Sunday, 25 January 2015

Has John Baird Turned Over a New Leaf?

John Baird. By Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict) [OGL or CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Friday, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird brought up his concern about the Raif Badawi floggings with Saudi prince Turki Al Faisal.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has raised concerns with a Saudi prince about the flogging sentence handed down to a blogger with family in Quebec.

A government official, speaking on condition they not be named, said Baird spoke about blogger Raif Badawi's case directly with Prince Turki Al Faisal, a member of the House of Saud.
This is good and I hope something comes of it. This same prince is expected to visit Ottawa next month and I hope Baird brings it up again if Badawi is still being held at that time. I do wonder how close our government has become with the Saudis and how this could be.

All this got me considering for a moment whether or not Baird might have turned a new leaf since he had announced in the past that he just didn't think that atheists were in any real significant danger across the world.

Although I'm happy Baird is now doing the right thing, I cannot say he's sticking up for atheists because Raif Badawi is a secular Muslim who is facing 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for simply standing up for free inquiry -- including atheists' right to free speech -- in Saudi Arabia. This is more than I think we can say about Baird, so far at least. I am, however, perfectly happy to stand corrected.

I've heard some confusion in the atheist community where people are saying Raif is himself an atheist -- I made this mistake myself. Although I do not think he personally has any problem with atheists -- he is a secular liberal, perhaps a living Voltaire, and ended up in the slammer for it -- Badawi is still not an atheist himself.
"Lawyer Waleed Abu Alkhair told the BBC that Mr Badawi, a father of three, had confirmed in court that he was a Muslim but told the judge 'everyone has a choice to believe or not believe'."
I would Baird's action a step forward for atheists solely because it is a demonstration to Saudi Arabia that the world values secularism and the freedom of expression. However, this is not John Baird standing up for atheists. To the best of my knowledge, that hasn't happened yet.

Irrational Beliefs, Woo & Superstition: Another Child Dies

By Tim Evanson [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
A publication ban has been lifted and the Toronto Star identified Sean and Maria Hosannah as having killed their toddler daughter through neglect. The article starts out with information about the ban itself, but I'm more interested in the original case, which I do not recall seeing in October.
The couple was convicted of manslaughter by failing to provide the necessaries of life by a jury in Brampton last October, but until now the names of the parents and the toddler who died could not be published due to a sweeping publication ban.
You'll see that this case resembles an incident in Calgary where Jennifer and Jeromie Clark starved their son to death while implementing a strict religiously motivated vegetarian diet. Well, it seems like history has repeated itself. The Hosannahs also implemented a strict vegetarian diet apparently believing this would be more nutritious for the child based off no evidence.
An autopsy concluded four months later that she died from complications of asthma and malnutrition. The trial heard she had a rare case of rickets blamed on a lack of Vitamin D, which had also caused two broken bones. She had not seen a doctor since March 2010 and had not received any vaccinations.
Maria testified that she was very, very, very, very, very concerned about her daughter. I believe her. I think she was so concerned as to be paranoid and this paranoia is rooted in superstition,   pseudoscience, a distrust of science, medicine and Big Pharma.
She said Matinah was born healthy, but believed her daughter was “experimented on” in hospital after her birth. She said Matinah was injected with antibiotics without Sean and Maria’s permission, “and they cause a lot of side effects, something that could cause, you know, a child’s death.

Matinah Kabirah Hosannah was born on Nov. 26, 2008, at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Toronto, and weighed 2.575 kg (5.9 pounds), according to an agreed statement of fact filed in court. She was given antibiotics and fed intravenously because her doctors were concerned she had low blood sugar and a possible infection. She was discharged on Nov. 30.

Maria spoke at length to police about her family’s diet. She said she only buys whole foods, and stays away from sugar. Most of the meals she cooks are vegetarian, she said, and typically include oats, brown rice, lentils and navy beans. She said she avoids fish “because of with mercury and stuff like that.”
This is a familiar story about parents who have bought into conspiracy ideas about vaccines, injections, fad diets, etc. This sort of non evidence-based thinking is quite prevalent in middle-class Canadian families -- more prominent on the West Coast, I would think. 

This event is made more tragic because the mother appears by all accounts to be well meaning. She is just misguided and undermined by her belief in so much woo -- she did her best but her lack of reality based beliefs worked against her and her child. This is the danger of faith -- whether it be in religion or alternative medicine, etc. If anyone asks what the harm is, this is it.

Naturally, the poor child wasn't vaccinated either.
Her family refuses vaccinations for religious reasons, she said, telling police she had converted to Islam from Roman Catholicism.
What can you do when your compass for reality has been completely broken and you've bought totally into an anti-vax, anti-antibiotics, whole foods narrative, which is so popular these days? What happens when you believe you must cook vegetarian for your baby but do not have enough knowledge to do this safely? You are drifting in open sea with no compass and no rudder; you've lost your footing in reality.
When asked at the end of the interview if she and her husband had provided the best possible environment for their daughter, including warmth, nutrition, education and love, she replied: “We did the best that we can.”
It's sad. It really does matter if your beliefs are true. Irrational and false beliefs can have fatal consequences.

The couple both face possible life sentences.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Prominent Turkish Businessman Speaks Out For Secularism

Haluk Dincer
Here's a quick quote from Haluk Dinçer, the outgoing head of Turkey's top business organization TÜSİAD:
“Turkey has understood the importance of the separation of religious and political affairs from each other, of freedom of religion and conscience, and of not imposing the lifestyle of certain social groups upon any others … Politics is not interested in people’s private lives and moral worlds. We need to embrace the principles of equal citizenship and secularism with our whole heart,” Dinçer said at TÜSİAD’s 45th General Assembly Meeting, during which the group’s new head will be elected.
Now here's a man who understands secularism. Unfortunately, he's on his way out of his job and perhaps after saying this, he may want to head out of Turkey.
The relationship between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and TÜSİAD has long been thorny. Erdoğan, the former prime minister, has repeatedly urged TÜSİAD “to mind its own business” after its leaders criticized the government on issues related to democracy, the rule of law and human rights. 
This would be because Erdogan has had a nasty habit lately of arresting journalists and throwing kids into jail for three years for insulting him. He's essentially trying to turn the country into an Islamically pure Ottoman Empire 2.0.

