a second video of the killing of Eric Garner.

The second video shows the choking while one officer grabbed Garner around his neck, and threw him to the ground. It also, however, shows the seven minute long aftermath, where a disgusted bystander films the lifeless body of Eric Garner left on the sidewalk with police officers shuffling around him and seeming relatively undisturbed by the fact that they had just killed an unarmed man for not paying a few pennies of tax on cigarettes.

Watch video below of NYPD officers and EMT standing around, and failing to give aid to Eric Garner, who was lifeless on the ground, but technically did not die until he was on the way to the hospital.

I could only watch a minute fourteen, given what we know.

Could Garner have been saved if they had administered proper aid? Perhaps. But that is speculative. What is not speculative is the attitude and demeanor of the officer who had just choked him until he was lifeless, thus leading to his death. Pay close attention at 6:55 in the video, when you can see the officer who choked Garner to death, NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo, actually wave jokingly at the camera, with no apparent concern for the fact that he had just killed a man.

I didn’t watch that far, but there are stills in the story.


The video was originally posted on Facebook over the summer but has received renewed attention after a grand jury decided not to indict an officer involved in the altercation. As Harry Siegel at the New York Daily News points out, this video is almost more disturbing — or disturbing in a way that says something slightly different about Garner and the officers in question. About Garner: If he appears in the first video as the subject of police aggression, here he barely seems to warrant their attention at all. About the officers: They betray no sense of urgency or concern as they wait for first responders. It’s as if the event were almost banal.

Maybe that’s their “professionalism” – not getting all emotional on the job. But since Eric Garner shouldn’t have been slammed to the sidewalk in the first place…

It’s ugly.

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

Oops I forgot to do a title

Dec 7th, 2014 3:11 pm | By

Anna Merlan at Jezebel reports on a new porn series featuring rapes of women crossing the US-Mexico border. Rape is a major risk for women in that situation.

That evidently sounds pretty arousing to the porn conglomerate MindGeek, formerly Manwin, who are behind the series. As the Daily Dot was first to report, the series was launched by MindGeek earlier this year, a major European company that also owns YouPorn, RedTube and many other major porn sites. It’s produced by Mofos, a porn studio that focuses on “real amateur girls.” Here’s a nausea-inducing description on the “Border Patrol Sex” homepage:

Watch these guys hunting the illegal female immigrants and giving them a lesson on why the law should be obeyed.

Cruising in their SUV, agents catch these college girls in the field and fuck them really hard. Getting fucked by border patrol agent is one thing, but these girls don’t know that this doesn’t really mean they get to pass the border afterwards.

Cool huh? Let’s have more of that kind of thing. Rape of women who are being stoned for “adultery” – call a time-out for rape, then finish the stoning. Hawt! Rape of women who are being genocided. Rape of women who are victims of earthquakes or hurricanes or droughts. Rape of women who are dying of Ebola. I can think of all sorts of possibilities.

There’s a clear difference between “Border Patrol Sex” and other forms of edgy fantasy porn: rape scenarios, for example, or underage- or incest-themed content, all of which, for legal reasons as well as basic human decency, tend to make it very clear that they are fictionalized and don’t rely on any specific real-world events.

Ok nope. That’s where I part company with Merlan and perhaps with the majority of other feminists, I don’t know. I don’t think there’s a clear difference at all, and I think saying there is seems pretty clueless. I also don’t consider “rape scenarios” to be “edgy.” Either both are fucked up or neither is fucked up.

The Border Patrol series feels more like Holocaust or “Stalag” pornography, the exploitation comics that cropped up in Israel after the Holocaust and which sexualized concentration camps and other types of Nazi exploitation. (Or, for a more modern example, “Taliban”-themed rape porn.) Conceptually, too, the “Border Patrol” series takes a lot from Max Hardcore’s style of extreme gonzo pornography that focused on inflicting pain and humiliation on the actresses in a style that’s intentionally meant to blur the lines between fantasy and reality.

I don’t know what “extreme gonzo” is supposed to mean there. I don’t see why porn is supposed to include violence. I don’t see why erotica and violence need to be mashed together. I don’t see why anyone – especially feminists – wants to eroticize violence.

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

That word “objective”…

Dec 7th, 2014 12:44 pm | By

A federal judge said Nope to another attempt to get evolution banned in Kansas public schools.

Citizens for Objective Public Education (COPE) actually had the nerve to argue that teaching evolution amounts to teaching atheism, and therefore should be banned as a religious point of view in the classroom.

Learning about evolution could, following a train of thought, lead to atheism, but I can think of other things that could also do that – like reading the bible for instance; like going to church, like listening to sermons, like thinking about the idea of “god.” Pretty much anything could lead to a train of thought that ends up at atheism – or theism.

Americans United put it this way:

Everything about that argument is flawed. Contemplating the origin of life on this planet is not an inherently religious question that is unfit for children to ponder. And science has done a fine job of unlocking the mysteries of the universe – despite COPE’s claim to the contrary. Evolution may be a theory, but no legitimate scientists question its validity. Thus learning the facts of that theory is not “indoctrination.” It’s called education.

US District Judge Daniel Crabtree apparently agreed, because he threw out the case.

Learning can take you places. Deal with it.


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

Uh oh

Dec 7th, 2014 12:15 pm | By

Oh crap, that’s scary.

An unidentified drone came close to hitting a plane as it landed at Heathrow, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has confirmed.

An Airbus A320 pilot reported seeing a helicopter-style drone as the jet was 700 feet off the ground on its approach to the runway at 1416 GMT on 22 July.

The CAA has not identified the airline or how close the drone came to the plane, which can carry 180 people.

It gave the incident an “A” rating, meaning a “serious risk of collision”.

This is the highest incident rating the CAA can give.

Now add this part:

The incidents have prompted a warning from the British Airline Pilots’ Association (Balpa) that the rapid increase in the number of drones operated by amateur enthusiasts now poses “a real risk” to commercial aircraft.

And now this part:

Sales of drones have increased rapidly, with UK sales running at a rate of between 1,000 and 2,000 every month.

They are expected to be very popular as Christmas presents.

They cost as little as £35 for a smaller model…

Jesus fucking christ.


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

Knowing v accepting

Dec 7th, 2014 11:11 am | By

How do we draw the border between what we know and what we have learned from people who know?

The question is prompted by a discussion on a public post of Ed Brayton’s on Facebook about sophisticated theology and Karen Armstrong and agnosticism. Dan Linford (who teaches philosophy) said this:

Armstrong thinks that we can know that it is true that “God exists” but we cannot know what that sentence means, both because we do not know what God is nor do we know what ‘exists’ means.

I can’t make any sense of that. I can’t see what it can mean to know something if you don’t know its component parts. It seems like Dadaist gibberish to me. If I don’t know what ‘god’ is and I don’t know what ‘exist’ means, how can I know god exists?

It’s helpful in understanding mysticism, Dan said. Not to me it isn’t.

Dan drew analogies to a trusted friend telling you a sentence in a language you don’t understand is true, and thus you know it’s true, and to an instructor writing an equation that we don’t currently understand; we might trust the instructor that she is telling us true things.

But I wouldn’t say I know those things. That’s one place where I draw the border. I might accept it, but accepting something, taking someone else’s word for something, is not the same as knowing it yourself. It’s provisional. Knowledge is not provisional. If it is provisional, then it’s something short of knowledge. It may be good enough, it may be serviceable, it may be true – but for you it’s not knowledge.

Or am I all wrong?

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

Catherine has one son and 35,000 daughters

Dec 7th, 2014 9:53 am | By

Another one from A Mighty Girl – Dr. Catherine Hamlin.

Australian obstetrician/gynecologist Dr. Catherine Hamlin has spent much of her life living in Ethiopia where she has revolutionized care for a childbirth injury called obstetric fistula. Dr. Hamlin, who celebrated her 90th birthday this year, was nominated for the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize for her work building the world’s only medical center dedicated to providing free repair surgery to poor women suffering from this devastating condition — one that affects more than two million young women around the world.

