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.

You belong to a category of applicants where there is always a risk

May 12th, 2015 3:41 pm | By

Swedish PEN has demanded an explanation from the Swedish embassy in Dhaka.

Swedish PEN demands a response from the Swedish Embassy in Dhaka following Tuesday’s murder of the author and blogger Ananta Bijoy Dash

“You belong to a category of applicants where there is always a risk involved when granting a visa that you will not leave Schengen area after the visit. Furthermore, the purpose of your trip is not urgent enough to grant you visa.” (From the visa refusal of the Swedish Embassy in Dhaka)

More than a month ago Swedish PEN invited the Bangladeshi author and blogger Ananta Bijoy Dash to Stockholm to speak about the deteriorating situation in Bangladesh for journalists and writers, a topic that has become highly actual after the brutal murders of blogger Washiqur Rahman and writer Avijit Roy earlier in March.

PEN’s invitation followed the standard procedure used when representatives of the international press and defenders of freedom of expression are invited to meetings or events within the framework of PEN’s extensive program activities. For Ananta Bijoy Dash, the theme of the meeting which was to take place on May 3 in Stockholm in conjunction with the commemoration of World Press Freedom Day, was inseparably linked with the reality he lived in as a secular blogger in a Bangladesh where extremism is increasingly on the rise. According to Swedish PEN, this made him uniquely suited to talk about these issues.But the Swedish Embassy in Dhaka refused to issue the visa required for him to visit Sweden.

Today we have received the news that Ananta has been brutally murdered.

This news has been received with great sadness and it has raised many questions.

To understand we need to look back at the decision that the Swedish Embassy in Dhaka sent after they rejected his visa application which he forwarded in his email to the Swedish PEN on the same day. In the final lines we read: “You belong to a category of applicants where there is always a risk involved when granting a visa that you will not leave Schengen area after the visit. Furthermore, the purpose of your trip is not urgent enough to grant you visa.”

Following up on the encouragement from the Swedish PEN Ananta Bijoy Dash filed an appeal to the Swedish embassy’s decision. At the same time Swedish PEN wrote a letter to the Swedish Embassy requesting that the decision should be reviewed, with the explanation that we wanted to meet with Ananta Bijoy Dash even even if our meeting should be postponed. This should have been dealt with by the Migration Court in Gothenburg within the next few weeks.

But it was too late. Early on Tuesday morning Ananta Bijoy Dash was hacked to death by men armed with machetes when leaving his home for work in the town of Sylhet in northern Bangladesh. He never got the opportunity to tell his and the others’ story for his Swedish colleagues on World Press Freedom Day.

It is our duty to know why.

Swedish PEN therefore demands a detailed and credible explanation of why the Swedish Embassy in Dhaka chose not to grant Ananta Bioy Dash the visa he needed to fulfill the Swedish PEN’s invitation to speak in Stockholm –  a invitation that would have guaranteed his stay in Stockholm as Swedish PEN’s guest for two weeks upon his arrival, that was supposed to happen last weekend, and which could have ensured that he would still be here with us today.

Translation from Swedish: Bojan Lazic


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

He knew he was one of the targets

May 12th, 2015 3:36 pm | By

The IHEU tells the terrible story of the refusal by the Swedish embassy in Dhaka to give Ananta Bijoy Das a visa to travel to Sweden for a conference.

Ananta had been on a list of atheist bloggers produced by Islamist political parties in 2013. They demanded a death penalty for ‘blasphemy’, and since then several writers on the list have been murdered, always by machete attack. Ananta was also named on a new hit list in March [Bangla] in connection with a group called Ansarullah Bangla Team.

Ananta wrote to IHEU at the time:

“It seems to me I am one of the targets . I am not sure how long I will hide myself. But I am sure If they will find me they will do what they did with Mr. Avijit Roy. My life is seriously unsecured . I am not sure how can I protect myself & my family.”

International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) statement (12 May 2015):

Each of these murders is a crushing loss to the humanist and secularist communities of South Asia and the world.

IHEU condemns this murder in the strongest possible terms, as well as the failures of the Bangladeshi authorities to bring to justice the individuals and to break the networks behind this string of targeted killings. Whether from apathy, or incompetence, or intimidation, the police and government are utterly failing Bangladeshi humanist, atheist and secularist writers, thinkers and activists.

Ananta Bijoy Das had reached out to us at IHEU following the murders of Avijit and Washiqur. Accepting the very serious threat to this life, we advised Ananta in trying to make the difficult move out of danger. However, we have been informed that his application for a visa to travel to Sweden, under invitation from Swedish PEN, was rejected last week by the Swedish embassy in Dhaka, on the basis that he might seek to remain in Sweden.

We call on all countries to recognise the legitimacy and sometimes the urgency and moral necessity of asylum claims made by humanists, atheists and secularists who are being persecuted for daring to express those views.

And that includes you, Sweden.

