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.

Religious freedom functions like a giant get-out-of-reality-free card

Aug 5th, 2014 11:20 am | By

Katha Pollitt at The Nation says pleasingly harsh things about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

RFRA, which required laws infringing on religious convictions to meet the “strict scrutiny” test, was overkill. There were other ways to protect Native Americans’ right to use peyote in religious ceremonies. The church could have asked the State Legislature for an exemption; after all, during Prohibition, the Catholic Church was allowed to use wine in the Mass. Or—but now I’m really dreaming—workers could have been given legal protection from losing their jobs for minor lawbreaking outside the workplace. I mean, peyote! Come on. But no, for some reason, there had to be a sweeping, feel-good, come-to-Jesus moment uniting left and right.

“The power of God is such,” said President Clinton, “that even in the legislative process, miracles can happen.” Gag me with a spoon.

What were progressives thinking? Maybe in 1993, religion looked like a stronger progressive force than it turned out to be, or maybe freedom of religion looked like a politically neutral good thing.

I know what I was thinking: I was thinking it was a horrible law. I have never in my life thought that religion was any kind of progressive force. Freedom of religion as normally understood looked like a politically neutral good thing, but not the absurdly expansive version that RFRA imposed.

For some, RFRA doesn’t go far enough because it doesn’t apply to state law. In April, Mississippi became the nineteenth state to enact its own RFRA, which essentially legalizes discrimination against LGBT people by individuals as well as businesses, as long as the haters remember to attribute their views to God. Instead of protecting LGBT people from discrimination—a business refusing to serve them, for example—Mississippi will be siding with the bigots, just like old times. Last year, the state passed the Student Religious Liberties Act, which gives pupils the right to express themselves freely on matters of faith without consequences. Johnny can tell his classmate Jane that she’ll burn in hell because she’s a lesbian and write all his biology papers on Adam and Eve and their dinosaur pets, and the school can’t say a word about it. That would be intolerant.

Anybody who didn’t know all along that this would be the implication wasn’t paying enough attention. (It wasn’t long after that that I read Stephen Carter’s dreadful book about the horrors of secularism, and I thought that was a huge crock of shit too.)

Even if religion were not the basically conservative social force it is in American life, expanding the religious freedom of individuals or corporations is simply not a good way to make public policy.

Why? Because religion doesn’t have a reliable or intersubjective grasp on reality.

It’s great, though, when you don’t have an actual argument to support your position. The right uses religion because that’s all it’s got: the secular arguments against LGBT rights are in history’s dustbin…Religious freedom functions like a giant get-out-of-reality-free card: your belief cannot be judged, because it’s a belief.

My point exactly. It’s the realm of the arbitrary, and that’s no good for making public policy.



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

You can’t “own it” if it’s not yours to begin with

Aug 5th, 2014 10:24 am | By

David Futrelle points out another example of this horrible illegitimate trick of making up nasty quotations and attributing them to The Enemy.

A Voice for Men’s “social media director” Janet Bloomfield is proving to be quite the innovator in the world of public relations. You may recall her cheeky approach to publicizing the recent AVFM conference, which involved awarding herself “whore points” for calling critics of AVFM “whores.”

Now she’s moved on to straight-up libel, making up fake quotes in order to make feminist writer Jessica Valenti look bad, and then bragging about it on her blog.

That. No. That’s wrong; that’s a bad, dishonest, unfair, shitty thing to do.

This whole sordid episode began several days ago when Valenti, on vacation, decided to send a message to “all the misogynist whiners in my feed today” in the form of a photo of her on a beach wearing a t-shirt saying “I bathe in male tears.”

The AVFM social media attack squad seized on this at once, with Bloomfield telling her followers, wrongly, that the picture had been posted in response to a question about male suicide. When Valenti corrected her on this point, Bloomfield offered a half-assed apology (“My bad”).

Then Bloomfield, demonstrating just how insincere her apology had been, decided to up the ante, concocting four “quotes” from thin air and attributing them to Valenti.

What a crappy thing to do.

JanetBloomfield @JudgyBitch1

“The goal of feminism is to put men under the boots of women for several thousand years. And then let’s see what happens.”

