Notes and Comment Blog

Our short and pithy observations on the passing scene as it relates to the mission of Butterflies and Wheels. Woolly-headed or razor-sharp comments in the media, anti-rationalist rhetoric in books or magazines or overheard on the bus, it’s all grist to our mill. And sometimes we will hold forth on the basis of no inspiration at all beyond what happens to occur to us.

Which is why so many of us came to live here

Oct 25th, 2014 12:19 pm | By

Julie Bindel has a long article on Sharia versus Muslim women at Standpoint.

The voices of Muslim women who have suffered terrible consequences as a result of sharia taking root in Britain are often silenced. I spoke with a number of women who have had experience of sharia courts.

Fawzia married her husband when she was 16 years old and was divorced eight years later.

The marriage was an Islamic ceremony, and her divorce was eventually granted by a sharia council four years after she first went to see her local imam. Fawzia’s story, and those of numerous other women, should provide a cautionary tale of how sharia courts are gaining creeping acceptance in the UK.

Afzal, the man chosen by her parents to be Fawzia’s husband, was 30 years old and had been married previously. “I had never met him,” Fawzia told me when we met in Hyde Park, her chador covering her tiny frame. “When he started to hit me I thought it was me causing him to do it.” What Fawzia did not know when she married Afzal was his history of violence towards women. The year before he married Fawzia, Afzal had broken his sister’s wrist in an attempt to keep her from seeing her boyfriend, and then attacked his brother’s mother-in-law when she intervened.

“He started hitting me when I was pregnant with my first baby,” says Fawzia, who agreed to meet me through a women’s counselling service, “and it never stopped.”

By the time Fawzia was 20 she had three children and numerous scars from the regular beatings she endured from Afzal, but had nowhere to escape to. She went alone to see her imam, who suggested she speak to a scholar at one of the many sharia councils in London. “I told [the scholar] that I was desperately unhappy, that my children were being neglected, that I could not cope in this marriage. I admitted he hit me. I was told to be a good wife and to make my husband more happy.”

Fawzia was eventually granted an Islamic divorce, which her husband contested, four years later. She had to pay £400, the standard cost for women applying for divorce. Men who apply for divorce to sharia courts are charged just £200.

Well that’s fair and equitable.

Another vociferous critic of sharia courts is Nazir Afzal, the chief prosecutor for the Crown Prosecution Service in the North-West, who has described the phenomenon of sharia arbitrators who deal with cases of domestic violence as dangerous. Maryam Namazie, of One Law for All, believes that it is now seen as “perfectly acceptable” to defend sharia courts or gender segregation as “people’s right to religion”, even for some feminists, humanists and secularists. “This legitimisation means that institutions like the Law Society think nothing of endorsing sharia law,” says Namazie. “What they don’t realise is that they are institutionalising Islamist values.”

Many British Muslims are critical of the British establishment’s support for sharia. Tehmina Kazi, director of British Muslims for Secular Democracy, says sharia councils should be penalised when they try to assume a legal status that they do not have. “I think a lot of people — both Muslim and non-Muslim — are not aware of these issues in any great detail, and do not feel equipped to publicly critique them. Raising awareness of these problems would encourage commentators who might otherwise feel too afraid to speak out.”

It seems incredible that after more than four decades of feminism in the West so many on the Left are willing to sacrifice women’s rights, in particular the rights of Muslim-born women, in the name of so-called religious freedom. Kate Smurthwaite, feminist activist and member of the National Secular Society, believes that all organised religion is detrimental to the rights of women. “Speaking out against sharia law in the UK is often viewed as racist, but nothing could be further from the truth,” says Smurthwaite. “The first victims of sharia are Muslim women.”

This is where Pomofoco goes so wrong – it ignores women like Maryam and Tehmina and Fawzia.

Just because some Muslim women argue that they should be allowed access to the sharia system does not mean we should let it become a part of British law. Habiba Jaan is the founder of Aurat, a support service for Muslim women in the West Midlands. She told me that only a decade ago she rarely heard of sharia courts, but now “they appear to be on every doorstep”.

“This is not an Islamic country, which is why so many of us came to live here. If sharia were to become part of the legal system it would be a disaster for women,” says Jaan. “Many are not even aware of their rights so they think sharia is the proper law.”

That’s a crucial point. This is not an Islamic country, which is why so many of us came to live here.

John Bowen, author of Blaming Islam, is an anthropologist based at Washington University in St Louis. He specialises in comparative social studies of Islam across the world. Bowen has found that Britain is unique in having a well-developed network of sharia courts, and has interviewed imams, scholars and members of the public who access them. He argues that sharia councils do not have any legal power, and are therefore harmless bodies that simply allow people to settle disputes without accessing mainstream courts. I asked Bowen what he thought about such bodies making decisions on divorce when women cite domestic violence. “The accusation is that sharia councils try to bring couples back together, but this is the case with mainstream law, which is why there is waiting time before a divorce, mediation and couples counselling. A reconciliation and a joint meeting of the husband and wife is always urged.”

But under UK law, women do not have to ask for permission from their violent husband, self-appointed community leader or religious representative in order to be granted a divorce. I asked Bowen if he was concerned about women who are frightened of their imam and are told by a sharia court that they must return to a violent husband. “If somebody is given a sharia ruling they don’t like they can just go to the [secular] court and get another,” he replied. But what about those women who are married in Islamic ceremonies, speak little English, and believe that the word of the imam is law?

Bowen’s reply is not recorded. Maybe he didn’t have one.

Sharia is an important tool with which the Islamist movement restricts women’s freedom. There is a link between sharia and the rise of Islamism, including groups like Islamic State or the Muslim Brotherhood. Many, however, whether naively or deliberately, fail to see it. The legitimisation of sharia has a negative effect on women, children and society as a whole. These effects are noticeable from Iraq to Iran and Saudi Arabia as well as in Britain.

In October 2010, the president of the UK Islamic Sharia Council, Sheikh Maulana Abu Sayeed, stated that rape within marriage is “impossible”. Yet in 1991, after decades of campaigning by feminists, the marital exemption from rape was outlawed by the House of Lords, upholding a decision by the Appeal Court. Are we seeing an erosion of all that has been gained by women fighting against patriarchal attitudes, merely in order to appease religious zealots?

But while the Solicitors’ Regulatory Authority has withdrawn its endorsement of the Law Society guidance, it remains on the LS website. The LS has ignored the protests from feminists and other human rights campaigner and instead embarked on a robust promotion of sharia, using supporters such as legal academic Maleiha Malik, solicitor Aina Khan and the Oxford-based Islamist Tariq Ramadan. SBS and OLfA have been joined by Gita Sahgal, director of the Centre for Secular Space, and Chris Moos, secretary of the London School of Economics student union Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society, in continuing to campaign against the acceptance of sharia. As Maryam Namazie says: “There is no place for sharia in Britain’s legal system just as there is no place for it anywhere. Sharia is based on a dogmatic and regressive philosophy and a warped understanding of the concepts of equality and justice. The Law Society must immediately withdraw its shameful guidance.”

