Notes and Comment Blog

Guest post: How many women will die?

Jan 17th, 2018 4:04 pm | By

Originally a comment by iknklast on The right to refuse to do your job.

I nearly lost my mother when I was 9 because a Catholic doctor had refused her any contraceptive care – then bawled her out when she got pregnant again. I suppose he felt my mother, a married woman in her mid-30s, had no right to have sexual relations anymore because getting pregnant was dangerous.

For the record, my mother was not, and never had been, Catholic. She was a member of a religion that didn’t go around poking its nose into married people’s bedrooms, though they could be fierce if someone got pregnant outside of marriage.

My mother had five children at the time, ranging in age from 3 to 14. She had decided 5 was enough, but her doctor refused to treat her like she was adult enough to make such decisions for herself. Fortunately, she did manage to survive the 6th pregnancy, but spent the entire time bedridden, with her 7, 9, and 12 year old daughters having to care for her instead of doing 7, 9, and 12 year old things. What if we hadn’t been able to do that?

Also for the record: this doctor did not work for a Catholic hospital or a Catholic clinic. He worked for the United States government. He was a Navy doctor, and the Navy had no rules prohibiting married women from receiving contraceptive care, even surgical. The Supreme Court had already declared that to be a right of married women (which took too damned long, having happened only 4 years before!)

Trump would love for us to go back to a time where women have no say whatsoever over their own reproductive rights. And until the Supreme Court gets rid of those 4 pesky liberal judges who persuade Justice Kennedy to vote with them on not totally knocking out the right to these procedures (though Kennedy does vote to uphold every limitation short of overturning), the best he can do is put in a religious provision that does the same thing in effect for many women.

How many women will die? And who in the Trump administration will give damn? (That last question is rhetorical; the obvious answer is “no one.”)

We all want it over, yesterday

Jan 17th, 2018 3:15 pm | By

Barbara Kingsolver pulls no punches:

Patriarchy persists because power does not willingly cede its clout; and also, frankly, because women are widely complicit in the assumption that we’re separate and not quite equal. If we’re woke, we inspect ourselves and others for implicit racial bias, while mostly failing to recognise explicit gender bias, which still runs rampant. Religious faiths that subordinate women flourish on every continent. Nearly every American educational institution pours the lion’s share of its athletics budget into the one sport that still excludes women – American football.

Most progressives wouldn’t hesitate to attend a football game, or to praise the enlightened new pope – the one who says he’s sorry, but women still can’t lead his church, or control our reproduction.

[waves madly] I would! I’ve written a lot about what’s wrong with American football (and I wouldn’t go near a game), and even more about how loathsome the pope’s church is.

In heterosexual weddings, religious or secular, the patriarch routinely “gives” his daughter to the groom, after which she’s presented to the audience as “Mrs New Patriarch,” to joyous applause. We have other options, of course: I kept my name in marriage and gave it to my daughters. But most modern brides still embrace the ritual erasure of their identities, taking the legal name of a new male head of household, as enslaved people used to do when they came to a new plantation owner.

I can already hear the outcry against conflating traditional marriage with slavery. Yes, I know, the marital bargain has changed: women are no longer chattels. Tell me this giving-away and name-changing are just vestiges of a cherished tradition. I’ll reply that some of my neighbours here in the south still fly the Confederate flag – not with hate, they insist, but to honour a proud tradition. In either case, a tradition in which people legally control other people doesn’t strike me as worth celebrating, even symbolically.

If any contract between men required the non-white one to adopt the legal identity of his Caucasian companion, would we pop the champagne? If any sport wholly excluded people of colour, would it fill stadiums throughout the land? Would we attend a church whose sacred texts consign Latinos to inferior roles? What about galas where black and Asian participants must wear painful shoes and clothes that reveal lots of titillating, well-toned flesh while white people turn up comfortably covered?

That’s a lot of punches not pulled. [cheers]

Years ago, as a college student, I spent a semester abroad in a beautiful, historic city where the two sentences I heard most in English, usually conjoined, were “You want to go for coffee?” and “You want to have sex with me, baby?” I lived near a huge public garden where I wished I could walk or study, but couldn’t, without being followed, threatened and subjected to jarring revelations of some creep’s penis among the foliages. My experiment in worldliness had me trapped, fuming, in a tiny apartment.

Oh yeah. We were just talking about that the other day.

She solved the problem by pretending to be pregnant, and it worked but of course it was annoying to have to wear a pillow in order to go out unmolested.

Let’s be clear: no woman asks to live in a rape culture: we all want it over, yesterday. Mixed signals about female autonomy won’t help bring it down, and neither will asking nicely. Nothing changes until truly powerful offenders start to fall. Feminine instincts for sweetness and apology have no skin in this game. It’s really not possible to overreact to uncountable, consecutive days of being humiliated by men who say our experience isn’t real, or that we like it actually, or are cute when we’re mad. Anger has to go somewhere – if not out then inward, in a psychic thermodynamics that can turn a nation of women into pressure cookers. Watching the election of a predator-in-chief seems to have popped the lid off the can. We’ve found a voice, and now is a good time to use it, in a tone that will not be mistaken for flirtation.


