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 does not mean that it comes with the territory

Oct 7th, 2014 5:01 pm | By

Jennifer Lawrence says what she thinks about having naked pictures of her stolen and published online.

“Just because I’m a public figure, just because I’m an actress, does not mean that I asked for this,” she says.

“It does not mean that it comes with the territory. It’s my body, and it should be my choice, and the fact that it is not my choice is absolutely disgusting. I can’t believe that we even live in that kind of world. ”

I can, but only because I’ve been paying attention to it for more than three years. And anyway I can’t, really. I’m thoroughly convinced of it by long observation but at the same time I’m permanently incredulous.

“It is not a scandal. It is a sex crime,” she tells Kashner. “It is a sexual violation. It’s disgusting. The law needs to be changed, and we need to change. That’s why these Web sites are responsible. Just the fact that somebody can be sexually exploited and violated, and the first thought that crosses somebody’s mind is to make a profit from it. It’s so beyond me. I just can’t imagine being that detached from humanity. I can’t imagine being that thoughtless and careless and so empty inside.”

“Scandal” is completely the wrong word for it. “Outrage” would be a better fit.


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

As an example of a gross breach of medical ethics

Oct 7th, 2014 3:57 pm | By

Sometimes the revoltingness of the Official Opposition is surprising. Oh what am I talking about, it’s almost always surprising. But still, one contribution to the genre by “Skep tickle” is pretty damn amazing. PZ posted a screen grab, because the contribution is about him. Scroll down to the end of the post.

I’ve been pointed to the comment by Skep tickle, aka Eliza Sutton, MD, and I post it here as an example of a gross breach of medical ethics. She should be ashamed.

(click for larger image, if you can stomach it)

She’s suggesting he had a “disseminated gonococcal infection.” Tee hee.

Note that she’s diagnosing me with “septic arthritis” in the complete absence of any facts. If she had the information that my doctor had, she’d know that they tapped and cultured the synovial fluid, and found no sign of any infection at all. And then she leaps from her completely bogus diagnosis of an infection to suggest that it is a “disseminated gonococcal infection”, and then counts back from the incubation period to surmise, while denying that she was surmising, that I acquired it while associating with the Skepchicks!

To say I’m disgusted is an understatement. I think the UW hospital should know what one of their doctors does in her spare time, so I’m not going to shy away from mentioning her name.

Remember that time she came here to tell me I’m mentally ill? What a fine doctor.

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

About the death of a young girl

Oct 7th, 2014 12:07 pm | By

Another BBC piece on Ebola.

There’s a summit in London to talk about how to deal with the epidemic, which has killed 3,338 people so far. A nurse, William Pooley, spoke at the summit:

Mr Pooley, who was the first Briton to contract the virus during the current outbreak, appealed to the international community to act to prevent the epidemic getting worse.

In an emotional press conference he spoke about the death of a young girl and her brother.

He said he had found her “covered in blood,” adding: “She still had a very puzzled expression on her face and she wasn’t breathing.”

“So I put her in a bag and left her next to her brother. She was a beautiful little girl,” he said.

“So, my specific fear is that the horror and the misery of these deaths, really fill a well of my despair.

“And I just don’t know what happens if that’s repeated a million times. And so I say, at all costs, we can’t let that happen.”

He caught Ebola, and was flown back to the UK and given an experimental drug, and he recovered. He’s going back. He says it was an easy decision.

Among the pledges made at the London conference was $70m (£43m) from Save the Children, of which $40m had been earmarked for Sierra Leone.

Comic Relief has pledged £1m, while more than 160 NHS staff are due to travel to Sierra Leone after answering a call for volunteers to help fight the disease earlier this month.

Mr Pooley said pledges need to be delivered “really quickly”, saying: “We need beds and we need people looking after the patients in the beds.”

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said Mr Pooley, who recently returned from the US where he gave blood to try to help a victim of the virus, was an example of the “courage” and resilience needed to tackle the crisis.

I should say so. I would say it’s not “courage” but COURAGE.

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

Francis’ bloodshot eyes

Oct 7th, 2014 11:05 am | By

BBC reporter Tulip Mazumdar has a heart-wrenching detailed story on Ebola in Sierra Leone.

The trip from London takes 20 hours instead of 6, because most airlines have stopped flying to Sierra Leone; she has to go via Paris and Casablanca.

At the airport there is bleach, and temperature-checking, and warning information on the walls. The handshake has been replaced by patting one’s own chest.

Today we are filming at the country’s main referral hospital – Connaught Hospital in central Freetown. As we enter, I see a woman in a purple and pink shirt lying on a bench, with her head in her hands. She looks extremely unwell. This area is where patients showing symptoms of Ebola come for help, but the help is limited.

This isn’t a treatment centre; it’s an isolation ward within the hospital. People have to travel many miles from here by ambulance to get proper supportive treatment. There are just 18 beds in this hospital, and they are all full.