Damn right.

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

Rayhaneh Jabbari

Oct 25th, 2014 11:33 am | By

Iran went ahead and hanged Rayhaneh Jabbari. The bastards.

Ms Jabbari was arrested in 2007 for the killing of Morteza Abdolali Sarbandi, a former employee of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence who she said tried to sexually abuse her.

She was sentenced to death by a Tehran court in 2009 and her execution verdict was upheld by Iran’s Supreme Court. Her case drew international outcry and sparked a petition urging her release, which collected over 240,000 signatures.

The court ruling says Ms Jabbari, 26, stabbed Sarbandi in the back in 2007 after purchasing a knife two days earlier.

It says the execution was carried out after Sarbandi’s family refused to pardon Jabbari or accept blood money.

We’re not hugely better about this in the US, I have to say. Shame on us and shame on them.

Raha Bahreini, Amnesty’s researcher on Iran, told The Independent: “Like many others, we are absolutely shocked by this travesty of justice. Reyhaneh’s execution is a tragic moment for many people in Iran and for the members of the international community hoping for different outcome.

“Her case personifies the outrage of many in Iran and across the globe over the use of the death penalty, which is a despicable, cruel and inhumane punishment.

“Reports and online petitions have been crying for her retrial because of the many unanswered questions hanging over her case. But at the end they once again allowed the execution and justified this by saying it lies in the hands of the family of the deceased to make the decision to spare her.”


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

Where there should be clarity, there is obscurantism

Oct 25th, 2014 11:03 am | By

In a discussion on a philosopher’s Facebook wall yesterday I saw a mention of post-colonial approaches to secularism. I was curious about what those might be, and said something about my curiosity on my Facebook wall, and Meredith Tax gave me some sources. One is this piece in the CHE by Jacques Berlinerblau.

He says there’s a lot of unhelpful imprecision about secularism under foot.

Talking imprecisely about secularism is now an American rhetorical tradition. Politicians, policy makers, and journalists routinely deploy the term without really knowing—or caring—what it connotes. This is bad for us and for them, since secularism is germane to so many domestic- and foreign-policy problems. Is it appropriate for an elected official to invoke God in public? Can censorship be justified in deference to the feelings of the faithful? How can nonbelievers be accorded equal rights under the law? Does one country have a moral obligation to assure that there is “religious freedom” in another? What is “religious freedom,” anyway?

As we speak, these concerns are being demagogued into senselessness by our leadership class. This is where we, the Scholars, have a civic contribution to make. We could bring clarity, accuracy, nuance, and, most crucially, balance to the dialogue. That is not because we’re paragons of objectivity (we’re not). Rather, normal scholarly practices and conventions—things like footnotes, mastery of the bibliography, addressing opinions we don’t agree with—usually keep our passions in check.

I like that idea. It’s both amusing and true. Fiddling around with footnotes and bibliographies does tend to chill the passions.

But something is adrift in the burgeoning field of secular studies. Where there should be clarity, there is obscurantism. Where a modicum of professorial disinterest should prevail, political and religious passions run amok. Where there should be engagement across schools of thought, there are academic tribalism and its attendant rituals of clan idolatry. As a result, scholarly thought on secularism is sometimes even more confused than its political counterpart is.

There again, as with post-colonial approaches to secularism, I’m somewhat adrift. I didn’t know there was a burgeoning field of secular studies. What kind of field is it and where is it to be found? What department houses secular studies?

A significant quantity of scholarly knowledge on secularism today emanates from a school of thought that works from postmodern, post-Foucauldian, and postcolonial assumptions (or Pomofoco).

Ah. That’s what I was wondering. It sounded like that kind of thing – the post-colonial approaches to secularism dud – but I wasn’t sure.

Here is Talal Asad, the leading exponent of this approach, in Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity:

Secularism is not simply an intellectual answer to a question about enduring social peace and toleration. It is an enactment by which a political medium (representation of citizenship) redefines and transcends particular and differentiating practices of the self that are articulated through class, gender, and religion.

If that passage flummoxes, it does so proudly and by design.

As postmodernist scholarship always does, which is why I hate it. One why; there are others.

Musing on the consequences of indefinability, and the singularity of Asad’s contribution, Jon Wilson goes the full Foucault: “Secularism is not a ‘subject’ that itself has ‘agentive power’ but an effect of an interaction between heterogeneous power relations.” Wendy Brown, exemplifying the school’s penchant for up-voting its own idiosyncrasies, praises Asad for “long-resist[ing] attempts to define the secular.”

Does this resistance merit praise? Numerous political scientists, sociologists, and theologians, among others, have labored to define secularism. Their contributions are available in peer-reviewed scholarly monographs, articles, and encyclopedias. Practitioners of Pomofoco rarely, if ever, cite that work.

Why? Because they find indefinability so exciting.

In the Pomofoco worldview, a “secularist” is typically a proponent of the “clash of civilizations” hypothesis or a right-wing critic of radical Islam. All other secularists remain anonymous. Talal Asad’s chapter “What Might an Anthropology of Secularism Look Like?” is singularly instructive in this regard. His anthropology employs the unique ethnographic expedient of never letting a single secular voice express itself. Although Asad chides the “secular theory of state toleration” and “secular redemptive politics,” he does not divulge who advocates those positions or what their rationale might be. Can the secular speak?

See what he did there? It’s a play on “Can the subaltern speak?” – one of the foundational “texts” of Pomofoco.

Which brings us to another hallmark of this school: its conspicuous aversion to secularism. And liberalism. And democracy. And the Enlightenment. And American foreign policy. And Israel. And Western civilization. And those who criticize political Islam or Islamic extremism via invidious comparison with any of these. It appears to be Pomofoco’s objective to everywhere draw the following conclusion: As troubling as radical Islamism might be, secular liberal democracies are just as bad—no, worse!

Yeeeah, that too is what I was wondering, what I suspected, what I was afraid of. I have a horror of privileged First World academics who despise secularism and liberalism and democracy and the Enlightenment.

Pomofoco’s ideological investments, coupled with its inexplicable allergy to conducting routine reviews of the scholarly literature, lead it to some dubious conclusions. Take its tendency to situate the rise of secularism in modernity. In placing it there, critics can conveniently round up and enfilade their usual suspects (e.g., the Enlightenment, liberalism, the nation-state). Yet here they’d be wise to follow Foucault and conduct a proper “genealogy.” The germ of the secular idea was most likely born in late antiquity—a possibility explored by scholars such as T.N. Madan and Emmet Kennedy. From there it morphed and mutated throughout Occidental history.