Swedish PEN confirmed in a statement [Swedish] that they had invited Ananta to Sweden to talk about the threat to atheists in Bangladesh, but his visa application was refused, despite the clear and demonstrated mortal threat to atheist writers in Bangladesh, and despite the support of PEN for his visit. Swedish PEN demand:

“a detailed and credible explanation of why the Swedish Embassy in Dhaka chosen not to grant Ananta Bioy Dash the visa he needed to meet the Swedish PEN’s invitation to speak in Stockholm”

In the visa refusal letter seen by IHEU (sent by the Embassy of Sweden in Dhaka to Ananta Bijoy Das on 22 April 2015) the embassy notes among other considerations: “you are unmarried and you do not have any children”, as reason to consider the applicant not “well established in Bangladesh”, therefore:

…you have not made it likely that the purpose of the journey is only for a short visit for a meeting and not settlement there. You belong to a category of applicants where there is always a risk involved when granting a visa that you will not leave Schengen area after the visit.

Furthermore, the purpose of your trip is not urgent enough to grant you visa. With regards to this and different circumstances in your case as well as different visa regulations you do not fulfil the requirements for a visa. Your application is therefore rejected.

Can you believe that? He belonged “a category of applicants where there is always a risk involved when granting a visa that you will not leave Schengen area after the visit” – meaning, presumably, he knew his motherfucking life was in danger – so that’s why they wouldn’t let him go there.

It’s a horror.

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


May 12th, 2015 3:25 pm | By

I need relief from the misery of today, and so perhaps do you.

Curiosity Rover sent back pictures of a sunset. Yes sunset as seen from another planet. Sunset as seen from Mars.

Do admit.

Embedded image permalink


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

The political situation in Bangladesh is too volatile for her to comment publicly

May 12th, 2015 2:40 pm | By

Rafida Ahmed Bonya talks to Reuters about the murder of her husband Avijit Roy and the non-response of Bangladesh.

On May 3, the Indian-born head of al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent claimed responsibility for a string attacks in Bangladesh and Pakistan, including Roy’s.

The murder of Roy, an atheist who published a popular and provocative blog, marks an escalation by Islamist militants for control of Bangladesh.

Religious fundamentalists are competing daily with secular government officials for power in the majority-Muslim country, one of the world’s largest and poorest democracies.

In her first extensive interview since the attack, Bonya criticised the Bangladeshi government for not responding more aggressively to her husband’s slaying.

“This was well planned, choreographed – a global act of terrorism,” she said. “But what almost bothers me more is that no one from the Bangladesh government has reached out to me. It’s as if I don’t exist, and they are afraid of the extremists. Is Bangladesh going to be the next Pakistan or Afghanistan?”

In an interview, Sajeeb Ahmed Wazed Joy, the son of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, said his mother offered private condolences to Roy’s father.

But the political situation in Bangladesh is too volatile for her to comment publicly, he said.

So in other words, the government is in the hands of the murderers. If the Prime Minister can’t comment publicly on a public murder of a citizen, then the PM is a hostage to the murdering theocrats.

“We are walking a fine line here,” said Joy, an informal consultant for the ruling party, the Awami League. “We don’t want to be seen as atheists. It doesn’t change our core beliefs. We believe in secularism,” he said.

“But given that our opposition party plays that religion card against us relentlessly, we can’t come out strongly for him. It’s about perception, not about reality.”

So they can’t “come out strongly for him” in the sense of saying the murderers shouldn’t have murdered him.

If that’s true, the murderers are running the government.

Joy said Roy’s death came during a three-month period when 160 people died in bus bombings in Dhaka, and shortly before explosions near the prime minister’s motorcade.

Joy blamed political opponents who, he said, seek to destabilise his mother’s government.

“To us, Avijit Roy is no different than the 160 others that have been killed,” he said. “We want to bring all the killers to justice. I understand why (his wife) is upset. My mother has been targeted by these same fundamentalists.”

He is different in one way, though; he was one of the people who contribute to the public discourse. If the theocrats kill off all such people, no resistance will ever be possible.

Bangladesh was founded as a secular country, but US and Bangladesh officials said the Islamic fundamentalist influence began to increase in the 1990s as wealthy Arabs began building hundreds of religious schools.

The same officials say militant influence also increased as waves of Bangladeshis who had moved to the Persian Gulf as laborers returned home with stricter Muslim views.

So just think – it was our enthusiasm for driving around in cars that made this wonderful situation possible.

When they went to Bangladesh in February…

“We knew that anything can happen in a country like that, and we took precautions,” Bonya said. “There was only one threat against him but we didn’t take it seriously. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have gone.”

Roy was a star attraction at the book fair. On a tranquil morning before his murder, he outlined a book he planned to write with Bonya, and took her on a rickshaw tour of his childhood neighbourhood.

He exchanged Facebook messages with his stepdaughter, sharing in her excitement at attending a US college lecture by the feminist Gloria Steinem.

“We were really, really happy,” said Bonya, who had edited her husband’s books in Atlanta, but had not seen his influence first-hand in Bangladesh.

“He had finally gotten to show me – in Bangladesh – how and why his work was so important.”

And then the murderers showed her in a different way.

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

Guest post: An immigration lawyer on the Human Rights Act

May 12th, 2015 2:12 pm | By

Guest post by Walton, originally a comment on a post by Helen Dale (commenting on an article in the Spectator) on my Facebook wall yesterday on the Human Rights Act. Published with permission.

My view on this as an immigration lawyer:

A large part of the Tories’ explicit motivation for getting rid of the HRA is to curtail the scope of protections in immigration cases. They particularly hate the right to private and family life (Article 8), especially, but not exclusively, in criminal deportation cases. This has featured heavily in Tory rhetoric and tabloid press reporting for several years.

What they don’t tell you is why these protections are worthwhile.

Many of the people that the Home Office labels “foreign criminals” are in fact people who have lived virtually their entire lives in the UK since coming here as small children, and have no remaining ties to their countries of origin: in some cases they would be British citizens had their parents thought to naturalise or register them as citizens while they were still children. Many more have families and children in this country, from whom deportation would separate them permanently. A high proportion of “foreign criminals” have been convicted for drugs offences, or for victimless crimes like using a false passport; some are desperate alcoholics or mentally ill people who are caught by the “persistent offender” provisions. Having served their criminal sentences, instead of being released from prison they are faced with a much worse punishment – permanent exile from the country that is their home. Article 8 is the only recourse that these people have. The Tories have already curtailed it – in part, by enacting a statute last year (“section 94B”) that stops most criminal deportees from appealing on Article 8 grounds until after they have been deported (to a country where they may well have no support and become destitute and homeless). The Tories want to curtail the rights still further, including in administrative removal cases involving people who have committed no criminal offences but have overstayed a visa or entered unlawfully. The practical impact of this is that some children will grow up without parents, some people will be forcibly separated from their spouses, and lives will be torn apart.

The Tories also tend to rant about a tiny number of cases where people regarded as terrorists have avoided deportation to their countries of origin. These cases are, in general, under Articles 2 and 3, not Article 8: that is to say, the people in question would face the death penalty and/or torture in their home countries. I don’t believe that anyone who isn’t a monster can argue that the UK should be sending people back to face death or torture: and more to the point, the British Bill of Rights won’t and can’t curtail this protection. (Doing so would be inconsistent with EU provisions such as the Qualification Directive.) Tabloid rhetoric often conflates Articles 2 and 3 with Article 8, but they are distinct.

The Tory critique of the Human Rights Act is a mixture of incoherence, malice and inaccurate populist rhetoric. Either the new Bill of Rights will make no substantive difference at all (which is the best possible outcome), or it will severely curtail protection of human rights in immigration cases (which is the outcome I fear).

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

Bush goes with little sisters

May 12th, 2015 12:41 pm | By

A more local fan of theocracy – Jeb Bush said some words at Liberty “University” on Saturday. He said the Catholic church knows better than the elected government.

Delivering the commencement address at the booming evangelical universitylaunched by Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell, Bush referred to a group of nuns who fought a birth control mandate under the Affordable Care Act.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m betting that when it comes to doing the right and good thing, the Little Sisters of the Poor know better than the regulators at the Department of Health and Human Services,” Bush said. “From the standpoint of religious freedom, you might even say it’s a choice between the Little Sisters and Big Brother. And I’m going with the Little Sisters.”

Well of course he’ll never be at risk of dying of an incomplete miscarriage at a hospital that refuses to treat him because the fetus still has a pulse. He’ll never even be at risk of not being able to get birth control because there are no non-Catholic health services anywhere near where he lives. It’s easy for him to choose a bunch of nuns, because they’re not in a position to do him much harm. So he’s a selfish piece of shit.

Not yet an official candidate for president, the former Florida governor was making what has become an essential campaign stop for Republicans seeking the White House by speaking at Liberty.

“How strange, in our own time, to hear Christianity spoken of as some sort of backward and oppressive force,” Bush said before a crowd of about 34,000 in the campus stadium…

Again: people like him – especially men like him – are more immune to the harms that priests and nuns can do than less prosperous and less male people are.

In his speech, Bush praised the power of Christianity in action.

“Today, by the thousands, Liberty is sending forth across America civilized, confident, true-hearted men and women — which happens to be just what America needs,” Bush said to the crowd, which included 6,200 graduates in attendance.

“This doesn’t always come as a welcome reminder in some quarters, but it is true all the same: Whatever the need, the affliction, or the injustice, there is no more powerful or liberating influence on this earth than the Christian conscience in action,” he said.

Pretty words, but false.

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

Ananta and Avijit

May 12th, 2015 12:27 pm | By

Via IHEU on Twitter

#AnantaBijoy and #AvijitRoy pictured together; they and 4 others all now killed by machete

Embedded image permalink

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

A god of sulfur

May 12th, 2015 12:22 pm | By

Taslima shared a poem that Ananta Bijoy Das wrote about her.

A painfully apposite extract –

Alexandria to Nalanda being rampaged and raped by them,
The “elders” are breathing in hatred and violence in their pens,
Blood of the innocent dripping off the shameless swords everywhere.

If you violate their fatwa, their red eyes and edicts
You get beheaded in the east west north south wherever you are.