The latest patient to arrive is a one-month-old baby. Ebola killed both his parents overnight. The chances are he is also infected and will die within days. All medics can do is feed him and hold him through protective suits.

In the cemetery there is a section for Ebola victims; it is full of fresh graves.

The burial team is efficient and almost jovial. I imagine it’s the only way they can keep performing this grim task day in, day out. The cemetery supervisor, Abdul Rahman Parker, tells me he’s been ostracised by his community – people are scared of him now because he handles the bodies of Ebola victims. But he says he doesn’t care, and that Sierra Leone needs him to continue doing this job, even if its people don’t realise it.

The day ends with the burial teams throwing their protective clothing – gloves, masks and body suits – into the last grave. It’s starting to rain again. We remove our protective suits and put them in a yellow biohazard bag, which the burial team disposes of. We spray ourselves with disinfectant, and silently head back to our hotel.

The next day she visits a small treatment center run by an Italian NGO. What she sees when she gets there is a suspected Ebola patient turned away because the center is full.

I peer into the car. Francis is sitting in the passenger seat staring into space. His eyes are red, and he has the hiccups – both are clear symptoms of Ebola. After almost an hour of pleading, the family eventually give up. The five of them pile back into their car and drive away. Everyone in that vehicle is now potentially at risk of catching Ebola.

When we enter the treatment centre, I feel the helplessness and frustration of that family and I demand to know why they didn’t allow that potentially dying man inside. Surely they can do something for him. The centre’s co-ordinator, Luca Rolla, tells me their priority has to be their staff and the patients they are already treating. He tells me that they cannot go over capacity or they risk everyone else inside the centre. One of their doctors has already contracted the virus and is now being treated in Germany.

More centers and more doctors are desperately needed.

While the BBC is filming, though, Luca gets a phone call: another center has a bed available, so he calls Francis’s family and tells them to go straight there.

The next day Tulip films another report.

Then soon after 18:00, just as one of the BBC World presenters is about to introduce me live, my producer, Mark, runs over and tells me some terrible news. Francis Samuka, whom we watched being turned away from a treatment centre yesterday, has died. His family has called and told us he passed away at an isolation centre a few hours ago. His sister could barely speak when she was delivering the news, she was wailing with sorrow. My heart sinks… and then I hear the presenter in my earpiece saying: “Tulip, what’s the latest?”

I explain what’s happened, all the time thinking of Francis’ bloodshot eyes and the look of despair I saw in him just the day before.

I am glad we were able to tell Francis Samuka’s story. It’s important people know this is happening on a daily basis across West Africa. It underlines why governments here and global aid agencies continue to plead for more international help, so patients like Francis can be treated, instead of being turned away.

The BBC does good work.


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

The revenge

Oct 7th, 2014 10:13 am | By

Laurie Penny says we’re winning. Who? Who’s we? Social Justice Warriors.

She’s been thinking about the reaction – the revenge – from the anti-Social Justice Warriors, and what it means.

The routine, the arguments, have become far too familiar. A woman or a handful of women are selected for destruction; our ‘credibility’ and ‘professionalism’ are attacked in the same breath as we are called ugly, slut-shamed for dismissed either as stupid little girls or bitter old women or, in some cases, both.

The medium is modern, but the logic is Victorian, and make no mistake, the problem is not what we do and say and build and create.

The problem is that women are doing it. That’s why the naked selfies, the slut-shaming, is not just incidental to the argument—it is the argument. Underneath it all, you’re just a woman, just a body. You can be reduced to flesh. You are less. You are an object. You are other. LOL, boobs.

It’s sort of as if we were dogs. Imagine if dogs suddenly started trying to participate in human affairs as equals. What would we do? We would exclaim that dogs smell bad, and they crap right out in public where everyone can see, and then they just walk away and leave it. Underneath it all, they’re just dogs – they’re here to be our buddies and companions, to play and cuddle and bark at raccoons. They’re not like us; they can’t run things and write books and create games and talk at conferences and be critical of bad ideas. LOL, farts.

This is a culture war. The right side is winning, at great cost. At great personal costs to people like Anita Sarkeesian, Leigh Alexander, Zoe Quinn and even Jennifer Lawrence, and countless others who are on the frontlines of creating new worlds for women, for girls, for everyone who believes that stories matter and there are too many still untold. We are winning. We are winning because we are more resourceful, more compassionate, more culturally aware. We’re winning because we know what it’s like to fight through adversity, through shame and pain and constant reminders of our own worthlessness, and come up punching. We know we’re winning because the terrified rage of a million mouthbreathing manchild misogynists is thick as nerve gas in the air right now.

And we are winning because we’re not dogs, or comparable to dogs. Don’t get me wrong, I love dogs (and cats – don’t ask me to choose one), but I don’t want to read books by dogs or get on planes flown by dogs. If we were comparable to dogs, the misogynists would have a point. But we’re not, so they don’t.

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

Is that a tweet in your pocket?

Oct 6th, 2014 4:32 pm | By

David Futrelle reports another instance of Janet Bloomfield telling lies about a feminist to whip up Twitter hatred against her.

