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.

Amy Goodman talks to Anita Sarkeesian

Oct 21st, 2014 10:59 am | By

Democracy Now did a segment on Anita Sarkeesian and #GamerGate yesterday.

Anita Sarkeesian, a prominent feminist critic of video games, was forced to cancel a speech at Utah State University last week after the school received an email threatening to carry out “the deadliest shooting in American history” at the event. The email sender wrote: “feminists have ruined my life and I will have my revenge.” The sender used the moniker Marc Lepine, the name of a man who killed 14 women, most of them female engineering students, in a mass shooting in Montreal in 1989. Sarkeesian canceled the talk after being told that under Utah law, campus police could not prevent people from bringing guns. We speak to Sarkeesian about the incident, the “Gamergate” controversy, and her campaign to expose misogyny, sexism and violence against female characters in video games despite repeated physical threats. “Online harassment, especially gendered online harassment, is an epidemic,” Sarkeesian says. “Women are being driven out, they’re being driven offline; this isn’t just in gaming, this is happening across the board online, especially with women who participate in or work in male-dominated industries.”

Sadly, or pathetically, the comments have filled up with the familiar misogynist dreck.


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

Just because they have a degree, that makes them more knowledgeable?

Oct 21st, 2014 10:25 am | By

From the National Post:

For Laurie Hill, resident of Canada’s largest aboriginal community, it’s just wrong to suggest that modern medicine is the only way to treat cancer and other serious diseases.

She stands firmly behind the Six Nations neighbours who took their 11-year-old daughter with leukemia out of chemotherapy, and are treating her with traditional, but unproven, native methods and other alternative health-care instead.

“Unproven” is a bit of a euphemism. Surely it’s more a matter of having abundant reasons to think traditional methods and alternative health-care aren’t effective against leukemia.

“There’s a fear of [aboriginal remedies] or denial of it. If things can’t be quantified or qualified, to them it’s irrelevant,” said Ms. Hill, as she shopped at Ancestral Voices Healing Centre Thursday. “Who are they [doctors] to say she will make it with their treatments. Just because they have a degree, that makes them more knowledgeable?”

Well…yes, probably. On this particular subject, if they have the relevant degree, then yes, that does – other things being equal – make them more knowledgeable. It’s possible that Laurie Hill’s neighbors are equally knowledgeable thanks to self-education, but it’s not terribly likely. For one thing, few people want to go to all the trouble of getting a medical education if they’re not going to get a degree.

Also, I bet the doctors aren’t saying she will make it with their treatments; I bet they’re saying her chances of making it are much better with their treatments than without them. And who they are to say that is people who know something about the stats.

As an extraordinary court case in nearby Brantford moved toward an end, a lawyer for McMaster Children’s Hospital argued that child-welfare authorities should have used their power to require the young woman to stay in treatment. With chemo, childhood leukemia now has a survival rate in the range of 90%, and remains a likely death sentence without it, experts say.

But Justice Gethin Edward of the Ontario Court of Justice suggested physicians essentially want to “impose our world view on First Nation culture.” The idea of a cancer treatment being judged on the basis of statistics that quantify patients’ five-year survival rate is “completely foreign” to aboriginal ways, he said.

Oh please. That’s insulting. It assumes that people can’t learn anything new.

“Even if we say there is not one child who has been cured of acute lymphoblastic leukemia by traditional methods, is that a reason to invoke child protection?” asked Justice Edward, noting that the girl’s mother believes she is doing what is best for her daughter.

Yes, yes it is. Of course it is. You know what else is? We can say there is not one child who has survived being locked in a basement with no water or food for a month, and that that is indeed a reason to invoke child protection if a child is being held in a basement with no water or food. If a child has meningitis and the parents want to pray over her instead of taking her to a hospital, that is a reason to invoke child protection. Yes.

“Are we to second guess her and say ‘You know what, we don’t care?’ … Maybe First Nations culture doesn’t require every child to be treated with chemotherapy and to survive for that culture to have value.”


The judge said the culture will still have value, so let the child die.


There is also an issue of medical consent, but the child is 11, and if her parents have been telling her the traditional “treatments” are just as good, she’s probably not in a position to make an informed decision.

Back at Six Nations, meanwhile, Ancestral Voices employee Hayley Doxtater said aboriginal remedies are becoming increasingly popular. She pointed to a cancer treatment — a collection of herbs including slippery elm and turkey rhubarb root ­ — that she said one customer has repeatedly traveled an hour from Toronto to buy for a sick friend.

“We have people come in here who are so happy that something works,” she said. “They’ll say ‘That stuff is amazing.’ “

Ah, the one hour drive evidence that the treatment is effective.


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

Very far away

Oct 21st, 2014 9:42 am | By

People at schools in various parts of the US are freaking out about Ebola because of a very flawed knowledge of geography, basic geography, as in, Africa is bigger than Rhode Island.

For instance, at a school in New Burlington, New Jersey, two Rwandan students are staying at home due to other parents’ fear that they will infect other children with Ebola. Rwanda is as close to the Ebola outbreak as New York City is to Seattle.

In Hazlehurst, Mississippi, a school principal’s recent visit to Zambia has led to a lot of parents choosing to keep their kids at home. But Zambia is in Southern Africa, over 3,000 miles away from the Ebola outbreak — the same distance between New Hampshire and Los Angeles.

I think people think distance shrinks internal distances – not from the perspective of the beholder, but literally. Africa is Far from Here so therefore it’s just a small thing like a magazine cover so therefore the virus can hop from one side to the other without even trying hard.

But in reality, Africa is a very big continent.

Africa is the world’s second largest continent. But it’s not unusual for Americans to classify it as a single entity, ignoring the many cultural, economic and geographic differences between its 47 countries. If three countries in Africa are going through an Ebola epidemic, the other 44 must be too, right?

Yeah, see, that’s what I mean. We don’t know much about it so we shrink it in our heads.

Wikimedia Commons


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

Sommers v “hardline feminism”

Oct 20th, 2014 5:22 pm | By

More provocations by former philosopher Christina Hoff Sommers. She obviously does them to provoke, because she knows it teases, so I’m being very kind and generous to her by calling attention to them. Or, if you prefer, I’m taking her bait like a damn fool. Whichever. But I just keep being fascinated by the trashiness of it all.

There are two sides, she says.

Christina H. Sommers @CHSommers · 21 minutes ago
Why is Wash Post taking sides rather than offering readers honest account of both sides of #Gamergate? @caitlindewey …

Feminism is dangerous.

Little evidence that video games cause harm. But overexposure to hardline feminism appears to cause personal & social harm. Studies needed.

Nanananana, feminism is a big poopyhead.

It’s an odd way for an intelligent woman to make a living, relentlessly attacking feminism. Lots of women have done it in the past, but it seems odd nevertheless.

Jessica Valenti wrote about that glorious history last July.

As for all those rights won by so many feminists on behalf of so many more American women, the sad truth is that they fought other women every step of the way. Indeed, we live in a country with a long history of anti-feminist women: Before we had women like Christina Hoff Sommers and Katie Roiphe arguing that feminism was hurting men and that date rape wasn’t real, respectively, women were leaders in in the anti-suffrage movement of the early 1900s. And it was a woman - Phyllis Schlafly – who led the charge against the Equal Rights Amendment in the ’70s. Schreiber points out that some of the debates against the ERA were about “masculinity run amok”: “Phyllis Schlafly said if we were are treated as equals, then men will shirk their responsibilities,” she notes.

Remind me: Who are the man-haters again?

Between the last presidential election and the next one, between the feminist social media explosion and even Beyoncé coming out in our corner, right now is one of the most exciting times for feminism in decades. Yet here we have female anti-feminists – emboldened by Sarah Palin’s faux-feminist movement – raining on our progress parade. And it is especially irritating given that they’re using their gender as part of their organizing strategy. “It’s an identity politics angle that they criticize but often invoke,” Schreiber says.

Women stopping the progress of other women – especially those who don’t have the power and prestige to work for DC think-tanks or pen anti-feminist books – stings much more than when men do it.

Irritates, rather than stings – but maybe that’s just me.

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

Pioneering work

Oct 20th, 2014 4:02 pm | By

Here is Efua Dorkenoo’s page at Equality Now.

Efua Dorkenoo

Efua Dorkenoo became the Senior Advisor to Equality Now on the issue of female genital mutilation (FGM) in February 2014, after having served as the Advocacy Director, FGM programme in Equality Now’s London office. She is also a trained  bio-social scientist in public health and an honorary Senior Research Fellow at the School of Health Sciences at City University, London. Starting in the early 1980s, her pioneering work on FGM has contributed to the international recognition of FGM as a public health and a human rights issue. From 1995-2001, she worked as the WHO’s first technical expert at their Geneva headquarters and assisted the organization in introducing FGM onto the agendas of the Ministries of Health of WHO Member States. Ms. Dorkenoo was awarded the British State Honours – OBE (Order of the British Empire) by the British Queen in recognition of her work as the founder of the UK NGO FORWARD in 1983 and for her campaigning work against FGM. In 2000, along with Gloria Steinem, she received Equality Now’s international human rights award for her lifelong activism on the issue of women’s rights. Ms. Dorkenoo’s  book, Cutting the Rose: Female Genital Mutilation, The Practice and its Prevention (Minority Rights Publications 1994), was considered a first on FGM and was selected by an international jury for inclusion on the 2002 prestigious book list, “Africa 100 Best Books for the 20th Century.”

Someone to think of when we’re feeling pessimistic.

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

Efua Dorkenoo

Oct 20th, 2014 3:28 pm | By

Another big loss.

Efua Dorkenoo, widely seen as the mother of the global movement to end female genital mutilation, has died after undergoing treatment for cancer, her family have confirmed. She was 65. Dorkenoo – known affectionately to many as “mama Efua” – was a leading light in the movement to bring an end to FGM for more than 30 years, campaigning against the practice since the 1980s.

The girls’ and women’s rights campaigner saw the progression of the movement to end FGM go from a minority, often ignored, issue to a key policy priority for governments across the world. Proof of this arrived with the launch of The Girl Generation on October 10 – a major Africa-led campaign to tackle FGM across the globe, run by a consortium of charities and organisations and funded by the department for international development. Dorkenoo – the natural choice to lead the consortium, wrote simply on the day of its launch: “ Finally, The Girl Generation: Together to End FGM is here, and I hope you like it.” A week later she died in hospital.

Well I’m glad she lived long enough to know about the launch.

She was born in Ghana and moved to London when she was 19 and worked as a nurse.

Working with African women in the UK, she became aware of the health and mental complications that result from FGM and began campaigning against the practice with the human rights organisation Minority Rights Group.

She went on to gain a masters degree from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicineand was an honorary senior research fellow at the School of Health Sciences at City University, London.

In 1983 she co-founded FORWARD (The Foundation for Women’s Health, Research and Development), which became a leading organisation in the battle to raise awareness about FGM. The procedure, which still affects more than 125 million girls and women worldwide and is widely practised in 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East, was outlawed in the UK in 1985. She published a seminal text on FGM – Cutting the Rose: Female Genital Mutilation: The Practice and Prevention, in 1994.

Dorkenoo was instrumental in getting FGM on the agenda in ministries of health while working at the World Health Organisation from 1995-2001, and went on to become the advocacy director and then senior advisor on FGM at the human rights organisation Equality Now. She was awarded an OBE in recognition of her campaigning work against FGM.

She was an inspiration to young women.

Leyla Hussein, co-founder of Daughters of Evewith Ali, said the formation of an African-led movement against FGM was Dorkenoo’s lifelong dream and despite ill-health her last months were spent visiting everyone from politicians to village leaders across the world. “The Girl Generation was Efua’s baby and she had been trying to make it happen for 30 years,” she said. “Last week Efua gave birth to it, with every last breath she had she worked to make that happen. She was an incredible African female warrior and she never gave up.”

Yet another everyday hero.

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

Between a bad thing and another bad thing

Oct 20th, 2014 12:28 pm | By

Pragna Patel on the difficulty of human rights work between conservative views of economics and law on the one hand and religious fundamentalism on the other.

First, we are compelled to challenge the state for removing legal aid from a huge range of civil and criminal matters which impact not only on individual rights but also on our demands for institutional accountability in the face of abuses of power that seem to be growing rather than diminishing. The government’s ‘reforms’ on legal aid are strongly located in a fiscal context that reiterate some of the key overarching aims of the present government: localism, alternative dispute resolution strategies, deficit reduction and deregulation. Taken together these measures are destroying one of the great pillars of the welfare state.

They have forced SBS into leading or supporting legal and political challenges against various legal aid cuts.

This development is directly linked to the challenges that we face on the second front: increasing privatisation of justice and state adoption of a ‘faith based’ approach to address minority issues. This has meant amongst other things, challenging religious fundamentalists and ‘moderates’ alike who are using the vacuum created to influence and shape law and social policy by reference to a regressive religious identity that they have come to define.