Human beings worship a loathsome god. They prostrate themselves to a foul, jealous, cruel demon who hates curiosity and learning and freedom of mind. Their god is a nightmare, a monster, the source of everything bad. Their god is evil and wicked and hateful. Their god murders people who want to free us from our chains. Their god carries a machete dripping with our blood and brains. Their god is our horrible red-eyed stinking enemy.

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

Equality for some

May 12th, 2015 12:01 pm | By

It’s one of those taunting rub-their-noses-in-it actions that Tories and Republicans love to do – Cameron appointed an anti-gay marriage MP to be minister for equalities. Hahaha get it? So funny. Hahaha those politically correct fools who think same-sex couples should be able to get married, we showed them, hahahaha.

Caroline Dinenage, the MP for Gosport, was appointed by Prime Minister David Cameron today as the Parliamentary under secretary of state at the Ministry of Justice and the minister for equalities at the Department for Education.

In 2013, she told a PinkNews reader that the “state has no right” to redefine its meaning of marriage and that “preventing same-sex couples from being allowed to marry takes nothing away from their relationship.”

Well, it takes marriage away. That’s not nothing. Not everyone wants marriage, but those who do, do. It’s not nothing.

In a letter to a PinkNews reader, Ms Dinenage wrote that the Church states that “marriage is in its nature a union of ‘one man and one woman’, and went on to say “the insitution [sic] of marriage is distinctive.”

Who cares what “the Church” says? She’s an MP, not a bishop.

At least I can say that without expecting machetes to the head.


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

She wondered what Kate would say

May 12th, 2015 11:36 am | By

Anne Widdecombe wrote a column in the Daily Express the other day. In part of it she said this:

Sofia Vergara of the US TV show Modern Family and Nick Loeb, her ex-fiancé, are locked in battle over his wish to use the embryos they created through IVF and hers to keep them frozen indefinitely.

Among those who have commented is women’s campaigner Kate Smurthwaite, who says: “If you have had a part in the creation of that embryo then you should have a say in its future but if the parties are not 100 per cent committed then maybe there is a better way.

“This guy can adopt, he can foster, he has got lots and lots of other options.”

I wonder what the lady would say if a man were to state that there were lots and lots of options to an abortion, declaring: “She can have it adopted, she can have it fostered”?

You can almost hear the squeals of outrage.

She wondered what Kate would say, so guess what, this is now, so Kate told her what Kate would say.

That was May 8. The Express never did publish it. There was Anne Widdecombe wondering what Kate would say and the Express hid the answer to her question!

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

It gets worse

May 12th, 2015 11:00 am | By

Oh good god, here’s another turn of the screw. The BBC reports the murder of Ananta Bijoy Das.

Ananta Bijoy Das was attacked by masked men with machetes in Sylhet, police say. He is said to have received death threats from Islamist extremists.

Mr Das wrote blogs for Mukto-Mona, a website once moderated by Avijit Roy, himself hacked to death in February.

Sweden has confirmed it turned down a visa request from Mr Das in April.

He had been invited to attend a press freedom event by the Swedish Pen writers organisation but officials in the country’s embassy in Dhaka refused the request, citing a risk he might not return home.

Did they think the “risk” was because he was on a hit-list there? If so…well really, words fail me.

Swedish Pen told the BBC they were in the process of submitting an appeal when they heard of Mr Das’s murder. The group has demanded an explanation from their government, the BBC’s John McManus reports.

Yeah, I should think so.

Sara Hossain, a lawyer and human rights activist in Dhaka, told the BBC that Mr Das and Mr Roy were on a list of targets.

“They’ve always believed and written very vocally in support of free expression and they’ve very explicitly written about not following any religion themselves,” she told the BBC World Service’s Newsday programme.

“These last two have been part of a blog called Mukto-Mona [Free Mind], which is about free thinking and is about explicitly taking on religious fundamentalism and particularly Islamic religious fundamentalism. Their names have been on lists of identified targets.”

I have friends there.

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

More horror

May 12th, 2015 10:09 am | By

Bangladesh. Murder number 3 this year.

A secular blogger has been hacked to death in north-east Bangladesh, the third such deadly attack this year.

Police said Ananta Bijoy Das was murdered as he headed to work at a bank in the city of Sylhet, an attack that fellow writers said highlighted a culture of impunity.

Kamrul Hasan, commissioner of Sylhet police, said a group of about four masked attackers pounced on Das with machetes at about 8.30am on Tuesday on a busy street in Bangladesh’s fifth-largest city.

Hasan would not be drawn on the motive for the attack but fellow writers said Das had been on a hitlist drawn up by militants who were behind the recent killing of a blogger who was a US citizen.

Imran Sarker, head of a Bangladeshi bloggers’ association, said Das was an atheist who wrote blogs for Mukto-Mona, a website formerly moderated by Avijit Roy, a Bangladeshi-born US citizen who was stabbed to death in the capital, Dhaka, in February.

It makes me so sick I can’t sit still.

Debasish Debu, a friend of Das, said the 33-year-old banker was also an editor of a quarterly magazine called Jukti (Logic) and headed the Sylhet-based science and rationalist council.