Let us destroy men’s happiness. Their love of children, of family, of women. Because fuck them”

“Men take what women make and claim it as their own.Men don’t love childrenThey kill them in a heartbeat to hurt a woman” – @JessicaValenti

“Men in their hearts hate women. It doesn’t matter how much we love them. They hate us”” – @JessicaValenti #WomenAgainstFeminism

And what was the result? People took those tweets at face value, and harassed Valenti because of them. Of course they did. And what did Bloomfield do? She bragged about it on her blog.

Let me give you some context.  I’ve written about Jess before and she writes charming pieces like abortion shouldn’t be rare and is generally a really despicable person who hates half of humanity and blames all her problems and all the world’s problems on them.

So when Jess posted that picture, I needed to goad her into replying to me directly so I wouldn’t violate Twitter’s spamming rules. I used Poe’s Law to attribute a few false but utterly plausible quotes to her, and sure enough, she replied.

Jess is not terribly smart.

Now Twitter is a little outraged at Jess’ callous indifference to the suffering of men and boys and she is catching a bit of hell. Predictably, she is having a big victim party and sulking.  It was just a joke, after all.

Staggering, isn’t it. “I used Poe’s Law to attribute a few false but utterly plausible quotes to her” – that just amounts to saying “I publicly libeled her.” And then what follows - Twitter is a little outraged at Valenti for saying things she never said, and some of the shittier people on Twitter are harassing her as a result. Haha victim haha sulking haha all I did was say she said things she never said. Haha.

Also notice the nickname. Now where have I seen that before…

Jess is not having a good day, and it looks like it will be getting worse before it gets better.

Much worse.

Awwww. Too bad, Jess. Sucks to be a grown-up and have to own your shit, doesn’t it?

But it’s not her shit. She doesn’t “have to own” it because it doesn’t belong to her. It’s Janet Bloomfield’s shit. It’s Janet Bloomfield who lied about Valenti and then gloated about it. That’s the morality of antifeminism.

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

In a fair world he would get it

Aug 5th, 2014 9:30 am | By

Oh, no. Salon reports:

During an interview published on Friday by Israel HaYom, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israeli daily, public intellectual and author Ayan Hirsi Ali claimed that Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for waging the ongoing military campaign by the IDF against Hamas militants in Gaza.

Asked whom she admired, Ali — who once called Islam a “nihilistic cult of death” — included Netanyahu on a list featuring her husband, Harvard professor Niall Ferguson, as well as former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Princeton professor Bernard Lewis. Ali said she admired Netanyahu “[b]ecause he is under so much pressure, from so many sources, and yet he does what is best for the people of Israel, he does his duty.”

“I really think he should get the Nobel Peace Prize,” Ali added. “In a fair world he would get it.”

Kissinger. She singles out Kissinger for admiration. Along with saying Netanyahu should get the peace prize.

Well that’s it. AEI has ruined her.


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

A substantial weakening of Catholic identity

Aug 4th, 2014 6:09 pm | By

Another squalid rant from the people behind “The Sycamore Project,” whose one and only concern in life appears to be making everything more and more and more Catholic.

The Vagina Monologues controversy was an unmistakable signal that something fundamental had changed within the University.

In a series of open letters several distinguished faculty members have cited the faculty’s determined support of the play, together with Father Jenkins’ consequent change of mind, as evidence of a substantial weakening of Catholic identity.

It is not only the radical clash of the play with Catholic teaching and culture that is implicated, but also the absence of any evident engagement by the University with the Church’s central document on academic freedom in a Catholic institution, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, or with the forceful objections of Bishop John M. D’Arcy. As Dr. John C. Cavadini, the Chair of the Theology Department, put it, “It is as though the mere mention of a relationship with the Church has become so alien to our way of thinking and so offensive to our quest for a disembodied ‘excellence’ that it has become impolite to mention it at all.”

We describe elsewhere how this disjuncture between University and Church was conspicuously underscored last year when fifty bishops moved their conference off the campus after they learned hat the play might be performed later in the year. The breach has now been greatly widened by the Obama episode, with 83 Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops seconding Bishop John M. D’Arcy’s condemnation of Notre Dame’s action in honoring, to the applause of most of the faculty, the Church’s principle adversary on abortion and embryonic stem cell research issues.