That’s something I don’t think I’ve paid enough attention to – the fact that it’s just plain cheaper for the government to outsource dispute resolution to theocrats. Cheaper but worse, as cheaper so often is.

Muslim fundamentalists have mounted what can be described as a two pronged pincer like manoeuvre based ostensibly on the demand for religious tolerance, but which is in reality a bid for power in which the control of female sexuality is central. On the one hand they seek to ensure that personal religious codes are normalised within the legal system, and on the other they seek to formalise a parallel legal system through the establishment of alternative religious forums for dispute resolution in family matters. This process – a sort of ‘shariafication by stealth’ of the legal apparatus – involves making state law and policy ‘Sharia’ compliant. If successful, we have no doubt that it will lead other religions to demand the same level of accommodation.

She talks about examples we’re familiar with – gender segregation at UK universities and the Law Society’s guidance on “sharia-compliant” wills.

Support for parallel legal systems come not only from male religious leaderships and the state, but also alarmingly from within feminism itself. For instance, in feminist discussions on intersectional frameworks for understanding violence against women it has become fashionable to talk of the intersection of religion and gender, and to refer to the need to develop a feminist response that is sensitive to the growth of religious values, especially post 9/11 and the rise of anti-Muslim racism. This has amounted to support for the accommodation of religious legal codes. Yet few if any acknowledge the fact that wherever parallel legal systems operate they generally suppress dissent, and seek to remove women from public spaces metaphorically speaking and to impede their fundamental freedoms in the private sphere.

Oh shit, has it? If that’s intersectionalism, I say it’s spinach and I say the hell with it.

What we see at work here is clearly an attempt to impede the development of secular, progressive, political resistance by de-legitimising and locating our struggles for access to justice, outside of so called community, anti-racist and feminist concerns. These struggles are now taking place on many fronts as both religious right forces and the state mount an assault on secular human rights values in pursuit of power without accountability.

This article is an extended version of a presentation given by the author at theSecularism 2014 Conference held in London last weekend

That’s Maryam’s amazing conference.

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

Dr Stella Ameyo Adadevoh

Oct 20th, 2014 11:52 am | By

Tolu Ogunlesi reports on another everyday hero.

Last month, the Nigerian government released the 2014 National Honours award list: more than 300 people, many of them serving government officials, seemingly recognised simply because of the public office they hold, not for anything particularly honourable or heroic. An outcry followed, largely due to the absence of one name: Dr Stella Ameyo Adadevoh. A government spokesman was forced to explain that the awards are never given posthumously.

The public’s indignation was understandable: Adadevoh was the Nigerian doctor who oversaw the treatment of Patrick Sawyer, the Liberian national who brought the Ebola virus to Nigeria. She died of the virus on 19 August, one of eight fatalities out of 20 cases (each linked to Sawyer) in the country. Without her dedication, it is quite possible that the World Health Organisation would not have declared Nigeria – the most populous country in Africa – Ebola-free on Monday. The significance of her actions, and those of her hospital colleagues, cannot be overstated.

It’s heartbreaking.

In a fine tribute, Nigerian journalist Simon Kolawole explained and convincingly that Adadevoh was only doing her job as a medical professional. He wrote: “There were various options in front of her when she discovered Sawyer had Ebola: one, quietly say ‘e no concern me’ and discharge him quickly to avoid contaminating the hospital; two, refer him to [Lagos University Teaching hospital], not minding the bigger consequences for the rest of Nigeria; three, act responsibly in line with the ethics of the medical profession and ‘detain’ him because of the peculiarity of the disease.”

That this needed to be pointed out at all is perhaps testimony to how unused Nigeria has become to the idea of people doing their jobs as they should. It is precisely the reason Adadevoh needs to be honoured: as a reminder that heroism can be attained as much in everyday work clothes as it can in superhero capes.

We in the US need that kind of reminder too: that heroism can be attained as much in everyday work clothes as it can in football uniforms or banker suits or movie star glamor clothes.

Her name should become famous along with Malala’s.

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

His only crime is being a free voice

Oct 20th, 2014 11:31 am | By

Raif Badawy’s wife Ensaf Haidar writes about what Saudi Arabia is doing to her husband.

In May, his sentence was reduced to 10 years in prison, a fine of $100,000 and 1,000 lashes. He is to be lashed 50 times each Friday after prayers until it reaches 1,000 lashes.

Ra’if is not a criminal. He is not a murderer or a rapist. He is a blogger. That’s it. His only crime is being a free voice in a country that has no tolerance nor understanding for freedom.

He’s a blogger. I’m a blogger. I try to imagine being lashed 50 times to punish me for that. I try to imagine spending ten years in prison for that. I can’t.

Two years have passed since Ra’if was arrested and I still face a burning emptiness and a series of insomnia-inducing questions: When is he coming back? And in what state? Am I going to hug him? Kiss him? Will I cry?

These are our allies.

I arrived in Canada after escaping Saudi Arabia via Cairo and Beirut. We will settle here and attempt to have a normal life, but always await Ra’if’s return.

I am unable to thank every person who supported me and Ra’if. Amnesty International especially spared no effort to advocate for my husband’s release. I also must thank Ra’if, who taught me how to endure the impossible, stay strong and fight tirelessly to get him back.

Perhaps he won’t return soon, but I will get him back some day. He promised me that he would come back no matter what. Ra’if should be free, filling the world with happiness, love and his fighting spirit.

The government of Saudi Arabia is evil.


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

What counts as plagiarism?

Oct 20th, 2014 10:20 am | By

I’m not sure what to think about this.

There’s this C J Werleman guy, who has been accused of plagiarism. I’ve been seeing mutterings about it in passing for a few days, without following them up, because he’s not someone I’ve been aware of. But PZ has a post about the subject today and I read that, so then I read his source, which is Godless Spellchecker.


But he has done the unforgivable: serial plagiarism, and when caught out, has apologized, but simultaneously belittled the seriousness of the offense and blamed it on a campaign by our little neo-conservative atheist cabal of Harris and Boghossian.

I agree that they are wrong about so much else, but when they’re right, they’re right, galling as it is. This is a situation that requires much more reflection and far greater amends than Werleman has given it. He has also effectively written himself out of any of the debates, internal or external, about atheism.

Ok, but then when I read Godless Spellchecker’s examples, I had doubts. That’s because much journalism, in magazines and in books, does what Werleman seems to have done: draw on the work of other people without full citation.

The conventions in non-scholarly magazines and books just aren’t the same as the conventions in scholarly journals and books. It’s surprising and disconcerting, actually, to notice how loose they are, but they are in fact that loose.

The place I first recall noticing how different the conventions are is a long article by Claudia Roth Pierpont in The New Yorker, about Franz Boas. It was published in 2004 so that makes a lot of sense, because guess what I was doing in 2004: writing Why Truth Matters [with a co-author] for an academic publisher. I had naturally developed a heightened awareness of When You Need to Cite Your Source, so reading that obviously very researched article that was citation-free caused me to realize for the first time how radically different the conventions are. I puzzled over it. It felt very odd and wrong, to be using so much material without sourcing it, but at the same time I realized it was wholly conventional.

The fact that it’s conventional doesn’t make it right, and people who write books do chafe at the use sometimes made of their work without due credit. More than one person has objected to Christopher Hitchens’s habits in this area – his Mother Teresa book in particular was apparently heavily based on the work of other people, without proper citation.

But if it is conventional it probably doesn’t really qualify as plagiarism, right?

I’m honestly not sure. I have no stake, because as I mentioned, I’m not familiar with Werleman. I’m somewhat puzzled about the whole thing.

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

Also helped fuel the haters

Oct 19th, 2014 5:31 pm | By

Mother Jones has a big story on #GamerGate. As it goes on it tells me some things I didn’t know.

Sarkeesian noted recently that she has been “subjected to the worst harassment I’ve ever faced” as part of a convoluted conflict known as #Gamergate, which has been roiling the gaming industry since August. Playing out primarily on social media, #Gamergate centers around several women who work in the industry and have criticized its dominant macho culture and frequent sexualization of women. Their critique has met with intense harassment and bullying. The FBI is currently investigating the threats against Sarkeesian and others, according to Vice.

Note, again, how familiar that is – their critique has met with intense harassment and bullying. Our critique always is. It’s become normal and routine – greeting feminist criticism of macho culture and frequent sexualization of women with organized campaigns of intense harassment and bullying. It’s almost as if we’re just plain not allowed to say some things should change.

Most of the viciousness comes from anonymous trolls. However, a couple of particular players have helped inflame the situation:

Adam Baldwin, perhaps best known for portraying paranoid mercenary Jayne Cobb in Firefly and for voicing strident political views on social media, chimed in:

Someone else who has helped inflame the situation is, shamingly, the former academic Christina Hoff Sommers.

Milo Yiannopoulos, associate editor at, also helped fuel the haters with a blog post in which he declared “an army of sociopathic feminist programmers and campaigners, abetted by achingly politically correct American tech bloggers, are terrorising the entire community.”


Though #Gamergate first caught fire on 4chan, it exploded on more mainstream social media outlets such as Reddit and Twitter, which have been criticized for providing a platform for its worst elements. On Saturday, for example, developer Brianna Wu left her home after a Twitter user sent her a string of threats including a pledge to choke her to death with her husband’s penis. Though Twitter has suspended those accounts, critics argue it could do much more by, say, actively detecting hostile behavior, limiting fake accounts, and making it easier to block users. Twitter spokesman Nu Wexler referred Mother Jones to the company’s user rules banning targeted abuse. He declined to say how many accounts have been suspended in relation to #Gamergate or if any have been referred to law enforcement.

That’s insulting. The company’s “user rules banning targeted abuse” are a joke, because the company acts as if they’re not there. Targeted abuse is what many people use Twitter for. It’s full of targeted abuse; targeted abuse is the air it breathes. Spokesman Nu Wexler showing Mother Jones the rules is just a contemptuous evasion.

On Reddit, a group devoted to #Gamergate has more than 11,000 subscribers. Many of the comments in these threads are misogynistic, and Zoe Quinn has produced logs of Reddit chatrooms that show gamers planning to hack her personal accounts. Even so, Reddit’s moderators haven’t shut down its main #Gamergate page. (In contrast, a #Gamergate forum on Github has been disabledby the site’s staff.) “We received a number of contacts related to this issue,” Reddit spokeswoman Victoria Taylor wrote in response to questions from Mother Jones. “Anything that we found or that was reported to us that broke our rules was removed and the user banned.” But it seems that the fallout from #Gamergate hasn’t prompted much concern or soul searching at Reddit: “We do not plan on changing any site policies due to the occurrence of this event.”

Of course not. It’s just bullying of women; it doesn’t matter; nobody gives a shit.

Pushback on the nastiness from the world of gaming journalism has included comments from Stephen Totilo, the editor in chief of Kotaku (and #Gamergate’sjournalistic enemy No. 1), who published a piece criticizing the movement and its tactics:

“All of us at Kotaku condemn the sort of harassment that’s being carried out against critics, developers, journalists, and other members of the gaming community. If you’re someone who harasses people online, you’re not a part of the community we want to foster at Kotaku, and you’re actively hurting people and driving important voices away from the video game scene. Enough.”

But Christina Hoff Sommers is still cheering them on.

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

Not a good idea to irritate my buddy Gamer here

Oct 19th, 2014 4:40 pm | By

There’s further mainstream media coverage of #GamerGate, while Christina Hoff Sommers continues to tweet in support of the brave rebels.

Christina H. Sommers @CHSommers · 7 hours ago
Not a good idea to irritate hundreds of thousands of gamers. @Gawker #GamerGate Ht:@lizzyf620 …

Media has maligned & defamed millions of innocent gamers. Big mistake. You have awakened a sleeping giant. @Gawker #GamerGate

#Gamergate is not about misogyny.It’s a consumer rebellion against media bullies & shallow ideologies. & these r consumers who
like to win.

If you missed this Spike article, pease read it now! #Gamergate …

Gamers are one of the most diverse & welcoming groups I have ever known.But in the face of unfair attacks,they react.

Wrong.There are different kinds of giants.The video game community is gentle giant that uses polemics for weapons. Not howitzers. @MiahSaint

Here’s the GamerGate Manifesto (yes, there is one) and a translation of it by somewhat_brave on Reddit

Do you notice how very, very familiar it all is? How exactly it resembles what we’ve been seeing ad nauseam for the past 3.5 years?


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

Whimsy at the University of Sydney

Oct 19th, 2014 3:56 pm | By

Strange doings at the University of Sydney.

The University of Sydney has suspended Prof Barry Spurr over emails in which he called the prime minister, Tony Abbott, an “Abo lover”, Indigenous Australians “human rubbish tips” and Nelson Mandela as a “darky”.