Debu said Das had been receiving threats for his writing and that their frequency increased after the killing of Roy. “He had written about superstitions, but he wasn’t among the writers that would hurt the sentiments of religion,” Debu said.

According to the Mukto-Mona site, Das won the publication’s annual rationalist award in 2006 for his “deep and courageous interest in spreading secular and humanist ideals and messages”.

While most of Das’s output for Mukto-Mona focused on science and evolution, he wrote a number of blogs that criticised some aspects of Islam and also of Hinduism. He also wrote a poem eulogising the famed Bangladeshi secular writer Taslima Nasreen, who fled to Europe in 1994 after protests by Islamists.

It’s fascism.

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

The bishop says no

May 11th, 2015 6:33 pm | By

Same old – Catholic health systems buy up everything in sight and then refuse to prescribe birth control. Uh oh, you’re now screwed! Too bad. Have a nice life!

An OB/GYN who can’t prescribe birth control? It’s not some bad joke. It could be a reality if your doctor’s practice is purchased by a Catholic health system that then imposes the Ethical & Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, a set of rules created by the U.S. Bishop’s Conference that prohibits doctors from doing everything from prescribing the Pill to performing sterilizations or abortions.

…Driven by health-care economics and incentives in the Affordable Care Act, health systems, which are a collection of hospitals and ancillary services, are acquiring physician practices at an unprecedented rate. The percentage of doctors who were employees of health systems increased from 20 percent to 26 percent between 2012 and 2013 alone; more than 40 percent of primary care doctors like OB/GYNs are now employed by health systems directly, and experts don’t see the trend slowing.

And with Catholic hospital systems accounting for eight of the 10 of the largest nonprofit health systems in the U.S., these hospitals are poised to become major owners of doctors’ offices, which could severely impede access to contraceptives if doctors are forced to follow the Directives. “The more we see these Catholic systems buying up these practices, the more we are going to see what Angela saw,” predicted Lorie Chaiten, director of the Illinois ACLU’s Reproductive Rights Project, who notes that such refusals are legal under Illinois’ Health Care Right of Conscience Act.

It’s their religious freedom. Yours, not so much.

Asked directly whether its doctors in Evanston and elsewhere in Illinois were prevented from providing contraception, Presence said in a statement, “We abide by the Ethical & Religious Directives, and there are certain services which we do not provide. It is our expectation that all physicians associated with Presence Saint Francis Hospital share with their patients the options that are available in accessing the care they seek.”

But telling women about their options isn’t a solution when they are denied access to contraception, says Chaiten. “Even if they tell you what your options are, you have to have a second appointment with another doctor to get birth control. This seems inconsistent with whole idea of OB/GYN practice.”

Not only do women have to face the inconvenience of making—and paying—for another doctor’s appointment to get one of the most basic gynecological services, but there’s also a bigger problem: “The more we stigmatize and silo reproductive health care, the more it seems like it’s OK to treat it as not basic health care,” says Chaiten.

And that’s exactly what they want. These bastards want total Catholic control of women’s reproductive care and of their minds. The Pope’s Revenge.

for some women, changing doctors may not be an option. Health insurers are becoming increasingly restrictive about which hospitals and doctors a patient is allowed to use and may charge a steep penalty for going out of the network of preferred providers. Smaller towns and rural areas may not have a large selection of OB/GYNs. The ACLU is backing a measure in the Illinois Legislature that would require health systems to tell patients beforehand what services they don’t provide and where they can get them. Chaiten also encourages women who have been denied reproductive health services for religious reason to report it to the ACLU, which is tracking this trend.

Ironically, Angela’s experience with her OB/GYN wasn’t her last run-in with Catholic health care. After she was refused a tubal ligation and a prescription for birth control, Angela’s husband decided to get a vasectomy. His doctor, who was also part of the Catholic system, said his practice couldn’t do the procedure or make a referral. “The whole situation is so unbelievable to me. I had no idea these limitations occurred,” she says. “When I tell my friends about it, they say it’s medieval. We have to worry that if they keep buying up all these practices, it will get harder and harder to find someone who can prescribe birth control.”

On the other hand, in the news today

Insurance companies must accept all forms of federally approved methods of birth control for women free of charge or co-payments, the Obama administration announced Monday in a series of guidelines on the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

Responding to reports that insurance companies were skirting requirements to cover all contraceptive methods approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the Obama administration sought to erase any ambiguity over what forms of birth control fall under the free-coverage mandate.

“As the law has been implemented, issues have been raised by some women and from members of Congress that insurance companies were not covering the contraceptive method recommended by doctors, as well as concerns from issuers that the existing guidance did not provide enough detail about how specific types of contraception should be covered,” the Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement.

That’s about insurance coverage, not the provision of the actual birth control – but maybe it’s a first step.

This shit has got to stop. Catholic bishops should not be controlling what medical services women can get.

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

God’s body

May 11th, 2015 4:06 pm | By

David Frum wrote a pretty good piece defending the right to blaspheme, but he got one part wrong.