They’re upset that the university won’t bow to their demands that it hire lots more Catholic faculty.

As in the case of The Vagina Monologues where faculty protest prevailed, it seems reasonable to infer that the reason for setting the goal too low was faculty resistance to anything more demanding. But if the purpose in setting the goal this low was to accommodate the faculty, it evidently did not succeed. Even this was too much for the Faculty Senate, whose statement of April 9, 2008, discloses the full measure of faculty resistance. The statement is animated principally by a driving ambition for recognition of Notre Dame as a top-tier research university.

Purporting to “speak for the entire faculty” on the basis of a canvass, the Senate advanced the following jarring recommendation: “The University should not compromise its academic aspirations in its efforts to maintain its Catholic identity.” Although the Mission Statement declares that the University’s Catholic identity “depends upon” the presence of a “predominant number” of Catholic faculty, the Senate asserts that the “number of Catholic faculty” is “not the primary determinant” and that all that is needed is a “significant presence” of Catholics. Accordingly, the Senate asserts, the Administration “should not impose numerical targets.”

This single-minded focus on secular criteria in hiring comes as no surprise. In a 2003 survey by Baylor scholars of faculty members at four universities with religious ties, 57% of Notre Dame faculty members affirmed that the University should hire faculty on the basis of “academic promise or prominence regardless of religious beliefs or commitments.”

They say that as if it’s a bad thing – because they think it is.

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

At last!

Aug 4th, 2014 5:53 pm | By

Oh look! Hiba is here at last! We’ve been waiting for months and months. (It was because the redesign took time, and it made no sense to do the work of adding new blogs only to have to re-do them soon after. It wasn’t any other kind of reason.)

And hello, readers! I’m excited and delighted to be a new Freethought Blogger! Too many wonderful writers I’m too excited to work alongside to count, especially the ex-Muslims. May I say how wonderful and wise it is that the secular community is expanding to give space to valuable ex-Muslim voices. It’s been a long journey to get here. For those of you who know me from the original Between A Veil and a Dark Place I welcome you and salute you for staying with me this long! You may know me either under the name Marwa Berro (my pen name for a good chunk of my blogging) or Hiba Krisht (my real name, which I recently began to reveal in media appearances, the first of which was this interview in VICE). I am in fact both people, and the same person. I am going by Hiba now and hopefully will successfully merge the 2 identities soon. Others might have seen me appear fleetingly in guest posts or mentions on Ophelia’sKaveh’s, and Alex’s blogs among others. My presence on FtB will be fleeting no more!

There’s a lot more, go read every word.

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

Saving the soul of Notre Dame

Aug 4th, 2014 4:16 pm | By

Wo. There’s a thing called Project Sycamore. Its project is to rescue Notre Dame University from the dreaded

brace yourselves


It explains about the project in more detail on the secularization page.

The University should not compromise its academic aspirations in its efforts to maintain its Catholic identity.

Notre Dame Faculty Senate
April 9, 2008

The fading of the Catholic presence on the Notre Dame faculty is the most important issue bearing on the increasing secularization of the school.

Accordingly, we discuss it in detail elsewhere on this web site, where we list the most important sources upon which we base our analysis. Here, we provide a brief overview:

History demonstrates that the secularization of a religious college or university is the product of the secularization of the faculty. While the outward signs of religious practice typically continue well after the faculty has been transformed, in the end only traces of that religious identity remain.

At Notre Dame, this process of faculty secularization is well underway. Indeed, the shrinking of the Catholic proportion of the faculty has proceeded so far that Notre Dame can no longer lay claim to the robust Catholic character of its past and to which it continues to aspire. While Notre Dame’s Mission Statement declares that the school’s Catholic identity “depends upon” the presence of a solid majority of Catholics on the faculty, only a slender majority of the today’s faculty call themselves Catholic. And when that number is reduced to account for merely nominal and dissenting Catholics, it slumps well below 50%.

It is this attenuation of the Catholic character of the faculty that accounts for such symptoms of secularization as The Vagina Monologues, the annual homosexual/lesbian film festival, the promotion by a women’s faculty organization of a host of pro-abortion organizations and the hiring of more lesbians and homosexuals, and the other signs of secularization that we identify in this web site. Prominent now among these signs is the enthusiastic support accorded by a large majority of the faculty to the University’s honoring of President Obama at the price of a major disjuncture between Church and Notre Dame and the disaffection of countless numbers of alumni and other Catholics everywhere.

It kind of looks to me as if they’re confusing “Catholic identity” with “Republican identity” or perhaps “homophobic identity.”

The future of Notre Dame as a Catholic institution, then, depends upon a decisive reversal of the hiring policy of recent decades. The barrier is the faculty, to which hiring has in recent years been largely committed, for a solid majority believe hiring should be based primarily, if not exclusively, on secular values. As the Faculty Senate put it last year: “The University should not compromise its academic aspirations in its efforts to maintain its Catholic identity.” Those “aspirations” now include securing the recognition of Notre Dame by secular academe as a top tier research institution, a goal that is, in the short term, in undeniable tension with according priority to securing the University’s Catholic identity.

So they’re saying the university should not try to get the best scholars, but instead should get the most Catholic scholars.

Now that sounds authentically Catholic.

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

Because of Notre Dame’s adherence to Catholic teaching

Aug 4th, 2014 3:27 pm | By

MSNBC considers the future under the shadow of Hobby Lobby.

Laura Grieneisen and Liz Miller have a lot in common. Both are graduate students in biology at the University of Notre Dame, where they share an office, a lab, and a research focus. Their work on bacteria in baboons takes them to Kenya for months on end.

Each wants to prevent pregnancy. Each was told by her doctor that her long stretches in the field would make her an excellent candidate for an intrauterine device, or the IUD.

That’s where their paths diverged.

Grieneisen was able to stay on her parents’ plan under the Affordable Care Act through age 26, so she got her IUD at no extra charge, just before turning 27 in July.

But Miller is 29, and gets her health care through the university. Her on-campus doctor was barred from even prescribing the IUD, she said, because of Notre Dame’s adherence to Catholic teaching against contraception.

The doctor sent her off-campus for the prescription, but even then, Notre Dame’s insurance wouldn’t cover it.

Because the Vatican.

Talk about a non-argument. That makes “I’m offended” look downright Socratic.

The accommodation should have taken care of that; Notre Dame should have signed the opt-out so that the insurer will cover the cost. But nooooooo.

…that accommodation hasn’t satisfied Notre Dame – or over 100 other nonprofit institutions suing the administration. They claim that signing the opt-out form also violates their religious liberty, because eventually, contraception is dispensed.

On July 3, a majority of Supreme Court justices apparently took that argument seriously, telling evangelical Wheaton College, one of the plaintiffs suing the government, that it didn’t have to sign the disputed opt-out form while the lawsuit proceeded. That infuriated the female justices, who pointed out that days earlier, in the Hobby Lobby decision, the majority had called that accommodation “a system that seeks to respect the religious liberty of religious nonprofit corporations while ensuring that the employees of these entities have precisely the same access to all FDA-approved contraceptives as employees of companies whose owners have no religious objections to providing such coverage.”

It’s almost as if the majority simply lied in the ruling, isn’t it.

Both Miller and Grieneisen chose Notre Dame to conduct advanced research with world class professors in their field. But the fight over birth control has disillusioned them, and they’ve begun warning prospective students about the lack of contraceptive coverage.

It’s almost as if Notre Dame wants to drive all the women away, isn’t it.

Medical students at Notre Dame and Johns Hopkins wrote an editorial in the Baltimore Sun in support of contraceptive coverage.

“We strongly disagree with any employer — religious or otherwise — that would refuse to provide full insurance coverage, including contraception, for its employees,” the authors, including Washington, wrote. “As physicians in training, we see contraception as an essential component of effective primary care, not as a political line item in Washington or the Vatican.”

That’s well said.


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

Never said it

Aug 4th, 2014 12:41 pm | By

And on the other hand, there’s yet more of the fake meme bullshit directed at Dawkins himself. That is not ok.