Janet Bloomfield – A Voice for Men’s compulsively lying “social media director” – is at it again.

A couple of months back, Bloomfield – who goes by JudgyBitch1 on Twitter – decided for some reason that she could best serve AVFM’s social media directing needs by straight-up libeling feminist writer Jessica Valenti – by making up inflammatory quotes and attributing them to Valenti in a series of Tweets. She later boasted in on her blog that the quotes – which she admitted she’d conjured out of thin air – had inflamed hatred of Valenti and caused her to catch “a bit of hell.”

Now Bloomfield is pulling the exact same stunt again. This time, her target is feminist cultural critic and #GamerGate bete noire Anita Sarkeesian.

On Saturday, Bloomfield tweeted an obviously doctored “screenshot” of a tweet that Sarkeesian never made.

Why obviously? Because it’s 218 characters.

But that doesn’t matter, because it worked – the Twitter army was stirred and it duly offered up its truckload of sexist hatred, a small sample of which you can see at We Hunted the Mammoth.

Nice things? This is why we can’t have them.


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

A watershed moment

Oct 6th, 2014 4:07 pm | By

The ACLU has a press release on the Supreme Court’s denial of review in marriage equality cases today.

NEW YORK – The Supreme Court of the United States today denied review in all of the marriage equality cases pending before it. As a result of the Court’s action, same-sex couples in Virginia, Wisconsin, Indiana, Oklahoma and Utah will now be able to marry the partners they love. Today’s orders also mean that same-sex marriage will soon become lawful in at least 30 states.

“This is a watershed moment for the entire country. We are one big step closer to the day when all same-sex couples will have the freedom to marry regardless of where they live. The time has come and the country is ready,” said James Esseks, Director of the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project. “This is life-saving news for same-sex couples all across the country. Marriage helps families deal with times of crisis, and the Supreme Court’s action today means more loving and committed couples will have access to the protections that marriage provides.”

The ACLU was co-counsel in five of the seven petitions that were denied today, in cases from Indiana, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

The ACLU has been working for the rights of LGBT people since 1936, when it brought its first gay rights case. The organization filed the first freedom-to-marry lawsuit for same-sex couples in 1970, represented Edie Windsor in her successful challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act in June 2013, and has filed thirteen federal marriage lawsuits on behalf of same-sex couples since then.

More information on the ACLU’s work to secure marriage equality across the country is available at:

Well done ACLU.

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

The spiritual battle for the spirit of this nation

Oct 6th, 2014 11:34 am | By

A newly elected state senator in Texas said last week that Christians in the US are treated the way Jews were treated in Nazi Germany.

Charles Perry made the comparison after being sworn in on Tuesday following his victory earlier this month in a special election to replace a retiring state senator, the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reported.

In his inaugural speech, Perry said a recent trip to a concentration camp in Germany made him draw a comparison between what he believes are efforts by the government to pass laws against religion and the killing of Jews during the Holocaust.

“There were 10,000 people that were paraded into a medical office [at the concentration camp in Germany] under the guise of a physical. As they stood with their back against the wall, they were executed with a bullet through the throat. Before they left, 10,000 people met their fate that way,” Perry said.

“Is it not the same than when our government continues to perpetuate laws that lead citizens away from God? The only difference is that the fraud of the Germans was more immediate and whereas the fraud of today’s government will not be exposed until the final days and will have eternal-lasting effects.”

Is it not the same? No it is not the same. For instance, Christians are not being paraded into a medical office and executed with a bullet through the throat. That isn’t happening here. Nothing at all like it is happening here.

Maybe Perry think he has that covered with the bit about “The only difference is that the fraud of the Germans was more immediate.” I suppose he could have meant that shooting people through the throat is immediate, while passing laws that theocrats think are incompatible with friendship with God is less immediate. I would dispute him by saying that “immediate” and “less immediate” are not the right terms to cover that difference. They don’t get at the extent or seriousness of the difference.

Perry said in his speech that while he’ll work to address the state’s financial needs by prioritizing state funding and balancing the budget without raising taxes, his biggest challenge will be the “spiritual battle for the spirit of this nation and the soul of its people.”

Thus neatly exemplifying one big reason theocrats do not make good state senators – they don’t even know what their fucking job is, and instead want to do a completely different and inappropriate job.


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

The decision to let the appeals court rulings stand

Oct 6th, 2014 11:06 am | By

The Supremes have given us a surprise, in a good way for once.

In a move that may signal the inevitability of a nationwide right to same-sex marriage, the Supreme Court on Monday let stand appeals court rulings allowing such unions in five states.

The development, a major surprise, cleared the way for same-sex marriages in Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin. Officials in Virginia announced that marriages would start at 1 p.m. on Monday.

The decision to let the appeals court rulings stand, which came without explanation in a series of brief orders, will almost immediately increase the number of states allowing same-sex marriage from 19 to 24, along with the District of Columbia.