Pellesier Science Laboratory to Open at Kasese Humanist Primary School

Brighter Brains Director, Hank Pellisier, presends compound microscope to Kasese Humanist Primary School Director Bwambale Robert.
Back in December, I wrote about a fundraiser by Hank Pellissier over at Brighter Brains Institute to open a low-cost parasitology laboratory at the Kasese Humanist Primary School in Uganda.

Well, not long after the call was put out, Hank's own brother and cousin, Bob and Jeff -- both successful business men -- signed onto the effort in a big way!
Bob Pellissier - CEO of RKI Instruments in Union City, California - initiated the idea when he asked Hank for end-of-the-year charity contribution advice. Hank - director of Brighter Brains Institute (BBI) in nearby Piedmont - advised starting a project in Uganda to help the nation’s 3.5 million orphans. Bob’s interest in science eventually led them to the science-based Kasese Humanist Primary School, where the director - Bwambale Robert - enthusiastically offered free space in a newly-built facility.

Jeff Pellissier - West Hollywood Farmer’s Insurance Agency owner - offered to join with a contribution, and additional capital was gained via a GoFundMe campaign. When enough revenue was secured, a local sign-maker - Mbusa Chrispus - was contracted to paint the first “Pellissier Science Laboratory” (PSL) sign.

The three Pellissiers will stock the lab with a microscope, fecal-testing equipment, mosquito nets, and a malaria diagnostic kit, plus a drug cabinet stocked with medicine: albendazole, praziquantal, coartem, duocotexcin, and potent pharmaceuticals. A Ugandan medical technician will be employed to run the laboratory.
The lab at Kasese Humanist Primary School will open first because School Director, Bwambale Robert, has renovated a clean new space for it at the school's new Rukoki campus. Two more laboratories are also planned around Western Uganda.

Hank has since traveled to Kasese and presented equipment needed to begin treating children who go to the school and children in the surrounding community!

Among the items that were received included a Compound Microscope, fecal testing kits, and first aid supplies. These items are among the start ups that are going to gear up a functional Pellissier Science Laboratory at Kasese Humanist Primary School. The lab will house science equipment, carry on simple experiments, possess models and some essential drugs to treat day to day diseases most common among children like worms infections, skin diseases, malaria, Anthrax, Hiv and hepatitis B to mention but a few. A qualified Medical lab technician has been contracted to help out in the smooth running of this school laboratory. All services offered by this laboratory will be free of charge.
The Pellissier Science Laboratory targets to serve more than 400 school going children, KHPS Staffs and some locals especially parents of the school. 
This is big! Finally, a Secular Humanist school giving back to the community and making a difference in the lives of dozens, perhaps hundreds.

The laboratory itself features a tile floor to maximize sanitary conditions along with medicine cabinets. This is a thousand miles better than the school's previous ramshackle location and it's all thanks to donors!

On a related development, the Pellissier Science Laboratory has been designed in a way that it adjusts to the minimum standards by having a tiled floor; essential drugs to be stored in shelves with fitted glass enclosures and a standby sink, a disposable dust bin will also be available.
The post also contains pictures of the latrines at the new Rukoki campus, which have come a long way from the hole in the ground it was only a year ago.
January 2015

February 2014 (source)
This is such a huge success! If you would like to support the Kasese Humanist Primary School:
(Paypal: Choose Kasese Option)


(Directed Donation at bottom of page.)

I'd like to thank the Pellesiers for this amazing project and look forward to working with them as a new active fellow at Hank's Brighter Brains Institute

All This Fawning Over Late Saudi King Is Making Me Sick

Late Saudi King Abdullah (source)
Right, so this pisses me off. It really makes my stomach turn.

Vision? Indeed, the bar must be very very low for Kerry. John McCain, presumably a good Christian extends his deepest condolences to the Saudi people on the passing of their king -- who stood by while Christians were persecuted.
In McCain's release:
“I extend my deepest condolences to the people of Saudi Arabia on the passing of King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al Saud. King Abdullah was an important voice for reform in Saudi Arabia. He pushed for the modernization of the education system, curbed the authority of the religious police, and extended women the right to vote and run in municipal elections. He was also a vocal advocate for peace, speaking out against violence in the Middle East and standing as a critical partner in the war on terror. King Abdullah’s enduring legacy will continue to shape the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the region for years to come.
Except for the fact that this religious police throws anyone suspected of blasphemy into jail and lashes them 1,000 times, jails their lawyer for 15 years, jails women for driving, beheads more people than ISIS -- even suspected witches! They even raid florist shops for carrying the colour red on Valentines Day. With pushes for modernization like this, Saudi Arabia ought to catch up with the 20th century sometime in the 22nd -- if all goes well.

The Huffington Post discusses how Saudi King Abdullah Was A Reformer, But Not A Very Good One.  Well, at least his country produced a lot of oil, had a lot of money and bought a lot of weapons from western countries designed for crowd control -- yes, at least they had that going for them.

How about the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (naturally) -- herself a woman -- praising the king on what a fantastic job he did sticking up for the rights of women!
The British are so sad they are flying their flags half mast!

Is this just money speaking? What am I missing here? Am I on the same planet? Am I the only one who finds this deeply disturbing and nausea inducing? Here's a nice little graphic from Middle East Eye: