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: There was so much suffering, so far beyond endurance

Aug 25th, 2014 4:50 pm | By

Originally a comment by quixote on “If you are from the Mehatar caste, you have to do this work.”

This post gave me a fullblown flashback. One of my most vivid memories from visiting India decades ago was the look in the eyes of one of the sweepers.

His job was dealing with a public toilet I was walking past. I can’t imagine who would use one of them because there were piles of shit everywhere inside (I could see partway into the door) and plenty outside from people who no doubt didn’t want to contend with the conditions inside. Indian food can be hard on the intestines, so the piles were not necessarily well-formed. He was sweeping this unspeakably foul glop with one of those short no-handle brooms. He was avoiding looking at anyone.

(I asked someone once why they didn’t at least have longhandled brooms, so the sweepers didn’t have to squat right down next to the shit. Well, proper handles were only for proper people. It just was Not Done to give the scum of the earth long handled brooms. Really. That was the answer.)

Well, I must have been staring (little horrified Western white kid), because he looked up at me. His eyes were completely glazed. There was so much suffering, so far beyond endurance, there was nothing left. I’ve only ever seen that expression one other time, in a picture of a person who’d had his hands chopped off during the terror in Sierra Leone.

There are aspects of Indian culture which are a big contribution to humanity. And there are aspects which annihilate people like the sweepers, like widows, like so many millions there. It’s a vast, huge, gigantic human rights issue.

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

Their caste-designated occupation reinforces the social stigma

Aug 25th, 2014 4:42 pm | By

That HRW report on dalits and cleaning up human shit every day.

There are laws against hiring people to do this horrible job, but they’re not enforced.

However, because these policies are not properly implemented, people remain unaware of their right to refuse this role, and those who do refuse may face intense social pressure, including threats of violence and expulsion from their village, often with the complicity of local government officials.

Manual scavengers are usually from caste groups customarily relegated to the bottom of the caste hierarchy and confined to livelihood tasks viewed as deplorable or deemed too menial by higher caste groups. Their caste-designated occupation reinforces the social stigma that they are unclean or “untouchable” and perpetuates widespread discrimination.  Women usually clean dry toilets, men and women clean excrement from open defecation sites, gutters, and drains, and men are called upon to do the more physically demanding work of cleaning sewers and septic tanks.

It’s a good catch-22, isn’t it. They have to pick up the shit because they’re low people because they pick up the shit. Well that’s a maze there’s no way out of.

Ashif Shaikh, founder and convener of the Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan, a grassroots campaign against manual scavenging, explained the systematic discrimination that emerges from this practice:

The manual carrying of human feces is not a form of employment, but an injustice akin to slavery. It is one of the most prominent forms of discrimination against Dalits, and it is central to the violation of their human rights.

In Kasela village in Uttar Pradesh state’s Etah district, women from 12 families manually clean toilets with the full knowledge of village authorities. After spending the morning manually removing excrement from the toilets, the women return to the houses they cleaned to collect leftover food as payment. They are given grain donations at the harvest and old clothes at festival times, but receive no cash wages. Munnidevi told Human Rights Watch she stopped going to homes where she was not given any food, but says she returned to work after her employers warned that she would not be able to enter community land to collect firewood or graze her livestock. “I have to go. If I miss a single day, I am threatened,” she said.

They’re not even paid. They’re forced to do it by economic threats and they’re not paid. Like post-Civil War Mississippi, it’s worse than slavery. With slavery there’s an incentive to keep the slave alive and even healthy.

Sevanti Fatrod, from Bhonrasa, in Dewas district, Madhya Pradesh, says that she, her mother-in-law, and her two sisters-in-laws cleaned toilets in 100 houses each day—allowing them to collect leftover food from the houses they cleaned:

I did not know that I would have to clean toilets. In Nepanagar, where I am from, my family did not do this work. My father told me that my husband’s family had a large jagir, with work that spanned 100 families—but he did not tell me what work this was. I learned my work when I came to Bhonrasa . . . A jagir, means the area that you own. I was called a maitarani [scavenging queen]—for what? My work was to clean people’s feces— for only one or two rupees a month. We were told we had to do it. There was no one to tell us we didn’t have to.[28]

While a jagir is considered a family asset, for the young women made to clean excrement immediately after their marriage, the jagir can be a traumatic inheritance. Sona, from Bharatpur city in Rajasthan, described her first day to Human Rights Watch:

The first day when I was cleaning the latrines and the drain, my foot slipped and my leg sank in the excrement up to my calf. I screamed and ran away. Then I came home and cried and cried. My husband went with me the next day and made me do it. I knew there was only this work for me.[29]

For people who practice manual scavenging, untouchability and social exclusion are inextricably linked. Manjula Pradeep, executive director of Navsarjan, a Gujarat based nongovernmental organization that has worked for decades around this issue explains:

Manual scavenging is itself a form of caste-based violence and needs to be understood that way. It is degrading, it is imposed upon very vulnerable people, and in order to leave manual scavenging, they have to make themselves even more vulnerable— they risk backlash, they don’t know how they will live.[30]

The horror of it is hard to encompass.