Guest post: There was a certain rich man

Jan 17th, 2018 2:32 pm | By

Guest post by Raymond Dickey.

There was a certain rich man who had a doctor, and an accusation was brought to him that this doctor was making him look bad. So he called him and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of my physical, for you can no longer be my doctor.’

Then the doctor said within himself, ‘What shall I do? For my master is taking the position away from me. I cannot diagnose; I am ashamed to plug pharmaceuticals. I have resolved what to do, that when I am put out of medicine, they may receive me into their party.’

So he reviewed every one of his master’s medical measurements, and said to the first, ‘How much does master weigh?’ And he saw, ‘Over 300 pounds.’ So he said to himself, ‘Take the report, and sit down quickly and write 239.’ Then he reviewed another, ‘And how much blood pressure?’ And he saw, ‘Dangerously high.’ And he said to himself, ‘Take the blood pressure, and write normal.’ And he considers the master’s cognitive function, but decided not to even go there.

So the master commended the incompetent doctor because he had dealt shrewdly. For the sons of this party are more shrewd in their fabrication than the sons of the other party, yea, or the daughters thereof.

The right to refuse to do your job

Jan 17th, 2018 2:18 pm | By

Trump has a new bit of evil to spring on us.

The Trump administration is considering a new “religious freedom” rule that would allow healthcare workers to refuse to treat LGBT patients. The move would also allow workers to deny care to a woman seeking an abortion or any other service they morally oppose.

Roger Severino, the head of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights, has actively opposed civil rights protections for minority communities. In his previous role as Director of the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society for the conservative Heritage Foundation, Severino spoke out against the regulations he is now tasked with upholding.

He’s head of the office of civil rights and he’s working to take away people’s civil rights. You couldn’t make this shit up.

The rule would create a new division of the civil rights office that would be tasked with ensuring health care workers are given a license to discriminate. The division would also be responsible for outreach and technical support for religious right organizations that oppose LGBT equality and abortion.

The Obama administration overturned Bush-era rules that allowed health care professionals to cite their religious beliefs to deny care. The rules were used as justification for denying fertility treatment to lesbian couples and an ambulance driver’s refusal to take a transgender woman to the hospital. The woman died before being seen by a doctor.

The proposed rule would also allow doctors and nurses to refuse treatment for HIV and AIDS.

Politico has more:

The new rules — a priority for anti-abortion groups and supporters — could come just days before Friday’s March for Life, the annual gathering in Washington marking the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. Republicans have typically timed votes on anti-abortion legislation to the event, the nation’s largest anti-abortion rally.

So-called conscience protections have been politically controversial since shortly after Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in 1973.

The Obama administration in 2011 rewrote a series of Bush-era protections designed to protect the moral and religious beliefs of health care workers. Opponents of the Bush rules argue that they were too broad and could have allowed workers to opt out of end-of-life care, providing birth control and treatment for HIV and AIDS. For instance, some workers cited their moral objections when denying fertility treatment to lesbian couples or not providing ambulance transportation to a pregnant woman seeking an abortion.

But supporters of the conscience protections say the Obama administration left objecting workers out to dry, liable to be fired for refusing to assist in abortions.

“To be forced under pain of losing one’s job is just outrageous,” Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), co-chairman of the Bipartisan Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, said last week. President Trump is “now looking to remedy that through the HHS mechanism — hasn’t happened yet, but it will.”

To be forced to do your job on pain of losing said job is outrageous? Really? I think it’s pretty standard. If you refuse to do your job, you’re going to be told to go find a different one, because your employer is looking for someone who will in fact do the job. That’s what “job” means in that context. If a person doesn’t want to be involved in abortions, then that person should not seek a job that involves abortions. I don’t want to go down the mines, so I don’t seek employment down the mines. It’s quite an easy principle to grasp, I think.

What was Epictetus’s favorite snack?

Jan 17th, 2018 10:44 am | By

In other “pesky brown foreigners wanting to come here” news, it turns out you have to pass a test to be a humanist.

A Pakistani man who renounced his Muslim faith and became a humanist has had his application for asylum in the UK rejected after failing to correctly answer questions about ancient Greek philosophers.

The Home Office said Hamza bin Walayat’s failure to identify Plato and Aristotle as humanist philosophers indicated his knowledge of humanism was “rudimentary at best”.

Uh…what? Who says Plato and Aristotle even are humanist philosophers? Especially in any modern sense that an ex-Muslim would have in mind? Aristotle is a largely secular philosopher perhaps; Plato isn’t even that. They’re considered part of a broad humanist education, I’ll buy that, but that’s because of the long history of humanist education as meaning drawing on the Greek and Roman classics. Very few modern humanists would put them on a basic humanism reading list, I should think. Maybe the Euthyphro, but more likely a modern version with mention of the Euthyphro.