Why is this relevant? Because many of the things that are confounding about secularism can be traced to its premodern heritage. In medieval Latin Christendom, there existed two theoretically symbiotic—but often mutually antagonistic—sources of legitimate power. One was the ecclesiastical authority, which was deemed godly. The other was the secular ruling authority, and it was deemed godly as well. This is why an early-modern figure such as Martin Luther could describe the secular powers as having “a Christian and salutary use.”

It sounds very much like the old Ford joke – you can have any color as long as it’s black.

Over the past quarter-century, Pomofoco has achieved near dominant status in elite religious-studies programs and divinity schools. Along the way, it has forged intellectual alliances with conservative theologians of every stripe, who have wholly different reasons for loathing secularism. Together they prophesy the advent of the “post-secular” Kingdom. And together they form an institutional left-right pincer around scholarly perspectives less antagonistic to secularism. Critics of higher education can bray all they want about “liberal bias.” When it comes to the academic study of religion, those who hold liberal assumptions are besieged.

Actually liberal – secular, rights-based, universalist.

And then he gets to Charles Taylor.

Its salience on campus notwithstanding, Pomofoco is virtually unknown in journalistic or policy circles. This is not the case with Charles Taylor, author of the serenely megalomaniacal A Secular Age (Harvard University Press, 2007). Few academic offerings in recent memory have been accorded a comparable reception. A Secular Age has received dozens of ebullient evaluations. The deluge of praise crested to the windows of The New York Times, where David Brooks, Ross Douthat, and the Sunday Book Review extolled its virtues.

Numerous conferences have interrogated its themes, and four books have already emerged in its wake. The Social Science Research Council has assiduously promoted A Secular Age. In fact, the council has a big old crush on this 874-page treatise. In addition to sponsoring some of the panels and publications, it has created a website (The Immanent Frame) where Taylorians and Pomofocoians talk shop. Elsewhere on the council’s platform, it has teamed up with—am I the only one to find this strange?—the exceedingly religion-and-miracle friendly Templeton Foundation. The latter garlanded A Secular Age with its coveted prize in 2007.

Nope, he’s not the only one. I have found the pervasive reach of the Templeton Foundation exceedingly strange for several years.

Unlike Pomofoco, Taylor does define “secularism”—in three ways. His third definition (i.e., “secularity”) detains him for well over a quarter-million words. The philosopher wishes to chart a shift from “a society in which it was virtually impossible not to believe in God, to one in which faith, even for the staunchest believer, is one human possibility among others.” “Secularity” is our shared predicament, the cross we (do not) bear. It refers to an existential condition in which faith in God is but an option. We all live within this “immanent frame”—a domain where “our experience of and search for fullness occurs; and this is something we all share, believers and unbelievers alike.”

Taylor is fascinated—even obsessed—by atheism, but not fascinated enough to read widely about the subject. A specialist in this area peruses A Secular Age in a state of frustration. This is not because Taylor quietly treats the rise of atheism as if it were original sin. The problem is that most of his claims about this phenomenon are unsourced. On what empirical basis does he conclude that atheists search for “fullness”?

*waves hand* – Here’s one black swan right here. I don’t search for “fullness” – except of course when hungry, but Taylor obviously isn’t talking about anything as crude as a full stomach. I don’t search for any kind of metaphysical “fullness” so his “we all” is falsified.

Why is he unaware that the first visible social movements that dabbled with nonbelief were working-class, not elite? Is it plausible to base one’s conception of atheism almost solely on the writings of Camus and Nietzsche? How can Taylor speak (contemptuously) of “secular humanism” without once consulting the immense oeuvre of its leading light, the late philosopher Paul Kurtz?

Because he lives on a higher plane? Where French and German philosophers count but US ones don’t?

But the field isn’t all Pomofoco.

I have been alluding throughout this essay to a certain disregard for subjectivities in secular studies. For that reason, we should focus on the perceptions of nonscholars. Phil Zuckerman, who in 2011 established the first secular-studies program, at Pitzer College, does precisely this. His fieldwork with subjects worldwide is fascinating and compellingly written. Zuckerman equates the adjective “secular” (but not necessarily the noun “secularism”) with atheism. Yet so do many of his subjects, and that is why the term’s meaning must be investigated. Also scrutinizing subjective perceptions is the Canadian scholar Pascale Fournier. Her meticulous ethnography explores how devout Jewish and Muslim women dexterously navigate religious and secular law, neither of which simplifies their struggles.

Zuckerman’s and Fournier’s works crack open a new frontier in secular studies: understanding what laypeople make of secularism. In truth, we need to do this across sociological time and space. Little is known about those who, in earlier periods, consciously embraced secular ideas and what they believed those ideas entailed. Now and then, us and them—let the secular speak. And let scholars listen to secularists, and to one another.

And let’s all do it without any rapturous hymns to indefinability.

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

Paul Elam and his sad duty

Oct 24th, 2014 5:42 pm | By

What’s a good way to win more allies? Let’s see…to grab the name of someone else’s anti-violence campaign and pretend it’s always been yours, and use it to attack that campaign?

It will probably work. Shits are drawn to shit. Salon reports:

The White Ribbon campaign is a movement that started in Canada in 1991. It focuses on getting men and boys to step up in the movement against violence against women, and it has a number of global chapters. But this week, A Voice for Men started its own White Ribbon campaign and is now claiming to be the original White Ribbon campaign while warping the actual campaign’s message and intent.

It’s confusing, and also terrible.

A post from the men’s rights White Ribbon site claiming to be the “real” White Ribbon campaign:

It is … my sad duty to caution you that there are numerous attempts by other entities to corrupt the message of the White Ribbon Initiative by inserting dishonest and sexist messages into this movement. …

[W]e urge you in the strongest possible terms to consider what you are actually seeing when you encounter groups going by the name “White Ribbon” whose message is gendered, as in “Stop Domestic Violence Against Women.” …

These people are much more interested in raising money than in raising awareness. …

That’s Paul Elam for you. A class act.

The actual White Ribbon campaign issued a statement:

Today, White Ribbon ( ) became aware that a “so-called” men’s rights group has launched a copycat campaign articulating their archaic views and denials about the realities of gender-based violence.

Their vile sentiments – which include disparaging comments about women’s shelters and victim blaming survivors of rape – are completely incongruent with our values at White Ribbon.

Their misguided attempts to discredit others only make clear the extent to which they see the success of our equality-driven, evidence-based, ally-focussed work on gender justice as a real threat to their ill-informed, isolated views on this issue. This latest example is clear evidence of their insincerity and lack of commitment to developing compassionate solutions for the issues they claim to care about. It also showcases their real focus: attacking, harassing and directing anger towards others.

More like a very dark brown ribbon.

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

More bodies

Oct 24th, 2014 4:17 pm | By

Another school shooting, this one just a little north of Seattle, near Everett, famous for being the site of a labor massacre on November 5, 1916.

Two students are dead after one of them opened fire Friday morning in the Marysville-Pilchuck High School cafeteria before turning the gun on himself, according to law-enforcement sources.

Police said a girl was killed and two other girls and two boys were wounded  in the 10:45 a.m. shooting.

Austin Joyner, a student at the school, said on Twitter that he saw the shooter come into the cafeteria, walk over to a table, pull out a gun and shoot students who were sitting there.

Four young people — two boys and two girls — were taken by ambulance to Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett. Three victims are alive and in very critical condition with gunshot wounds to the head, said Dr. Joanne Roberts, chief medical officer for Providence.

And one is alive with a gunshot wound to the jaw.

Jarron Webb, 15, said the shooter was angry at a girl who would not date him, and that the girl was one of the people shot.  He said he believes one of the victims was his friend since kindergarten.

He was angry at a girl who would not date him…and he lived in a country where it’s easy to get guns and ammunition, and in a culture where hatred of women is normalized.

Jaylen comes from a family that is prominent in the Tulalip Tribes. His grandfather is director of fish and wildlife at the tribe.

As residents gathered at the Don Hutch Youth Center on the reservation, one Tulalip resident said many members heard the last name on the news and immediately knew who the broadcasters were talking about. By process of elimination, they realized it was Jaylen.

God what a mess.

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

Floating above the ugly fray of politics

Oct 24th, 2014 3:15 pm | By

If the women won’t do what the harassers tell them to, maybe there are other methods – like going after the advertisers. Amanda Marcotte at Slate:

Gamergate, a diffuse but relentless online anti-feminist movement aimed at drubbing feminist women out of game development and criticism, continues to expand the scope of its attacks. First it started as a traditional anti-feminist campaign, targeting individual women in hopes that they’d quit the industry rather than suffer any longer. When that didn’t work, they moved into targeting advertisers of websites that hire feminist women. They were sadly successful when Intel pulled its advertising from a website Gamasutra, which had offended the Gamergaters by running a piece that argued video games should be for everyoneinstead of just for angry white guys. Now the circle of victims has expanded even beyond just the gaming press, as the website Gawker is being threatened with the loss of its Mercedes advertising after Mercedes got a deluge of emails from Gamergaters who take offense at the multiple pieces Gawker and its sister sites have run criticizing Gamergate.

So…what is Mercedes thinking here? That the people behind Gamergate are very very likely to rush out at any minute to buy a Mercedes, unless they decide not to because Mercedes advertises on Gawker? That the kind of people who buy a Mercedes – which is people with many tens of thousands of dollars to squander – are the kind of people who spend all day hassling women on Twitter?

Really? Does that seem like sound consumer research? I think people like that are way too busy either making the money that buys them a Mercedes or playing golf by way of post-money-making fun and relaxation.

Marcotte thinks much the same thing; she finds it “confusing to see companies like Mercedes, Intel, and Adobe give any credence to a bunch of squalling from an online army of mostly teenage boys and social maladepts who are worried that girls are going to ruin the experience of playing Call of Duty.”

Seriously. People who spend all their time doing that don’t have the cash to buy anything besides an occasional bucket of fried chicken. So why are the advertisers squawking and running away?

The likely truth is they don’t want the hassle. Most of these big corporations desperately want to be perceived as floating above the ugly fray of politics. Intel pulled its advertising from Gamasutra and then issued a mealy-mouthed apology after the fact, saying, “Our action inadvertently created a perception that we are somehow taking sides in an increasingly bitter debate in the gaming community.” Adobe pulled a similar stunt, rushing to agree with Gamergate attacks on Gawker while claiming some kind of general anti-bullying stance.

Yeah that’s horseshit, that claiming to be against bullying while you’re in the very act of enabling or even encouraging bullying. We’ve seen a lot of it in these parts, and it’s horseshit.

Gamergate doesn’t have good arguments, which is why they dissemble and hand-wave rather than engaging in honest debate about the role of women in gaming. But the power they do have is what a colleague of mine characterized as “asymmetrical warfare”: Gamergaters, particularly since they recruit so heavily amongst teenagers and young men, have nothing but time and nothing to lose, making it relatively easy for them to target advertisers with these campaigns.

Many feminist writers know this phenomenon very well, having been targeted for over a decade now by an online guerrilla campaign of “men’s rights activists” and other anti-feminists who dogpile individual women with harassment in hopes of driving them to quit writing.

But now they’re making economic war, and that might do the job.

Which is why Gamergate is so worrisome, because it represents a shift away from targeting individual women and towards targeting notoriously skittish advertisers. It does mean it will be harder for the harassers to deny that they’re actively working to silence feminists online, but the tradeoff is, as we’ve seen with Intel and possibly Mercedes, it might just work.

If the advertisers are supine enough and cynical enough and self-protecting enough to do the “we oppose bullying but we’re withdrawing our ads from anti-bullying sites anyway because no reason just because” thing, then yes, it might just work.

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

Meera Nanda

Oct 24th, 2014 2:34 pm | By

Oh boy, a treat – a talk by Meera Nanda, Beliefs without evidence: Danger of faith-based politics and culture in India.

Meera is fabulous. She’s been a huge influence on my thinking.


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

Charges of “we don’t like you”

Oct 24th, 2014 12:38 pm | By

More on the Red Shoes woman in Turkey, from Hürriyet:

The Ankara Public Prosecutor’s Office took action against the Twitter account @kedibiti after Ankara Mayor Melih Gökçek, who is known as an active Twitter user, filed a complaint about the account, also alleging that it had “insulted the president and the government.”

Prosecutors discovered that the Twitter account’s owner was a 36-year-old Istanbul resident, identified only as G.Y. The Istanbul Police Department called her to the police station, and she arrived at the station in Istanbul’s Gayrettepe neighborhood, where she reportedly explained that she was an atheist.

She was released after questioning, but a lawsuit has been opened against her on charges of “triggering hatred in society” and “slandering.”

Charges? Charges in what sense? Can I open a lawsuit against someone on “charges” of being boring or annoying or unfunny or wearing a color I don’t like? A legal system that entertains “charges” of vague meaningless things because someone published a picture of a pair of feet standing on a book is a very bad legal system indeed.

World-renowned Turkish pianist Fazıl Say was sentenced to 10 months in prison for blasphemy in 2013 in a similar case, after he retweeted several lines attributed to 11th century poet Omar Khayyam.

Turkey – you’re going in the wrong direction.


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

To better protect religious liberty

Oct 24th, 2014 12:15 pm | By

That Arizona bill was passed. Brian Fraga at the National Catholic Register reported on the passage May 23, 2012.

Note the framing in the headline and subhead:

Arizona Passes Exemption for Religious Employers

The law, signed by Gov. Jan Brewer, seeks to better protect religious liberty if federal ‘contraceptive mandate’ is struck down.

It’s just a matter of deciding who the subject is.

For obedient Catholics, it’s the Catholics. For most other people, it’s the women who are being forced to tell their employers why they use the birth control pill.

Planned Parenthood of Arizona and the American Civil Liberties Union said the legislation — which was initiated by the Diocese of Phoenix and known as House Bill 2625 — would enable companies to fire their employees for using contraception. Planned Parenthood said the law uses religion as the basis for “chipping away at women’s access to birth control.”

“House Bill 2625 is only the latest item in a number of bills to restrict women’s access to preventive health care, taking personal medical decisions away from women and handing them over to politicians,” said Bryan Howard, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Arizona.

Like that. Brian Fraga does let that subject say something.

Notice that the bill was initiated by a Diocese. Notice that it was the Diocese of Phoenix – that’s the one that wanted a woman at St Joseph’s Hospital to die rather than have an abortion, the one that excommunicated the nun who approved the lifesaving abortion.

The bill grants an exemption in Arizona’s contraceptive-coverage mandate for religiously affiliated employers, defined as entities whose articles of incorporation say that religious beliefs are central to their operating principles and for whom providing contraception could pose a moral conflict.

Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix was “tremendously supportive” of the measure, said diocesan spokesman Ronald Johnson.  “This was a bill we initiated and was our top priority for the legislative session.” He and Tucson Bishop Gerald Kicanas issued a statement May 11 expressing gratitude for Brewer’s signature.

Olmsted is the bishop who tried to force Catholic Healthcare West to agree in writing never to perform such a lifesaving abortion again.

The bill was championed by the Arizona Catholic Conference, which has been pushing for an exemption since 2002, when the state began requiring birth-control coverage in employee health-insurance plans.

“It’s very rewarding for me, after all we’ve been through over the years,” said Ron Johnson, executive director of the Arizona Catholic Conference.

It’s very rewarding for them to force all of us to live by their terrible medieval misogynist rules.

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

Guest post: What did she expect when she?

Oct 24th, 2014 11:42 am | By

Originally a comment by Jackie on Red shoes.

I’m so tired of being told as a woman that I should expect and prepare for the abuse misogynist men want to do to me as if men were hurricanes and I should know better than to risk being in one’s way.

What did she expect when she went to a party with friends?
What did she expect when she shared an opinion?

What did she expect when she wore that?
What did she expect when she got an education?
What did she expect when went out unveiled?
What did she expect when she dated a football player/fighter?

The message is that smart women are frightened, silent and move through the world like mice who know that predators lurk everywhere and one lapse of cautious vigilance means doom. Only a very foolish mouse would draw any attention to itself or make any noise at all. A wise mouse stays in dark corners. It is never comfortable. It never fights. When it is devoured, no one will be to blame. After all, predators predate and mice belong beneath them on the food chain. It isn’t a mouse’s lot to feel the sun or enjoy the freedom to move through the world as something other than food. It should have been more careful. What did it expect? A brave mouse is a foolish mouse.

Whether it is rape, stolen nude photos or murder at the hands of theocrats, someone will point out that the woman brought it upon herself for not being cautious enough of men and their power to harm her.

The charge to be more cautious of your oppressor rather than to fight them or live life as if you were really free and equal is not just for women. It’s for all minorities, especially black and LGBT folks. I’m so sick of that. That’s terrorism. “If you think we’re hurting you now, just wait until you piss us off. Pray we do not notice you. Pray we find you accommodating enough”. When you say something like “You better keep your head down if you know what’s good for you”, you are siding with the oppressor.

Please don’t.

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

Freedom freedom freedom

Oct 24th, 2014 11:02 am | By

Update This is from March 2012, and the bill passed. Oy.

I have got to learn to check the date. [slaps self]

Are you kidding me?!

Erin Gloria Ryan at Jezebel:

A proposed new law in Arizona would give employers the power to request that women being prescribed birth control pills provide proof that they’re using it for non-sexual reasons. And because Arizona’s an at-will employment state, that means that bosses critical of their female employees’ sex lives could fire them as a result.


How about a proposed law mandating that women inform the whole world of everything about them. Let’s just treat women as public property with no rights at all, instead of trying to achieve the same goal piecemeal.

Yesterday, a Senate Judiciary Committee endorsed Republican Debbie Lesko’s HB2625 by a vote of 6-2, which would allow an employer to request proof that a woman using insurance to buy birth control was being prescribed the birth control for reasons other than not wanting to get pregnant. It’s all about freedom, she said, echoing everyone who thinks there’s nothing ironic about claiming that a country that’s “free” allows people’s bosses to dictate what medical care is available to them through insurance. First amendment. The constitution. Rights of religious people to practice the treasured tenets of their faiths, the tenets that dictate that religious people get to tell everyone who is not of faith how they’re supposed to live, and the freedom to have that faith enforced by law. Freedom®.

What if it’s a tenet of your faith that women who seem insufficiently subservient and grateful should have acid thrown on them? Is that all about freedom too? Come on, Debbie Lesko, tell us why it’s not.

Further, Lesko states, with a straight face, that this bill is necessary because “we live in America; we don’t live in the Soviet Union.”

So…we live in Nazi Germany then? Arbeit macht frei?

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

Isfahan’s tourist industry is at stake

Oct 23rd, 2014 5:22 pm | By

The Guardian reported on the acid attacks in Isfahan on Monday and said there might have been as many as eight. I saw an Iranian source on Facebook that said the number was 14 in 8 days.

According to police, attackers riding on motorbikes have thrown acid in at least four women’s faces in the city, but local media have put the number as high as eight.

There are fears that the victims were chosen because they were wearing clothing or headscarves that were revealing or did not conform to perceived Islamic norms, though authorities have so far denied that the assaults had anything to do with the hijab.

The Iranian source I saw said that at least four imams had fulminated about “bad hijab” at the last Friday prayers.

The Isna news agency has spoken to a number of victims and their families, including a 27-year-old woman, identified only by her first name Neda, who was targeted two weeks ago in Isfahan close to Bozorgmehr Square. She has since been taken to a hospital in the Iranian capital, Tehran, for further treatment but the agency said she had lost full sight in one of her eyes and has partial sight in the other.