They’re doing it this way on purpose, apparently. Letting things play out before ruling.

There may then be no turning back, said Walter E. Dellinger III, who was an acting United States solicitor general in the Clinton administration.

“The more liberal justices have been reluctant to press this issue to an up-or-down vote until more of the country experiences gay marriage,” he said. “Once a substantial part of the country has experienced gay marriage, then the court will be more willing to finish the job.”

There is precedent for such an approach. The court waited until 1967, for instance, to strike down bans on interracial marriage, when the number of states allowing such unions had grown to 34, though it was still opposed by a significant majority of Americans.

Popular opinion has moved much faster than the courts on same-sex marriage, however, with many Americans and large majorities of young people supporting it.

Let’s have a round of applause for Mad About You and Will and Grace and Modern Family.

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

Fantasy views

Oct 5th, 2014 6:00 pm | By

More of that view.

1630 36th Ave, Seattle, WA 98122

The skyscrapers on the far side of the lake are Bellevue. I’ve never understood why a suburb like Bellevue needs skyscrapers, but there they are, looking silly. The neighborhood these houses are in is called Madrona.

1630 36th Ave, Seattle, WA 98122

And there again, with the Cascades – and, apparently, a bunch of smog. If the picture had been taken in winter or spring, there would be a lot more snow in those mountains.

And here is the shy local celebrity:

1630 36th Ave, Seattle, WA 98122

That there is a volcano. Also the tallest mountain in the lower 48.

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

City life

Oct 5th, 2014 5:50 pm | By

This is something I looked at this afternoon.

1630 36th Ave, Seattle, WA 98122

1630 36th Ave, Seattle, WA 98122

1630 36th Ave, Seattle, WA 98122

That’s Lake Washington in the background, and what we call the East Side, which is suburbs like Bellevue and Kirkland and, farther east, Redmond, where Microsoft is. Beyond that are the Cascades.

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

If it is broke

Oct 5th, 2014 5:31 pm | By

Continuing with Reza Aslan is wrong about Islam and this is why


  • Malaysia has a dual-system of law which mandates sharia law for Muslims. These allow men to have multiple wives (polygyny) and discriminate against women in inheritance (as mandated by Islamic scripture). It also prohibits wives from disobeying the “lawful orders” of their husbands.
  • Bangladesh, which according to feminist Tahmima Anam made real advancements towards equality in its inception, also “created a barrier to women’s advancement.” This barrier? An article in the otherwise progressive constitution which states that “women shall have equal rights with men in all spheres of the state and of the public life” but in the realm of private affairs (marriage, divorce, inheritance, and child custody), “it acknowledges Islam as the state religion and effectively enshrines the application of Islamic law in family affairs. The Constitution thus does nothing to enforce equality in private life.”

And then there’s Turkey. Muhammad Syed and Sarah Haider point out that it’s no good pointing to Turkey as evidence for the claim that it’s “facile” to say that women are “somehow mistreated in the Muslim world.” Turkey is not evidence for that because for decades it was more secular than other majority-Muslim countries.

Only apologists would ignore the circumstances that led to Turkey’s incredible progress and success relative to the Muslim world, and hold it up as an example of “Islamic” advancement of women’s rights.

And why does any of this matter?

We believe that Islam badly needs to be reformed, and it is only Muslims who can truly make it into a modern religion. But it is the likes of Reza Aslan who act as a deterrent to change by refusing to acknowledge real complications within the scripture and by actively promoting half-truths. Bigotry against Muslims is a real and pressing problem, but one can criticize the Islamic ideology without treating Muslims as themselves problematic or incapable of reform.

There are true Muslim reformists who are willing to call a spade a spade while working for the true betterment of their peoples — but their voices are drowned out by the noise of apologists who are all-too-often aided by the Western left. Those who accept distortions in order to hold on to a comforting dream-world where Islamic fundamentalism is merely an aberration are harming reform by encouraging apologists.

You can’t fix it if you refuse to believe it’s broke.

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

Being “schooled”

Oct 5th, 2014 12:13 pm | By

A great guest post on Hemant’s blog by Muhammad Syed and Sarah Haider on how and why Reza Aslan is wrong about Islam.

A video clip of Aslan responding to Bill Maher’s comments on Islam went viral last week.

Maher stated (among other things) that “if vast numbers of Muslims across the world believe, and they do, that humans deserve to die for merely holding a different idea or drawing a cartoon or writing a book or eloping with the wrong person, not only does the Muslim world have something in common with ISIS, it has too much in common with ISIS.” Maher implied a connection between FGM and violence against women with the Islamic faith, to which the charming Aslan seems to be providing a nuanced counterbalance, calling Maher “unsophisticated” and his arguments “facile.” His comments were lauded by many media outlets, including Salon and the Huffington Post.

Although we have become accustomed to the agenda-driven narrative from Aslan, we were blown away by how his undeniably appealing but patently misleading arguments were cheered on by many, with the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple going so far as to advise show producers not to put a show-host against Aslan “unless your people are schooled in religion, politics and geopolitics of the Muslim world.”