Walayat, who has lived in the UK since 2011, said he had received death threats from members of his family and community in Pakistan after integrating into secular British life, forming a relationship with a non-Muslim partner and refusing to conform to the expectations of conservative Islam.

Apostates are subject to discrimination, persecution and violence in Pakistan. In March last year, a student who had stated he was a humanist on his Facebook page was murdered at his university.

Yes yes yes but did he know who Anaxagoras was?

Walayat claimed asylum in July last year after being served with removal papers for overstaying his student visa.

After an interview with immigration officials, the Home Office said he had “been unable to provide a consistent or credible account with regards the main aspect of your claim, namely that you are a humanist”.

When tested on his knowledge of humanism, Walayat gave a “basic definition” but could not identify “any famous Greek philosophers who were humanistic”.

That is simply ridiculous. People who want to kill him for being an apostate won’t be fretting about his familiarity with the Greek philosophers, I can assure you.

The Home Office concluded: “Your knowledge of humanism is rudimentary at best and not of a level that would be expected of a genuine follower of humanism.”

Hey! The requirements are nowhere near that stringent. They are simply non-belief in Islam, non-worship of the prophet, non-compliance with Sharia, non-attendance at a mosque, non-observance of Ramadan, not-praying five times a day, and the like. They’re negative; they’re refusal; they’re saying No. The Home Office really ought to know that.

Walayat joined the Humanists UK organisation in August, but said he had believed in the basic principles of humanism from childhood.

According to Humanists UK, “humanism is not a ‘canonical’ belief system, where adherents must learn and follow a strict set of behaviour codes. As a descriptive term, humanists can be someone who has simply rejected religious belief but holds some positive conception of human values.”

In a letter in support of Walayat’s asylum application, Bob Churchill, of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, said: “For many, the broad descriptive ‘humanist’ is just a softer way of saying atheist, especially if you come from a place where identifying as atheist may be regarded as a deeply offensive statement.”

Andrew Copson, of Humanists UK, said the move “set a dangerous precedent for non-religious people fleeing persecution. The Home Office is simply incorrect to claim that non-religious people seeking asylum don’t get the same protection in law as religious people do.”

The questions put to Walayat “reveal a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of humanism”, he added.

Or, more cynically, just an underhanded excuse for denying someone asylum.

Duck’s off, sorry

Jan 17th, 2018 9:42 am | By

It looks as if Trump’s Fake News Awards aren’t today after all.

Trump will name “the most corrupt & biased of the Mainstream Media” on Wednesday, according to a Jan. 7 tweet, but he appears to have done little preparation for the event — if there even is an event.

“We’ll keep you posted on any details around that potential event and what that would look like,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Tuesday when asked about the awards.

Posted? Potential? Would look like? But the awards are supposed to be today. Has he not prepared? No shopping for medals or tiny statues? No combing through the entries? No secret ballots?

What happened to the president’s tweeted claim, nine days earlier, that “the interest in, and importance of, these awards is far greater than anyone could have anticipated”?

Heightened interest was Trump’s stated reason for pushing back the awards, which he initially said he would give out Jan. 8.

Maybe there’s so much interest he’s put the awards off until 2037.

A bleak global climate for press freedom

Jan 17th, 2018 8:35 am | By

I never expected to be quoting John McCain, but heyho we live in strange times.

[Trump] has threatened to continue his attempt to discredit the free press by bestowing “fake news awards” upon reporters and news outlets whose coverage he disagrees with. Whether Trump knows it or not, these efforts are being closely watched by foreign leaders who are already using his words as cover as they silence and shutter one of the key pillars of democracy.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 2017 was one of the most dangerous years to be a journalist. Last year, the organization documented 262 cases of journalists being imprisoned for their work. Reporters around the world face intimidation, threats of violence, harassment, persecution and sometimes even death as governments resort to brutal censorship to silence the truth.

And Trump is doing his best to emulate them.

The committee’s report revealed a bleak global climate for press freedom, as more governments seek to control access to information and limit freedom of opinion and expression. They do this not only by arresting journalists but also by fostering distrust of media coverage and accusing reporters of undermining national security and pride. Governments dub the press the “enemy of the people,” weaken or eliminate their independence, and exploit the lack of serious scrutiny to encroach on individual liberties and freedoms.

How shaming is it that the US government is one of those?

While administration officials often condemn violence against reporters abroad, Trump continues his unrelenting attacks on the integrity of American journalists and news outlets. This has provided cover for repressive regimes to follow suit. The phrase “fake news” — granted legitimacy by an American president — is being used by autocrats to silence reporters, undermine political opponents, stave off media scrutiny and mislead citizens. CPJ documented 21 cases in 2017 in which journalists were jailed on “fake news” charges.

