A woman in secularism

May 3rd, 2012 5:18 pm | By

Lots of erm discussion of the new executive director of the Secular Coalition for America (replacing Sean Faircloth who left to go to work for the RDF). She’s a Republican, and not just a Republican, but an insider, an operative.

From 2001-2002, Rogers served as an Economic Advisor for President George W. Bush at the White House, at the National Economic Council, where she focused on health and social security policy. She also worked on International Trade matters for President George H. W. Bush at the Department of Commerce from 1989 until 1991.

Rogers served as General Counsel to the National Republican Senatorial Committee in 1994. She worked for Senator Lott while he was Majority Leader in 1999 and she handled health policy for Senator Sessions in 2003 and 2004.


Hemant did an interview with her.

Why should we trust you now to work for us after a career spent working for people who seem to be actively against us?

I think it’s a misconception that the majority of Republicans are lined up against the secular movement. As someone who has been an insider within the Republican Party, I’m certain it’s not the consensus of the majority of Republicans to have an [overt] influence of religion on our laws. Having said that, no one agrees with everyone they work with on every single issue. In these roles I never worked on anything having to do with issues of religion — I worked primarily on economic issues.

It’s not the consensus of the majority of Republicans to have an overt influence of religion on our laws? Well I can’t believe that, said Alice.

I do think that for the vast majority of conservatives and Republicans, they are true believers of secularism — the majority of Republicans believe in the separation of church and state.

Yeah I don’t believe that, either. If that were true they would have done something about it by now.

One of the issues the atheist community has struggled with, especially lately, has been getting more women involved in our movement.  Do you think your role with the SCA can help change that?

Of course, I think me being female will help recruit women and I am going to make it a priority to get more women involved. I will be speaking at the Women in Secularism conference on the 19th of this month.

Oh – I didn’t know that. Interesting.

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

A Jespology

May 3rd, 2012 3:58 pm | By

The pastor who gave the sermon telling people (that is, fathers) to punch their sons if they see them “dropping the limp wrist” and to shout at their daughters if they are “too butch” - Sean Harris – is complaining on Twitter that his apology is being spurned. So I looked for and found his “apology.” He has a blog – we are colleagues! – and he blogged his apology. Or clarification. It’s probably not really an apology since the words “sorry” and “apologize” and “apology” don’t appear. The closest thing is “apologetics” in the left margin, and that ain’t close enough. Maybe that’s why his “apology” is being spurned: it’s not one.*

By now you may know that my words, from Sunday morning’s sermon, about effeminate behavior in children are being completely taken out of context by those in the LGBT community. (Nearly every article is misquoting me.)

Clearly, I would like to have been more careful with exactly what I said, but sometimes I say things without enough clarity. I trust you understood my intent in the context of my total preaching ministry. If you did not, I would be more than happy to meet with you privately to provide clarity.

Clarity about

Can I make it any clearer? Dads, the second you see your son dropping the limp wrist, you walk over there and crack that wrist.

Man up. Give him a good punch. Ok? You are not going to act like that. You were made by God to be a male and you’re going to be a male.

His voice was savage in that part (and other parts). It’s clear. To change the meaning, he would have to withdraw it, not clarify it.

For the record, I want to ensure everyone that I do NOT believe physical force is capable of fixing effeminate behavior or homosexual behavior. Parents should not punch babies or children. (Ultimately only the gospel of Jesus Christ has the power to deliver one from sexual immorality and behavior including effeminacy; )

I would never advocate for such discipline or actions on behalf of a father or mother. I misspoke. Hopefully, you understood that I was speaking in a forceful manner to emphasize the degree to which gender distinctions matter to God; and therefore, must matter to each of us and especially parents.

He spoke in a savagely angry manner, his voice dripping with disgust and rage, to emphasize his own unreasonable prejudices, which he conceitedly assumes are identical with those of “God.”

Those in the opposition are suggesting all sorts of hateful things and using ungodly and profane words. Those who speak of the love of God are using the most hateful terms I have ever read. We must never resort to such language.

I want to stress just how much I love your children and my desire is only to see them glorify God in the lives they live in obedience to God’s will for each of them as revealed in the Word of God.

Oh no you don’t. You don’t get to pretend to “love” anyone’s children when you spit hatred at any of them who don’t fit your ignorant bigoted profile of what is Normal and Allowable.

As I emphasized in this sermon, as well as the week before, we must not be hateful toward those whose behavior is an abomination to God. But we also cannot compromise on what we believe the Bible teaches on all sexual perversions and immorality.