@RichardDawkins Curious if this is your actual quote as there is a debate among friends as to its accuracy. Thank you

The quotation in the photo reads:

People are brainwashed into believing that human procreation is some kind of altruistic ideal full of love and kindness. When really it is nothing but a selfish, narcissistic urge in a vain and stupid attempt to perpetuate ones [sic] genes.

His reply on Twitter was:

I never said it, or anything like it. I just Googled it and found it on an anonymous FB page. How did it get attached to me?

More dirty pool, that’s how.

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

What Hitchens said

Aug 4th, 2014 12:28 pm | By

I find myself having to disagree with something Richard Dawkins said on Twitter, again.


In reverse order, so in chronological order:

Richard Dawkins @RichardDawkins · 6h
‘If someone tells me that I’ve hurt their feelings, I say, “Well I’m still waiting to hear what your point is”.’ Christopher Hitchens.

‘I’m very depressed how in this country you can be told “That’s offensive” as though those two words constitute an argument.’ C. Hitchens.

@mharrelson79 I have no wish, nor did he have, to hurt people’s feelings. He simply meant feelings don’t constitute a logical argument.

The last tweet, which was in reply to the question “do you, personally, respond with such a disregard of someone’s feelings? Or are you making an intellectual point?”, shows what’s wrong with those tweets. They don’t work as stand-alone tweets with no context; in that form they just look like saying “be shitty to everyone.” That’s not good advice.

And it doesn’t come across any better when Hitchens says it. A kind Facebook friend found the source for me; it’s this video, starting at 6:20 with an audience question asking how do you separate attacking ideas and attacking people. Hitchens’s response comes across as brutal, frankly.


I hope that wasn’t true of him in real life. I hope if his daughter told him that, for example, he didn’t reply with “Well I’m still waiting to hear what your point is.”

Now it’s possible that he meant “If someone tells me that I’ve hurt their feelings when I’ve been talking about a large institution or custom that is not personal to them” – then it at least makes sense. But that isn’t what he said, and it’s not what the tweet said.

I think we have every right to say harsh things about religion, clerics, sects. But I do not think we should be defending unapologetic verbal brutality across the board.


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

The impossible dream

Aug 4th, 2014 11:01 am | By

Oh yes, this is a permanent wish / gripe / dissent of mine – Robert Reich’s suggestion that we Just Imagine If People Were Paid What Their Work Is Really Worth to Society. Well yes. Teachers, farmers, people who clean hospitals and hotels and schools, bus drivers, garbage collectors, as opposed to people who massage money or market harmful shit or sell cigarettes.

What someone is paid has little or no relationship to what their work is worth to society.

Does anyone seriously believe hedge-fund mogul Steven A. Cohen is worth the  $2.3 billion he raked in last year, despite being slapped with a $1.8 billion fine after his firm pleaded guilty to insider trading?

On the other hand, what’s the worth to society of social workers who put in long and difficult hours dealing with patients suffering from mental illness or substance abuse? Probably higher than their average pay of  $18.14 an hour, which translates into less than $38,000 a year.

How much does society gain from personal-care aides who assist the elderly, convalescents, and persons with disabilities? Likely more than their average pay of  $9.67 an hour, or just over $20,000 a year.

What’s the social worth of hospital orderlies who feed, bathe, dress, and move patients, and empty their ben pans? Surely higher than their median wage of  $11.63 an hour, or $24,190 a year.


Most financiers, corporate lawyers, lobbyists, and management consultants are competing with other financiers, lawyers, lobbyists, and management consultants in zero-sum games that take money out of one set of pockets and put it into another.

They’re paid gigantic amounts because winning these games can generate far bigger sums, while losing them can be extremely costly.

It’s said that by moving money to where it can make more money, these games make the economy more efficient.

In fact, the games amount to a mammoth waste of societal resources.

They demand ever more cunning innovations but they create no social value. High-frequency traders who win by a thousandth of a second can reap a fortune, but society as a whole is no better off.

Meanwhile, the games consume the energies of loads of talented people who might otherwise be making real contributions to society — if not by tending to human needs or enriching our culture then by curing diseases or devising new technological breakthroughs, or helping solve some of our most intractable social problems.