Only those who themselves aren’t very “schooled” in Islam and Muslim affairs would imply that Aslan does anything but misinform by cherry-picking and distorting facts.

Muhammad and Sarah correct Aslan point by point.

Aslan contends that while some Muslim countries have problems with violence and women’s rights, in others like “Indonesia, women are absolutely 100 percent equal to men” and it is therefore incorrect to imply that such issues are a problem with Islam and “facile” to imply that women are “somehow mistreated in the Muslim world.”

Let us be clear here: No one in their right mind would claim that Indonesia, Malaysia, and Bangladesh are a “free and open society for women.” Happily, a few of them have enshrined laws that have done much to bring about some progress in equality between the sexes. But this progress is hindered or even eroded by the creeping strength of the notoriously anti-woman Sharia courts.

For example:

  • Indonesia has increasingly become more conservative. (Notoriously anti-women) Sharia courts that were “optional” have risen to equal status with regular courts in family matters. The conservative Aceh province even legislates criminal matters via Sharia courts, which has been said to violate fundamental human rights.

There’s much more, all informative. I gotta go. More later.

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

Making a stand

Oct 5th, 2014 11:22 am | By

Sara Khan wants an Islam that is about mercy and compassion rather than an Islam that is about murdering people who have mercy and compassion, such as Alan Henning. Sara is heartbroken about the murder of Alan Henning.

It is well documented that it was the plight of young Syrian children that moved him to take that dangerous journey back to the country. As his family, friends, colleagues and local community testify, he was a man of integrity and of humanity and yet, tragically, it was these virtues that led to his death. I cannot find the will or the heart to take part in Eid festivities as I know those same friends, and indeed the nation, will be mourning the gentle, spirited cabbie from Salford.

If you were to sit with Isis, what common language would you bring to the table to try and come to some resolution, when it is difficult to find a starting point? I have seen grown men, Muslim scholars and ordinary Muslim women cry at the news of Alan’s death. But their tears are also shed because they know that not even ultra-conservative preachers in the UK can influence the group. Isis appears only to follow one law, that of death and destruction, and our challenge is understanding how best to deal with this ever existential threat to humanity.

How do you talk people out of joining Isis and other groups that are only a little less terrible?

This is why, last week, we launched #makingastand. The campaign encourages women to take the lead in exerting influence in their communities and to root out extremists who are preying on their children. But it is also designed to provide an alternative narrative for young British Muslims: to pledge their allegiance to their country, to respect human rights and to be a peaceful, thoughtful member of British society.

And of global society – not the ummah, but the community of all human beings. Respecting human rights requires understanding that local loyalties must not be allowed to trump universal human rights.

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

Our beliefs shift slightly from moment to moment

Oct 5th, 2014 9:12 am | By

Dan Linford started a Facebook discussion with this reminder, which he gave me permission to quote:

Here is your daily reminder that the following two statements are not consistent with each other and that I can imagine no reason for holding both to be true other than prejudice:

1. Religions are more about their official doctrines or statements in their holy books than what the adherents actually believe;

2. The reason religion is worth criticizing is the danger posed by its adherents in virtue of their belief in holy books.

The first statement is not just inconsistent with the second, it also doesn’t make much sense on its own. Religions are about both – official doctrines and what adherents believe – as well as other things – rituals, practices, communalism, the sacred, tradition, the ancestors. meaning, mattering – many things. Also, [what the adherents actually believe] isn’t really an item, because who knows what “they” believe, because it will vary between people and also within people – our beliefs shift slightly from moment to moment, so it’s hopeless trying to treat [what the adherents actually believe] as a specifiable thing.

But the second one, if reworded a little, is actually something I think. I commented to say so:

It’s not that I think or say that everyone believes what’s in the holy books. It’s that I think what’s in the holy books is in them, and that it represents a standing threat and danger, and that therefore it’s worth trying to pull or coax more & more people away from thinking of them as holy books, to reduce the danger they represent.

I agree with Dan that it’s silly to assume or say that all believers of X religion believe everything in the holy book of X. But it’s at least equally silly to assume that no believers of X religion believe anything in the holy book of X. It is pretty fair to think that some believers do take at least some parts of their holy books very seriously indeed – witness that guy I blogged about a few days ago, who plans to prevent his daughter from getting an education because Titus 2.

I gotta say, I hate holy books. I wish they didn’t exist. I wish they were an idea that had never occurred to anyone. I don’t hate special books, treasured books, admired books, but I think holy books are one of humanity’s worst ideas.

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

They address each other as Haval

Oct 4th, 2014 6:01 pm | By

Houzan Mahmoud linked to an article about the 7,500 Kurdish women who fight ISIS in Syria.

“We have to be free from the Syrian government,” says YPJ member, Evin Ahmed, 26, (pictured above). She continues, “We need to control the area ourselves without depending on them. They can’t protect us from [ISIS], we have to protect us [and] we defend everyone…no matter what race or religion they are.”

Ahmed, like many of the YPJ, is fiercely loyal to her fellow-soldiers. She insists, “I love being a YPJ soldier, I love the other soldiers, we are closer than sisters. This is the only life for me. I can’t imagine living any other way.”

This sentiment, says Trieb, is echoed by all members of the YPJ, who live by a code of honesty, morals, and justice. “Their motto is ‘Haval’ or ‘friendship’,” explains Trieb, “and is of utmost importance to them. They treat each other (and treated me) with a sense of solidarity and sisterhood. They address each other as Haval, and when they spoke to me, they would call me ‘Haval Erin’. It enforces a constant sense of belonging and support.”

Like “comrade.”

Several of the women, like General Zelal, 33, (pictured below) one of the leaders of YPJ, expanded upon the idea of the independence the group brings women of the region: “I don’t want to get married or have children or be in the house all day. I want to be free.  If I couldn’t be a YPJ I think my spirit would die. Being a YPJ soldier means being free—this is what it means to truly be free.”

“There is a sense among the women,” says Trieb, “that the YPJ is in itself a feminist movement, even if it is not their main mission. They want ‘equality’ between women and men, and a part of why they joined was to develop and advance the perceptions about women in their culture—they can be strong and be leaders.”

It would be nice if it didn’t take life and death emergencies to make that possible though…

Sa-el Morad, 20, (pictured below), shared with Trieb that she enlisted in order to prove that, “we can do all the same things that men can do; that women can do everything; that there’s nothing impossible for us. When I was at home,” she recalled, “all the men just thought that the women are just cleaning the house and not going outside. But when I joined the YPJ everything changed. I showed all of them that I can hold a weapon, that I can fight in the clashes, that I can do everything that they thought was impossible for women. Now, the men back home changed their opinions about me and other women. Now they see that we are their equals, and that we have the same abilities, maybe sometimes more than them. They understand we are strong and that we can do everything they can.”

According to Trieb, the women are indeed seen as just as strong, disciplined, and committed as their male counterparts. They endure many months and levels of rigorous training in weaponry and tactical maneuvers before they are even allowed to fight. They are also wholly celebrated by their community, which Trieb notes is unexpected in a part of the world where women are often seen as inferior to men.

To some in the region, they are seen as potentially more of a threat to ISIS than male soldiers. As Trieb recalls, “The saying among many Syrian Kurds is that ISIS is more terrified of being killed by women because if they are, they will not go to heaven.”

Let’s hope they all go that way then.

Read the whole article, and see the stunning photos of the soldiers.

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

So deeply ingrained that you hardly notice it is there at all

Oct 4th, 2014 5:00 pm | By

Terry Pratchett gave a talk in 1985 titled Why Gandalf Never Married.

(Well first of all because Tolkienland is almost entirely male. Tolkien clearly didn’t want no stinkin’ women cluttering up his myth. Women are downers; everybody hates them.)

While I was plundering the fantasy world for the next cliche to pull a few laughs from, I found one which was so deeply ingrained that you hardly notice it is there at all. In fact it struck me so vividly that I actually began to look at it seriously.

That’s the generally very clear division between magic done by women and magic done by men.

*waves from the back row*

I notice it. I notice things like that. Feminists do notice things like that. It’s why everybody hates us, even more than everybody hates women. We notice things like that, and what things like that imply about what everyone thinks about women. And then we get very pissed off and worried about the future for girls, and we talk about it a lot, and everybody hates us even more.

Let’s talk about wizards and witches. There is a tendency to talk of them in one breath, as though they were simply different sexual labels for the same job. It isn’t true. In the fantasy world there is no such thing as a male witch. Warlocks, I hear you cry, but it’s true. Oh, I’ll accept you can postulate them for a particular story, but I’m talking here about the general tendency. There certainly isn’t such a thing as a female wizard.

Sorceress? Just a better class of witch. Enchantress? Just a witch with good legs. The fantasy world. in fact, is overdue for a visit from the Equal Opportunities people because, in the fantasy world, magic done by women is usually of poor quality, third-rate, negative stuff, while the wizards are usually cerebral, clever, powerful, and wise.

Well yes. Welcome to the wonderful world of Being Aware of Cultural Stereotypes Everywhere.

Of course magic done by women is usually of poor quality, third-rate, negative stuff, because that’s how women are in the stereotypes. That’s why we fight them. Because they self-perpetuate, and they lead to all sorts of shitty consequences.

Now you can take the view that of course this is the case, because if there is a dirty end of the stick then women will get it. Anything done by women is automatically downgraded. This is the view widely held — well, widely held by my wife every since she started going to consciousness-raising group meetings — who tells me it’s ridiculous to speculate on the topic because the answer is so obvious. Magic, according to this theory, is something that only men can be really good at, and therefore any attempt by women to trespass on the sacred turf must be rigorously stamped out. Women are regarded by men as the second sex, and their magic is therefore automatically inferior. There’s also a lot of stuff about man’s natural fear of a woman with power; witches were poor women seeking one of the few routes to power open to them, and men fought back with torture, fire and ridicule.