And we all know there is absolutely no way anyone can convince Trump to stop tweeting about “fake news.” We all know there is no way he would listen, or understand the point. That’s not usual. A president who can neither hear nor comprehend something as basic as that is not normal.

Trump’s attempts to undermine the free press also make it more difficult to hold repressive governments accountable. For decades, dissidents and human rights advocates have relied on independent investigations into government corruption to further their fight for freedom. But constant cries of “fake news” undercut this type of reporting and strip activists of one of their most powerful tools of dissent.

Constant cries of “fake news” from a president who is more thoroughly corrupt than any in living memory at that. (I suppose that’s why Trump loves Putin so much? The brazen expropriation of public assets? He feels a kinship with anyone who can get away with that?)

The “Fake News Awards” are supposed to be today.

Why is Cory Booker seething with anger?

Jan 16th, 2018 5:52 pm | By

The racism blowup isn’t going away.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said Tuesday, while testifying under oath to the Senate Judiciary Committee, that the president used “tough language” during a conversation on immigration policy in an Oval Office meeting last week. But Nielsen said she did not hear Trump describe some African countries and Haiti as “shithole countries,” as has been reported.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) found that impossible to believe. He preceded to express his frustration with why Nielsen — and Republican lawmakers Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) — seemed unable to recall what the president said in an Oval Office meeting.

Maybe they Repressed the Memory.

Booker also shared some of his recent conversations with black Americans regarding the comments that the president and his allies deny. He said that the offensive characterization of the countries sending black immigrants to the U.S. was foremost on their minds:

Why is this so important? Why is this so disturbing for me? Why am I frankly, seething with anger? We have this incredible nation where we have been taught that it does not matter where you’re from, it doesn’t matter your color, your race, your religion, it’s about the content of your character. It’s about your values and your ideals, and yet we have language that from Richard J. Durbin to Lindsey O. Graham, they seem to have a much better recollection of what went on. You’re under oath. You and others in that room that suddenly cannot remember.

It was Martin Luther King that said there’s ‘nothing in this world more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.’ And so here we are in the United States of America, and we have a history that is beautiful and grand and also ugly — where from this nation to others we know what happens when people sit by and are bystanders and say nothing. When Oval Office rhetoric sounds like social engineering, we know from human history the dangers of that.

The commander in chief in an Oval Office meeting referring to people from African countries and Haitians with the most vile and vulgar language. That language festers when ignorance and bigotry is aligned with power — it’s a dangerous force in our country. Your silence and amnesia is complicity.

It keeps coming up, which is not surprising given both Trump’s history and his nature. He’s been a racist all his adult life, and he actively enjoys being the kind of person who is a shameless racist. He’s a narcissist and a showoff, and he thinks racism is something to show off.

It is a regular sight on cable news to see black commentators passionately making a case for their humanity when discussing the latest comment from the president’s statements on white supremacists defending Confederate memorials in Charlottesville, or NFL players protesting racism, or black immigrants from African and Caribbean countries.

They often appear heated and exasperated, frustrated and annoyed or simply disgusted and hurt because more than 50 years after the peak of the civil rights movement, black Americans find themselves having to make the case that some comments, ideas and even policy proposals targeting black people are a direct attack on their humanity.

Remember two years ago? We didn’t know this was going to happen. I miss that.

Cory Booker’s statement

Jan 16th, 2018 5:37 pm | By

She’s not wrong.

Fear that we might be seen as obstructive

Jan 16th, 2018 4:13 pm | By

An anonymous woman who works at the BBC on being the collective BBC Women:

The plural, BBC Women, is the collective name we have given ourselves in choosing to highlight a very simple principle: equal pay for equal work. It is a matter of the law, the Equality Act of 2010.

And the group of BBC women I am a part of now numbers more than 200, including some of the most high-profile at the corporation. We are women who support our colleague Carrie Gracie in her public and eloquent pursuit of that principle of parity. Women who may have specific pay grievances or none, but, above all, have become involved in this issue because it is the right thing to do. And because we all want things to improve for future generations in the industry.

The BBC is a wonderful institution, but women there are afraid right now.

That I write this anonymously is a sign of both fear and anger among many BBC women, who, even after joining the group, stay silent. Fear that we might be seen as obstructive for speaking out, and anger because the reason for our speaking out is neither obstructive nor designed to make trouble. We just want to see an existing law enforced.

But the BBC cannot trumpet its editorial independence in telling truth to power, only to expect its highly educated and talented employees to stay silent when they are lied to. And we have been lied to. Both in individual cases and collectively. You could argue that it is a form of gaslighting: continuing to tell women that there is no inequality and, over a period of time, they think they are imagining it.

And then there’s John Humphrys.

That the BBC management is said to be “deeply unimpressed” is good. But the private conversation isn’t just a sideshow, it is a symptom of a cultural malaise. It represents hardwired hostility and contempt towards women who demand what is right and legal. This can’t be shrugged off as “jocular exchange” or “banter” between old mates.