Please tell me again how misogyny is just a made-up thing.

“While in her car, Neda had pulled over in order to answer her mum’s call,” the victim’s father told Isna. “Two men riding a motorbike threw acid in her face and ran away, leaving her burnt in different areas such as her eyes, her left ear, neck, hands and legs.”

“What was her fault?” he asked. “She had not committed a single crime, she had always lived with her head kept high and never had a spat with anyone.”

And now she’s mostly blind.

Women in Iran are required by law to cover themselves head to toe but many, especially young women in bigger cities, defy the regulations and the morality police by showing their hair or wearing clothing that could be deemed inappropriate.

That “could be deemed inappropriate” by filthy-minded meddling perverts who think it’s their business how women dress. Fuck that noise.

A member of the Iranian parliament’s national security committee, Abbas-Ali Mansouri, said: “Foreign and Zionist intelligence agencies” were aiding those carrying out the attacks in order to distort Islam’s image worldwide.

Ah right, we did it, the foreigners and Jews and infidels. As if Islam needs our help to have a bad image.

The Graun also reports on the protests in Isfahan.

Isfahani citizens, horrified by the scale of vicious assaults, gathered in front of the city’s justice department on Wednesday, calling on the authorities to put an end to the crimes which has highlighted the striking challenges women face in Iran, where hijab is obligatory.

A number of protesters in Isfahan chanted slogans that described the attackers as Iran’s own version of Isis, the extremist group that has committed many atrocities in Iraq and Syria.

“Stop violence against women,” read a placard held by female protester, according to images posted on Twitter. “Freedom and security are the rights of Iranian women,” demonstrators chanted in Isfahan’s Nikbakht Sstreet. Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency estimated the number of the participants to be around 2,000. After a few hours, local police was reported to have dispersed the crowd.

In Tehran, dozens of people showed solidarity with the victims in Isfahan by staging a similar but smaller gathering in front of the Iranian parliament (Majlis), calling on MPs to halt a bill which gives more freedom to the morality police and plainclothes militia in their crackdown on women with “bad hijab”.

Good luck to them. I hope the MPs listen and heed.

Earlier this week, Iranian MPs considered a bill which prohibits the use of violence in the hijab crackdown but at the same time gives more leeway to the relevant officials.

Nasrin Sotoudeh, a leading Iranian human rights activist, told the Guardian on the phone from Tehran that she was among the protesters in the capital.

“How can you live in the society and remain indifferent towards such horrible attacks,” she said. “We are opposed to the parliamentary bill. If it is implemented, those who engage in violence against women will certainly feel that they have protection.”

And that of course is the intention. Women covering up every bit of throbbing slutty hair is obviously far more important than preventing enraged thugs from maiming those women. That’s a healthy set of priorities.

In the face of the assaults, Iranian officials have gone on the offensive, scrambling to deny that their long-standing policy of cracking down on women not wearing the hijab has contributed to the Isfahan incidents. “We are still unsure about the attacker’s motives but some foreign and opposition media organisations have linked the attacks to the issue of hijab and women’s covering,” he said. “This is not true and those attacked were from faithful families.”

He’s missing the point. This whole business of making such an anxious fuss about what women wear on their heads just feeds and fosters loathing of women. It doesn’t promote healthy attitudes to women, to put it mildly.

Mohammad-Reza Naghdi, the head of the informal voluntary Basij militia, said western media were linking the attacks to the hijab issue, trying to distort the image of Islam. In his view, “western intelligence services” were behind the attacks.

Iran’s justice minister, Mostafa Pourmohammadi, has described the Isfahan assaults as terrorist attacks intended to sabotage the city’s safety. “We are very concerned and are doing all our best to bring those responsible to justice,” he was quoted as saying.

Shargh said the incident had already affected Isfahan’s tourist industry. “Some foreign tourists have since asked us if they would be attacked by acid if their headscarves were pushed back and we had to reassure them that this will not happen,” said one hotel operator.

And the hotel operator knows that how? What bullshit; why wouldn’t foreign women be attacked by acid?

The authorities seem to be worrying a lot more about Iran’s reputation than about Iranian women’s right to live their lives umolested.

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

She was a witch, she put curses on us not to progress

Oct 23rd, 2014 4:41 pm | By

Oh, horrors. (And content warning and all that.) Via Leo Igwe – in Nigeria a middle-aged man killed his mother because “she was a witch.”

In his confession on Tuesday, Ucheagwu admitted that he killed his mother, alleging that the woman prevented the progress of her children and indeed that of the family.

According to him, his elder brother, 45, is unmarried because of their “mother’s witchcraft and curses on the children.”

“My mother was evil, I killed her because of her wickedness. This incident happened in May. She prevented good things coming to her children.

“She was a witch, she put curses on us not to progress. Others were blindfolded because of our mother’s witchcraft. Because I was the only that knew her plans, she was always attacking me.

“I killed her because she planned to kill me because I called her ‘Queen of the coast’ (her spiritual name). But I had to act fast and kill her first.

“My mother was a witchcraft living in the sky, I killed her and burnt her body in the bush called Ogbukwu with fuel and firewood.”

The sleep of reason produces monsters.

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

She didn’t smile, she didn’t say hello

Oct 23rd, 2014 4:10 pm | By

I know this feeling.

Instead of greeting two male gamers wearing Halo and Call of Duty shirts, prominent gamer and actress Felicia Day crossed the street.

“Seeing another gamer on the street used to be an auto-smile opportunity, or an entry into a conversation starting with, ‘Hey, dude! I love that game too!’ the Supernatural actress wrote on her Tumblr. But for the first time maybe in my life, on that Saturday afternoon, I walked towards that pair of gamers and I didn’t smile. I didn’t say hello. In fact, I crossed the street so I wouldn’t walk by them. A small voice of doubt in my brain now suspected that those guys and I might not be comrades after all. That they might not greet me with reflected friendliness, but contempt.”

I know that feeling. I know it so well. In certain crowds – crowds I would once have assumed were full of natural friends – I become a bit like a rabbit in open country: watchful, cautious, ready to bolt at any sign of contempt or loathing.

The change in Felicia Day’s case is of course GamerGate.

Day said she has kept quiet on GamerGate, which recently forced Intel to pull advertising from gaming site Gamasutra, largely out of “self-protection and fear.”