I’d like to know that this is all it really is. But the fact is that the consensus fantasy universe has picked up the idea and maintains it. I incline to a different view, if only to keep the argument going, that the whole thing is a lot more metaphorical than that. The sex of the magic practitioner doesn’t really enter into it. The classical wizard, I suggest, represents the ideal of magic — everything that we hope we would be, if we had the power. The classical witch, on the other hand, with her often malevolent interest in the small beer of human affairs, is everything we fear only too well that we would in fact become.

Yes…That’s the same thing. That’s not a different thing, it’s the same thing. The classical wizard represents the ideal, and the ideal is of course male. That’s the same thing. Always, without even thinking about it, thinking the ideal, the standard, the generic, the typical, the best, the most usual, the classic, the normal, is male, while the female is always the exception, the weird, the not as good – that’s the same thing. It’s the entrenched stereotype, that we’re all stuck with (unless we grew up in a very unusual and very isolated bubble), that males are general and right while women are defective.


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

Terrible social energies

Oct 4th, 2014 12:11 pm | By

Another uh oh atheism has a dudebro problem article, this time from Amanda Marcotte.

She points out that you would think atheism would be a natural for women, given the way religions view women. (Spoiler: as inferior, and not fully human.) She points out that feminism has had a long tradition of outspoken atheists and religious skeptics.

Suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton preferred “rational ideas based on scientific facts” to “religious superstition.”  Major feminist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir argued that belief in God exists in part to “repress any impulse toward revolt in the downtrodden female.” Modern feminist writer Katha Pollitt received the “Emperor Has No Clothes” award from the Freedom From Religion Foundation in 2001, where she said that religion is dangerous because “it connects with very terrible social energies that have lain in civilization for a very long time.”

And yet…New Atheism has turned out to be not all that welcoming to women, and as for feminist women…

Many of the most prominent leaders of the New Atheism are quick to express deeply sexist ideas. Despite their supposed love of science and rationality, many of them are nearly as quick as their religious counterparts to abandon reason in order to justify regressive views about women.

Sam Harris, a prominent atheist author who has previously  been criticized for his knee-jerk Islamophobic tendencies, recently came under fire when he added women to the category of people he makes thoughtless generalizations about. Washington Post religion reporter Michelle Boorstein interviewed Harris, and during the interview she asked him why most atheists are male. “There’s something about that critical posture that is to some degree instrinsically male and more attractive to guys than to women.” He added, “The atheist variable just has this— it doesn’t obviously have this nurturing, coherence-building extra estrogen vibe that you would want by default if you wanted to attract as many women as men.”

There was an immediate uproar among female atheists, and understandably so, as Harris didn’t even consider that it could be atheism that has a problem, instead immediately assuming that the problem is women themselves. His reaction to the criticism, which was immediate and probably a bit overwhelming was not, however, a demonstration of the tough “critical posture” he characterized as “instrinsically male.”  Harris replied to his criticswith a hyper-defensive and tediously long blog post titled, “I’m Not The Sexist Pig You’re Looking For.” His strategy for disproving accusations of sexism was to engage in more sexist declarations, in the time-honored bigot strategy of saying it’s not bigotry if it’s true.

And we criticized that article too, and he responded with even more waspish hostility, and that’s just how the atheist “community” is these days – domineering men and the women who attempt to get a word in edgewise.

Needless to say, for women who reject religion because it so frequently portrays women as mentally inferior helpmeets who exist to serve men’s needs, Sam Harris is not offering any hope that atheism will give them a meaningful alternative.

It would be nice to dismiss Harris as an outlier, but sadly, pompous sexism followed up by defensive posturing is the order of the day for the dominant male leadership of the loosely organized world of atheism. In a lengthy investigative piece for Buzzfeed, Mark Oppenheimer demonstrated that the problem extends beyond sexist condescension. Instead, the bros-before-hos attitude of much of atheist leadership is quite likely serving to protect actual sexual predators.

With Dawkins and Nugent overtly telling us to stop talking about it, and others doing so less directly, yes, it quite likely is.

The reaction to Oppenheimer’s story was swift and did much to support the claim that the atheist community protects sexual predators, much like the Catholic Church did during the priest pedophilia scandal. Richard Dawkins, possibly the most famous atheist in the world, immediately went on a tear on Twitter, blaming victims for their own rapes if they were drinking. “Officer, it’s not my fault I was drunk driving. You see, somebody got me drunk,” he tweeted, comparing being forced to have sex with the choice to drive drunk.

When called out on it,  he doubled down by suggesting that rape victims are the real predators, out to get men put in jail: “If you want to be in a position to testify & jail a man, don’t get drunk.”

That’s our “community.”