In 1989, the AIDS activist group ACT UP disrupted services in St Patrick’s Cathedral, New York. One protester grabbed a consecrated communion wafer, broke it, and tossed it to the floor. He and some 100 others were arrested. A few of the protesters were sentenced to community service. None went to prison. Needless to say, none was burned at the stake.

From a Catholic perspective, defiling a consecrated communion wafer does violence to the body of God. It would be hard to imagine a more brutal affront to the most cherished beliefs of faithful Catholics.

Hmm. Is that really what it is? Do they think of it as like taking a machete to God’s arm?

I wouldn’t think so. I don’t think even from a Catholic perspective it’s like doing violence to anyone’s body. How can you do any kind of violence to a god anyway? It doesn’t bleed or feel pain or lose the use of the body part. I think it’s the sacrilege that burns, not an idea of doing violence to a body.

Anyway. Everyone was shocked and went tut, no one said it was blasphemy and a police matter.

The right to blaspheme is not a right most of us make much use of these days, and for excellent reason. In modern Western free societies, we take it absolutely for granted that nobody can enforce religious dogma on anybody else.

Ohhhhhhhh no we don’t – at least not if we’re paying attention we don’t. Hobby Lobby anyone?

No, we don’t take that for granted at all, because we can’t. If only we could. Nope; the USCCB enforces religious dogma on anyone who uses a Catholic hospital, emphatically including non-Catholics. Religious phrases and symbols are forced on all of us all over the place – on the money, in “the pledge,” in and around many public buildings, in airports, and on and on.

Expect more blasphemy over the coming years.

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

The sons of garbage collectors belong in other fields than the judiciary

May 11th, 2015 3:28 pm | By

Here’s a piece of jaw-dropping nastiness out of Egypt. A bunch of young prosecutors were fired because their parents hadn’t been to university.

Just months after they were appointed, 138 new prosecutors were removed from office in September 2013 following a ruling from the judiciary’s governing body that said only those born to parents with undergraduate degrees could join the state prosecution.

Can you believe it? Can you imagine how all those parents feel? The humiliation and guilt? And what on earth can possibly be the reason? It’s hard to think of any other than plain snobbery.

The deadlock is “a disaster to social justice”, Mohamed Kamal-Eddin, one of the excluded prosecutors, told Ahram Online, the English-language version of Egypt’s flagship state newspaper. “This condition is a punishment to the parents for not having received university education. Judges are supposed to be the guards of justice. It is absurd that they decide such a condition.’’

The justice ministry declined to comment when contacted by the Guardian. So did two spokesmen for the 138 prosecutors, saying the issue was an exclusively Egyptian matter that should not interest foreign media.

No, don’t say that. Egyptian media are welcome to report on the US’s many striking faults. We should all be internationalist and give a damn about each other.

Speaking on Egyptian television, a senior judge and former member of the board that banned the prosecutors said the decision was aimed at upholding the quality of the judiciary. “We have nothing against the job of garbage collectors, but their sons belong in other fields than the judiciary, because it’s a sensitive job,” said Justice Ahmed Abdelrahman.

Dear sweet tapdancing Jesus. Does he think the garbage collectors bring the garbage home, and marinate their children in it? Does he think the children take the garbage to university with them? What is he talking about?

Ugh, god, why are people so ingenious at thinking up ways to be shitty to each other?

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

Signs of existential evil in society

May 11th, 2015 2:34 pm | By

The Independent reports on a worrying trend.

The proliferation of “beautiful young vampires” in TV series and Hollywood films including True Blood and the Twilight movies is encouraging young people to dabble with occult forces, a leading authority on demonic possession has warned a Vatican-backed exorcism course.

What’s a leading authority on demonic possession? What’s there to be a leading authority about?

“There are those who try to turn people into vampires and make them drink other people’s blood, or encourage them to have special sexual relations to obtain special powers,” said Professor Giuseppe Ferrari at the meeting in Rome, which heard that the number of such possessions is rising globally.

So he could be an authority on people who think, or pretend to think, they’re turning people into vampires. He could be a skeptic, in short…except the part about warning a Vatican-backed exorcism course doesn’t sound like a skeptic.

To Google then. Most of the top entries are related to this same conference. But there’s one item from May 2014, so let’s see what the authority was up to a year ago.

Organizers of a recent exorcism conference in Rome spoke to the Telegraph Newspaper about the growing problem of demonic possession:

…Giuseppe Ferrari, from GRIS, a Catholic research group that organized the conference, said there was an ever growing need for priests to be trained to perform exorcisms because of the increasing number of lay people tempted to dabble in black magic, paganism and the occult…

Ok, so he’s that kind of authority, the kind who takes it seriously. That makes it slightly odd that the Indy calls him an authority.

Professor Ferrari, who heads an Italian occult watchdog, The Group on Research and Socio-Religious Information, said exorcisms should only be conducted by properly trained priests. Although the Vatican regards genuine demonic possession as rare, with many suspected cases proving to be people with mental illnesses, Pope Francis has urged dioceses to ensure that they follow Catholic law and have at least one trained exorcist each.

Just in case. Demonic possession is rare, but rare isn’t the same as non-existent.

Funny, that. If it happens, then why doesn’t it happen constantly everywhere? If it’s something De Debbil can do, why doesn’t De Debbil do it full-time? Why is it rare?

Swiss exorcist Father Cesare Truqui told The Independent that this week’s course, attended by exorcists, priests and lay people, was vital in order to raise awareness and hone priests’ skills in fighting evil.

Hey, here’s an idea – they could forget about demonic possession and just look at their colleagues and themselves. They could think hard about why they’re so determined to keep women subordinate. They could think hard about why they’re so rabidly opposed to same-sex relationships.

“The ministry of performing exorcism is little known among priests. It’s like training to be a journalist without knowing how to do an interview,” he said, noting that dioceses in Italy and beyond were experiencing a surge in reports of symptoms of possession.

No, it isn’t like that, because doing an interview is real while doing an exorcism is just fantasy.

Father Cesare is a protégé of Father Gabriele Amorth, the Vatican’s chief exorcist for 25 years, who claims to have dealt with 70,000 cases of demonic possession. Father Amorth said that sex abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church were proof that “the Devil is at work inside the Vatican”. He took a similarly dim view of fantasy novels and yoga. Practising the latter, he once warned, was “satanic; it leads to evil just like reading Harry Potter”.

Gay rights and IVF fertility treatment were listed as signs of existential evil in society by Monsignor Luigi Negri, the Archbishop of Ferrara-Comacchio. “There’s homosexual marriage, homosexual adoption, IVF and a host of other things. There’s the clamorous appearance of the negation of man as defined by the Bible,” he declared.

No no no. All backwards and twisted around. I know this, because I’m an authority.

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

Žižek says down with all this political correctness

May 11th, 2015 11:50 am | By

More stupid dreck about how clever and original and rebel-like it would be to use more sexist and racist epithets to liven things up. Annalisa Merelli preaches a sermon on the gospel according to Žižek.

Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek isn’t one to shy away from provocative observations. In a video published on the portal Big Think, he takes on something that is commonly employed as a sensible cultural practice: Political correctness. The academic calls it a form of “cold respect.” He argues that giving space to an occasional exchange of “friendly obscenities” allows for more closeness and gives way to honest exchanges.

If it’s genuinely friendly, then maybe so, although obviously there’s always the risk that the recipient of the friendly obscenity won’t see it the way the sender sees it. We know that can happen, right? What you intend as a jokey insult comes across as a real insult? It’s not “cold respect” to be aware of that, and to think the risk might not be worth it.

There’s also the fact that real aggression can hide behind pretend joking. We know that can happen too, right? I frankly don’t think the risk is worth it.

Žižek reports several episodes in which his lack of politically correct boundaries has served him well, from dealing with the ethnic tensions in former Yugoslavia to becoming friendly with two black Americans after jokingly making a racist remark: “You blacks, like the yellow guys, you all look the same” he reports saying to them, adding, “they embraced me and they told me, you can call me nigga.”)

And I can report a great number of episodes in which I’ve seen that kind of thing go horribly wrong, and another great number of episodes in which I’ve seen non-joking racist or sexist remarks made with dead seriousness. I don’t think the world is suffering from a shortage of people who lack politically correct boundaries. That would be a nice shortage.

Merelli gives her analysis of the idea:

Political correctness stems from the understanding that racism and inequality exist, and that in lieu of fixing those problems, prettier language will do the trick—as if by using inoffensive words and avoiding crass jokes we are to paint over the filth of reality. Politically correct expressions, to Žižek, become patronizing because they actually highlight inequalities. As the philosopher notes, “one needs to be very precise not to fight racism in a way which ultimately reproduces, if not racism itself, at least the conditions of racism.”

No. That’s wrong. Nobody thinks “prettier language” will do the trick all by itself. That’s a canard. It’s a very familiar stale tedious canard, and I’m sick of hearing it.

And it is not just race, of course, that Žižek talks about. Gender, disability–anything that diverges from norms presented in society or media–are all coated with neutral words and behaviors, by the very people who claim to be accepting of it. This special language, despite its intentions, serves to reinforce certain conditions as special, fragile, and weak.

Can we dare to see differences for what they are—nothing else than differences? And can we ever safely name them, perhaps even with the occasional offensive joke?

Perhaps adopting a little of Žižek’s attitude would indeed result in what he refers to as a “wonderful sense of shared obscene solidarity.” It might generate misunderstanding, but if a more light-hearted approach is adopted in a genuine way, that would reflect a profound belief that the other isn’t weaker, doesn’t need anyone’s protection, and is at our level—hence can openly be made fun of, just as we do of ourselves.

Yeah. You know all those ugly people you know? Start telling them how ugly you think they are. That’s the way to a better world. Clumsy people? Boring people? Short? Fat? Old? Disabled? Foreign? Working class? Poor? Badly dressed? Start telling all of them that. Do it “light-heartedly” and that will reflect a profound belief that the other isn’t weaker, doesn’t need anyone’s protection, and is at our level.