“I have been terrified of inviting a deluge of abusive and condescending tweets into my timeline. I did one simple @ reply to one of the main victims several weeks back, and got a flood of things I simply couldn’t stand to read directed at me. I had to log offline for a few days until it went away. I have tried to re-tweet a few of the articles I’ve seen dissecting the issue in support, but personally I am terrified to be doxxed (having personal information such as an address, email or real name released online) for even typing the words ‘Gamer Gate.’”

So, what happened? Don’t be silly, you know what happened. Of course it did.

In fact, Day was reportedly doxxed within an hour of writing her post on GamerGate. The immediate doxxing of female GamerGate critics, including Day, has been pointed to as an example of the sexism of the movement. Former NFL player Chris Kluwe, who wrote his own post calling GamerGaters “basement-dwelling, cheetos-huffing, poopsock-sniffing douchepistols,” said Day was only targeted because of her gender.

“None of you fucking #gamergate tools tried to dox me, even after I tore you a new one. I’m not even a tough target…Instead, you go after a woman who wrote why your movement concerns her,” Kluwe said onTwitter.

Well they’re not going to mess with a football player, are they. He might hit them.


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

She stays because she lacks the power to leave

Oct 23rd, 2014 3:52 pm | By

And then there’s that more hidden, secret, insidious kind of domestic violence – the economic kind.

In her new book, author Ludy Green argues that economic abuse is the core reason why women don’t leave abusive partners. “Depriving the victim of control over her own economic well-being is a despotic and confining element of domestic violence,” she writes in Ending Domestic Violence Captivity: A Guide to Economic Freedom. “Why does she stay? Despite appearances to the contrary, the decision to stay is not a decision at all. She stays because she lacks the power to leave.”

If you have zero money of your own, you can’t start over.

Green has worked with domestic violence survivors for more than 20 years. In 2001, she started Second Chance Employment Services, the first employment agency in the U.S. for domestic violence survivors. “Second Chance was started solely to provide financial independence for women who were victims of economic abuse,” Green said. In Ending Domestic Violence Captivity, she examines the economic conditions that abusers manipulate to systematically disempower women. As she explains, economic abuse is highly effective at creating physical and psychological barriers to leaving.

And it’s not obvious the way a broken nose is, and most of it is not illegal.

One way to do it? Sabotage her ability to have a job.

There are a number of ways an abuser can prevent a victim from holding a job. He may cause physical injuries to her face or body, so that she’s embarrassed to go to work. He may keep her from getting enough sleep, or show up at the workplace and harass the victim, disrupting her duties. He may refuse to provide child care, forcing the woman to stay home with the kids, or he might not allow the victim to have a car, depriving her of reliable transportation.

Another way is controlling all the finances. Another is destroying her credit.

Another tactic that is becoming more common is identity fraud. The abuser may take out a credit card account in the victim’s name and pile up debt, destroying her credit rating.

“It’s very frightening,” said Green. “Women get to the point where they have nothing and no way to get control of the money again.”

Ruined credit can be a devastating burden once a woman attempts to leave. She may have trouble renting an apartment or may need a co-signer for any financial commitment.

Dominance. Such a deep need for dominance. So destructive.

H/t AB


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

The newly popular status

Oct 23rd, 2014 11:52 am | By

Pop culture item #3 – I saw the last 20 minutes or so of Law & Order SVU last night and it was pretty damn interesting – as well as (intentionally) enraging in places – especially the bit where


the judge tells the rape victim (who is a porn star) as he overturns the jury’s guilty verdict, “Young lady, I don’t know if you’re seeking the newly popular status of victim…”

Belle Knox, the Duke student who is a porn star (Belle Knox is her porn name), has a fascinating post about the episode, which is based heavily but not entirely on her experience.

Warren Leight, the executive producer of the show was nice enough to let me see an advance copy of “Pornstar’s Requiem” and he agreed to answer my questions about how this entire episode came to be. (I’ve been careful not to reveal any spoilers, but there are a few plot points contained herein.)

When I asked Leight (who used to be executive producer on HBO’s “In Treatment”) why he chose to dramatize my story, he explained, “As usual, we tried to distill several stories and headlines into one character’s journey. You, and others, have made the case that sex work is legitimate professional work, a potentially empowering choice individuals should be able to make without repercussions or stigmatization. Other students who’ve done pornography have not survived the harassment that followed. We wanted to tell their stories, too.”

I don’t write or discuss my rape often, because I don’t want to be viewed as a porn star cliché, nor do I want people telling me that this is why I’ve made the choices I’ve made, but I know well the chilling rape culture entitlement that comes along with men discovering that I’m a porn star. This is the scenario that plays out on the episode. One of the frat boys accused in “Pornstar’s Requiem” even goes so far as to say to the police the following jaw-dropping line: “I didn’t think you could rape a girl like that.”

But the prosecutor thinks you can, and (SPOILER AGAIN) the jury agrees, but the judge doesn’t. It’s a stomach-turning scene, and impressive for mainstream broadcast tv.

I’ll share with you what the executive producer told me about the writers’ room and the process for putting the script together.

“The writers’ room had been hashing out a number of overlapping issues lately,” Leight told me. “The increasing number of students who’ve turned to pornography to pay their tuition. How for some of those students, it’s been empowering, but for others, it’s led to horrific slut-shaming. And how a few students have been so stigmatized when their sex work becomes public, they felt driven to suicide. We also had long wanted to do an episode about how hard it is for sex workers to get justice when they are victims of sexual assault. The more we talked about these issues, the more we felt they’d combine well into one episode.”

More feminist than most US tv, that’s for damn sure.

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

Under his…wing

Oct 23rd, 2014 11:19 am | By

Another pop culture lacuna – I didn’t know Bill Cosby had been accused of rape by multiple women. Apparently lots of people don’t know that, or, worse, know it and don’t care.

In 2004, Andrea Constand brought a civil lawsuit against Cosby that grew to include 13 other women, all of whom reported being drugged and raped by one of America’s most beloved entertainers. Cosby settled under undisclosed terms in 2006.

Notably, two other women — who presumably had nothing to gain financially, as the statute of limitations had run out on their cases — also shared their stories with major media outlets. Their accounts included  similar details: Cosby took them under his wing and, on multiple occasions, fed them alcohol laced with drugs and assaulted them.

It’s almost as if there’s a pattern…

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

Which nerds?

Oct 23rd, 2014 10:30 am | By

First, a confession of pop culture dereliction (if I ever did a full confession on that it would go on longer than one of Michael Nugent’s blog posts): I’ve never seen Revenge of the Nerds. Until a few minutes ago I didn’t even know anything about it other than the title. A comment I saw on Facebook caused me to inquire a little.

Wikipedia naturally has a detailed plot summary. So there’s this, at a point after the fraternity jocks have persecuted the nerds at a party thrown by the latter (the nerds are all male as of course are the frat jocks):

The nerds then seek revenge. First they stage a panty raid on the Pi Delta Pi house and use the distraction to install video cameras to spy on the women while they undress.