Not to mention the fact that the competitive money-massagers caused the entire global economy to tank while making a few massagers grotesquely rich. Not a fabulous arrangement, if you ask me.

Reich suggests canceling the college debts of people who go into useful but underpaid fields. A very tiny band-aid.

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

The withdrawing room 2

Aug 4th, 2014 10:35 am | By

Time explains today’s Google doodle celebrating the 180th birthday of John Venn.

Correlation has never looked this cute. Google created an interactive illustration in honor of the 180th birthday of logician and philosopher John Venn — best known, of course, for inventing the circles known as the Venn diagram. The doodle allows you to choose from five different subjects (mammals and sea life, for example) along with five descriptors (thrives in cold, has wings, etc.) and then see the resulting correlation. 

I’ve been playing with it, with much amusement.

Venn’s 180th.

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

An increase of 158 in 4 days

Aug 4th, 2014 10:20 am | By

The WHO reports new numbers on the Ebola outbreak.

The World Health Organization says the death toll from the worst outbreak of Ebola on record has reached 887.

That’s an increase of 158 since the global health body released figures on July 31.

WHO said in a statement on Monday that there now have been more than 1,600 cases of Ebola since the disease emerged in Guinea earlier this year.

According to WHO, there now have been a total of 358 deaths in Guinea, 255 deaths in Liberia, 273 deaths in Sierra Leone and one in Nigeria.

The news comes as Nigeria announced Monday that it now had confirmed a second case in Africa’s most populous nation. Health Minister Onyebuchi Chukwu said the case is a doctor who had helped treat Patrick Sawyer, the Liberian-American man who died July 25 days after arriving in Nigeria from Liberia.

Three other people who treated Sawyer are showing symptoms, and are being tested.

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

To the closeted atheists, you are not alone

Aug 3rd, 2014 6:21 pm | By

The BBC has discovered American Atheists.

Atheists in the US are rallying together, launching a new TV programme and providing support for those who go public with their beliefs.

“Sometimes things need to be said, and fights need to be fought even if they are unpopular. To the closeted atheists, you are not alone, and you deserve equality.”

So goes the rousing speech from the American Atheists president, David Silverman, in the opening moments of the first US television broadcaster dedicated to those who do not believe in God, Atheist TV.

A series of testimonies from prominent atheists then follows.

“It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life and I completely advocate people ‘coming out’,” says Mark Hatcher, from Black Atheists of America.

“Coming out” is how many atheists in the USA describe what remains, for many, a very difficult admission to make publicly.

I know Mark Hatcher – I was on a panel with him at the CFI Summit last fall.

At one of the biggest gatherings of atheist students in the country, in Columbus, Ohio, Jamila Bey from the Secular Student Alliance said there were many attendees who were nervous about being interviewed and had indicated so by what they were wearing around their neck.

“Red lanyards mean ‘You may not talk to me’,” says Bey. “A number of the students we have aren’t ‘out’. Their parents may not know that they are atheist or questioning their religion.”

She said many were worried about being ostracised or were even scared of violence if they revealed they did not believe in God.

I know Jamila, too. It’s odd reading about people you know at the BBC.

They offers some numbers.

Who is an atheist?

• 2% of US adults say they are atheists

• 67% of them are men

• 26% of them see themselves as spiritual

• 82% say at times they feel a deep connection with nature

Source: Pew Research Center

That 67% – that’s sad. That’s terrible. You’d think it would be worth making organized atheism less shitty to women in hopes of bringing more of them in.


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

Some tortoise

Aug 3rd, 2014 5:39 pm | By

The cops in Alhambra, California nabbed a tortoise yesterday. They told us about it on their Facebook page, in hopes of reuniting tortoise with human or humans.

It wasn’t your dime-store tortoise.

It has a sweet face. As tortoises do.

It’s back with its people now, and we know its name.

* * * Turtleman Update 08/03/14* * *

The tortoise is actually named “Dirk.” He has been reunited with his human family who actually live in Alhambra. According to 21310 of the Penal Code, it is illegal to possess a “dirk.” We enjoy keeping families together, so an exception was made in this case.
* * * We stand corrected and have edited this post at 4:30 pm* * * The tortoises’ confirmed name is CLARK. Thank you Alhambra partners and FB friends! Until next time . . .