When Dr. Hamlin first moved with her husband, Dr. Reginald Hamlin, to Ethiopia in 1959 to establish a midwifery school, they had never encountered an obstetric fistula as the condition is very rare in developed countries due to modern obstetric techniques such as Caesarean section. They soon learned that fistulas were common in Ethiopia and in much of the developing world. An obstetric fistula is a medical condition in which a hole or fistula develops in the birth canal area after a difficult or failed childbirth. Most often, the child dies and the fistula renders the woman incontinent. Due to the leaking which occurs and the resulting odor, women are frequently ostracized from their families and communities.

Recognizing the great need for fistula treatment, the Hamlins founded the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in 1974 to provide free fistula repair surgery to women in need. Since then, they have treated 35,000 women with a success rate of 95 percent. Dr. Hamlin has spent years building up local expertise in the surgical procedure and has since opened additional medical centers in other Ethiopian cities. Now established as the global center of expertise on fistula repair, surgeons come from around the world to be trained by Dr. Hamlin and her associates.

To help prevent more women from developing fistulas in the first place, Dr. Hamlin established the Hamlin College of Midwives in 2006. Globally, there are over 300,000 maternal deaths every year, 99 percent of which occur in poor countries, and for every death, at least 20 women suffer severe complications from childbirth. Complications in pregnancy and childbirth remain the leading cause of the death among adolescent girls in many developing countries. In a country like Ethiopia which has fewer than 200 OB/GYNs for a population of nearly 100 million people, midwives offer the best hope of providing front-line maternal care to women, especially those in rural areas.

Dr. Hamlin’s work put obstetric fistula on the global health agenda, and her work has been internationally recognized by governments and professional medical societies around the world. At Dr. Hamlin’s 90th birthday party earlier this year, her son, Richard, declared that “Catherine has one son and 35,000 daughters.” Dr. Hamlin, who lives in a cottage at the hospital and continues to be active in its day-to-day work, has trained many to carry on her important mission. At her party, Dr. Hamlin told those who had gathered to celebrate the life of this remarkable woman: “We have to eradicate Ethiopia of this awful thing that’s happening to women: suffering, untold suffering, in the countryside. I leave this with you to do in the future, to carry on.”

Dr. Hamlin’s life-changing work is possible due to the support of donors from around the world through two non-profit organizations — both wonderful charities to support this holiday season — the Australian-based Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia ( or the US-based Hamlin Fistula USA(

To learn more about Dr. Hamlin and her work, we highly recommend her memoir “The Hospital by the River: A Story of Hope” at

There is also a collection of “stories of hope” about the people affected by Dr. Hamlin’s work entitled “Catherine’s Gift: Stories of Hope from the Hospital by the River” at

You can also learn more about Dr. Hamlin’s fistula hospital and its impact on women’s lives in the excellent hour-long PBS documentary “A Walk to Beautiful” at

For Mighty Girl stories to teach your children about the value of giving to others, visit our post on “Making an Impact: Mighty Girl Books About Charity and Community Service” at — or browse our entire “Generosity & Charity” book section.

For stories of girls and women living through poverty and hardship, visit our “Hardship & Poverty” section.

And, for stories for children and teens about the value of compassion, visit our “Kindness & Compassion” book section.


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

Saturday puppy

Dec 6th, 2014 6:07 pm | By

Because Cute Emergency simply shoved it at me, so how could I  not.

Embedded image permalink

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

You’d go out—bang!—just like a candle!

Dec 6th, 2014 5:22 pm | By

About this business of all of us being just manifestations of PZ – Russell Glasser wittily quoted an apt bit of Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll.

Here she checked herself in some alarm, at hearing something that sounded to her like the puffing of a large steam-engine in the wood near them, though she feared it was more likely to be a wild beast. ‘Are there any lions or tigers about here?’ she asked timidly.

‘It’s only the Red King snoring,’ said Tweedledee.

‘Come and look at him!’ the brothers cried, and they each took one of Alice’s hands, and led her up to where the King was sleeping.

‘Isn’t he a LOVELY sight?’ said Tweedledum.