Hahahaha she wants to be paid as much as the blokes, silly bitch, can you believe it?

H/t Maureen

A house is not a hole

Jan 16th, 2018 11:15 am | By

Oh gee, there’s even more. It turns out those two lying dogs aka two Republican senators who say Trump didn’t say “shithole countries” meant (but didn’t tell us they meant) he said “shithouse” instead.

Just when you thought the lawmakers involved in that “shithole countries” meeting at the White House on Thursday hadn’t covered themselves in enough shame, here comes a new development.

The Washington Post reported Monday night that the source of the dispute is less about the thrust of President Trump’s “shithole” comment and more about the second syllable of that vulgar word. It turns out that the statement Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.) issued that sounded as though it was crafted by a dozen lawyers was written that way for a reason: Cotton and Perdue, according to three White House sources, believe Trump said “shithouse” rather than “shithole.” (The New York Times has a source saying the same thing.)

Well that changes everything. It’s hideously racist to refer to all of Africa as a shithole, while calling all of Africa a shithouse is a compliment of the highest kind. Like so: Trump’s brain is a shithouse. Laudatory and respectful, yes?

You can never be racist enough for the base

Jan 16th, 2018 10:39 am | By

The Post has a detailed account of that meeting at the White House last week. It turns out “shithole” wasn’t the sum total of all the president’s racism.

Trump talked with Durbin on the phone that morning, all cheery about the prospects for a bipartisan deal on immigration; he invited Durbin and Lindsey Graham over for a meeting to do the deal.

But when they arrived at the Oval Office, the two senators were surprised to find that Trump was far from ready to finalize the agreement. He was “fired up” and surrounded by hard-line conservatives such as Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who seemed confident that the president was now aligned with them, according to one person with knowledge of the meeting.

Trump told the group he wasn’t interested in the terms of the bipartisan deal that Durbin and Graham had been putting together. And as he shrugged off suggestions from Durbin and others, the president called nations from Africa “shithole countries,” denigrated Haiti and grew angry. The meeting was short, tense and often dominated by loud cross-talk and swearing, according to Republicans and Democrats familiar with the meeting.

Trump’s ping-ponging from dealmaking to feuding, from elation to fury, has come to define the contentious immigration talks between the White House and Congress, perplexing members of both parties as they navigate the president’s vulgarities, his combativeness and his willingness to suddenly change his position.

He’s what the professionals call labile. That’s the opposite of being a stable genius.

Trump complained that there wasn’t enough money included in the deal for his promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. He also objected that Democratic proposals to adjust the visa lottery and federal policy for immigrants with temporary protected status were going to drive more people from countries he deemed undesirable into the United States instead of attracting immigrants from places like Norway and Asia, people familiar with the meeting said.

Norway & Asia – a country of a few million & a region of several billion.

But more to the point we can see what he’s doing here – he’s wanting to shape the demographics of the US. I can think of someone else who wanted to shape the demographics of a large region in that way.

Attendees who were alarmed by the racial undertones of Trump’s remarks were further disturbed when the topic of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) came up, these people said.

At one point, Durbin told the president that members of that caucus — an influential House group — would be more likely to agree to a deal if certain countries were included in the proposed protections, according to people familiar with the meeting.

Trump was curt and dismissive, saying he was not making immigration policy to cater to the CBC and did not particularly care about that bloc’s demands, according to people briefed on the meeting. “You’ve got to be joking,” one adviser said, describing Trump’s reaction.

White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly was in the room and was largely stone-faced, not giving any visible reaction when Trump said “shithole countries” or when he said Haitians should not be part of any deal, White House advisers said.

At one point, Graham told Trump he should use different language to discuss immigration, people briefed on the meeting said.

It’s unpleasantly easy to picture, isn’t it.

Trump had seemed for several days to be favoring a deal that Democrats could sign up to.

But some White House officials, including conservative adviser Stephen Miller, feared that Graham and Durbin would try to trick Trump into signing a bill that was damaging to him and would hurt him with his political base.

His base. His fucking base. His fucking base that is happy with his racist abuse. We mustn’t do what’s better for human beings and the country, we must do what makes Trump’s loathsome base happy.

So the Miller faction called the more racist senators and told them to come on over for the meeting.

“Once we saw what was going on in the meeting a few days earlier, we were freaked out,” said immigration hard-liner Mark Krikorian, who runs the Center for Immigration Studies. Trump, he said, “has hawkish instincts on immigration, but they aren’t well-developed, and he hasn’t ever been through these kind of legislative fights.”

After the Thursday meeting, Trump began telling allies that the proposal was a “terrible deal for me,” according to a friend he spoke with, and that Kelly and other aides and confidants were correct in advising him to back away.

The deal wasn’t racist enough. The base wouldn’t like it. The base wants more racism.

Trump was not particularly upset by the coverage of the meeting and his vulgarity after it was first reported by The Washington Post, calling friends and asking how they expected it to play with his political supporters, aides said.