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

The people united

Aug 25th, 2014 3:46 pm | By

Thousands of people marched in an Oslo demonstration against ISIS organized by young Muslims.

The demonstration, organized by young Muslims in Norway, gathered people of different religious and ethnicities together in Oslo against religious extremism and the crimes of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The crowd filled the entire Grønland square as the demonstration started at 17.00.

After short talks by the organizers, demonstrators marched through Oslo streets towards Norwegian Parliement (Stortinget) with slogans of “No to ISIS”, “ISIS is not in Islam’s Name”, “Against ISIS terror for Peace”.

When the protestors arrived at Eidsvold space, in front of Stortinget, the number has reached to almost ten thousand, according to the organizers.

That’s good. More of that!

A young demonstrator Ali (16) said being in the demonstration is important to take away from extremists people and ideologies and say that we do not share the same principles and values with those extremists.

Among other politicians and stakeholders, Prime Minister Erna Solberg also had a speech during the demonstration. Solberg said all stand together against extremists.

- Today it is about what we believe. We all believe in freedom of speech, democracy, freedom of religion and the political discussion to take place without violence, said she in her speech in the end of the demonstration.

The crowd was apparently much bigger than expected.

@JudeRoze tweeted some photos:

Embedded image permalink

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

Not scrupulously fair

Aug 25th, 2014 2:57 pm | By

What was that I was saying about managing disagreement ethically? I must have been dreaming.

There’s a new article at the Richard Dawkins website, by one “Notung” who is a blogger at Skeptic Ink. So the article is pseudonymous, so it had better be scrupulously fair in whatever it says, right? Because surely it’s dirty pool to be unfair and be pseudonymous. Isn’t it?

An article on Religion News Service by Catholic journalist Kimberly Winston (an expert in the effects of different prayer beads on prayer) asks whether Richard Dawkins is an asset or a liability to atheism. Actually it tells us: he’s a liability. 

Nope, not scrupulously fair. Rudely inaccurate about a named journalist, rather than scrupulously fair. Jesus, Richard – this is how you take your revenge? You let A Nameless smear a named journalist on your website?

Actually it tells us: he’s a liability. Of the eight people who were interviewed, seven said that he’s a liability (though Hemant Mehta’s statement appears to have been misrepresented), and only one (Dennett) said that he’s an asset.

Nope, not scrupulously fair. That claim is not true. It’s false. Four of the seven said Richard is both: both an asset and a liability. I did, and so did Phil Zuckerman and Hemant Mehta and Adam Lee.

“Richard Dawkins has done a lot to bring atheism to a whole new generation,” said Phil Zuckerman, a sociology professor who studies atheism and who also credits Dawkins with speaking out against the pedophilia scandal within the Catholic Church. “On the other hand, Dawkins seems to embody everything that people dislike about atheists: He is smug, condescending and emits an unpleasant disdainfulness. He doesn’t ever seem to acknowledge the good aspects of religion, only the bad. In that sense, I think he doesn’t help atheism in the PR department.”

See? That’s not hard to understand, is it? The “on the other hand” helps. Both.

So when his recent tweets about rape and pedophilia hit the Twittersphere two days after the release of the civility agreement with his longtime critic, the debate started anew.

“Perhaps he was testing it,” Benson said of the agreement, which she characterized as a positive step in repairing a rift over feminism within atheism that she traces to Dawkins’ “Dear Muslima” comment.

Benson said Dawkins attracts people to the movement with his well-reasoned arguments against religion and superstition. But he then repels them with what many see as an unwillingness to listen to ideas other than his own.

“In his two or three recent Twitter combats, the most striking thing is he does not listen to anyone except his fans, no matter how reasonably things are put,” she said. “I don’t think that’s a good way to represent long-term, healthy atheism.”