The opposition is revealing their complete lack of toleration toward those do not approve of the LGBT lifestyle or agenda. However, we must be tolerantly intolerant. Jesus our Savior provides the perfect example of grace and truth.

The usual passive aggressive bullshit. We are loving and kind, they are mean and intolerant, so when we talk mean intolerant smack, it isn’t that, because we are good and they are not, and we wish they were all burning in hell right this second.

*Update and correction: He did do a retraction, and there is some apologizing in it. It’s pretty worthless, because he still calls people he dislikes sinners and still insists that “God” hates all that stuff, including “effeminacy” (how tf does he know?), but it’s there.

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

Alex Aan wants to see a better world

May 3rd, 2012 2:41 pm | By

Alex Aan could get up to 11 years in prison for “blasphemy.”

His case has stoked a debate in the world’s most populous Muslim nation, whose 240 million citizens are technically guaranteed freedom of religion but protected by law only if they believe in one of six credos: Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Hinduism. Those who question any of those face five years in prison for “insulting a major religion”, plus an additional six years if they use the internet to spread such “blasphemy” to others.

I don’t see how that’s freedom of religion at all, technically or otherwise. I think the word should be “ostensibly.” If you can get 5 years in the slammer for questioning a religion and 11 for doing it on the intertubes, that’s not freedom.

Activists say Aan’s is the first case in which an atheist is being tried in relation to the first pillar of Indonesia’s state philosophy – pancasila, which requires belief in one god.

Mandatory monotheism for short.

What a bizarre (and stupid) “philosophy.” What an intrusive requirement.

“What Alex has ‘done’ is exercise freedom of expression,” says Taufik Fajrin, one of the five lawyers defending him pro bono. “We’ll try our best to get him freed but just hope he’ll get a minimum sentence. Promoting human rights here is hard because you face fanatics and hardline culturalists. Even we, as his lawyers, are worried that hardliners will come to our office or homes and throw stones at us. It’s a challenge.”

Indonesia is the place that people always point to as the example of “moderate” Islam. It’s clearly not moderate anything.

Activists argue that the country is increasingly influenced politically and financially by conservative Wahhabi clerics from the Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia, who help to incite intolerance in Indonesia. But the country’s discriminatory laws – ranging from vaguely worded decrees against proselytising to requirements to state one’s religion on one’s national identity card – as well as the increasing number of Muslim hardliners who have taken the law into their own hands, are also to blame, Harsono says.

“Victims keep getting longer prison terms and perpetrators less, while the human rights we set in place 10 years ago are  becoming unravelled,” he says. “We’re seeing a motion to ban mini-skirts in government buildings whereas [before] it was OK. Beauty queen contests were OK’d in the 1970s but have  been banned in some provinces, while Valentine’s Day celebrations were given the green light 30 years ago but this year were banned in Aceh.

“The situation is getting crazy,” Harsono continues. “We used to discuss these issues. Now there is no discussion. The discourse today is ‘This is un-Islamic and immoral’.”

So the third fourth most populous country on the planet totters toward being a hell-hole of fanaticism like Saudi Arabia.

Aan, who has the support of the US-based Atheist Alliance International and Council of ex-Muslims of Britain, says he knew from an early age that he was an atheist, but recognised that he would have to hide it from others. “From 11, I thought ‘If God exists, why is there suffering? Why is there war, poverty, hell?’ Because, to me, God would not create this hell. My family would ask me my thoughts but I knew my answers would cause problems, so I kept quiet.”

He looks out the window to where a group of inmates are celebrating their Sunday by performing karoake to drum’n'bass in the dusty prison yard, most of them smoking, all of them barefoot. “I only want to see a better world and help create a better world,” he says. “If I cannot … then I would prefer to die.”

We need an atheist superhero who can swoop in and rescue people like Alex Aan and Hamza Kashgari.


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

Flouncing v derision

May 3rd, 2012 12:37 pm | By

The Economist raps Dan Savage over the knuckles.

Mr Savage was making one valid point and one sloppy one. The former: people who justify anti-gay bigotry by brandishing a Bible but ignore other, less convenient biblical prohibitions (the list might also include mixed fabrics and divorce) are hypocrites. The latter: people quick to condemn ought not to be so quick to take offence. The problem with the latter point is that however true it is in the abstract, it was not necessarily true in the particular. No evidence exists that the students who walked out ever condemned or bullied anyone. However poorly Mr Savage may have been treated in high school, it was not by the students in the audience, and they deserved more from a famous and accomplished journalist than derision.

