Saturday, December 21, 2013

Fluoride Girl's Creative Manager Links Homosexuality and the Pill

I recently had the pleasure of taking part in an episode of the 4FM Late Show with Niall Boylan. I commend Boylan for putting the show together so quickly - it seemed as soon as he was aware of campaigners against vaccination he was eager to see their views put to the test. He has done a public service in showing the anti vaccine arguments to be the nonsense that they are. Aisling FitzGibbon, aka The Girl Against Fluoride, was offered a slot to defend her opposition to vaccines, but given the short notice she was unavailable so offered her creative manager and writer as an alternative spokesperson. Her name is Martha Brassil, she is also FitzGibbon's mother.

The call in contributions on the night were excellent and included a mother speaking of her regret at not vaccinating. Her son nearly lost his eyesight. A physiotherapist from Cork told of her experiences working with polio survivors. The vaccine opponents were not as impressive. I won't make you prejudge - the podcast should be available in early January.

Boylan was kind enough to make a small segment available on Soundcloud. During the show we touched on Brassil's beliefs in angel healing and her endorsement of Barbara Wren, a woman caught by the BBC pretending to cure cancer with urine and castor oil. (More on both here.) What raised the most eyebrows was her baffling linking of homosexuality and birth control. It is this segment which Boylan has released early, and I offer a transcription below.

Addendum: the full podcast is now available.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Irish Nationalist Brotherhood Embraces Multiculturalism

I have little doubt that I will almost immediately regret the decision to invest energy writing about the Irish Nationalist Brotherhood. I am mortal, my time on this earth is finite, and life brims with much greater pleasures than looking at the Twitter account of a rather depressing group that could easily hold its AGM in a large taxi.

That said, this seems to fall neatly into my area. These half dozen racists remind me of a puffer fish or scared little kitty - lacking any real substance or mass, they've found an - let's be charitable - almost intelligent way of appearing to be larger and more intimidating than reality would allow.


Over a thousand racists following their account seems to give them a warm, fuzzy feeling, the implication being that 0.0002% of the population share their views. It enables them to send vaguely threatening tweets like this:

To our members in Buncrana do you know who this anti #INB hatemonger is. [name removed]?


But how have they achieved such numbers?

Multiculturalism.

They have opened up their borders and accepted any and all comers. They just can't get enough of foreign folks.

Every Twitter account contains a location tag. When you set up your account you type in where you're from. I pulled this information from all their followers and put it into a word cloud. Words that are larger are the words most frequently used:

Those most concerned with keeping Ireland white and pure seem to hail mainly from South Africa and the USA. Only 18 list Dublin as a timezone, and they're mostly radio stations and charities that automatically follow back.

This is the point where I normally write a witty summary and closing. I'm sorry to disappoint - they're really not worth my time.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Girl Against Fluoride - Vaccine Opposition, Homophobia and Homeopathy

In an earlier blog post I discussed how Aisling FitzGibbon, better known as the bikini clad Girl Against Fluoride, has been asked by a UK nutritionist bring legal challenge against the Irish state for fluoridating water. She's paid hundreds of Euro to receive a printed certificate that enables her to communicate with angels and redirect their rays into people and their pets. A further investment is moving her towards another printed certificate, this time in the unregulated and dubious field of nutrition. The course is ultimately run by Barbara Wren, a woman caught on camera by the BBC claiming to have cured cancer using urine and castor oil. If time allows, do give it a read. If not fret not - there's more than enough preposterous nonsense about the campaign for this post to stand on its own.

Some of you may be wondering why I care. I am, after all, relatively well paid and fluoridation is something that primarily benefits the disadvantaged. While I support the continued fluoridation of our water I feel the problem presented by FitzGibbon et al is a more fundamental one: Angel healers should not get equal time with scientists in matters of scientific debate. Politicians should not unquestioningly accept as accurate information given to them by people who endorse peddlers of fake cancer cures. A willingness to take one's clothes off should not give one the loudest voice in public debate.

Girl Against Fluoride is Also Against Vaccines

"My mum had measles and is alive and well. According to the Chinese childhood illnesses is the body’s way of releasing the inherited toxicity of the parents. I was not vaccinated , nor were the children from the Royal family in the UK." - Aisling FitzGibbon in The Journal

Monday, November 18, 2013

Girl Against Fluoride: An F minus For Effort

A Google image search result for Aisling FitzGibbon, aka The Girl Against Fluoride. In swimwear in all images. The Empress has no clothes.
Fluoride is great. Can't get enough of the stuff. I strongly support its continued addition to the Irish water supply. But that's the stuff of another blog post. For now I'd like a quick look at its most vocal opponent, Aisling FitzGibbon, perhaps better known as the Girl Against Fluoride. She's gained attention from the Sunday World, The Journal, Hot Press, and seems to have earned the ear of politicians such as Thomas Pringle, Brian Stanley and (I note with sadness) Senator David Norris. Her main approach to publicity seems best captured by the Google image search result to the right of this text.

"By focusing on optimizing your 12-Strand DNA, this class will open your energetic pathways to manifestation and support you in living the life that you are destined to live."

I was curious as to why she so vehemently opposed this safe and long-standing improvement to the dental health of the Irish nation so I travelled to her about page, where I read that FitzGibbon is a qualified "Master Integrated Energy Therapist". Thinking perhaps that this might indicate some talent as an electrician I read further. It seems not. Rather, FitzGibbon chose to invest 685 Euro - of presumably her own money - on a weekend course that promises the following:

"Beyond your vision for yourself in the world is the angels’ even greater and grander vision for you in the world... 
You will ... receive the IET Master-Instructor attunement and learn and use the IET Master-Instructor 12-Strand DNA techniques designed to open your channels of manifestation and clear your resistance to manifesting your reach and bringing your dreams alive in the world. You will learn to use sacred geometry to harness the IET rays for the 12-Strand alignment technique, the IET powerburst technique, the I-Chi technique, the Karma Clearing technique, and more. 
You will learn how to use sacred geometry to give Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced level IET attunements. Then, in support of your living your reach, you will receive 6 Basic, 6 Intermediate, and 6 Advanced re-attunements designed to open and strengthen your channels of manifestation."
They are perhaps to be congratulated for squeezing so much into a 15.5 hour event.

Friday, September 6, 2013

On Discussing Islam

Yesterday I sent the following two tweets:

They got 41 retweets and 21 favourites from my Muslim friends and followers, and I found some really interesting new people to follow as a result. That said, I did come in for a bit of flack from my non Muslim followers for these comments, and I felt a blog post was the best format to try to best address the criticisms raised. If I offended you, please take the hour this blog was posted as a symbol of my genuine desire to understand your position and better communicate mine. I'll group the tweets by what I feel was their focus and do my best to summarise the point - I don't think there's much to be gained by adding the authors, but if you'd prefer your tweet credited do let me know and I'll be happy to add it.

Naturally, I welcome comments and discussion below.