These are the good guys, the ones bullied by the jocks. Then there’s this:

Although the Tri-Lambs put their superior knowledge to use in the athetic event, they still come a close second to the Alpha Betas. They then use topless photos taken from their Pi Delta cameras to easily win the charity sales, where contestants wear costumes. Lewis changes his costume to Stan’s and tricks Betty into having sex with him. Betty is surprised, but then admits that Lewis was a better lover than Stan.

Lewis is one of the nerds, Stan is one of the jocks. So that’s a rape as one of the cool things a nerd does to triumph over a jock.

Now a post by Noah Brand a couple of years ago, How Revenge Of The Nerds Ruined My Life.

As a bullied kid, Noah Brand loved the movie. It spoke to him.

Let me be clear. Revenge Of The Nerds has so much rape culture, you could use it to make rape yogurt. The women in the film are entirely represented as objects, and their sexual consent or lack thereof is explicitly portrayed as irrelevant. The heroes and the villains are theoretically competing for Adams College’s version of Hogwarts’ House Cup, but in point of fact the prize they’re competing for is the blonde cheerleader, Betty. At the start of the movie, she is the property of Stan Gable, the villain, but in the end, the hero, Lewis Skolnick, triumphs by claiming her as his own via rape.

I’m not kidding, that’s actually what happens. The hero’s big triumphant payoff moment is when he rapes the villain’s girlfriend. And she falls in love with him as a result.

Incidentally, while he’s raping her, his fraternity is having another heroic triumph at the fundraising event, selling nude photographs of Betty that they obtained without her knowledge or consent by planting cameras in her house. (Huge 80s cameras, too. Very difficult to conceal.) Again, this is explicitly presented as a heroic, cool action. When the villain finds out what they’re doing, his reaction isn’t “Holy shit that’s like ten kinds of illegal” it’s “Hey! That’s my pie!”

So, that’s that pop culture classic.

You know what it reminds me of? Strongly? Robert Altman’s movie MASH, with a screenplay by Ring Lardner Jr. Specifically, it reminds me of the turning point scene where the oh so cool hipster guys finally get the better of bossy military by-the-book Hot Lips Houlihan. Remember it? (If that’s one of your pop culture lacunae, of course you don’t.) They gather everyone into a big audience to stare at the bathing hut where Houlihan is taking a shower, and then one of the cool guys yanks on a rope and the fabric curtain in front of the hut falls away to leave Houlihan exposed in the shower. Hilarity ensues. Ha ha ha fucking ha. That scene ruined the movie for me, and the fact that as far as I ever knew no one even objected to it ruined my mood. Mind you that was decades before Google, so I couldn’t confirm that no one objected – but I did see plenty of adulation of that movie and the screenplay, with no clauses about the shower scene.

So, yeah. It’s always been hip and cool to humiliate women.

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

A story about arrogant scientists

Oct 22nd, 2014 4:44 pm | By

The ridiculous conviction of seven scientists for failing to warn the public about an earthquake in Aquila in Italy is being appealed now, but it looks as if the appeal will go just as stupidly as the trial did.

The chief prosecutor has already deployed the same tactic used by the prosecutor who won the convictions: Keep repeating that this is not science on trial. Rather, assert that this is a story about arrogant scientists shirking their duty to sufficiently warn about earthquake risk.

But saying so doesn’t make it so. Scrutiny of the prosecution’s argument and the judge’s roughly 900-page verdict reveals that the case absolutely constitutes science on trial, right down to the use of a 1995 scientific paper co-authored by one of the defendants.

“The judge also determined that other results published in scientific papers were ‘risk indicators’ that should have been weighed more heavily by the experts,” said Alessandro Amato, a seismologist with the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology in Rome, who has been attending the proceedings. “He even plugged these so-called indicators into a conceptual model for risk analysis in a way that any scientist would recognize as invalid.”

And besides you can’t make that a criminal matter – it’s just absurd.

In other aspects, the case turned out to be less science on trial, more cringe-worthy illustration of what happens when public officials flat-out do not understand probability.

We can not predict earthquakes. Period. Scientists can only make probabilistic forecasts over time scales of decades. If someone did have a reliable tool for predicting earthquakes down to the day, or even week, geoscientists would know it because no one wants to see that puzzle solved more than geoscientists.

Not knowing when an earthquake is going to happen isn’t a crime, even if your job involves trying to do that.

Maybe I have an advantage here, having been through a lot of earthquakes and thus heard a lot about how impossible it is to predict them. They’re not like volcanoes: they don’t send signals for weeks ahead of time. (And neither do all volcanoes, so there.)

Perhaps most disquieting of all about the case is the lack of interest outside of Italy. When charges were first leveled against the seven men in 2010, the response from the scientific community was unequivocal condemnation. Yet few people today seem to know that there is an appeal, let alone that it is underway.

One geoscientist I spoke with yesterday speculated that people have just lost interest because the situation appears hopeless. Powers that be in Italy are hellbent on assigning blame for the deaths caused by that earthquake, and no additional evidence or commentary will sway their thinking.

Well, now we know.

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

Red shoes

Oct 22nd, 2014 3:37 pm | By

A Turkish woman has been arrested on suspicion of “blasphemy and inciting religious hatred” for posting a photo of a pair of feet stepping on a Koran.

Embedded image permalink

Via Twitter

The arrest came after Melih Gokcek, Ankara’s controversial mayor from the ruling Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP), launched a criminal complaint against the 38-year-old-woman, who uses the Twitter handle @kedibiti (cat lice).

The woman, who has over 5,000 followers and describes herself as “an atheist who respects only humans”, allegedly shared a picture showing a pair of red high heels on a copy of the Koran, Dogan news agency reported.

It’s a nice choice, the Koran being so hostile to women.

Dogan said the woman was later released but Gokcek said he was suing “the infidel” for insulting religion, inciting religious hatred and threatening public peace.

“It is time for justice now. No one has a right to insult our religion. We will never allow this to happen,” Gokcek wrote on Twitter.

No one? I beg to differ. Your religion is a big poopyhead. I have the right to say that.

Gokcek, who has held the top municipal job in the Turkish capital for 20 years, is a colourful but controversial figure known for his fiery comments on Twitter and derogatory remarks about women.

He once famously said a mother who considered abortion “should kill her herself instead and not let the child bear the brunt of her mistake”.

Ah but Mr Gokcek, what if “the child” is female?

A source in Turkey tells me that @kedibiti says she’s not the one who has been arrested. So the cops couldn’t find her so they grabbed some random woman instead? Nice.

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