God, people can be so fucking stupid sometimes.

If Annalisa Merelli were here in front of me I wouldn’t tell her what she said is fucking stupid, but it would be very hard not to.

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

Cameron promised that this British bill would be “rooted in our values”

May 11th, 2015 10:09 am | By

From a New Statesman review by Sophie McBain of Shami Chakrabarti’s book On Liberty last December:

This book is above all a treatise against David Cameron’s pledge that a future Conservative government would create a British bill of rights to replace its international commitments – a dangerous attempt to “redefine our fundamental rights as citizens’ privileges”, in Chakrabarti’s view.

Speaking in October 2013, Cameron promised that this British bill would be “rooted in our values” and he singled out a European ruling that prisoners should have the vote: “I’m sorry, I just don’t agree. Our parliament – the British parliament – decided they shouldn’t have that right,” he said. The problem is that human rights are too precious to entrust to party politics and external institutions – such as the European Court of Human Rights – act as an important safeguard to keep democracies liberal.

Human rights shouldn’t be national, because they shouldn’t be particular – they should be universal. If they’re particular rights they’re no longer human rights, they’re just whatever the local particular is – British rights, Muslim rights, capitalist rights, Hindu rights. That’s no good. They have to be universal to do the job they’re meant to do.

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

Tories v human rights

May 11th, 2015 9:36 am | By

The Indy has an explainer piece about what the (UK) Human Rights Act is and why the Tories plan to ditch it.

The Human Rights Act is a piece of law, introduced in 1998, that guarantees human rights in Britain. It was introduced as one of the first major reforms of the last Labour government.

In practice, the Act has two main effects. Firstly, it incorporates the rights of the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic British law.

What this means is that if someone has a complaint under human rights law they do not have to go to European courts but can get justice from British courts.

Secondly, it requires all public bodies – not just the central government, but institutions like the police, NHS, and local councils – to abide by these human rights.

So, speaking from the pov of a Yank, it’s somewhat like the US Bill of Rights, but also unlike it in that here the court of appeal is still a national court rather than a transnational one. As I understand it that’s part of what people on the right dislike about it: it messes with national sovereignty. The trouble with that thought is that national sovereignty is only as good as it is. If you have a government that flouts human rights, then national sovereignty is no way to protect human rights. History has one or two examples of this actually happening.

What rights are we talking about?

The Act covers all the rights included in the European Convention.

These rights are: Right to life, right not to be tortured or subjected to inhumane treatment, right not to be held as a slave, right to liberty and security of the person, right to a fair trial, right not be retrospectively convicted for a crime, right to a private and family life, right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, right to freedom of expression, right to freedom of assembly and association, right to marriage, right to an effective remedy, right not to be discriminated against, the right to the peaceful enjoyment of one’s property, and the right to an education.

National governments don’t always strictly honor every one of those rights. Not absolutely always. I’m sure they mean well, but they stumble now and then.

Ok so what is this here European Convention on Human Rights?

The European Convention on Human Rights is an agreement that all countries in Europe will respect human rights. It was drawn up in 1950 in the aftermath of the Second World War.

The Convention was spearheaded by Britain and the committee that drew up its final draft was chaired by British Conservative MP  Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe. The UK was a founding signatory and ratified the Convention in March 1951.

That’s after the UDHR. Both were drawn up “in the aftermath of the Second World War” – i.e. in an effort to prevent repetitions of the kind of thing that led up to, caused, went on during and after that war.

Different countries implement the Convention in different ways. The Human Rights Act is the British way of implementing the convention into domestic law.

So why do the Tories want to ditch it?

The Conservatives say in their manifesto that they want to scrap the Human Rights Act. They would replace it with what they call a “British Bill of Rights”.

They say this new bill will “break the formal link between British Courts and Human Rights”.

Um…what? Could they say anything more sinister?

Do they have any more brilliant ideas?

The Home Secretary Theresa May has said Britain could leave the ECHR if British courts were not allowed to overrule the decisions of the Strasbourg court, which ultimately decides ECHR cases.

Oh ffs –  of course they wouldn’t be allowed to overrule the decisions; that’s the whole point!

Mind you: again, the ECHR is only as good as it is. We in the US have a mostly-Catholic Supreme Court now, and a majority with some quite peculiar ideas about human rights.

Tell us about the political background, Indy.

The ECHR has told the government it can’t do various things – such as deport prisoners to countries where torture is routinely used – because such moves breaches human rights.

The Human Rights Act is also subject to a lot of negative reporting in the right-wing press, with regular inaccurate or partial stories about cases brought under the Act.

That’s freedom of the press for you. Ironic, isn’t it.

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

Taslima was one of the petitioners

May 10th, 2015 6:02 pm | By

Taslima reports on a recent Supreme Court ruling in India.

The Supreme Court delivered a verdict against Section 66 A of Information and Technology Act 2000. The Section gives the police powers to arrest those who post objectionable content online and provides for a three-year jail term.

I was one of the petitioners .

A win for free expression online, and Taslima was one of the petitioners.

She talks to a reporter starting at about 1:30:


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