Clark. I’m a little sad, because I liked Dirk – that was a great name for a tortoise.

Happy homecoming, Clark.


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

As the stag calms down

Aug 3rd, 2014 5:14 pm | By


Aug. 1, 2014 – A study of 1,400 ancient and modern human skulls suggests that a reduction in testosterone hormone levels accompanied the development of cooperation, complex communication and modern culture some 50,000 years ago.

The research, published in today’s issue of the journal Current Anthropology, “uses craniofacial evidence to propose that lowered testosterone levels could explain the relatively sudden origin of modern behavior about 50,000 years ago,” says University of Utah biology graduate student Robert Cieri.

The idea being – to put it as crudely as possible – that lower testosterone would lead to less bashing over the head and more dialogue.

“Humans are uniquely able to communicate complex thoughts and cooperate even with strangers,” Cieri says. “New research on fossilized Stone Age humans from Europe, Africa and the Near East suggests these traits are linked, developed around 50,000 years ago, and were a driving force behind the development of complex culture.”

Homo sapiens, or modern humans, first appeared in the fossil record about 200,000 years ago, but evidence of modern behavior, such as symbolic artifacts and advanced tools are only about 50,000 years old, he adds.

So if that hypothesis is right, lower testosterone made all the good stuff possible – language, chat, jokes; social interaction and co-operation, art, pecan brownies. (Also nuclear weapons, global warming, genocide.)

I’m wondering if they mean lower testosterone in females as well as males or just males.

Patricia Churchland puts hormones at the center of human morality. Lena Groeger wrote up a talk of hers at Massimo Pigliucci’s blog in 2011.

It all begins with me. Ok, not me, but the self. Each one of us is equipped with a neural circuitry that ensures our own self-caring and well-being — values in the most fundamental sense. As Churchland likes to say “we’re all born with systems that are very deep in the values business.” Neurons in the brainstem and hypothalamus monitor the inner state of our bodies to keep us alive; they also cause us to run from predators or eat when we’re hungry. Without these life-relevant feelings we wouldn’t survive very long, let alone reproduce.

The next step is to move from self-caring to other-caring. In mammals, this shift occurs not by some radical new engineering plan, but by slight adjustments to the neural mechanisms that are already in place. Modifications to the emotional, endocrine, stress and reward/punishment systems motivate new values, namely, the well-being of certain others. It’s as if the “golden circle of me” expands to include offspring, mates, friends and eventually even strangers.

At the heart of all these modifications and changes to the brain is a relatively simple hormone called oxytocin. Oxytocin is thought to play an important role in mammalian bonding, evoking feelings of contentment and trust, reducing defensive behaviors like fleeing or fighting, and increasing the sense of calmness and security. Churchland describes the importance of oxytocin by telling her favorite story of all time — it involves voles.

Actually, two types of voles: prairie voles and montane voles. Prairie voles bond for life; montane voles are promiscuous. Male prairie voles protect their pups from harm, provide them with food, and fight off other males. Male montane voles take no role in guarding the nest, the female, or the pups. Scatter them across a room, prairie voles will collect back together in a huddle. Montane voles are content to be left alone.
What makes these furry little rodents behave so differently? In the 1970’s neuroscientist Sue Carter decided to look for the answer in the brain. She found that in a very specific place, the density for oxytocin receptors was much higher in prairie voles than in montane voles. Subsequent studies have shown that blocking the receptors for oxytocin in prairie voles changes their social behavior dramatically, and they no longer bond with their mates. For Churchland, this story was the clue that oxytocin was the neural mechanism for attachment, or what “Hume might accept as the germ of the moral sentiment.”
Oxytocin. Attachment. Feeeelings. Warm fuzzies. Without that there is no morality, there’s only self. Without that the greatest happiness of the greatest number is of no interest; you might as well talk about the greatest happiness of the greatest number of rocks. Without that the well-being of conscious creatures is of no more interest than the well-being of rocks. You need to add reason, to avoid making a whole lot of mistakes along the way, but reason isn’t the engine.