Criticism 1: It would be inappropriate to compliment a feminist on maintaining composure and dignity when threatened as this suggests someone who loses composure or displays anger is less of a feminist.
Tweets:
""Feminists who handle threats with grace instead of anger represent feminism well." Sound problematic? Because it does to me. I don't handle threats with grace nor do I think I should be expected to. Nor do I think that my lack of patience with those who threaten me makes either women or feminists look back. [bad?] I'd be v uncomfortable to be told I was a 'credit' to feminism/women because I handled something without anger." 
What can I say? I agree. I don't think less of Caroline Criado-Perez for swearing at people after months of death and rape threats. I just don't feel it's a particularly apt comparison. The Ahmadi Muslims represent a reformist movement within Islam that, for over a century, has embodied their motto of "Love For All Hatred For None". It would be wrong to call them pacifists - many in their community have distinguished themselves in their countries' militaries - but nonretaliation is at the core of their beliefs. When a spiritual leader was stabbed in the neck while at prayer in his mosque, his final instruction before losing consciousness was that the assassin not be harmed. The attacker was jailed, and the Ahmadiyya Muslim community voluntarily paid a stipend to to the wife and children of the would be killer rather than see them destitute.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

In Support of Chelsea Manning

I've maintained a focused disinterest in the Manning case. I genuinely have little interest in the administrative affairs of the military of other nations and choose to employ the time saved in perhaps more productive endeavours.

That said, it has come to my attention that Chelsea Manning has asked that she be referred to by the name she chooses, and by the pronouns with which she most identifies. This minor request seems most reasonable for a woman who will likely spend the next three and a half decades in prison.

I don't speak of it often, but I've had genital surgery. Several times. I've had medically necessary circumcision at age two, I had an undescended testicle corrected when I was about 11, and at the age of 16 I had another testicle ruptured in a kickboxing competition. As it healed a fluid filled sac developed around the injury which had to be surgically removed.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Richard Dawkins' Twitter Followers

I remember the first time I met Muslim apologist Adnan Rashid. He, Hamza Tzortzis and other members of the Islamic Education and Research Academy were running a stall on my route home and he attempted to convince me evolution could not be true because of 'irreducible complexity'. As he waxed lyrical on the complexities of bacterial flagellum (a whiplike appendage that enables movement in bacteria) I realised he was liberally borrowing from the work of Christian creationist Michael Behe.

Rather than point out the incongruity of relying on such a source I said it seemed odd to offer a mechanism that allows the spread of devastating diseases like Legionnaire's as evidence for a loving God. He paused, folded his arms, fixed me with a gaze that conveyed seriousness and then asked "what would happen if all the cells in your body lost their flagellums?".


Some with an interest in biology may have chuckled at the above. Bacterial flagella by definition are attached only to bacteria, facilitate movement, and as a general rule the cells in my body have no particular need to independently decide to relocate. It demonstrated the lightest skimming of Christian creationist material and a near complete misunderstanding of Behe's rather poor argument. (Those interested can see it debunked in full here. You can watch footage of Rashid losing an argument with PZ Myers here.)


The second time I shared a room with Rashid was at the World Atheist Convention in Dublin, 2011, when he asked a ponderously long and dreary question of Dawkins. I shared my anecdote with Dawkins who chuckled briefly. I thought it might be interesting to look at his Twitter account.


Word Cloud

I took a sample of five thousand of Dawkins' followers and examined their Twitter biographies, running them through a program that counts the frequency of words folk use to describe themselves and assembling an image where most frequently used words are shown in greater sizes. Dawkins' followers are likely to describe themselves using words like student, science, university, teacher and atheist. (On a general note, an improbably high number of tweeps describe themselves as writers. I do hope they have day jobs.)

Words noted by their absence include homeopath, Hare Krishna, acupuncture and miracle. It seems the head of the foundation for reason and science has done an admirable job of attracting those interested in both fields.


Gender
These results are indicative only. Again working off the same sample of five thousand Twitter accounts, I ran the first names through a script I wrote to estimate gender. It isn't overly complex - I have a list of known masculine names and a list of known feminine names. Based on the results it seems that 75% of Dawkins' followers have masculine names.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Pope on Gay Men: If You Squint, It Almost Looks Like Progress

Seriously, if someone said straights wouldn't be judged so long as they never married, never had sex and never campaigned for rights, would anyone put up with it?
"These twelve hour flights can grow a little dull, so we switched on the speakers in the cockpit to listen in."

I'm fortunate to have secured an e-mail interview with Padre I. A. Roddy, the pilot who flew Pope Francis on the occasion of his unparalleled olive branch to the LGBTQ community.

"I briefly lost control of the aircraft," he continued "but fortunately the advanced training of the Vatican Air Force saved me and those on board. That, and my copilot was listening to DoubtCast at the time so wasn't as badly affected. I don't mean to criticise the Holy Father, but he really should consider the safety of the crew before launching such a wild change of course."

"Sticking to the strictest conceivable definition of progress, I suppose this qualifies." observed an air steward, speaking on condition of anonymity. "He was speaking specifically about priests, so what we can really take from this with certainty is that if you're celibate, stay in the closet and don't lobby for gay people he won't judge you."

"To be fair, at least his cabin baggage was a reasonable size." he added.

The Holy Father did not comment directly on bisexual people, transgender people, or people who identify as queer.

"I think many are underestimating the great message of hope the Bishop of Rome is offering to young, gay Catholics. As long as they're male." Padre Roddy defended. "Before today they would have felt trapped by restrictions that promised only a life without romantic love. A lonely road of self denial under the label of 'fundamentally disordered'. All that has changed. Well, not all, obviously. But the Vicar of Christ has offered a vision of gay men, gay men who live in community with purpose to their lives, gay men who he does not judge."

"Now, naturally, this is not a licence to do anything gay. The Supreme Pastor made it clear in his talk that existing teaching is affirmed. Sex is out. As is marriage. And lobbying for gay rights came in for specific condemnation. Basically think of it like the US military's don't ask, don't tell policy. Only without the 'don't ask' part, because the Vatican will still be investigating to find gay people in its ranks. And on the subject of investigations, these hopeful gay Catholic men should rule out applying for the priesthood, because as of 2005, gay men, celibate or not, are barred from applying."

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Where are the Women of New Atheism?

Travel by rail is so civilised. I arrived at Barcelona perhaps 20 minutes before departure and had time for a coffee and croissant before having to board. No weight restrictions. No lengthy security checks. Comfortable armchairs, individual power points and a pleasant view of rolling Spanish countryside will be my home for the next five hours.

The only thing I lack is WiFi. I sit here with a Nexus, foldable Bluetooth keyboard and a vague memory that a friend on Facebook suggested an article to me entitled "Where Are The Women of New Atheism?"

Normally I'd read it. I can't. Still, it's an interesting question and stands on its own merit. I recently ran Twitter statistics on two different (male) atheist bloggers, covering how their followers described themselves, the breakdown of masculine and feminine first names, and the top 200 accounts most popular with said followers. (To illustrate with an example: those who follow @EmbarrassingBodies, a popular TV show, are likely to also follow @DoctorChristian, one of the hosts. I determine this by pulling a list of everyone's followers and counting the common elements, then ranking by popularity.)

I gave the stats to another blogger and will let you know if the material turns out to be strong enough to justify a story. I think the technique is interesting because it lets you judge the following:

How popular is the tweeter's message with women?

David Quinn holds strong opinions on the regulation of uteruses, yet his message seems to resonate most powerfully with men - over 70% of his followers seem to be male. It seems reasonable to conclude that being female is correlated with not welcoming his views on females.