And it isn’t only women atheists whom Dawkins upset. Writing on The Friendly Atheist, Hemant Mehta said: “I’m a fan of Richard Dawkins. I know he means well. But damn, it’s annoying having to defend him. More importantly, I shouldn’t have to!”

Adam Lee, who blogs at Daylight Atheism, said: “I don’t think (Dawkins) has done more harm than good to the atheist movement, but the balance has been shifting towards harm. He has made comments about women and minorities that give people a bad impression of what atheism stands for. I wish he would stand back and let other people add their voices to his.”

Both and both.

And then there are some of the comments about Kimberly Winston…

Like this from “aquilacane” -

Catholic journalist Kimberly Winston (an expert in the effects of different prayer beads on prayer)

That’s like being an expert on the effects of different bird calls on the deceased. The first line of this article just screams “don’t read this crap written by a delusional and fraudulent moron”. If she were an expert she would admit the effects are zero as prayer has been demonstrated to have no effect. So, she must be a fraud a the very least.

Not cool.


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

“If you are from the Mehatar caste, you have to do this work.”

Aug 25th, 2014 1:03 pm | By

BBC News reports on dalits in India whose job it is to empty non-flush toilets and carry away the shit for disposal.

Human Rights Watch has called on the Indian government to end “manual scavenging” – the practice of cleaning human waste by low-caste communities – in a new report.

The practice is banned by law in India, but it is rampant and activists say nearly 10 million are involved in this demeaning work which opens them to prejudice and abuse.

The report calls on the government “to ensure that local officials enforce the laws prohibiting this discriminatory practice”.

Check out the BBC story, because it’s full of vivid and tragic photos.

Munnidevi of the state’s Etah district says she does not get any money for her work. “Sometimes they give two rotis (home-made bread), sometimes just one. One house did not give me anything for two or three days. So I stopped going there. If they give me nothing, why should I go? Then they came to threaten me: ‘if you do not come, we will not let you on our land. Where will you get food for your animals?’ We own four buffaloes. I went back to clean. I had to.”

“The panchayat (village council) hires people to work as water suppliers, messengers, clerks, garbage collectors, and this work that I do – cleaning toilets,” says Anil of Dhule district in the western state of Maharashtra. “If you are from the Mehatar caste, you have to do this work. You are not told this directly, but it is what you are hired to do and what is expected, even from the villagers. If there is excrement to clean, they will come and call us to do it.”

“A village council brought our family here [from our native village in Maharashtra] to clean the dry toilets, water toilets, and open defecation. I collect all the excrement and throw it elsewhere. We actually want to go back home. We don’t like it here,” says Rajubai. “Because of this work, my health has declined. I eat very little food. It is very dirty work. But people are saying, the council will not allow us to leave and that is why they are not giving us the full payment.”


The Human Rights Watch report starts from here.

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

The vitriol pours in

Aug 25th, 2014 11:10 am | By

Another day another tweet.


Richard Dawkins @RichardDawkins
I apologise for impugning the morality of the approximately ten percent of women who deliberately choose NOT to abort a Down’s fetus.

It’s a Basil Fawlty apology.

One of the reasons I’ve always found Basil Fawlty so hilarious is that I’m like that myself. There’s generally a snotty asshole in me roaring to get out, and it often does get out. (I usually regret it when it does.) Some of Basil’s rages are my rages too, and I sympathized with some of them and cringed at others. It’s much the same with Richard. His Basil Fawlty runs away with him sometimes.

There’s an interesting exchange on his site between a commenter and him, on a post by Kevin Drum about the “brutality” of the intersection of social justice liberalism and social media. In a comment Richard underlines the claim that “the vitriol pours in, and it’s soul-crushing.” Katy Cordeth replies:

Sorry Richard but it sounds like you can dish it out but you can’t take it. You do have your own tidy line in hurling the vitriol.

I don’t myself tweet but I’d be surprised if all the criticism you’re subjected to is as one-dimensional as you’d have us believe. The responses on this site to your recent abortion tweets have for the most part been measured, even from those who couldn’t be considered part of the Dawkins fan base.

You and Mr Drum are free to try and disseminate the idea that all the negative feedback you’re on the receiving end of is ugly and irrational, but isn’t that a bit self-serving? You’re giving yourself carte blanche to say whatever you like without fear of reprisal. I’m sure there are plenty of ugly things tweeted at you, many of them quite hurtful. But hidden among the trollery there are, I have no doubt, many sensible, rational things being said. What the ratio is I have no idea. It’s your duty to sort the wheat from the chaff, not try and kid the world that it’s all chaff.