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

More brawling

Aug 3rd, 2014 4:27 pm | By

It’s good to see that everyone sees the point of the joint statement and has decided to avoid the more childish ways of responding to disagreements like attacks on appearance and photoshops and caricatures and similar. Well maybe not quite everyone…

backback2Haw haw.

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

Lifestyles of the rich archbishops

Aug 3rd, 2014 12:46 pm | By

CNN notes that being a big noise in the Catholic church provides some pretty comfortable lodgings.

There’s Timothy Dolan’s cottage on Madison Avenue, for instance.

From Google

It’s 15,000 square feet. He squeezes into it with three other priests. Not too shabby, is it.

The one in Chicago for Cardinal Francis George is even nicer.

This mansion has 19 chimneys and sits on 1.7 acres of prime real estate in Chicago’s ritzy Gold Coast neighborhood. It’s worth $14.3 million “as is,” but the property could fetch far more, appraisers told CNN.

George, whose private quarters occupy the mansion’s top two floors, according to the archdiocese, shares the residence with two bishops and a priest.

Three nuns who care for the cardinal and his mansion live in a 5,800-square-foot coach house near the main residence.

The mansion’s size, architectural details, location and unobstructed view of nearby Lincoln Park make the residence “one of a kind,” said Thomas Schurer, director of sales for Chicago’s Real Valuation Services, which appraised George’s residence for CNN.

But hey, they deserve it for their hard work in making sure that women who have incomplete miscarriages will die because they can’t get an abortion.

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

In a better world

Aug 3rd, 2014 12:10 pm | By

Meriam Ibrahim arrived in the US a few days ago.

Mrs Ibrahim flew from Rome to Philadelphia with her husband and two children, en route to Manchester, New Hampshire, where her husband has relatives and the family hope to settle.

The mayor said nice things to her there.

Her next stop was Manchester, and there were about 40 relatives and supporters at the airport to greet her, some of them chanting “Long Live America”, says the BBC’s Gringo Wotshela, who was at the scene.

He said her husband said a few words, in which he thanked the US government for its strong stance, the New Hampshire senators who worked hard to arrange her asylum and the people of Sudan for their support.


That’s all good.

Of course in a better world, none of this would be news, because no one would have tried to kill Meriam Ibrahim for not belonging to a particular religion, because it would be universally acknowledged that people have the right to choose 1. whether to belong to a religion at all and 2. what religion to belong to.

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

The sin of laughter

Aug 3rd, 2014 11:33 am | By

Channel 4 provides a bunch of pictures of women laughing in response to Bulent Arinc’s demand that women stop laughing in public.

They’re glorious pictures, all the better as a collection. What would life be without laughter??

A couple from Twitter under #kahkaha:

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

Why did not they remove the Qur’an from the mosque before destroying it?

Aug 3rd, 2014 10:59 am | By

There’s a rather depressing piece in the Guardian by Fazel Hawramy and Mohammad Moslawi about the beginnings of resistance to ISIS in Mosul.

Iraqis living under Isis rule in Iraq, where non-Sunni residents have been forced from their homes and tens of mosques have been deemed idolatrous and marked for destruction, have started to push back against the extreme interpretation of Islam being imposed on them.

In Mosul, despite its military triumphs, Isis is losing the hearts, minds and obedience of residents who say they have had enough.

When its fighters destroyed the Nabi Jonah mosque (Jonah’s tomb) in the Iraqi city last Thursday, they failed to removed copies of the Qur’an and other religious texts. Residents treading through the ruins of the building found torn and burnt pages of the holy books scattered across the rubble. It was an insult to Islam that was captured on video and unified the city in outrage.

“[Isis] claims that having graves inside mosques is heretical but what about the Qur’an, why did not they remove the Qur’an from the mosque before destroying it?” one resident, who did not wish to be named, asked the Guardian.

That’s the first specific grievance against ISIS they mention. There’s more about that, and other mosques, and other sites. There’s an attempt to order people to continue to fast on the first day of Eid. There’s an expulsion of Christians, and something about hair salons. The coverage seems to reflect a very impoverished set of concerns and priorities: huge concern for mosques and Korans, a little concern for Christians and people wanting unorthodox haircuts, and – nothing else.

It’s sad.


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