Dawkins has spent the past few years using Twitter as a platform to rail against feminists for daring to speak up about sexual harassment and abuse. He not only rushed to Shermer’s defense regarding allegations of sexual assault, but rushed to Harris’ defense regarding allegations of sexism, even though Harris’ sexism is so off the charts it becomes downright comical. Dawkins used to cling to the idea that he was an outspoken critic against the oppression of women, but lately he’s more occupied with praising professional anti-feminist Christina Hoff Sommers.

There are many excellent feminist speakers and writers in the atheist movement, men and women who bring the same critical eye to sexism that they apply to religion. Most of them, however, are mostly known only within atheist circles. People like Dawkins, Shermer and Harris are the public face of atheism. And that public face is one that is defensively and irrationally sexist. It’s not only turning women away from atheism, it’s discrediting the idea that atheists are actually people who argue from a position of rationality. How can they be, when they cling to the ancient, irrational tradition of treating women like they aren’t quite as human as men?

Sadly, this contempt for women coming from the top trickles into the ranks, allowing everyday misogynists who happen not to believe in God feel justified in their hatred of women anyway. Subsequently, there’s a thriving online community of people who live to harass not just women, but female atheists in particular, trying to drum any women out of the movement who want to be included as equals instead of as support staff for the male stars. Feminists like Rebecca Watson and Greta Christina, who upset the image of atheism as a “guy thing,” are subject to a relentless drumbeat of abuse through social media by people who prefer an atheism that’s a little more like fundamentalist Christianity, where women know their place.

Dawkins and Harris – and Coyne and Nugent and Blackford and others – could work hard to discourage that and drive it out, if they wanted to, if they gave a shit. But they don’t, so they don’t. That’s our “community.” I look forward to Nugent’s next 5000+-word post saying why I’m wrong to say that.

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

The plot twist

Oct 4th, 2014 10:32 am | By

There’s a compilation of scathing reviews of the new “Left Behind” [shudder] movie.

There’s one funny line.

“The running time is spent avoiding religion to such a loony extent that no one explains that this mass vanishing is God’s work until the film is nearly over. It’s almost as though screenwriters Paul Lalonde and John Patus believe people might buy a ticket to Left Behind and not know the twist, like someone sitting down to watch Godzilla and being shocked by the entrance of a giant lizard.” —The Village Voice

That’s one movie I will not be seeing, not nohow.

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

Sexism as counter-culture

Oct 4th, 2014 10:22 am | By

Robyn Pennacchia takes a look at sexism in gaming & atheism & similar as a matter of people in counter-cultural “communities” thinking they get a pass on little foibles like sexism precisely because they are counter-cultural. That’s a very important point that should get more attention and emphasis.

She found it in political activism when she was just a sprout. She got frustrated and pissed off and ended up leaving activism because of it. Then there was the “lit scene.”

There’s been a lot of attention, recently, paid towards sexism, sexual assault, harassment and misogyny in certain counter-cultural or non-mainstream groups. Specifically, the gaming community, the atheist community and, now, the alt-lit community.

One thing all of these groups have in common is that they are primarily populated by men who think they are not “bros.” Usually, they consider themselves intellectuals. Often, said men have a perma-vendetta against the sort of men they consider “bros.” For the most part, they’re not “alpha-males,” they weren’t jocks in high school–they were, more often, nerdy or even shy.

They are always the first to lock arms with you and rail against sexism coming from these other types of men. They are always happy to poke fun at Pat Robertson saying something horrifically misogynistic. They like to think of themselves as “the good guys” and the jocks and bros as “the bad guys.”

That that that. We’re different, we’re better, we’re special. We’ve seen the light, we’ve thrown off the shackles, we’ve spat out the Kool-Aid. We’re enlightened. We’re the roving coyotes, not the huddled sheep. We’re awake, not asleep. We’re cool. It is not possible that we are anything reactionary or clueless or unhip. We’re out there on the high wire, dancing and floating. Feminism is the boring repressive old Mommy who makes us get down and set the table for dinner.

I’m glad that more attention is being drawn to issues of assault, misogyny and sexism in these communities. It’s important. It’s also a lot harder than calling out Rush Limbaugh, because none of us have to live with Rush Limbaugh. I want to make these spaces safer for women, because we have as much right to them as men do.

It’s not just bros and jocks and finance dudes and yuppies and Christians and Republicans who are shitty to women. Being part of a counter-cultural or progressive community does not give you a free pass to be shitty to women without being called out on it. We need to hold our own communities to an even higher standard than we hold those in the opposition, we need to welcome criticism, and we to realize that the ones who call out shitty behavior in these communities are not the threat, but that those who protect it and shield it from criticism are.

We need to hold our own communities to an even higher standard – wouldn’t you think that would just be a truism? When the Catholic church and the military and the NFL and fraternities and universities are so notoriously bad at doing anything about rape within their ranks, wouldn’t you think rebel groups such as atheists and skeptics would be all the more keen to define themselves against that revolting precedent? Yet here we are, with the Big Name Atheists lining up to trash the people who try to do that. Do they really think that will work out well over the long haul?


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