Alice couldn’t say honestly that he was. He had a tall red night-cap on, with a tassel, and he was lying crumpled up into a sort of untidy heap, and snoring loud—’fit to snore his head off!’ as Tweedledum remarked.

‘I’m afraid he’ll catch cold with lying on the damp grass,’ said Alice, who was a very thoughtful little girl.

‘He’s dreaming now,’ said Tweedledee: ‘and what do you think he’s dreaming about?’

Alice said ‘Nobody can guess that.’

‘Why, about YOU!’ Tweedledee exclaimed, clapping his hands triumphantly. ‘And if he left off dreaming about you, where do you suppose you’d be?’

‘Where I am now, of course,’ said Alice.

‘Not you!’ Tweedledee retorted contemptuously. ‘You’d be nowhere. Why, you’re only a sort of thing in his dream!’

‘If that there King was to wake,’ added Tweedledum, ‘you’d go out—bang!—just like a candle!’

‘I shouldn’t!’ Alice exclaimed indignantly. ‘Besides, if I’M only a sort of thing in his dream, what are YOU, I should like to know?’

A profound question, I’m sure you’ll agree.

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

The only male cheerleader

Dec 6th, 2014 4:55 pm | By

Oh, no.

Ronin Shimizu, a 12-year-old boy in California, killed himself after he was bullied for being the only male cheerleader on an all girl team. Does “after” mean “because” here? It’s impossible to know for sure, even if he left a note saying so, but…being bullied doesn’t generally make kids happier.

‘I heard that people called him gay because he was a cheerleader,’ one of his teammates told CBS Sacramento at the vigil.

Ronin was the only male cheerleader with the Vista Junior Eagles Cheer Team.

Contempt for girls hurts boys as well as girls. It hurts everyone. It sucks. It’s not healthy that it’s just normal for half of all human beings to be held in contempt.

He liked cheerleading. He thought it was fun.

Shock: Some friends say they were stunned he was so unhappy because he always had a smile on his face

That’s heartbreaking.

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

Welcome to Kansas City

Dec 6th, 2014 1:01 pm | By

A horrifying event in Kansas City, Missouri.

Friends of a Muslim teenager who was run down and killed in a crash that’s being investigated as a possible hate crime said they had been alarmed in recent weeks by someone driving around with anti-Islamic messages painted on a vehicle.

Police say they don’t know if there’s any connection.

Ahmed H. Aden, 34, of Kansas City, was charged Friday in Jackson County with first-degree murder and armed criminal action in the crash that fatally injured 15-year-old Abdisamad Sheikh-Hussein on Thursday night at the center. Funeral services for Abdisamad are scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday at the Islamic Society of Greater Kansas City.

According to a probable cause statement, Aden was driving the sport utility vehicle that hit the teen as the boy got into a car Thursday evening. A witness reported seeing the teen “fly through the air” before the SUV ran over him. The teen’s legs were nearly severed, and he died in a hospital of his wounds.

But Aden was perhaps not just a random guy who happened to be driving past.

In the weeks before the crash, worshippers said they saw a black SUV painted with threatening messages at the center and cruising around a nearby shopping area. One of the messages was “Islam Is Worse Than Ebola,” said Mohamed Ahmed, 13, of Kansas City.

“I would have thought the police would have taken care of it, but they didn’t,” he said.

Mohamed Farah, a 50-year-old friend of the boy’s family, said he called police more than once in October about a suspicious man who was coming around the center.

The driver’s behavior was not…random.

Court documents said Aden crashed the SUV and got out of the vehicle with a knife. Occupants of the car told officers they followed Aden, and they pointed him out to police. One witness said the suspect swung what appeared to be a baseball bat at people, and another witness reported that Aden pulled out a handgun and said to “Stay there” as he tried to get away.

Aden initially told authorities that he lost control of his vehicle and that there was an accident. He later said he struck the teen because he thought he looked like a man who had threatened him several days earlier, the probable cause statement said.

Federal agents are assisting in the investigation and “also have opened this matter as a federal civil rights investigation as a potential hate crimes violation,” according to FBI spokeswoman Bridget Patton. Patton said she couldn’t release any information on why the case could be considered a hate crime.