“Everyone was saying it would help with the base,” which would agree with his characterization, one person who spoke with the president said.

How about a few lynchings? That would help with the base.

Paul Ryan pretends to care

Jan 15th, 2018 3:12 pm | By

I find this intensely annoying.

Today we remember a great man and his work. We read his sermons. We recall his sacrifices. We give back. In doing these things, we raise our gaze and renew the spirit in which we serve one another. Such is the calling of #MLKDay

It’s completely empty. He could be talking about anyone. “His work” could be anything. “His sermons” could preach anything – patriarchy, white supremacy, hellfire, anything. His sacrifices for what? We give back what?

Paul Ryan is a very conservative libertarian Republican. King was not. Ryan would have no use for a living King today, and a living King today would be resisting everything Ryan did and said.


Jan 15th, 2018 2:34 pm | By

A meaningful Martin Luther King day to you.

Watson Mere is a Haitian artist, which makes this all the more fitting.

Do we even have to argue about the right to equal pay?

Jan 15th, 2018 11:47 am | By

Suzanne Moore has thoughts on BBC blokeyness. She doesn’t enjoy being a guest on the Today show so that she can have John Humphrys barking at her about abortion.

Surely no one was surprised by the audio that leaked last week, revealing Humphrys’ fossilised attitude to the concept of equal pay. The programme has long been an old boys’ club, absolutely Westminster- and London-centric, and it ventures into many areas – science, culture, the internet, the north and, er, women – with a supercilious attitude.

But it’s more than that, it’s also Both Sides bollocks.

Meanwhile, Humphrys continues to “banter” away in the studio. This is 2018. Do we even have to argue about the right to equal pay? Apparently so.

But, for a long time, the BBC has been hampered on gender issues in terms of content, too, thanks to its now-quaint notion of impartiality. Its editorial guidelines say: “Due impartiality is often more than a simple matter of ‘balance’ between opposing viewpoints. Equally, it does not require absolute neutrality on every issue or detachment from fundamental democratic principles.” Female licence-fee payers are part of these democratic principles. Yet, as the Weinstein and #MeToo issues broke, I was asked – as were many writers – to debate whether the sexual harassment being discussed had even happened, or whether the response was going “too far”. Obviously, I refused, because I did not want to be pitted against idiotic misogynists, be they male or the go-to female mercenaries adored by radio and TV bookers. Is this balance? Sexual abuse: for or against?

I wrote a column last week about exactly that question – whether or not we get to see rules against sexual harassment as just that, basic social rules like the ones we learn in kindergarten, or as “ideology.”

The BBC literally has to get with the programme. There cannot be neutrality around unequal pay and sexual harassment. These cannot be presented as subjects for an entitled and defensive establishment to debate. And no, I do not want to have a heated discussion about it when I can simply switch it off.

But Balance! Both sides! The best argument will win! Truth always prevails!

The other men who are earning too much

Jan 15th, 2018 10:51 am | By

John Humphrys, host of BBC Radio 4’s Today, apparently thinks Carrie Gracie has a hell of a nerve expecting to be paid as much as her male colleagues.

In a leaked conversation recorded before [last] Monday’s programme, Humphrys and the BBC’s North America editor Jon Sopel discuss Carrie Gracie’s comments on the gender pay gap following her resignation as the broadcaster’s China editor on Sunday.

Gracie announced she was resigning from the post in an open letter that was published on her website. She said she was quitting her post after learning that male colleagues, including Sopel, were earning significantly more than her for roles of the same seniority.

Sopel is the one who makes nearly twice as much as she does.

The two men had a phone conversation before an interview on the Today show which Humphrys was co-hosting with Gracie.

Humphrys says: “Slight change of subject, the first question will be how much of your salary you are prepared to hand over to Carrie Gracie to keep her, and then a few comments about your other colleagues, you know, like our Middle East editor [Jeremy Bowen] and the other men who are earning too much.”

Sopel replies: “I mean, obviously if we are talking about the scope for the greatest redistribution I’ll have to come back and say well yes Mr Humphrys, but …”

Meaning, I think, that Humphrys notoriously has the highest pay of all.

Humphrys says: “And I could save you the trouble as I could volunteer that I’ve handed over already more than you fucking earn but I’m still left with more than anybody else and that seems to me to be entirely just – something like that would do it?”

Seems to confirm my interpretation.

Sopel, who seems to be reluctant to have the conversation, says: “Don’t …”

Humphrys interjects: “Oh dear God. She’s actually suggested that you should lose money – you know that don’t you? You’ve read the thing properly have you?”

Sopel says he has, and Humphrys goes on: And the idea is that I’m not allowed to talk to her about it throughout the whole course of the programme. Not a word.”

Meanwhile journalists who tweeted support for Gracie were not allowed to talk about the pay dispute on the air.

Miriam O’Reilly, who won an age discrimination case against the BBC after being dropped from Countryfile in 2011, said on Twitter that she was “disappointed to be stood down” from speaking on equal pay on Friday’s Today programme.