I don’t actually agree with those who say you should quit the medium; as I said in one of my deleted posts, I think you’re playing the role of carnival barker, both to drum up business for this site and to keep the atheism flame lit in the popular consciousness, and tweets about what you’re having for your tea or pictures of your kitty cat just won’t serve that end. I’m sure it’s hard-going for a deeply divisive public figure to have to run the gauntlet of unmoderated public opinion every day, but you can ameliorate this by injecting a little kindness and compassion into your Twitter submissions. Cold, clinical analysis may be the order of the day in the world of academia and even on this site, but the men and women who ride the Clapham omnibus are a passionate and mercurial lot. The same rules don’t automatically apply.

I think that’s all pretty sensible advice. Richard’s response is

Katy Cordeth, of COURSE I have no problem with those tweets that are indeed measured, sensible disagreements. My whole life as an academic has been largely devoted to such conversations. I’m used to that sort of discussion and thrive on it. There’s all the difference in the world between disagreeing with somebody on a question of moral philosophy, and calling them a twat, a cunt, an idiot, an ignoramus and a Nazi simply because you disagree with them. And if you are asking the ratio of vitriolic abuse to measured argument, a conservative estimate would put it at more than ten to one. Isn’t it OBVIOUS that that is what Kevin Drum is talking about? And his “avalanche” is not an overstatement.

I was particularly interested by “There’s all the difference in the world between disagreeing with somebody on a question of moral philosophy, and calling them a twat, a cunt, an idiot, an ignoramus and a Nazi simply because you disagree with them.” Yes, there is, and that’s what we meant by the relevant passage in the joint statement.

Disagreement is inevitable, but bullying and harassment are not. If we want secularism and atheism to gain respect, we have to be able to disagree with each other without trying to destroy each other.

In other words we have to be able to manage disagreement ethically, like reasonable adults, as opposed to brawling like enraged children who need a nap. It should go without saying, but this means no death threats, rape threats, attacks on people’s appearance, age, race, sex, size, haircut; no photoshopping people into demeaning images, no vulgar epithets.

Emphasis added.

I think Richard is not used to being on the receiving end of the avalanche. I hope he is remembering to extrapolate from his experience of the avalanche to our experience of it for the past more than three years.


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

Into realms that belong to God and God alone

Aug 24th, 2014 6:24 pm | By

I’ve long disliked Vandana Shiva, and here’s more reason to dislike her: Michael Specter in the New Yorker:

Like Gandhi, whom she reveres, Shiva questions many of the goals of contemporary civilization. Last year, Prince Charles, who keeps a bust of Shiva on display at Highgrove, his family house, visited her at the Navdanya farm, in Dehradun, about a hundred and fifty miles north of New Delhi. Charles, perhaps the world’s best-known critic of modern life, has for years denounced transgenic crops. “This kind of genetic modification takes mankind into realms that belong to God and God alone,” he wrote in the nineteen-nineties, when Monsanto tried to sell its genetically engineered seeds in Europe. Shiva, too, invokes religion in her assault on agricultural biotechnology. “G.M.O. stands for ‘God, Move Over,’ we are the creators now,” she said in a speech earlier this year. 

Oh piss off, both of you. You could say the same thing about farming of any kind, including “organic.” You could say it about houses (how many of those do you have, Charles?) and medical care and cooking.

Piss off.

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

Based on little more than magical thinking

Aug 24th, 2014 6:15 pm | By

Steven Salzberg at Forbes points out that Whole Foods Markets does some very good things, like having a seafood sustainability policy and offering humanely-raised chicken and beef. On the other hand it also does ridiculous things, like flogging homeopathy, opposing GMOs, and refusing to sell aspirin.

Whole Foods sells homeopathic medicines that are little more than snake oil. They make claims for health benefits, both on their shelves and on their website, that are based on little more than magical thinking. For example, they sell “homeopathic flu remedies” claiming that “when taken at the first sign of sickness, these can provide temporary relief of symptoms including fever, chills, and body aches.” This is simply false: no homeopathic treatment has ever been shown to be effective at treating flu symptoms. (I’ve written about homeopathy in more detail here and here.)

It’s ironic that on the one hand, Whole Foods proclaims “We’ve long believed that consumers have a right to know what’s in your food”. But when it comes to homeopathic remedies, they neglect to inform consumers that these remedies do not contain the ingredients on the bottle at all.

Well that’s because there aren’t any! That’s what makes it work!!


Whole Foods has an anti-GMO policy, adopted across all their stores, that ignores the science of GMOs. They announced last year that they would label all products in their stores to indicate whether they contained Genetically Modified Organisms. They also have announced that they are trying to eliminate GMOs from their shelves.

That’s just…superstitious.

Whole Foods won’t sell the pain relievers aspirin and ibuprofen, because they’re not “natural.”Instead, their Whole Body department sells a wide range of nutritional supplements, for which they make claims such as this:

“Not sure which supplement to choose? Grab a full-spectrum wellness or immune support formula. These combinations of herbs, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants are specifically designed to effectively improve overall wellbeing and enhance immune support.“

And you can’t tell us they didn’t, because that’s so vague you won’t be able to tell!


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

As kind of awkward

Aug 24th, 2014 6:04 pm | By

Gosh, even Sarah Palin got in on it. I wouldn’t have thought she’d know who Dawkins is.


Mr. Dawkins, I’d let you meet my son if you promised to open your mind, your eyes, and your heart to a unique kind of absolute beauty. But, in my request for you to be tolerant, I’d have to warn Trig he must be tolerant, too, because he may superficially look at you as kind of awkward. I’ll make sure he’s polite, though!


Sarah Palin & family

It would be interesting if he actually took her up on it.

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

Marching together

Aug 24th, 2014 3:41 pm | By

In Dublin this afternoon, thousands of people marched in support of extending marriage rights to gay and lesbian people.

Organisers said 8,000 people took part in the march, many of whom held signs reading “equal”. Some dressed in sashes and tiaras after the news that the newly crowned Rose of Tralee, Maria Walsh had publicly come out as lesbian.

Comedian and writer Tara Flynn introduced speakers at a stage on St. Stephen’s Green. Ms Flynn recently starred in an LGBT Noise ‘Armagayddon’ video, which went viral internationally.

The march was notable for the number of straight people marching alongside LGBT people, along with families, and an almost endless array of colourful banners and signs. Representatives from LGBT youth organisation BelongTo, INTO LGBT Teachers’ Group, the USI, trans rights organisation TENI, and LGBT Pavee representing the Traveller community also spoke.

Also Atheist Ireland.

Irish Times journalist Fintan O’Toole called for Irish society to replace “tolerance” of LGBT people with “citizenship”.

Yes, the hell with tolerance. There’s nothing to “tolerate.”

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

One can simply pick and choose about which values one accepts

Aug 24th, 2014 12:40 pm | By

Kenan Malik did this talk at the Global Humanist Conference a couple of weeks ago that I’ve been meaning to read.

Right at the beginning we run into a funny (odd and haha both) idea.

Every year I give a lecture to a group of theology students – would-be Anglican priests, as it happens – on ‘Why I am an atheist’. Part of the talk is about values. And every year I get the same response: that without God, one can simply pick and choose about which values one accepts and which one doesn’t.


Of course one can pick and choose about which values one accepts and which one doesn’t, and one had damn well better do exactly that, because the alternative is simply unconditional obedience and the perils of that ought to be blindingly obvious.

Yes, clerical friends, that’s exactly what one can and should do. Yes, you do actually have to think about what values to accept and what values to reject. There are plenty of values that ought to be rejected – aversion to other races for instance, or to same-sex pairing, or to women in public life.

Kenan of course says the same thing.

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

A missing word

Aug 24th, 2014 11:20 am | By

You know what English needs? It needs a word that’s the opposite of “want.” It needs a word for want-not. Just adding a not doesn’t do it, because it’s too limp, too reactive, too mere. We need a word that’s more forceful, more feeling, than “don’t want.” An unwant word. A verb form of aversion.

Is there a verb form of aversion? If so it’s certainly not in active use. English needs a word like that that is in active use, and so is available to use.

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

Everything in this world was worthless in comparison

Aug 24th, 2014 10:30 am | By

The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain tweeted a striking forum post from a year ago, titled Believing in Jihad and Martyrdom.

I lived my younger years wanting only one thing: martyrdom.

I wanted to die in battle, in the name of Allah.

I wanted the peaceful happy death that martyrs appear to experience with a smile on their face.

I didn’t care who I fought or why, as long as I was fighting for Allah under Islamically justifiable conditions.

Everything in this world was worthless in comparison. You die in the name of Allah, and you get a free pass from all the pain and suffering that awaits everyone else on Judgement Day. You go straight to heaven, and all your sins are forgiven.

There’s a lot to say about that, but one thing that strikes me is how oddly transactional it is. Toona (the author) is describing a bribe, rather than an ideal. The goal as described isn’t doing something good, but getting a big reward. In fact the ideal is explicitly rejected: I didn’t care who I fought or why. It’s not about trying to work toward any kind of good, it’s just about getting an instant one-way ticket to heaven and cancellation of sins.

It was his father who schooled him in this way of thinking.

Talking about the worthlessness of this life and the impending destruction that awaits civilization made me lose interest in having a normal life. 

Now that is one of the things I hate most about the religious view of the world. It always at least risks teaching people that this life is worthless, and thus to lose interest in it. That may be a good thing for people whose lives are shit – because of pain, dire poverty, mental anguish – but for everyone else it’s a terrible cheat.

Talking about the suffering and torment that awaits the unbelievers in the afterlife made me live in complete terror of losing my faith.

And finally, talking about the joys of martyrdom made it seem like the only thing in life that’s worth fighting for. 

That’s a sick little trio of beliefs.

It doesn’t take a genius to see how extremely fragile the logic of it all is, but I had to believe it. That is how I justified the morality of the Jihadist ideology, but the truth is, the purpose of Jihad is not meant to be mercy. The official purpose of Jihad, as stated in the Hadith, is so that Allah’s word would be dominant.

The scary thing is that, even though most Muslims don’t think like that, there are traces of this deadly ideology in more Muslims than you’d think, because it is taught in the Quran and the Hadith.

I’ve seen children talking about murdering unbelievers, and their parents thinking it’s cute. I’ve heard clerics praying for death and destruction upon all unbelievers, as everyone in the mosque says “Amen”. I’ve seen that even level-headed Muslims may go berserk when their religion is insulted, and call for the death of the blasphemer. 

It’s also worth mentioning that a significant percentage of Muslims would say that they would rather see their children die than apostate, and the extremes they might go to stop that from happening are dreadful.

Toona, fortunately, escaped, but think how many don’t. It’s tragic for them and threatening for everyone else.

My worldview only started changing after I left home and became part of a more diverse community, and more so after regular exposure to various non-Islamic cultures through the internet. 

The more time I spent with people from ‘the other side’, the harder it became to believe the things I did.

It took about 8 years for me to finally rid myself of all that brainwashing. 

I could have easily gone a different way had the wrong people stayed in my life. 

I was lucky to have found my way out of that darkness. It’s not always the case, but sometimes all it takes for a person to recover from such destructive beliefs is to be given the chance to appreciate the humanity of non-believers, and the beauty of life, which is probably why the founders of Islam did their best to discourage that.

What can one do but hope that more people find their way out of that darkness?

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

Aggressive secularism shock-horror panic upset fear

Aug 23rd, 2014 4:02 pm | By

This time it’s former UK attorney general Dominic Grieve, in the Telegraph, with a candlestick.

Britain is at risk of being “sanitised” of faith because an “aggressive form of secularism” in workplaces and public bodies is forcing Christians to hide their beliefs, a former attorney general has warned.

What an arrestingly fresh and novel thought!

Dominic Grieve said he found it “quite extraordinary” that people were being sacked or disciplined for expressing their beliefs at work.

So do I! But they aren’t. So I don’t. I find it “quite extraordinary” that political talkers keep telling whoppers about this. People don’t get sacked just for “expressing their beliefs at work.” They get sacked for, for instance, refusing to do the work at work. They get disciplined for insisting on wearing dangling jewelry when there are safety rules forbidding it.

He described Christianity as a “powerful force for good” in modern Britain and warned that Christians should not be “intimidated” and “excluded” for their beliefs.

Quite right! They shouldn’t. And they’re not.

On the other hand people who don’t share their beliefs shouldn’t be intimidated and excluded either. That includes atheists, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs – shall I go on?

He said that politicians and public figures should not be afraid of “doing God” and that they have a duty to explain how their beliefs inform their decisions.

The “appalling” scenes in Iraq, which have seen Islamic extremists behead and crucify religious minorities including Christians, showed that it was “more important than ever” for people to express their religious beliefs, he said.

What??? What about people whose religious beliefs are, precisely, that religious minorities, including Christians, should have their heads cut off? Does the schewpid man not realize that religious beliefs are what motivate and/or justify the beheadings and crucifixions in Iraq?

Connect the dots, dude.

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

The Oxford comma

Aug 23rd, 2014 3:27 pm | By

You know: the comma before “and” in a list of three or more items.

Have some paradigms:

The two main rationales for choosing one style over the other are clarity and economy. Each side has invoked both rationales in its favor. Here are some quotes that have served as shots exchanged in the Oxford comma wars.

Pro: “She took a photograph of her parents, the president, and the vice president.”

This example from the Chicago Manual of Style shows how the comma is necessary for clarity. Without it, she is taking a picture of two people, her mother and father, who are the president and vice president. With it, she is taking a picture of four people.

Quite. The “Oxford” comma is necessary there; it simply does one of the jobs a comma is supposed to do.

Con: “Those at the ceremony were the commodore, the fleet captain, the donor of the cup, Mr. Smith, and Mr. Jones.”

This example from the 1934 style book of the New York Herald Tribune shows how a comma before “and” can result in a lack of clarity. With the comma, it reads as if Mr. Smith was the donor of the cup, which he was not.

Ok well I tell you what, that’s not a good sentence, with or without the comma. Just re-do the sentence. That’s the other way to fix these little problems – just re-do the damn sentence.

The commodore and the fleet captain were at the ceremony, along with the donor of the cup (Susan Milligram) and Steve Jones and Bob Smith.

Still not elegant, but at least you can figure it out without getting a crick in your neck.

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

In the USA

Aug 23rd, 2014 12:08 pm | By

So now I’m going to have to allow more cuteness into my aesthetic range than I usually do, so that I can say yes to Mary Engelbreit and no to the people who said no to her.

St. Louis artist Mary Engelbreit‘s work typically epitomizes “non-controversial” art: She makes comforting cartoon illustrations of apple-cheeked children, often accompanied by cheerful slogans about friendship and family. She has a large and devoted following, both for her art and for Engelbreit-branded products of various types, and she is an official inductee in the St. Louis Walk of Fame. These are not normal times, however, and when Engelbreit posted an image on her Facebook page on Tuesday in response to the current unrest rocking the St. Louis-area town of Ferguson, a section of her fan-base turned on her.

The print in question, called In the USA, depicts an African-American mother and child, in Engelbreit’s signature orbicular style, contemplating a newspaper that reads “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot.” Floating text reads, “No One Should Have to Teach Their Children This In The USA.” The print was priced at $49.99, with all proceeds going to the Michael Brown Jr. Memorial Fund, which supports the family of Michael Brown, the Missouri teenager who was gunned down by police two weeks ago. “[T]hese events unfolding now in my hometown and across the country, shining a light on the ugly racism that still runs rampant in our country, made me think that maybe this drawing could help in some small way,” wrote Engelbreit in her post.

Photo: When situations turn horrible and I find it hard to move on, I usually draw my way through it. These drawing hardly ever see the light of day, since they're really just a form of therapy for me. But these events unfolding now in my hometown and across the country , shining a light on the ugly racism that still runs rampant in our country, made me think that maybe this drawing could help in some small way. While it's not a cheerful little picture you'd want to hang over the sofa, you might know of a school or an office or a police station that could use it. All proceeds from the sale of this print will go to the Michael Brown Jr. Memorial Fund. It will be available in 2 days, only from my website, As soon as it's ready, I'll put the official link on this page.

But what happened? A lot of malevolent people left malevolent comments, and Facebook took down her post. Fortunately it has now restored it.

Here’s a public Facebook post she did an hour ago:

So far, we’ve raised almost $25k for the Michael Brown Jr. Memorial Fund!! I can’t thank you guys enough for your support and for sharing the image on your pages and in your profile pictures– I could not have done this without you!

Let’s keep it going! You can order the print online at:

And if this print isn’t really your cup of tea, you can always send your contributions directly to:

The Michael Brown Jr. Memorial Fund
c/o Lesley McSpadden
P.O. Box 52011
St. Louis, MO 63160

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

Benson has a “guest post”

Aug 23rd, 2014 10:51 am | By

Update: Right. It’s not that she’s bizarre and creepy for monitoring all my posts and tweets and then doing “research” on them and writing up the “research” as if it were significant somehow – no, it’s that I am, for pointing out that she’s doing that. Totally makes sense. Nosce te ipsum.



Sometimes the level of obsession is so bizarre and so creepy that it just needs pointing out.

(Click on the images to embiggen.)




This is someone with a real job, a demanding, professional job, and this is how she spends her free time – monitoring my every visible-to-her word, hunting for the source of a guest post, comparing the original to the guest post, and writing up her findings, quite as if she were the FBI and a guest post on my blog were a coded message to ISIS.

She must think I’m enormously important.

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

You mean women can talk?!

Aug 22nd, 2014 5:16 pm | By

Brilliant move. Have a panel to discuss expanding leadership opportunities for Buddhist women and…well, take a look.

Featured panelists – James Coleman, Gary Gach, Charles Prebish, Christopher Queen, Paul David Numrich, Justin Whitaker, Eisel Mazard. Photos go: man, man, man, man, man, man, man.


Rita Gross, an author and dharma teacher, wonders what they were thinking.

Earlier this week the website Patheos published a panel on the topic “2014 Religious Trends: Expanding Leadership Opportunities for Buddhist Women—Which Way Forward?” The panel introduction ended with this question: “What are the risks and benefits of opening Buddhist leadership to women?” As a Buddhist-feminist scholar who has watched and participated in the rise of female leadership in the Buddhist world for the past four decades, I have my own question to ask in response: Risks? What risks? What could possibly be dangerous about women taking leadership roles in Buddhism? We have been doing so in large numbers for quite some time and nothing untoward has happened to Buddhism or to Buddhists as a result. 

Oh come now. To talk about it only in terms of benefits would be unbalanced and extreme. You can’t expect them to just say “it’s time to do much more to expand leadership opportunities for Buddhist women” and then go on to do just that. They have to fret and consider and wring their masculine hands over it first. Changing the status quo without considering the benefits and the risks is never ever permissible.

Far more serious and problematic, however, is the fact that this panel discussion on Buddhist women includes no women! Seven men—but no women—were called upon to discuss the “risks and benefits” of opening Buddhist leadership . . . to women! Rather than solving any of the centuries-old problems of Buddhist male dominance and patriarchy, such a panel only perpetuates it. Someone who didn’t know better but encountered this panel might draw the conclusion that Buddhist women are too passive to speak for themselves and lack the knowledge to do so. 

Maybe, but on the other hand if you had women on the panel someone would be sure to pop up and say the women were there only because they had the right genitalia.

I do not fault the seven men who wrote short essays for this panel, in part because I suspect that they were not informed ahead of time that only men had been invited to contribute. I know some of these men and know that they themselves are supportive of expanding leadership opportunities for Buddhist women. But I most definitely do fault whoever put this panel together for unbelievable levels of ignorance and arrogance. If this were 1970, not 2014, such an all-male panel might be explicable, even relevant. But in 2014, it is too late to speak and act as if men alone are still in charge of everything and can creditably speak for and about women, as if no women were confident and competent enough to speak for themselves, and hadn’t already begun to transform Buddhism into its post-patriarchal future.

I suppose whoever it was just figured it was more of a guy thing.



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

Get a good look before you buy

Aug 22nd, 2014 4:49 pm | By

One of those zany Islamic “scholars” in Egypt has issued a very useful bit of advice in a video. (Is it still called a fatwa if it’s on a video? Is there some different word for it if it partakes of the novel technology? Is there a fatwa for that?)

Men can spy on women in the shower, an extremist cleric has argued in Egypt, prompting outrage from other Islamic scholars.

According to Osama al-Qusi, a Salafist or ultraorthodox preacher, peeping toms can watch a woman wash as long as they are interested in marrying her.

“If you were really honest and wanted to marry that woman, and you were able to hide and watch her in secret, and see the things that she wouldn’t usually let you see before marrying her, then it is acceptable as long as your intentions are pure,” Qusi said in an online video translated by the al-Arabiya news network.

Well sure. That makes sense. For one thing of course “you” are a man. “You” are never a woman, because women don’t count. It’s only men who do things and need fatwas so they know what they can do. Women are just things, for men to watch in the shower or not, depending on the fatwa. For another thing obviously mean need to know how good the tits and ass are before they buy. (It’s hard to see the genitals even in the shower, unless you’re peering from underneath through some clear glass, but in that case she might possibly notice you.)

Egypt’s minister for religious affairs, Mohamed Mokhtar, condemned the cleric “and his ilk”, saying: “Where is the glory and masculinity in watching a woman shower? Would you allow this to happen to your daughter?”

Mokhtar stressed that fatwas, or Islamic edicts, should only be issued by qualified clerics, and denounced Qusi’s claims as anathema toIslam.

The minister also confirmed plans to launch a grassroots campaign against both atheists and Islamic extremists. He has already banned tens of thousands of unlicensed preachers, accused of extremist teachings, from working in Egyptian mosques.

Maybe the “extremists” are there to make people like the minister look good, with his campaign against atheists.


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

A bit of Yes Minister

Aug 22nd, 2014 4:15 pm | By

“It’s simply subsidized self-indulgence.”


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