What sort of person follows the tweeter?

I once contrasted the followers of William Lane Craig, a Christian apologist, and Stephen Law, a philosopher and author. Craig's followers were overwhelmingly interested in Christian apologetics, Law's preferred science and philosophy. Neither designation is a negative, obviously, but I found it interesting to be able to gauge followers in this manner.

How likely are the tweeter's followers to follow women?

In other words: does the tweeter attract a bunch of raging misogynists? Being highly unlikely to follow female tweeters may prove indicative. It could also show that the tweeter isn't making much effort to promote female tweeters.

I can congratulate myself on this excellent plan which would allow me to examine all sorts of prominent atheists and bring unique insight to the conversation, but as I gaze out on traditional Catalonian architecture, narrow stone streets, olive trees and windmills while my WiFi signal reads 0 I find it is one I cannot implement.

But let's give the question some thought, shall we?

I'm a white cis male. I have a naked lady fetish. There are no great numbers of folk out there who wish to oppress me, though I do experience a wrinkle of discontent from a small minority of Theists who don't welcome my absence of belief. (Only fair to add context - my interactions with Theists have been almost always positive.) I blogged exclusively about atheism for quite some time, back when I viewed the world's most pressing problems to be Muslim apologists copying Christian apologists, or Creationists lying about science.

I'm still an atheist, I still blog about atheism, and I still view atheism as something which should be talked about and advanced openly. There's quite a lot more I'd like to write on the topic. But right now the rights of my fellow citizens to expect lifesaving medical treatment seems more pressing. The hope that pregnant people might one day enjoy an unconditional right to health is more likely to occupy my mind than the prospect of reading another John Lennox book of apologetics. And while I write pro choice material from an atheist point of view, it's probably fair to say that this is now more of a pro choice blog.

I hear murmurs of discontent from the back. When, they wonder, will Geoff cease this self indulgent piece about the trials of being a straight white male? When will he answer the question posed in the opening paragraph? When will he stop referring to himself in the third person?

Maryam Namazie, atheist, is best known as a human rights activist and a campaigner against Sharia law in the UK. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, also an atheist, campaigns for women's rights, against female genital mutilation and against Sharia law. Her energies are mainly devoted to her political office theses days. Thinking back to the speakers Atheist Ireland has arranged over the years I remember Sinead Redmond, atheist, campaigner for abortion rights in Ireland, Deirdre O'Byrne, atheist, campaigner for trans rights, and Aoife McLysaight, atheist, who focused her talk on the importance of science and on plugging Alom Shaha's (rather good) The Young Atheist's Handbook. I gave a talk. It was on conversations I'd had with street preachers. I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader to decide which of us were making the best use of their time, and I can't help but feel that being a straight white guy is the primary reason I had space to consider Hare Krishna cosmology so deserving as a primary area of concern while remaining blithely oblivious to issues facing others.

It's fair to say we need a conversation about making atheism less of a guy thing. And there are questions to be answered on whether Atheist women are being held back by the way things are done now. But I feel that at least part of the answer that should be given to those wondering at the absence of prominent female atheists is this: they're often working on something more important.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Book Review: The Young Atheist's Handbook by Alom Shaha

It's rare for me to read books about atheism. Having gone through the effort of transitioning from Catholic to atheist just shy of two decades ago it feels somewhat redundant to reaffirm my absence of faith through the works of others. I do not mean to discourage such reading, of course, I merely say why the genre is but a small part of my library.

Of those authors on atheism that I have read there is something of a theme. Christopher Hitchens described himself as an atheist of the Christian sort. Richard Dawkins is a hymn singing bible reader. Sam Harris holds the Christian faith of his upbringing in higher regard than that of other world religions. Dan Barker is an ex Christian preacher. Stephen Law (a favourite of mine, do read everything he's written) also comes from a Christian heritage. The road from Christian upbringing to atheism is one well plodded, the guidebooks are myriad, the signposts abound. But when we reach this destination we meet others who have travelled less celebrated paths, often covert, alone, and in trepidation more pronounced than that found by their former Christian associates.

Alom Shaha trod such a path. His third birthday was the last he celebrated in Bangladesh. He writes a frank account of being raised in a British Muslim community and the influences on his path to atheism. He speaks with an honesty few authors attain - for instance his description of fleeing an Imam's circumcising blade at age twelve, or his rejection of the concept of a soul illustrated by intimate details of how illness and medication, by affecting the brains of family members, radically changed their personalities.

He shows his skills as a teacher through use of analogies to help us atheists of a Christian sort better understand elements of Muslim culture. Take veiling. I read with a sympathetic cringe Shaha's description of his teenage appearance - long hair, makeup, earrings and a jacket with a stitched in hood standing in some contrast to his current straight laced middle aged physics teacher appearance. But he described it as his attempt to assert his own identity, to push back at authority, and to draw the relevant boundaries necessary as one reaches adulthood. He then recounts meeting former members of his secondary school's Christian union, one of whom spoke of how she found being so public about her faith held much the same benefits in carving out space for an identity as Shaha's dalliance with goth garb. The final step is the often overlooked yet important point - a woman's decision to veil herself (or, for comparison, a man's decision to wear Arab clothing) can be a perfectly valid expression of this desire to demarcate the borders between oneself and one's family and community. He cautions rightly that this is often not a choice - on asking a friend why she had started dressing so conservatively the dismaying response came "my brother has become a strict Muslim".

Personally I oppose those who try to regulate what women wear. I oppose both those who would enforce and those who would ban veiling.

No publisher would go to print on a title of this sort without some arguments for atheism in general, and Shaha makes a good fist of the argument from evil, but if you buy The Young Atheist's Handbook for this sole purpose you're rather missing a trick. (Get Stephen Law's "Humanism - a very brief introduction" instead. Or better still get both.) The real magic in Shaha's work is his ability to take white atheists of the Christian sort into a community that we live beside, but not in, and give us the means to relive a journey that would otherwise be hidden from us. If you'd like to understand the journey of an ex Muslim, buy this book.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Guest Blog on Thoughts of a Lost Girl

I've been trying to find new ways of promoting blogs I think you should read. In the end it seemed simplest if I just write a guest post for them.

I've found a gang of plucky American students who've taken on the mission of saving the Irish from themselves. They enjoy marching across the country and blockading the IFPA. Want to find out more about them? Read here: http://thoughts-ofalostgirl.blogspot.ie/2013/07/women-of-ireland-your-saviour-is-here.html And while you're there, stick around a while. She's written some interesting stuff!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Empowering Women Through Secularism 2013 - A Review

It's hard to think what I can add to a review of EWTS2013. The fine folk at Atheist Ireland have already managed to upload all talks to YouTube, and while I consider myself a feminist, I do not consider myself a particularly well read or experienced feminist, possessed of unique insight unavailable to others. Do read on if you're interested in how it appeared to a newcomer.

I live tweeted both days, despite several impassioned pleas for me to stop from those who did not quite favour my updates every twenty seconds. Sat a row in front of Aoife (we had not fallen out, she needed to sit closer to a wall socket) I was able to judge her mood. Had the speaker said something agreeable? A soft flurry of taps indicated so. Less welcome statements were greeted with the sort of typing style likely to invalidate most laptop warranties.

It would be remiss of me to progress much further without congratulating Atheist Ireland on their success. This was only their second international conference, and to see so many moving parts come together so splendidly may put those outside their membership to thoughts of divine intervention. The speakers in attendance represented every continent bar those famed for penguins and polar bears. A friend attending referred to it as the first time they'd been at an atheist organised event where no one had described their beliefs in terms of sky fairies. The mood was, in general, quite positive and this would not have come about without much hard work from the organisers. I believe I heard Michael Nugent say he'd had three hours' sleep. Knowing his work rate he was likely referring to the entirety gained over the preceeding week - I for one was a little shocked to learn he slept at all.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The River Of Bile - On Steroids

It's strange the journeys that can follow a single step. I must admit that when lovable rascal Fintan O'Toolbox first approached me to discuss providing a guest post I expected something a little lighthearted - even on the one occasion we met he seems disinclined to break character.

I was pleasantly disappointed to find that, instead of his usual hilarious output, he'd opted for some serious investigative journalism. I feel I've covered vaccine opposition, American influence and superstition prevalent in pro life groups in Ireland, but Fintan breaks fresh ground for this blog by exposing ties to the extreme far right.

Do enjoy, and don't forget to follow him on Twitter.



Hi, my name is Fintan O'Toolbox, some of you may know me as that annoyingly smug git who writes for Donegal Dollop and live-tweets the Bible most evenings. Geoff recently, very kindly, offered me the opportunity to write a guest post for his wonderful blog. Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity, however, the original idea for my post ended up taking a few bizarre twists and turns so I hope you can bear with me...

One of my favourite topics for debate (trolling) on Twitter is the concept of morality and where it comes from. In my experience, I've often found Catholics strongly opposed to the idea of moral relativism — the notion that morality evolves in accordance with the shifting sands of social progress and that it reflects the general consensus of the masses when it comes to the concept of right and wrong. Instead, they seem to favour the idea that morality is objective and immutable — remaining the same eternally, regardless of whatever we mere mortals may decide among ourselves as a society. I've always considered this to be a strange position for a Catholic to take given that the Old Testament is action-packed with rape [1-4], genocide [5-8], slavery [9-10], and even abortion [11], and given that the catechism still considers this section of the Bible to be entirely valid and inerrant [12]. Regardless of what side of the morality fence you sit on, the average Irish Catholic is, in my experience, generally quite content not to shove this core belief down your throat (it's certainly never become a bone of contention between me and my Catholic friends). However, there are certain groups on the religious right who argue (often very loudly) that moral relativism poses a grave threat to Irish society and must be opposed at every turn.

If morality is indeed objective and the most favourable path towards this morality is via a Catholic belief system, as these groups appear to claim, then surely the proof would be in the empirical pudding? Surely anyone who follows this kind of belief system (particularly someone who clings to it with zeal and wears these beliefs on their sleeve) will be a decent person who contributes positively to society? Failing that, you would at least assume that such a person couldn't possibly end up being a horrible individual who has nothing to offer but negativity. Well, with this assumption in mind, I always keep an eye out on Twitter for people who appear to be singing loudly from the same hymn sheet as the religious right, just to see what kind of people they are. Anyway, one day I came across a very interesting chap called Michael Quinn (no relation to David, as far as I know). Michael doesn't seem to like Jews or black people very much.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Of David Quinn and Demonising the Opponents of X Legislation

Large pink demon from one of the later levels in Doom II. Or possibly Doom. I'd need to check.
Media's view of the pro life lobby?
I do not particularly recommend my book reviews. In it you'll find overlong and overworked reviews of books in which you have little interest, or, worse, overlong and relentlessly critical reviews of books you quite enjoyed. They're mostly about Christian apologetics. For what it's worth, attempting to step into the world view of another gives one a unique viewpoint of one's own. Do wander to unfamiliar sections of the book shop.

This interest in opposing viewpoints may be part of what drew me to David Quinn's latest, "Those opposed to abortion law being branded fanatics". It's been my experience that people change. While I always supported legislation on X, I was two or three blog posts in to the abortion debate before I considered myself pro choice and in that time I was not once referred to as a fanatic. My daily commute found itself unmarked by low flying fruit or vegetation. Indeed, all interactions with pro choicers before I joined their number were positive and engaging. Had I instead been demonised or painted as extremist I would likely have been less inclined to give pro choice arguments fair hearing. If those who oppose X legislation are being unfairly characterised they're unlikely to change their position - misrepresentation helps none of us.

That said, what examples of media bias does Quinn offer?

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Everyday Sexism Book Cover Contest

You may know @EverydaySexism from their #FBRape campaign. By targeting advertisers, they were able to bring considerable pressure to bear on Facebook and were successful in forcing a change in policy on images that glorified violence against women. If this news greets you for the first time I recommend the founder's Independent article, The day the Everyday Sexism project won and Facebook changed its image. I also strongly recommend following @EverydaySexism on Twitter - especially if, like me, you thought sexism is no longer a problem.

They're releasing a book and the publisher is accepting submissions for the jacket design. The brief caught my eye:
"We're looking for a design that represents the thousands of women who are #shoutingback and we want you to help us create the perfect jacket to represent this movement and this exciting new extension of the project."
 I'm a literal minded sort of chap so I downloaded pictures of everyone (all genders) that follows @EverydaySexism and rearranged them so they resembled Laura Bates, the founder of the project. It's a large image. There are, after all, 52,000 profile pictures in it. Here's a zoomed in shot of Bates's left eye. Note the constituent profile pictures:

And here's the full image:

Monday, June 10, 2013

Of Blood Donors and the Right to Choose

Picture of my right arm mid blood donation. Image chosen to annoy Aisling, who has a needle phobia.
Most chairs in the Irish Blood Transfusion Service's D'Olier Street office are designed to serve from the crook of the left elbow but reformed southpaws like me can ask to donate from their right arm. It's useful - one's elbow can be a little stiff immediately after donating and I do tend to rely on my left.

The view is spectacular, their canteen's location three stories above O'Connell Bridge affords an uninterrupted view of our nation's main thoroughfare at an angle that minimises the fast food restaurants and highlights architecture not visible from tourist buses. I tried several times to capture it by photograph but the window-reflected canteen interior always ruins the shot. I hope the absence of a photo whets your curiosity - you really should go see it for yourself.

I've donated blood, to the best of my memory, some sixteen times to date and I look forward to my next appointment. It takes but an hour of my time, has some health benefits and costs me nothing.

I'll admit to a little pride in these small efforts. As a universal donor my blood (unlike my blog) is palatable to all my fellow humans and my type O negative can be delivered in crisis situations without the time-consuming necessity of checking the patient's type. When I do take my seat and hold a chewy dog treat as pictured I am connected to not one bag but six, the load spread over a half dozen smaller containers designed for use in neonatal care.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

A Raised Eyebrow to PledgeProLife.com

Those unduly curious as to the views of 'cool gal[s] from Oregon' who also consider themselves 'proud Roman Catholic conservative[s]' can do worse than to take to Twitter, where they will likely come across the below caps lock enthusiast who describes herself as one of many "AMERICANS FOR AN ABORTION-FREE IRELAND!"

Original tweet here, assuming not deleted. Her enthusiasm for confining Irish abortions to home abortion kits or England is expressed by her promotion of Youth Defence's PledgeProLife.com. Youth Defence describes this site as representative of "80,000 voters [sic] who will never vote Fine Gael again". Yet I could find no evidence that this Oregon based conservative has been a member of said party, nor was I able to find a townland called Oregon in any traditional Fine Gael voting county.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

This Is What An Irish Woman Looks Like

As a relatively young, straight, white, cis male I'm somewhat immune to street harassment, and from this position I found myself blithely unaware of its occurrence in Ireland.

I thought we were doing fairly well. I recall a conversation with a substitute teacher who'd broken up a fight between a Cork born child of Nigerian parents and some classmates from his new Dublin school. It seems it had kicked off when they referred to him as 'a bogger'. I don't encourage playground fights, of course, but we both thought it a positive that it hadn't occurred to them to insult him based on the colour of his skin - they just hadn't seen it as a distinction.

I lost my naiveté when I read Úna-Minh Caomhánach's account of being spat on and racially abused. Thankfully the online response was overwhelmingly supportive, but sadly it did include those who said she should go back to her own country, or write about something important.

To those I say this is her own country, and the only acceptable number of people being publicly spat on is zero.

Perhaps the image below will help clarify. It's a picture of Úna, made up of the profile pictures of her thousands of followers who recognise her nationality. First, here's a zoomed in shot of her eye:

And this is the full picture:

Click it for a larger, zoomable version. If you're having trouble zooming try this link. Naturally, Úna is welcome to republish the image. Image prepared using http://www.mazaika.com/, and some scripts I used to download Twitter profile pics. Great app!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Why You Should Listen To EverydaySexism (TW)

Largest words are student, feminist, writer
(Trigger warning for discussion of trivialising of violence against women including one image.)

Regular readers of this blog are perhaps unduly familiar with word clouds, but as EverydaySexism and the #FBRape campaign are fresh topics to me I feel it best to recap for any potentially new readers. I've been following @EverydaySexism on Twitter for some time now and when I'm interested in finding out more about a Twitter account I like to look at the people who follow it. Working in IT lets me look a little closer than most and one thing I like to do is pull the Twitter biographies of all an account's followers and put them in a word cloud.

That's the image above. Words followers of @EverydaySexism use to describe themselves most frequently are the larger, words used infrequently are either small or absent. Click the image to see a bigger copy. It's fair to say that as well as attracting students and feminists the account has a significant number of writers and journalists invested in their efforts. Simon Pegg is a fan, as is Amanda Palmer. Caitlin Moran also follows. From the BBC alone you may recognise Rick Edwards, Jeremy Vine, Samira Ahmed, Mary Ann Sieghart, Sue Llewellyn, Jane Hill and Rhianna Dhillon as followers, and fans of the Guardian will recognise Laurie Penny, Spencer Ackerman, Emily Bell, Vicky Beeching, Lyn Gardner, Tim Dowling, Chris Roper, Sana Saleem, GrrlScientist, Claire Phipps and  Jane Martinson when they examine the list. I shan't bore you by listing every media outlet: suffice it to say the trend continues.

We should also not be too quick to dismiss the non journalist followers of EverydaySexism. Each of their 49,967 (and counting) followers averages 1,030 of their own followers, giving them an enviable social media reach. They seem almost uniquely poised to rapidly deliver their message to hundreds of thousands.

What do they want?

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Free Ticket to Empowering Women Through Secularism

Women's Rights are Human Rights - International Conference - Empowering Women Through Secularism
I've bought two tickets to Empowering Women Through Secularism.  I'm excited at the prospect of seeing Máirín de Burca speak, for without her efforts we might not have had access to contraception.

I've already had the pleasure of seeing Maryam Namazie, PZ Myers and Rebecca Watson, and my infrequent attendance at always fun Atheists in the Pub events means I've been able to enjoy informal chats with both Jane Donnelly and Michael Nugent. But there are many other speakers I've yet to experience, and I'm excited to see what happens when two days are devoted to this important topic. I can't wait to listen in on the discussions.

Which brings me to the reason for the second ticket.

I'm going to enjoy the weekend but I know that there are others who could get more than I from the event. Many have more to contribute than I in terms of intelligent, well researched questions based on more reading and life experience than I've accumulated on the topic. I'm still a bit clueless.

So, if you're a student*, can be in Dublin on the 29th and 30th of June and would like to attend but don't have the cash right now, let me know in the comments below. I have a panel of militant, aggressive misandrists friends who'll put it to a vote and let me know who gets it.

Feel free to write a little about yourself and what you'd get from the experience if you'd like to, but it's by no means obligatory. If you're not short of a few quid a full price ticket is 100 Euro and a student ticket is 50. If you're in a position to sponsor another student do get in touch - I'd be delighted to help facilitate.

Update: Atheist Ireland have very kindly given me a second ticket. So there are now two spots available. Further update - a generous sponsor has given me a stash of full price tickets. Everyone who entered before 2:25pm on June 3rd gets one. There are more! If you want one, enter! You don't have to be a student.

*This bit's important - it's a student ticket.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

White (irrelevant), British (irrelevant) And EX-Muslim



I've never really asked for feedback on my guest post policy. I like finding interesting folk with different views to me that are willing to share their perspectives with readers here. It was for this reason that I was happy to host Rayyan's first guest post here. At the time he'd been a Muslim for four months, and he shared a little of his experiences, answered some common questions, and managed to squeeze in some humour. I enjoyed rereading it in preparation for this post.

Rayyan's no longer a Muslim, and I found myself as interested reading how he left the faith as I was reading how he entered it. His positive impression of most Muslims he's met remains, as does his opposition to groups like the EDL, but he has a newfound concern for his safety and additional reading on Islam has changed his mind on the validity of some arguments that initially led him to Islam.

I hope you find his experiences and intellectual curiosity as interesting as I did. If you're interested in learning more about the issues affecting ex Muslims I highly recommend the Council of Ex Muslims of Britain


I write this today because I have found two places willing to display my opinions and thoughts, Geoff’s Shorts blog and CEMB Forum, thanks to both of the site admins. I also intend to help others overcome the fear a lot of religious people have, fear, which held me back from my inevitable apostatising; burning in the hellfire. I did not become a Muslim because I didn’t want to go to hell, I had regular contact with people who were Muslims and I saw how they were grateful for the good things in life and were very friendly people who happened to be Muslims and for me this communication set me on a path of research eventually leading me to Scholars on YouTube and I found it satisfied my need to find the meaning of life. I looked past the lunatics like Anjem Choudary and his crew. Even today I reject the stereotype of Muslims being evil it is total nonsense. There is a popular way of thinking here in the UK, people put Islam and Muslims in one category when it comes to acts of terrorism committed in the name of Islam, Muslims are people and Islam a religion. I based my decisions on real life interaction with Muslims some of whom appear to have somewhat limited knowledge on Islam and then further on my discovery of the faith itself.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Sexist, homophobic, anti science group would like to share their views on X legislation

Fellow fans of the Irish Times' Letters to the Editor page may have noticed a recent offering from Aontas, a grouping of Evangelical Christian churches operating in Ireland. They used the space to announce their opposition to legislation on X and finished with a list of representatives as signatories.