O’Reilly was leaked a copy of the recording, but says she did not pass it on to journalists at the Sun or the Times but was “glad it’s being brought to public attention”.

She said the tone of the conversation was “smug and condescending”.

Just a tad.

Fourth grade

Jan 15th, 2018 9:28 am | By

Newsweek reported last week – confirming what we all know – that Trump has the worst language skills of any of the last 15 presidents.

The analysis assessed the first 30,000 words each president spoke in office, and ranked them on the Flesch-Kincaid grade level scale and more than two dozen other common tests analyzing English-language difficulty levels. Trump clocked in around mid-fourth grade, the worst since Harry Truman, who spoke at nearly a sixth-grade level.

At the top of the list were Hoover and Jimmy Carter, who were basically at an 11th-grade level, and President Barack Obama, in third place with a high ninth-grade level of communicating with the American people.

I think the ones at the higher end pull their punches in the language department, i.e. they try not to talk over the population’s heads. We know Obama is very good at code-switching. I’m guessing that Hoover the engineer was lousy at code-switching in much the same way he was lousy at adapting engineer-think to the conditions of the Depression. In other words I really doubt that Harvard Law Obama has worse language skills than Hoover. At the other end though the effort is all to sound higher up the scale; I don’t think Trump is faking or code switching. has collected interviews, speeches and press conferences from previous presidents, using material publicly available from presidential libraries, and including the University of California, Santa Barbara’s American Presidency Project, which contains presidential press conferences going back to Hoover in 1929.

The website excluded communiques issued by the last two presidents on social media and limited the study to unscripted words uttered at press conferences and other public appearances.

The words were run through a variety of lexicological analyses, besides the Flesch-Kincaid, and the results were the same. In every one, Trump came in dead last. Trump also uses the fewest “unique words” (2,605) of any president—Obama was the best at 4,869—and uses words with the fewest average syllables, with 1.33 per word, compared to positively multi-syllabic president Hoover at 1.57.

“By every metric and methodology tested, Donald Trump’s vocabulary and grammatical structure is significantly more simple, and less diverse, than any President since Herbert Hoover, when measuring “off-script” words, that is, words far less likely to have been written in advance for the speaker,” CEO Bill Frischling wrote. “The gap between Trump and the next closest president … is larger than any other gap using Flesch-Kincaid. Statistically speaking, there is a significant gap.”

Zero surprise there, but it’s nice to have it quantified.

Suddenly we come across as shrinking violets

Jan 14th, 2018 3:47 pm | By

Anne-Elisabeth Moutet in the Telegraph offers another Oh no sex will die piece. She’s one of the hundred women who signed the open letter in Le Monde.

She had found the exposure of Harvey Weinstein liberating at first.

I had applauded Ronan Farrow’s superb New Yorker magazine report on the 13 women whose lives and careers had been blighted by Weinstein. I was unsurprised when investigations revealed that other Hollywood moguls had updated the casting couch tradition. In his inimitable style, US President Donald “grab-them-by-the-p….” Trump had given voice to the crass fantasies of a thousand men in positions of power.

At the time of Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s arrest in New York, I was among the first Frenchwomen to write denouncing French politicians’ usual assumptions that any comely female journalist was for personal consumption.

But then came the hashtags and campaigns. The #MeToos and the #BalanceTonPorcs (“Rat on your pig”). In between black-dress selfies at the Golden Globes, naming and shaming became a social media indulgence. Forget investigative reporting: the People’s Tribunal of Twitter equated wolfwhistles with rape, pestering lads on the pull with serial abusers.

Wait. Did they? Did they really, or did it just seem that way because of numbers? I have my doubts, myself, because I’ve seen so many people saying over and over “we know there’s a difference.”

Decades after Simone de Beauvoir and Christiane Rochefort, after the 60s’ sexual revolution, many Frenchwomen find the picture of us emerging from this whole debacle deeply depressing. Suddenly we come across as shrinking violets, unable to shake off a bloke trying it on in a bar, traumatised for life the minute someone attempts frottage in a crowded Metro car. (I find that saying in a calm but VERY LOUD voice “Will you stop touching my a..!” makes enough commuters laugh that the culprit slinks off at the next stop.)

Do we? Do we really?

I don’t believe it. I think she’s making it up. I don’t think anyone claims to be traumatised for life by one grope or attempted frottage. That’s a false choice: it’s not “either bad enough to traumatize for life OR not worth mentioning at all.” We get to object to groping even though a single grope is not likely to traumatize us for life.

Also, the thing about attempted frottage in Paris is that it’s not just one, is it. It’s nice for her that she doesn’t mind it because she gets to make other passengers laugh when she objects, but that’s not a reason to argue that all women should react the way she does.

Suddenly, centuries of the unique French charm of men-women camaraderie and badinage are in danger of being erased, and replaced by puritanism.