But the point wasn’t that the students themselves are quick to condemn, it was that many Christians are and they justify it with the Bible. The walkout started as soon as he said that, before he even said “bullshit,” so the students were making a show of disapproval for Savage’s claim. That’s the point. Not that they themselves bully, but that they’re demonstrating support for those who do. They’re walking out in solidarity with the principle of bible-based bullying.

And they didn’t really deserve more than the very mild derision of Savage’s remark. They did stage a showy and often giggly walkout by way of dissent from what he was saying, and they did deserve a little derision in return.

The Economist almost concedes as much right after the knuckle-rap.

 (He could, of course, have opted to make a broader point: that nobody should be so quick to take offence; that journalists will hear a lot of things over the course of a career that they find offensive and even hurtful, and walking out anytime that happens will result in a short career and a narrow mind; that, however ugly his language Mr Savage was at least advancing arguments, and that surely at least one of those offended souls hoping to make a life out of words could have found a few to hurl back at him rather than just flouncing out in a huff.)

“Bullshit” really isn’t all that ugly, and ”pansy ass” isn’t really all that insulting in response to people flouncing out in a huff.

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

Crack that wrist

May 3rd, 2012 11:35 am | By

A pastor gives some advice to parents on how to police their children’s genders. With boys you’re supposed to give them a good punch. With girls you’re supposed to call them sweetheart and then shout as loud as you can. That’s gender-modeling right there: punching for boys, sweetheart + shouting for girls.

So your little son starts to act a little girlish when he is four years old and instead of squashing that like a cockroach and saying, “Man up, son, get that dress off you and get outside and dig a ditch, because that’s what boys do”


you get out the camera and you start taking pictures of Johnny acting like a female [heavy disgusted emphasis] and then you upload it to YouTube and everybody laughs about it and the next thing you know, this dude, this kid is acting out childhood fantasies that should have been squashed.

Can I make it any clearer? Dads, the second you see your son dropping the limp wrist, you walk over there and crack that wrist.

Man up. Give him a good punch. Ok? You are not going to act like that. You were made by God to be a male and you’re going to be a male.

And when your daughter starts acting too butch you rein her in. And you say, “Oh, no, oh no, sweetheart. You can play sports. Play’em, play’em to the glory of God. But sometimes you are going to act like a girl and [with ever-increasing emphasis] walk like a girl and talk like a girl and smell like a girl and that means you are going to be beautiful. You are going to be attractive. You are going to dress yourself up.

You say, “Can I take charge like that as a parent?” Yeah, you can. You are authorized. I just gave you a special dispensation this morning to do that.

The violence is disgusting and the policing is disgusting – but I have to admit I take the girl-policing personally. The policing of boys is horrible but at least they’re policed to be strong and tough and useful. Girls are policed to be “beautiful” and “attractive” and to dress themselves up. They’re policed to be feeble and dainty (walk like a girl, talk like a girl) so that men can bully other men by calling them girls, meaning feeble and dainty.

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

Do we get overtime?

May 2nd, 2012 4:24 pm | By

I didn’t know May Day had been rejigged to be Loyalty Day. It happened in the Ford administration, I’m told. Maybe something to do with being the totally unelected president.

Anyway, it has, so belated happy Loyalty Day. Did you have a Loyalty cake? Or a Loyalty turkey? Or Loyalty fireworks? What does one do for Loyalty Day, anyway? We know what we do for May Day: we hit the streets; but Loyalty Day, not so much.

Obama wishes us a happy Loyalty Day.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim May 1, 2012, as Loyalty Day. This Loyalty Day, I call upon all the people of the United States to join in support of this national observance, whether by displaying the flag of the United States or pledging allegiance to the Republic for which it stands.

Oh, I see, that’s what you do for Loyalty Day. You display the flag or you pledge allegiance. You could probably do both, although he makes it one or the other.

Yeah. Prayer Day and Loyalty Day. No thanks.

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

You need to have leaders who have learned the hard way

May 2nd, 2012 11:06 am | By

Cardinal Brady is still at the same old stand – saying he won’t resign despite new disclosures of his failure to pass on names and addresses of children being abused by Brendan Smyth.

The Catholic primate of all-Ireland has said that he will not resign as Church leader despite revelations in the BBC’s This World programme.

It found Cardinal Sean Brady had names and addresses of those being abused by paedophile priest Brendan Smyth.

However, he did not pass on those details to police or parents.

And Brendan Smyth went on abusing the children in question.

He says he had no authority. He says it was all the higher ups. He says he trusted them to deal with Brendan Smyth. He says he was just there to hold their coats. He says why is everybody picking on him. He says the BBC is being mean to him.

Senior Vatican Prosecutor Monsignor Charles Scicluna has defended Cardinal Brady.

“My first point is that Fr Brady was a note taker in 1975, he did what he should have done. He forwarded all the information to the people that had the power to act,” he said.

“My second point is that in the interest of the Church in Ireland, they need to have Cardinal Brady as the archbishop of Armagh because he has shown determination in promoting child protection policies. You need to have leaders who have learned the hard way and are determined to protect children.”

You need to have leaders who have learned the hard way. Really. So leaders should all be involved in botched self-protecting institution-protecting pseudo-investigations of child abuse early in their careers so that they can do a good job later, having “learned the hard way”? So it’s good that Ratzinger grew up under the Nazis and it’s a pity that other “leaders” missed out on that experience?

Sean Brady’s role in the affair became clear in 2010, when it became known that he had been present when the abused boy [Brendan Boland] was questioned.

He claimed, however, that the boy’s father had accompanied him, and described his own role as that of a note-taker.

However, the BBC This World investigation has uncovered the notes Cardinal Brady took while the boy was questioned.

The child’s father was not allowed in the room, and the child was immediately sworn to secrecy.

Brendan Boland’s father was not allowed in the room as a matter of canon law, according to Irish Times Religious Affairs Correspondent Patsy McGarry. Good old canon law, eh, protecting the clergy at the expense of anyone and everyone else.

H/t Sigmund.

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

Have a pie chart

May 2nd, 2012 9:40 am | By

A little more on Rothamsted Research and its wheat trial.

It’s a research facility founded in the 19th century. It’s a charity and a company. Its funding is laid out on its corporate information page.

Rothamsted Research is a grouping of private organisations and is one of seven institutes sponsored by the  Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). Rothamsted Research is a charity and a company  limited by guarantee and occupies land and buildings owned by the Lawes Agricultural Trust. The Rothamsted Research Association is an independent body that facilitates interaction and dialogue between researchers, especially those at Rothamsted, and practitioners in the agri-environment sector.

Sources of income as percentages for 2010/11 (total £29m) are shown in the figure below:

PIE chart of finances

I hope that helps.

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

Measles is on the road to recovery

May 2nd, 2012 9:05 am | By

Well done anti-vaxxers – another triumph for public health. There are more than 200 confirmed cases of measles in the outbreak on Merseyside.

There are 210 confirmed cases, 39 of which needed hospital treatment. Ninety two cases are under investigation.

About 50% of the cases are in children under five years old.

The outbreak, which is concentrated on Liverpool where there are 125 confirmed cases, is the largest since the MMR vaccine was introduced.

Strange, isn’t it. There’s an effective vaccine for measles. You’d think it would be going away, not coming back.

Dr Roberto Vivancos, a Health Protection Agency consultant, said: “It’s obvious from these statistics that people who are not fully vaccinated are not just at risk themselves, but they pose an infection risk to others, such as defenceless babies and toddlers who are too young to be vaccinated.

“Measles is a very infectious illness that spreads rapidly amongst children and adults who are not protected by MMR vaccine.

“It is also a serious illness that can lead to serious complications. On rare occasions, people die from measles.

“It should not be treated lightly, but it is an avoidable illness and we strongly advise parents to ensure that their children are vaccinated.”

Fascist! It’s every parent’s right to refuse to get children vaccinated. Our ancestors died to protect our right to refuse to get children vaccinated; the right to be infected and to spread infection to others is sacred and cannot be abrogated.

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

Come on, kids, let’s destroy the crops!

May 1st, 2012 4:47 pm | By

Good old “activists” – anti-vax activists, pro alt med activists, anti-GM crops activists. Hooray for crop failure and famine!

Scientists working on a new generation of genetically modified crops have sent an open letter to anti-GM protesters pleading with them not to destroy “years of work” by attacking their research plots.

The activist group, Take the Flour Back, has pledged to carry out a “decontamination” at a test site in Hertfordshire, where agricultural researchers are growing the world’s first genetically modified wheat that can repel insect pests by emitting a repellent-smelling substance.

Because…it’s a good thing to have crops eaten by insects?

Scientists said that the suggestion they had used a cow gene “betrays a misunderstanding which may serve to confuse people or scare them but has no basis in scientific reality”.

Matt Thomson, from Take the Flour Back, told The Independent yesterday that action against the Rothamsted site would go ahead as planned.

“The concerns that we have are not addressed in this letter,” he said. “The way that Rothamsted have publicised this trial has been patronising. This wheat contains genes that are not naturally occurring.”

The publicity is patronizing, therefore they’re going to trash years of research into how to improve the production of staple food? 

That’s the most revoltingly frivolous thing I’ve seen in awhile.

Sense About Science has a petition you can sign and circulate.

Via Simon Singh at Twitter.

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

Small world

May 1st, 2012 4:10 pm | By

Surly Amy has a nice post about the women in secularism conference (cue squawks from agonized bores with facetious cod-Edwardian advice for zee laydeez). She’s made Surly-Ramics necklaces for people who donate to a scholarship fund to send students to the conference.

It is important that we lend our support to conferences like this groundbreaking event so that we can pave the way for future events while encouraging future leaders in the movement to stand up and be counted. I support women in secularism and I hope you will too.

I think that’s true. I think that’s true even if you accept the contemptuous premise that all the speakers at the conference were invited solely because they have the korrekt genitalia. I don’t accept that premise, of course; I think Susan Jacoby and Margaret Downey and the rest [bracketing me, of course] have more than that; but if I did, I would still think it was true that we should lend our support to conferences like this. I’ll tell you why. It’s because just representation, by itself, does something important, and lack of representation does too, but in the opposite direction. It has to do with that business of encouraging future leaders. It has to do with stereotype threat, with give me the colored doll, with implicit associations.

On another note: while reading the post I noticed something I hadn’t known, which is that Skepchick is international, and there’s a Swedish Skepchick. Swedish! There’s a post up right now advertising a debate between Christer Sturmark and a guy called Marcus Birro. Google translate reveals that the Swedish Skepchick blogger considers Birro a bullshitter. But small world, hey, I know Christer Sturmark! Isn’t life funny.

I’ve been seeing a lot of excitement about the conference, here and there. I’m thinking it’s going to be pretty good fun.

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

Houston and New York are spared

May 1st, 2012 3:30 pm | By

One piece of slightly good news: Helen Ukpabio has canceled both her planned trips to the US. That doesn’t do the children of Nigeria any good, but it does throw a wrench into her plans to go global.

Once Ukpabio’s travel plans emerged, campaigners against her activities in Africa began appealing to the US authorities to prevent her from preaching in that country. Prominent Nigerian humanist Leo Igwe, who has had many confrontations with Ukpabio and her Liberty Gospel Church, wrote that “efforts must be made to stop this evangelical throwback from spreading her diseased gospel in the US”, while online campaigners called for her exclusion from the US, and set about raising money for the UK-based charity Stepping Stones Nigeria, which campaigns to protect children threatened by witch hunts in the Niger Delta region of Africa.

Now, four months after details of Ukpabio’s US trip first emerged, it seems the campaign against it has paid off, with Nigerian media reporting that she will no longer be visiting the country. In a report sympathetic towards Ukpabio, the Nigerian Voice website quotes the preacher’s attorney Victor Ukutt, who confirms that the trip has been cancelled, and makes a series of bizarre allegations against her opponents, including Stepping Stones, suggesting that the campaigns against her are a front for obtaining money through fraudulent means. This is a common tactic for Ukpabio, who has long dismissed the “child witch scam” as an atheist conspiracy.

Actually, what that website says is that Ukpabio got death threats “on behalf of” Stepping Stones Nigeria.

The President and founder of the Liberty Gospel Foundation Church, Lady Apostle Helen Ukpabio says she has indefinitely cancelled her scheduled visits to the USA which where billed for March and May this year.

Speaking through her attorney, Victor Ukutt, Esq., the Pentecostal Pastor and Nollywood actress, who has her church branches spread all over Africa, said her decision to cancel her trip was based on the series of death threat she received from organisations like Stepping Stones Nigeria a based in the United Kingdom which claimed to work as a charity to protect witch children in Nigeria.

I don’t believe that for a second.


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


May 1st, 2012 12:46 pm | By

Teresa MacBain is another one of those ministers – the ones who lose their grip on god and then wonder how on earth they can deal with the situation.

“I’m currently an active pastor and I’m also an atheist,” she says. “I live a double life. I feel pretty good on Monday, but by Thursday — when Sunday’s right around the corner — I start having stomachaches, headaches, just knowing that I got to stand up and say things that I no longer believe in and portray myself in a way that’s totally false.”

MacBain glances nervously around the room. It’s a Sunday, and normally she would be preaching at her church in Tallahassee, Fla. But here she is, sneaking away to the American Atheists’ convention in Bethesda, Md.

Her secret is taking a toll, eating at her conscience as she goes about her pastoral duties week after week — two sermons every Sunday, singing hymns, praying for the sick when she doesn’t believe in the God she’s praying to. She has had no one to talk to, at least not in her Christian community, so her iPhone has become her confessor, where she records her private fears and frustrations.

I can’t think of any other job that has exactly that problem. Even various woo-based jobs like homeopath aren’t exactly the same, because homeopathy isn’t a person, or a Person. It’s that that makes it a matter of conscience, I think.

She was raised a conservative Southern Baptist. She had questions about conflicts in the Bible and the role of women.

She says she sometimes felt she was serving a taskmaster of a God, whose standards she never quite met.

For years, MacBain set her concerns aside. But when she became a United Methodist pastor nine years ago, she started asking sharper questions. She thought they’d make her faith stronger.

In reality,” she says, “as I worked through them, I found that religion had so many holes in it, that I just progressed through stages where I couldn’t believe it.”

The questions haunted her: Is Jesus the only way to God? Would a loving God torment people for eternity? Is there any evidence of God at all?

And another, key question: would a loving God make the evidence so hard (we, being atheists, would say impossible) to find and then punish us for not believing without evidence? Would a loving God give us useful capacities to seek out the truth and test for falsehood yet demand that we ignore all that and have faith that there is a loving God?

I say no. That’s not a loving god. I am completely unable to believe in god, and I’m unable to countermand the aspects of my mind that make me unable to believe. That’s not something a loving god could or should or would punish me (or anyone) for.

MacBain misses the relationships, and she misses the music. But she doesn’t miss God.

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

An edge in his voice

May 1st, 2012 12:22 pm | By

It sounds like an awkward time at the PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature panel on the life and works of Christopher Hitchens last night. Apparently it was billed as a tribute but it was also a discussion, and the result is that it wasn’t an unadulterated tribute.

Mr. Hitchens’s erudition, wit and prolificacy were taken for granted by the five participants: Katha Pollitt and Victor Navasky, his erstwhile colleagues at The Nation magazine; Graydon Carter, the editor of Vanity Fair; and George Packer, a staff writer for The New Yorker. The question initially posed by the writer Ian Buruma, the event’s moderator, was whether Mr. Hitchens’s work and ideas would stand the test of time.

Well I’ll tell you what I would have said if I’d been on that panel. Yes. Absolutely yes; very much yes. I think he had huge flaws – or, more to the point, that there were huge flaws in some of his ideas and work – but I also think the quality of his work was of the kind that stands the test of time. I think he wrote far too well and too shrewdly on too large a range of subjects with too much wit and insight not to stand the test of time.

Mr. Navasky said Mr. Hitchens didn’t have “original theories,” but rather offered “original takes” on things. Ms. Pollitt said that no magazine writer who “weighs in” so regularly on the issues of the day can expect their work to age well. She went further — since, she claimed, it was probably “the reason” she was invited to be on the panel — and called Mr. Hitchens a “tremendous misogynist” who didn’t have “a lot of serious, professional respect for women writers.” She also chided his habit of greeting her with a kiss on the hand, a habit she called “grotesque.”

That was one of the huge flaws – although I’m not sure I would call it misogyny (but then Katha knows a lot more about it than I do, having been a colleague for many years) – the failure to take women seriously. (Although there were exceptions. That Jefferson scholar who wrote about him shortly after he left the scene, for instance.)

But they also pointed to some of his vital work, both serious and comic, like the time he was voluntarily waterboarded, or his series about self-improvement, for which he had a seaweed body wrap and dabbled in yoga. Mr. Packer singled out Mr. Hitchens’s performance in a debate with Tony Blair about whether religion is a force for good, and he also praised Mr. Hitchens for speaking out strongly and often about the fatwa against Salman Rushdie when no one else was willing to “stick out their neck.”

Mr. Rushdie, the festival’s founder, was sitting front and center in the crowd. During the time allotted for audience participation, he approached a microphone and said he wanted to pay tribute to Mr. Hitchens, “which is what I thought we were doing tonight,” he added, with an edge in his voice. He championed his friend’s best works as “masterpieces of style,” called his book “God is Not Great” an “extraordinary polemic,” and said he fit comfortably in the tradition of great essayists going back to the 18th century and his work would undoubtedly endure.

That’s what I think. It’s exactly what I think. I said much the same thing almost ten years ago, when B&W was new.

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

The joke’s on them

May 1st, 2012 11:53 am | By

For awhile there it looked as if Mali were going to have a new and better Family Code to improve the rights of women.

Its provisions included raising the minimum legal age of marriage for girls, improving women’s inheritance and property rights and removing the clause demanding a wife’s obedience to her husband. The law was adopted by the National Assembly in August 2009 but was withdrawn following uproar from conservative Muslim groups.

Provocative headlines in newspapers warned that women would no longer have to obey their husbands and thousands took to the streets in protest. A task group formed by Mali’s top Islamic council called it an “open road to debauchery” and the National Union of Muslim Women’s Associations said the law reflected the wishes of a tiny minority of women. When the Family Code was finally enshrined in law in January this year, it was substantially watered down. Campaigners say that far from protecting women’s rights, the code perpetuates discrimination.

Religion trumped women’s rights, as it so often does. Religion equated equal rights for women with “debauchery” – as if women weren’t people at all but just walking genitalia; as if all equality and rights could possibly mean to women would be fucking any man they could find; as if all women ever want to do is just fuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuck and therefore they can’t ever have rights.

According to Safiatou Doumbia, a member of the Malian Association for Care and Assistance to Women and Children, the new law has set women back. “The new law brings women’s rights back to more than 50 years ago because some rights women had in the former law have been banned. Before, a woman would automatically keep her children if her husband died. This is not the case with the new law, which allows a family counsel to decide who should keep the children.”

Under the new Family Code, as in the original 1962 law, a woman must obey her husband, men are considered the head of the family and the legal age for marriage is 16 for girls, and 18 for boys.

In short, women (including girls) are on a par with livestock. They are wholly owned by men; a woman without an owner is as nature-defying as a feral Bichon Frise.


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

Adele Wilde-Blavatsky responds

May 1st, 2012 5:48 am | By

I’ve just published Adele Wilde-Blavatsky’s response to The Feminist Wire’s “Collective Response” to her article (also for The Feminist Wire) on the hijab and the hoodie. Don’t miss it. The “Collective Response” and the actions of The Feminist Wire – especially in summarily booting Wilde-Blavatsky from TFW – are a stinking outrage.

The ”Collective Response” said, among other things,

What we do find deeply problematic, however, is the questioning of women’s choice to wear the niqab and the presumption that this decision is rooted in a “false consciousness.”

Wilde-Blavastky replied (but the Feminist Wire booted her out instead of publishing it, so I have the privilege of publishing it instead)

This is not a presumption, there is significant empirical evidence from Muslim women bearing witness to a deeply oppressive patriarchal culture and religious practice which entails being brainwashed and forced to wear the hijab and burqa from a young age and being severely punished for not doing so.  Women have been tortured and murdered for not wearing these clothes.  However, you only refer to the Muslim women who have the freedom to exercise choice. What about the millions of Muslim women who don’t? Are their voices and experiences not relevant in this debate at all? Is the fear of Islamaphobia so intense that it cannot accommodate the voices of Muslim and non-Muslim women who want to see the hijab banned?

In some circles, yes it clearly is.

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

Philosophers and physicists duke it out

Apr 30th, 2012 4:00 pm | By

Update: omigod – tricked again. I so nearly missed it…you just can’t ever be careful enough.

I nearly missed it, and didn’t because one of the comments on An Explanation From Nothing? quoted Krauss saying “the nasty review in the Times by the templeton funded philosopher is bringing more people out of the woodwork…”

Oh? thought I, so naturally I googled, and yes David Albert is Templeton funded, and furthermore, the Explanation From Nothing blog is part of the project, so it too is Templeton funded. I had no clue. I thought it was just a blog like any other blog.

I’m not saying the people in the project are corrupted by Templeton, but I do think the Templeton role should be very visible. It shows if you get there via the project but it doesn’t if you don’t. That’s…dubious.

Naïve pre-update post

Here’s a change of pace for you – the relationship between physics and philosophy. Something you can get your teeth into.

It’s a follow-up to An Explanation From Nothing? which was about David Albert’s review of Laurence Krauss’ A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something rather than Nothing and drew comments from David Albert himself and from Sean Carroll and Lee Smolin.

Meanwhile in another part of the forest Krauss said in an interview that philosophers are big poopyheads who don’t know squat, and a number of philosophers disputed that claim, including Massimo Pigliucci and Brian Leiter.

I’ll give Leiter the last word, because I can.

My best guess is that the culture so celebrates physics, that physicists have come to believe the “PR” about them. Very good physicists tend to be very good at physics, and I, at least, am inclined to the view that if you want to know what really exists, it’s better to ask a scientist than a philosopher. But it’s not obvious that even talented physicsts are very smart about other matters, such as those that require conceptual clarity, subtle distinctions, reflectiveness about presuppositions, and the appreciation of logical and inferential entailments of particular propositions. More than anything, I hope Krauss’s tantrum and its aftermath will help disabuse the culture of the myth that being good at physics means being good at thought.

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

Loose morals

Apr 30th, 2012 3:31 pm | By

Udate: note this is from the Washington Times, a very dubious source.

Good old liberation struggles, like the liberation struggle of Chechnya from the brutal embrace of Russia.

Chechnya’s government is openly approving of families that kill female relatives who violate their sense of honor, as this Russian republic embraces a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam after decades of religious suppression under Soviet rule.

In the past five years, the bodies of dozens of young Chechen women have been found dumped in woods, abandoned in alleys and left along roads in the capital, Grozny, and neighboring villages.

Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov publicly announced that the dead women had “loose morals” and were rightfully shot by male relatives. He went on to describe women as the property of their husbands, and said their main role is to bear children.

Hmm. That’s nice. Imagine living in a country where the head of state announces that women who have Incorrect sex deserve to be murdered by their male relatives.

“You hear about these cases almost every day,” said a local human rights defender, who asked that her name not be used out of fear for her safety. “It is hard for me to investigate this topic, yet I worked on it with [human rights activist] Natasha [Estemirova] for a while. But, I can’t anymore. I am too scared now. I’ve almost given up, really.”

Estemirova, who angered Chechen authorities with reports of torture, abductions and extrajudicial killings, was found in the woods in 2009 in the neighboring region of Ingushetia with gunshot wounds to the head and chest. Her killer or killers have not been found.

Has anyone looked?

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

The pansy ass exodus

Apr 30th, 2012 2:57 pm | By

Watching the Dan Savage video again.

The first student walks out after Savage says let’s talk about the bible for a second, because people point out “that they can’t help with the anti-gay bullying because it says right there in Leviticus, it says right there in Timothy, it says right there in Romans…that being gay is wrong.” Boom, she’s up.

That’s very quick. That’s very quick.

Why so quick?

It’s true that people say that. Why is she leaving just because Savage says people say that? Why is she leaving so fast when he hasn’t even said “bullshit” yet?

We can learn to ignore the bullshit about gay people in the bible, the same way we have learned to ignore the bullshit in the bible about shellfish, about slavery, about dinner

And the second student is up and on his way out.

about farming, about menstruation, about virginity, about masturbation.

Two more up and leaving.

We ignore bullshit in the bible about all sorts of things.

And now it’s a torrent and you can’t count any more.

The bible is a radically pro-slavery document. Slaveowners waved bibles over their heads during the Civil War.

Bigger torrent. Lots of smirking.

The shortest book in the bible is a letter from Paul to a man who owned slaves. And Paul doesn’t say, “Christians don’t own people.” Paul says how Christians own people.

No more walkouts.

We ignore what the bible says about slavery because the bible got slavery wrong.

Two stragglers leave.

It does look orchestrated. Or it looks as though that first one, who was on her feet after one sentence, inspired a bunch of others.

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

Regina Martínez Pérez

Apr 30th, 2012 2:38 pm | By

Another journalist in Mexico murdered apparently for doing her job too well.

New York, April 30, 2012–Authorities must immediately investigate the murder of Mexican journalist Regina Martínez Pérez, determine the motive, and ensure the perpetrators are brought to justice, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

The body of Martínez was found in her home on Saturday evening in Xalapa, the capital of the Gulf Coast state of Veracruz, according to news reports. She had been badly beaten around the face and ribs and had been strangled to death, news reports said. The state attorney general, Amadeo Flores Espinoza, said in a news briefing that it appeared her TV, cellphones, and computer had been stolen.

Martínez had worked for the national magazine Proceso for more than 10 years and was known for her in-depth reporting on drug cartels and the links between organized crime and government officials. In the week before her murder, she covered the arrest of an allegedly high-ranking leader of the Zetas; the arrests of nine police officers charged with working for a cartel; and the story of a local mayor who was arrested with other alleged cartel gunmen after a shootout with the Mexican Army, according to news reports.

Well she won’t be doing that any more.

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