I checked the list to find the most detailed website and found Billy Hamilton of Covenant Fellowship Galway. Reading through his site I found that they consider the earth to have formed in six calendar days, that "[h]omosexuality is a grave perversion", and that "[t]he wife is to be submissive to her husband".

They are of course entitled to express their views, no matter how ridiculous.

Addendum: although it is clear that all members of Aontas feel comfortable associating with Covenant Fellowship Galway, we cannot immediately be certain that all members share their views. Should any member wish to repudiate Covenant Fellowship Galway's position, I'll be happy to host their comments.

Monday, May 13, 2013

They're Coming For Your Condoms

It has been four decades since contraceptives obtained a semblance of legality in Ireland, our supreme court ruling that the constitutional right to marital privacy allowed their use but not their sale. It was not until 1978 that legislation was finally introduced to allow their purchase, the transaction hampered somewhat by a requirement to produce a valid prescription. I'm thankful to the IFPA and Richard Branson for taking the expedient step back in 1990 of openly selling condoms in Virgin Megastores. This forced the government's hand somewhat and in a relatively expedient three years it became possible for citizens of this fine state to buy condoms without an approving doctor's note. I was thirteen at the time.

I choose to celebrate this milestone of two score years with a quick jaunt through some notable anti abortion rights campaigners to see if they view access to contraceptives as a positive step or if they yearn for the days before Durex.

Human Life International Ireland

Patrick McCrystal, looks healthy but pulls faces like a meth connoisseur."I do believe contraception is one of the most potent ideological tools that those who are seeking to destroy the Catholic family are using to dismantle that institution... Ultimately when it's all stripped away it's a battle between the forces of evil and the forces of good. Ultimately Satan and the Lord almighty, and both armies, both commanders have armies in their control, diametrically opposed, the culture of life and the culture of death."Patrick McCrystal, supernatural battle strategist, liar who pretends vaccines cause autism, chair of Human Life International Ireland

"If we the Catholic community repent of our contraception and pornography and sex education in our schools and promiscuity and we repent of our silence as we allow these things to happen then perhaps God in His mercy might avert the abortion scourge...

We're based in Knock Ireland where the Lamb of God appeared and He has a message for the world and when the world turns back to him everything changes and He has the final say." - Patrick McCrystal again, sounding more than a mite batty.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

On the Risk of Coerced Abortion

Coerced abortion

The argument

In a recent discussion I heard a novel argument: legislating for abortion may increase the risk of women being coerced or forced to have abortions.

This is an interesting approach and one that bears unpacking. When we discuss legal access to abortion we are faced with a choice between allowing women to be the ultimate controllers of their wombs or taking that authority from them and giving it to society. The argument recognises that pro choice favours the first approach and posits that legislation may in cases remove choice from women by providing a legal framework that could facilitate coerced abortions. It culminates by proposing that prohibition on abortion will prevent this denial of choice.

A response

The premises as I see them are as follows:
  1. To be pro choice is to support a woman's autonomy on reproductive choices
  2. To coerce someone towards abortion denies them a choice
  3. Prohibition of abortion is an effective deterrent against coerced abortions
This leads to the conclusion:
  • Legislation for abortion rights will result in denying some women reproductive choices
The immediate responses are unsatisfying. To crunch numbers and calculate if there is a net gain or loss in choices exercised will undoubtedly favour legislating for abortion, but it seems somewhat callous to treat this as an accounting problem. One could also wash one's hands of the problem and say that the blame lies with those who coerce, not those who seek legislation, but that too seems unsatisfying.

Is there a deterrent?

Instead I'd like to start by examining premise three. Does our current legal situation provide an effective deterrent against coerced abortion? It's always important to remember that thousands of Irish women have abortions every year. So long as one is financially comfortable, physically capable of travel, or, alternatively, willing to risk abortifacients purchased online the option of abortion is open to you. We should also factor in the stigma attached, the necessity to be secretive, and the absence of support when far from home. How much of this applies when, say, a parent or partner pressures a woman into abortion?

I argue very little.

Holding such power over another person strongly implies holding financial control too, and financial dependence is too often what prevents escape from such abusive relationships. The total cost of an abortion to an Irish person is in the region of 1,500 Euro - prohibitive to a student or low earner, generally manageable for a parent or a partner who controls two incomes. The stigma, absence of support and requirement for secrecy are unlikely to trouble someone who would deny a woman choice in continuing her pregnancy. And to me an abusive partner or unfit parent seems more likely to risk the health of a woman through online abortifacients than a woman herself.

Does the argument hold for adoption?

There have undoubtedly been cases of coerced adoption in Ireland. We have been criticised by International Social Services as recently as January of this year on the matter. Thousands of children born to victims of the Magdalene Laundries were adopted through coercion. This is unquestionably an act of violence against mothers and few defend coerced adoptions. Yet we do not hear of those who wish a blanket ban on adoption to prevent abuses. And yet the argument's premises seem in this instance stronger, as premise three now holds:
  1. To be pro choice is to support a woman's autonomy on reproductive choices
  2. To coerce someone towards adoption denies them a choice
  3. Prohibition of adoption is an effective deterrent against coerced adoptions
Ultimately this is an interesting and novel argument, but one I feel fails on close examination.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Sean Brady - Of Heads And Hats

Sean Brady, buffoon
Travel may broaden the mind, but it also makes it somewhat tricky to keep up with Irish current affairs. I've been trying to take a daily jaunt through the Irish papers to keep abreast of developments and have recently come across Sean Brady, pictured in the oversized ornate hat to the left of this text, who considers himself an authority on matters of morality. He's recently been featured in the Independent (here and here) and is perhaps most famous for his part in bullying teen rape survivors into decades long silence. I've assembled some of his quotes from the past week below to better understand his thinking. Perhaps you can help me see the flow of his thought?

"We know what the law is about excommunication, about abortion, that's a fact." said Brady. He has a doctorate in something called Canon law - a system of in-house rules peculiar to his institution that has no standing in the Irish state - yet he delivers his promulgations on abortion and excommunication 'law' without trace of irony.

“We  pray for courage - the kind of courage that is needed to look the truth in the eye and to call it as it is, without yielding to self-deception or bowing to convenient compromise, scrupulously avoiding ambiguous language which cloaks the true horror of the situation and reduces its seriousness in public.” Brady said, the snivelling excuse of a human being speaking not of his organisation's widespread practice of providing succour and support to those who rape children, but rather seeing the words best focused on the government's decision to bring to an end its decades long delay on legislating for the X case as demanded by any rudimentary understanding of a democratic republic.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Guest Post: I Had An Abortion

I've made a lot of great new friends since starting this blog, and I've had the opportunity to interact with folk who I wouldn't normally expect to spend time with. It's been an interesting journey. What I've also found is that having some involvement in pro choice activism has changed my relationship with those I already knew.

I recently learnt that, years ago, a friend had had an abortion.

It's something she'd rather keep anonymous, but I felt glad that in some small way I could help give her a way to talk openly about her experience.

I take two things from this. First, I'm glad that being openly pro choice means my friends feel comfortable talking to me about their experiences. Second, I regret she worried people might judge her. If you're pro choice, please let your friends know. They might need someone to talk to. But enough of me. Here was my friend's experience:

Like a lot of young, Irish people I set off after college seeking excitement abroad. And I got it – in abundance. I lived a fantastic few years working and travelling. I met a lovely guy; we were young and really fell for each other.
Then disaster struck. I confided in a friend that I didn’t feel myself and she suggested that I might be pregnant. That and a sick day from work worried me enough to buy a test. It was positive. I was 25, and this wasn’t part of the plan for my boyfriend, or for me.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Secret Weapons of the Pro Life Elite

It's often useful to take stock of the resources at one's disposal. Of even greater benefit is the ability to examine the tools one's opposition can call on in times of need. True, those seeking legislation for X have popular support, two referendum results, the European Court of Human Rights, the master of the country's largest maternity hospital and the principles of a Democratic Republic to call upon. But what of the other side?

It's only fair to acknowledge recent news that much loved political party Fianna Fáil has passed a number of resolutions affirming their stance as a 'pro life party'. And it would be remiss of me to not acknowledge the considerable support opposition to X case legislation enjoys in the US Bible Belt, not to mention the enthusiastic fundraising efforts across the pond. They enjoy an almost supernatural ability to complain of media bias and yet have an Iona Institute representative in print, on radio and on screen every other day.

But is there more?

Worryingly, I've identified an area of strength to which we have no answer.

Pro Life Pastels
We start with Precious Life, described by Youth Defence as their sister organisation. They, along with fellow vaccine opponents Family and Life, seem to have acquired a replica of a painting with supernatural powers:

A magic painting
I read with interest that " “Copy” does not really do it justice", the author's reasoning supported by the knowledge that it was "copied faithfully in every detail." Furthermore, it seems it has absorbed some ability to influence the material world through physical contact with the original paranormal picture under the skilled hand of Archbishop Stanislaw Nowak. Details of the precise procedure to impart such powers are, rightly, shrouded in mystery.

Powers: from what I can tell, veneration of this painting enables one to influence agents in an otherworldly realm. One does not request that these agents interfere in the material world, rather one asks them to communicate desired outcomes to God. I'm no expert in the area, but veneration seems similar to requesting a celebrity retweet. This painting is specifically designed as a portal to Saint Mary. +17 for summon backup.

Known weaknesses: None. Details of a failed attack reveal that in addition to otherworldly protection, it is shielded by a more material layer of bulletproof invisible glass. A further ritual called 'expiation' returned it to full strength.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

SPUC, the American Edition

There are many ways one could respond to receipt of SPUC's anti marriage equality flyer. Perhaps the most aesthetically pleasing was this chap who ran it through a lawnmower. Others preferred the more cerebral approach of blogging about its flaws. A rather popular doctor I follow on Twitter chose to mention it which goes some way to explaining why I, an Irish blogger, have taken an interest.

Prying into UK affairs is not something I typically do. That said, given SPUC's long, prolonged and uninterrupted history of interfering in Irish referendums I feel justified in offering the playground retort: they started it.

For those perhaps new to this blog a little background is in order. I work in IT, and in my spare time I do a little programming around Twitter. For this project I pulled a list of everyone who follows @spucprolife. Here's a word cloud of their Twitter biographies to get a vague impression of their typical followers. Click for larger:

Largest word is Catholic, then Christian, then Conservative, then pro life

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Of David Quinn, the Cautious Skeptic

David Quinn is a man not unused to criticism so it likely came as little shock to him that his recent use of surveys has raised eyebrows. That his argument clings so heavily to an eleven year old paper was not the cause of bemusement, nor was the paper's unerring focus on North America source of consternation. Rather it was the prominent phrase on first page forming disclaimer "no conclusions can be drawn from this research about the wellbeing of children raised by same-sex parents".

It is fair to say that Quinn did not give this caveat equal prominence when he used it to advance his case against same sex marriage. (I venture to suggest that marriage and child rearing are no longer as tightly coupled as Quinn may think, rather denting another premise of his argument, but I digress.) Fellow blogger Humanisticus discussed this in depth and then addressed Quinn's attempts to refute the charges. Undaunted, Quinn seems to have risen early of this Saturday morning to put pen to paper - metaphorically speaking - with a further effort to refute the charges. I encourage you to read it in full: one should not judge the merits of an essay based on its critics alone.


Were I to distil the piece to two lines I would choose the following:

"To draw reliable conclusions about the effects of family structure you need large, random samples of each of the family types being examined.
...
The available data does not allow us to say how well children raised by same-sex couples fare compared with the biological married family."

This feels like a softening of Quinn's position. We've seen him move from saying that married biological parents provide the best possible environment for children to an admirable embrace of skepticism and desire to see widespread surveys to better quantify data. He is now agnostic on the matter, shunning any potential judgement of the efficacy of same sex parenthood until the data arrives.

So why do I not applaud?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Youth Defence Blog Post Review: Discussing Disability

"I’d tell you I love[sic], but then I’d have to kill you" This mangled attempt to reproduce the title of one of the author's "favourite spy books" may have slithered past Youth Defence's editor. Or perhaps it was shown mercy - given the inexhaustible supply of errors that constitute the remainder of this blog post a mere discarding of the sixth word of the title (the word 'you') may have been allowed stay to better lower the expectations of its unfortunate readers.

I assume of course that Críostíona speaks of that well known classic, I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I 'd Have To Kill You by Ally Carter. I'm assured it's popular with both pre teens and young adults alike. Of course, perhaps I err. It rests not outside the realms of possibility that Youth Defence members have access to works that encourage lethal responses to admissions of eros, as suggested by the offered title. Still, the former seems the most charitable reading so I'll progress with the assumption that Críostíona intended to commence her piece with a reference to a teenager who lies to most people she meets in the protection of a secret mission. (For those unduly troubled by excess free time the plot summary is here.)

What mission does Críostíona execute in this blog post? We discover by examining the first sentence to follow a rather hamfisted link with aforementioned book title:

Sunday, March 31, 2013

iERA's Campaign - Coincidence, Convergence, or Copied?

In the past I've discussed Hamza Tzortzis's plagiarism of William Lane Craig and his poorly executed attempt to pretend that liberal societies facilitate rape. Perhaps it is unfair of me to focus exclusively on the Islamic Education and Research Academy's head of research.

Today instead we look at Abdur Raheem Green, head of the aforementioned iERA, perhaps most famous for his lectures on how one should best beat one's wives. I use the plural as he has two wives at time of print and sees four as the maximum. I'm reliably informed that he is the keen mind behind the 'Don't Shoot the Messenger' campaign which features a trilemma argument. In brief, it states that Mohammed was either lying, deluded or the final prophet of Allah. It then attempts to prove the first two explanations incoherent by saying his actions are neither those of a liar or a madman.

But does this sound familiar?

Those of us who have read C S Lewis's Mere Christianity (published 1952, popular with only a small number of my regular readership, I'll admit) may recall his Lord, Liar, Lunatic argument, also featuring a trilemma. In it he states that Jesus was either lying, deluded, or the risen son of God. It then attempts to prove the first two explanations incoherent by saying his actions are neither those of a liar or a madman.

Do have a read of both arguments and see if you also feel there are similarities.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Youth Defence: Facts Deserve Better

I've been on holiday and am somewhat behind on current affairs. No matter, the Youth Defence blog provides a rich source of material for me to discuss.

Today I look at an entry from Eadaoin, a UK based blogger with an interest in Ireland's abortion debate. Rather than provide commentary I'll just offer my free fact checking service.
"It has become increasingly clear that, over the last ten decades the women’s liberation movement across the globe, which had noble aims in its infancy, has become an oppressor of women’s freedom."
I have a fortnight's worth of laundry to do: regrettably time does not allow me to also correct grammar or suggest how Eadaoin might express ideas clearly. Do feel free to assist her in the comments.
Statistically speaking, induced abortions increases [sic] the risk of breast, cervical, ovarian and rectal cancer.
No it doesn't. I offer as evidence a Lancet published meta analysis of 53 studies and a 12 year study of 25,000 Danish women. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the United States National Cancer Institute agree that there is no causative link. The American Cancer Society goes one further, saying that "...the public is not well-served by false alarms. At this time, the scientific evidence does not support the notion that abortion of any kind raises the risk of breast cancer". Eadaoin doesn't offer any evidence of this purported link with breast or other cancers, and with good cause - she doesn't have it. Nor does she mention that her organisation opposes the HPV vaccine, proven to reduce instances of cervical cancer.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Anti vaccination group flies Irish politicians to US on anti abortion fact finding mission

I haven't spoken of the registered charity Family and Life before. They have an interesting past, the National Catholic Register describing them as splitting from US based Human Life International while reasoning that "its work in Ireland was being interfered with by Americans". This led to some surprise when I read in the Sunday Times of their plans to fly several Fine Gael senators, including Fidelma Healy Eames and Paul Bradford, on a 'search for truth' about abortion.

The shock was precipitated by their choice of location - they're off to the United States. For an organisation born from opposition to American intervention in Irish affairs this seems an odd choice.

With this thought in mind I reviewed a previous post touching on their most recent ancestor. Their split from Human Life International did not seem to include condemnation of their opposition to vaccines and I wondered if this was an area of disagreement.

It is not.

Take their Ethical Vaccine for Children Project:
The “Ethical Vaccine for Children Project” is aimed at applying pressure on the Irish health authorities and pharmaceutical companies to oppose the use of vaccines based on cell lines derived from aborted babies' tissue. In Ireland the MMR (Measeles, Mumps & Rubella) vaccine is produced using cell lines that originated in the abortion of unborn babies, despite the fact that ethical safe alternatives exist.
and continues with the comment:
I just read your leaflet on ethical vaccines.  It is very well produced, very informative and also very disturbing.  I can't believe that people would kill unborn babies in the search for a more profitable way of producing vaccines.  It's shocking and I will contact the drug companies to register my abhorrence at their actions.

The text of their leaflet is not provided, and if this is the reaction it inspires I can see a rather plausible reason why they would choose to keep it concealed.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Under the (American) Influence

It's always a pleasure to be offered a guest post. Often in the past I've taken the opportunity to give voice to someone who holds a different viewpoint to mine, and I've had fine articles from Christian and Muslim bloggers. In this instance, however, Kath O'Meara and I have little on which to disagree.

She writes from the perspective of an American expatriate living in Ireland and has dug up some fascinating information on our friends across the water. It's great to have such a succinct overview of the situation on file and it makes me realise that much of my output assumes prior knowledge of the Irish situation. My thanks to Kath for this. Do tweet her your appreciation on @KathOMeara. If you enjoy her writing you should check out her blog.

Do enjoy.

As an American and long-term resident in Ireland (gratefully and by choice), I would like to state for the record:  

I am sorry.   


I am sorry that these religious fundamentalists are sticking their noses (and wallets) into the Irish question on abortion and sending money to be used on questionable publicity including billboards ,leaflets and posters.

I am sorry about the illegal robocalls, which originated in the US

When I first heard that far-right anti-choice groups in Ireland were being shored up with American dollars the first thought in my mind was "Oh man, I thought I got away from you people!" You see for me, one of the perks about living in Ireland is that I am thousands of miles away from the bible thumping I-know-better-than-you hell and brimstone fundies who can’t seem to stop themselves from trying to control a woman’s right to bodily integrity. A strategy which has not stopped although safe and legal abortions are now available in the US via the landmark Supreme Court case ofRoe v. Wade.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Youth Defence and the Young Chauvinists of the Future

I long for a nemesis. They prove inspiring, motivating, and are often a rich source of material. I put out a call some time ago and ickle tayto volunteered but the lack of significant areas of disagreement meant her well-meaning intentions proved counterproductive.

Hoping to find that special someone I flossed, applied finest cologne, ironed a shirt and visited Youth Defence's blog. There I found Tadhg. By Youth Defence standards he's a prolific writer, having provided the internet with over a dozen posts. Like any good nemesis would, he seems to be operating under a pseudonym:

Tim is a fine name; I'm unsure why he chose to switch to Tadhg and when I seek out a nemesis I prefer them to employ a sobriquet more along the lines of Dr Doom. No matter. It seems redundant to critique a member of Youth Defence / The Life Institute / the Pro Life Alliance / Coir / prolifeinfo.ie / Truth TV for using different names, and whether or not Tim or Tadhg is a real person is immaterial to my criticism of his latest blog post.

Entitled What if you were the one being chosen?, it starts with the story of Ryan. His pregnant partner Hannah plays a minor supporting role. It's a tragic tale of a man denied his right to make reproductive choices for his girlfriend and focuses on Ryan trying to call Hannah, Ryan going to Hannah's house, Ryan talking to Hannah's parents, Ryan calling Hannah's friends and Ryan driving to several abortion clinics. Hannah, as mere womb support unit, is not given voice in this piece. The injustice of Ryan not having control over Hannah's womb is laid bare for all to see.

Monday, February 25, 2013

David Quinn and the Sporting Chance

David Quinn begins his latest article by describing the killing of Reeva Steenkamp as a "high profile sporting scandal". The paragraph judges her name unworthy of inclusion and ends: "Whether or not [Pistorious] is eventually found guilty of murdering his girlfriend, his image is badly damaged." Callous is not the word to describe such prioritisation.

By coupling this with the hopefully unintentional pun of "heroes are proving to have feet of clay" Quinn left me ill disposed to view the remainder favourably. I trudged drearily through a list of sporting controversies, learning that Tiger Woods was unfaithful, that Armstrong partook of performance enhancing drugs and that paedarasts have not eschewed the role of coach. By travelling thousands of miles Quinn also succeeded in citing a single organised cover up of child rape outside religious spheres. He concludes that  sports fans do not abandon their calling through scandal, and the faith they display is thus demonstrably stronger.

How valid are these comparisons between religion and sport? Few could doubt the devotion displayed by fans who tattoo their bodies, construct shrines, wear sacred garments, attend regular gatherings and learn reverential chants. The time and money invested by committed sports followers far surpasses that invested by an average person of faith. Quinn states that "sport to them is a sort of religion", that they "believe in sport. [They] like it, value it and cherish it." and while I'd say it's more accurate to view religion and sport as devotional cousins, in the main we agree.

What implications does Quinn's broadened view of religion have?