Oh fuck off, as we puritans like to say. Of course they’re not! Camaraderie and badinage can flourish, even if sexual “badinage” is unwelcome in the workplace.

Human relationships are a complicated skein of trial and error. In America, they tend to live in a black-and-white world, a binary universe of ones and zeroes.

Ah yes, so we do; we’re a collection of stupid little peasants who haven’t managed to wipe the mud off yet.

H/t Rob

Guest post: Puritanism didn’t want to empower anybody

Jan 14th, 2018 3:21 pm | By

Originally a comment by iknklast on The amount of labor women do each day.

replaced by puritanism

I so hate this trope…In a puritan world, women were often regarded as belonging to men, and they didn’t have a lot of say in who, when, or where they married. They were not given the option of refusing their husband once married to the person their parents approved. They were not allowed the sexual freedom to make their own sexual choices – in short, they were not allowed to say “yes”.

This is the opposite – the extreme opposite – of what the #MeToo and other feminist anti-groping crusaders are wanting. What most of us want is the ability to say “no” when asked (and not have to push away hands that didn’t bother to ask), but also the right to say “yes” if we are eager to be intimate with that individual. I see very little that could be more sex-positive than that.

What we are fighting against is not sex-positive behavior, it’s sex negative behavior. It makes sex a negative experience for women, and in some cases, may make them hesitate to ever say “yes” because their experiences with sex have been unpleasant, painful, forced, and embarrassing. And made them feel like a piece of meat.

Giving men the freedom to do whatever they want, and expecting the women to just deal with it (and be called sluts if they report any of it, or don’t fight hard enough against it) is going backward in time to a day when women were property, when they were bought, sold, traded, or bartered without any say in it, and they were vilified if some man took what they wanted, because it was assumed they “led him on”.

Now, I’m not saying these women are suggesting we should be bought, sold, traded, or bartered. They are just suggesting we should leave men alone to do what they want, as long as it is just something someone else might see as a petty annoyance, and as long as it isn’t a crime (and I suspect some of what they claim is okay actually is a crime, since touching someone without their consent in an attempt to make them do something they don’t want to do borders on assault and battery).

In short, empowering females is not Puritanism; Puritanism didn’t want to empower anybody.

The wrong button

Jan 14th, 2018 11:41 am | By

Yesterday people in Hawaii were minding their own business when suddenly many of them were informed there was an incoming ballistic missile.

According to a timeline released by the state, the alert was triggered at 8:07 a.m. local time when, during an internal drill, an employee hit the wrong button. For 13 minutes it went uncorrected, until the emergency management agency sent an update on social media.

So that was an unpleasant 13 minutes for those people.

Many reported first hearing that the alert was a mistake from the Twitter account of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii).

Her tweet went out within about 15 minutes of the false alarm to her 174,000 followers. She was probably the first well-known authority figure to inform the public that there was no need to panic. News outlets picked up that clarification and spread it widely.

Trump, on the other hand…not so much. He was busy playing golf at the time. Three hours later he sent an urgent tweet about how the Fake Media are mean to him.

The White House did release a statement, well after the alert was revealed to be incorrect.

“The President has been briefed on the state of Hawaii’s emergency management exercise,” it read. “This was purely a state exercise.”

Well, they say he was briefed, but actually he was composing that Fake News tweet in his head instead of listening.

Consider his responses. First that statement, which has one obvious aim: To assure the American people that it wasn’t hisfault that the false alert went out — it was Hawaii’s. Then, that tweet, which shows what was preoccupying the president at the moment. Not that one of the 50 states had been briefly wracked with terror after a mistake was made by the people whose job it is to keep them safe. Instead, an insistence to the American people that the media is “fake news,” which was probably a response to the reports that trickled out bolstering a story from the Wall Street Journal that Trump had allegedly paid hush money to a porn star with whom he’d had an affair.

That was the thing that Trump urgently wanted to clear up: The media couldn’t be trusted when it reported on him.

Trump could have tweeted as soon as possible that the alert was a false alarm, sharing that information with millions of Americans immediately. He could have additionally shared information about what went wrong, and assured people that he would work to make sure that no such error happened again in the future. He could, at the very least, have sought to offer some emotional support to the people of Hawaii. He did none of these. He has, as of writing, done none of these.

Why not? Because he doesn’t care. He cares about himself, and that’s it.

Since the beginning of his presidency, Trump has rarely assumed that traditional leadership role of the presidency. He’s always taken a hostile attitude toward those who opposed his candidacy, certainly, but he’s also been apathetic about stepping up more broadly to inform, guide and assure the American public. The primary concerns Trump conveys to Americans are about Trump: About how he’s being treated, about how well he is doing, about the media and his opponents and how he just wants to make America great again. The White House releases statements and, as he did on Friday in recognizing Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Trump will read them or tweet about them. But it’s clearly not where his heart lies.

His heart lies with the wonder and glory that is Donald Trump, real estate peddler and liar extraordinaire.