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

“Nice try, PZ, with those last two paragraphs”

Dec 6th, 2014 12:41 pm | By

Comedy interlude.

A comment on my piece titled What should we do? at the Freethinker:

  1. Blueshift Rhino says:

    Nice try, PZ, with those last two paragraphs, but you simply can’t have it both ways.

    You cannot continue to use the derisive label of “Dear Muslima” when someone argues that there are more important issues than the horror of being invited for coffee in an elevator or – even – the outrage of people disagreeing with you on the internet. Either it’s as black-and-white – we at FTB know which issues matter and which don’t, and everyone else needs to shut and listen to us – as you have been claiming for years, or it really is nuanced as Dawkins was saying and everyone who hasn’t drunk your Koolaid has been trying to explain to you since then.

    Why you are incapable of saying that you’ve made a mistake (in the past) and/or simplified matters too much is beyond me. Just take back your response to Dear Muslima and embrace what you, yourself, wrote in the first three-quarters of this column: some problems are worse than others and everyone is entitled to his or her opinion on the rank-ordering. Oh, and while you’re at it, head over to Michael Nugent’s biog and apologize for your indefensible public smears against him,l so that maybe we all can move onwards.

Maybe you’re thinking PZ wrote a long comment on my piece, one with more than two paragraphs, and that Blueshift Rhino is responding to that? Hahaha no, PZ didn’t comment on my piece. I have no idea why Blueshift Rhino calls me PZ, unless it’s because his simmering rage makes it hard for him to read names.


The confusion is compounded. Blueshift Rhino comments again:

As O.B. knows, my previous comment was retracted and a request that it be deleted was clicked before anyone other than O.B. saw it. The dishonesty of not mentioning this is unsurprising. The inability to understand that a quick retraction is the correct thing to do when a mistake is made is also unsurprising.

With that said, my main point still stands. Using “Dear Muslima” as a slur is not only simplistic or ignorant, but often hypocritical.

Oy. One, I hadn’t said anything about the PZ comment there, so what “dishonesty”?

Two, no I don’t know – how would I know?? How on earth would I know his previous comment was retracted and a request that it be deleted was clicked before anyone other than me saw it? What am I, magic?

Oh good grief, does he think The Freethinker belongs to me? Does he think I’m the editor and webmaster? Does he think it’s this extra blog I have?

Lordy. The Freeth is the oldest surviving freethought publication in the world. It was founded by G W Foote in 1881. The editor is Barry Duke. I write a monthly column for it.

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

Police interest

Dec 6th, 2014 11:57 am | By

Los Angeles police have opened an investigation into one woman’s claims that Bill Cosby molested her.

Los Angeles police opened an investigation on Friday into a woman’s claims that Bill Cosby molested her when she was 15 years old, a department spokeswoman said.

The investigation was opened after Judy Huth, who is suing Cosby for sexual battery, met with Los Angeles police detectives for 90 minutes.

Los Angeles Police Officer Jane Kim said the department opened its investigation after the meeting. (more…)

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

Protests are rare in Vietnam

Dec 6th, 2014 11:40 am | By

Saudi and Iran arrest bloggers for being rude about “the prophet”; Vietnam arrests bloggers for being rude about the government.

An award-winning Vietnamese writer has been arrested, reportedly for publishing criticism of the Communist government on his blog.

Nguyen Quang Lap was taken into custody after police searched his home in the city of Ho Chi Minh on Saturday.

His wife and his brother said police had accused him of publishing articles that went against the authorities.

Mr Lap is the second prominent blogger to have been detained recently, in an apparently renewed attack on dissent.

We have blogger privilege here in the relatively non-suppressive part of the world.

The one-party state is often criticised by rights groups for its intolerance of dissent.

Protests are rare in Vietnam and the mainstream media are state-run and heavily regulated.

However, the internet has emerged as a forum for criticising the authorities.

The press freedom group, Reporters without Borders, says Vietnam has 34 bloggers in prison.

34 too many.


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