Don’t tell me let me guess – he was using those insults “ironically” – right? He didn’t mean them literally, it was just a performance, a many-layered meta-joke. Right?

Spurr, a poetry expert, was a specialist consultant to the federal government’s national curriculum review looking at English from foundation to year 12.

The emails, first obtained by website New Matilda, have seriously damaged the review’s findings, with Labor calling them “tainted” and the Australian Education Union saying the review had been exposed as “an ideological waste of time from the start”.

In a series of emails over two years sent to senior academics and officials within the university, Spurr wrote that Abbott would have to be surgically separated from his “Siamese twin”, Australian of the Year and AFL star Adam Goodes, who is Aboriginal.

He said the university’s chancellor, Belinda Hutchinson, was an “appalling minx”,’ while other women were described as “whores”. He used terms such as “mussies” and “chinky-poos”.

Ironically. Obviously he’s far too sophisticated to use them non-ironically. Right?

The national curriculum review, released this month, largely accepted Spurr’s recommendations regarding the teaching of English. He had asserted in his report to the review that “the impact of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on literature in English in Australia has been minimal” and advised a greater emphasis on the western literary canon.

Spurr had not responded on Friday, but has said previously the emails were part of a “whimsical” game with another person to outdo each other in extreme statements and were not meant to be taken seriously.

Aha! – there it is. Toldja.

Spurr was a well-known conservative critic of the national curriculum before his appointment to review English. In 2010 he contributed to a critique published by the the libertarian think tank the Institute of Public Affairs.

In his chapter, Spurr was scathing about the curriculum proposed by the former Labor government. “An empty generosity is proposed, bloated with ramifying detail and long on windy rhetoric, an obesity of the mind: short on nourishing, intellectually-bracing substance. It is the educational equivalent of fast food.”

Spurr’s expert advice to the national curriculum was influential, with most of his recommendations accepted in the final report. He criticised the emphasis on Aboriginal texts, saying the “the impact of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on literature in English in Australia has been minimal and is vastly outweighed by the impact of global literature in English, and especially that from Britain, on our literary culture”.

Could that be partly because people have always said global literature in English is more important so let’s just ignore Aboriginal literature? It’s a bit circular you know. “We can’t have more women involved because look around you, there are no women here, so obviously women don’t participate, so we can’t ask them.” Repeat repeat repeat, and apply to all other kinds of people you also don’t want to invite.

H/t Omar.


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

One hour and six minutes

Oct 19th, 2014 11:19 am | By

Pacific Standard reports on an exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum called Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe.

I think high heels are one of the weirdest and most perverse customs we have over here in the putatively developed world. They’re temporary foot-binding, and if they’re worn long enough the damage becomes permanent. They don’t damage the feet as much as foot-binding did, but that’s not much of a distinction.

Now, they’re also “a choice,” and feminism is all about choice, and yadda yadda. But for one thing, they’re not a completely free choice, given all the contexts in which they’re more or less obligatory, and for another thing, I flatly reject the idea that all choices made by a woman are feminist simply because they’re choices.

“Fashion is a form of material culture that can reveal quite a bit about the personal, social, and cultural concerns of the era it comes from,” Lisa Small, the museum’s curator of exhibitions, told Forbes.

While all this may be true, heels also imply pain. In a sense, it’s kind of amazing that an item that exemplifies the fashion-over-function ethos so fully has lasted for so long. Indeed, research suggests that long-term high heel use can both “compromise muscle efficiency” and “increase the risk of strain injuries.” A recent survey conducted by the U.K.’s College of Podiatry found that, when in stilettos, most women’s feet tend to start hurting after just one hour and six minutes. Furthermore, one in three women admit to walking home shoeless due to the relentless throbbing.

Yes, fashion can reveal quite a bit about the personal, social, and cultural concerns of the era it comes from, and the fashion for grotesquely high heels reveal that for some reason we still think it’s ok and sexy and cool for women to be – temporarily or permanently – crippled by shoes. We cringe in horror at foot-binding but we take heels for granted. It’s bizarre – and revolting.

Despite all the suffering and creative lengths some entrepreneurs go to relieve it, the Wall Street Journal reports that in 2011 women spent $38.5 billion on shoes in the U.S., with more than half of those sales going toward stilettos over three inches high.

“You could just as easily ask men why they wear neckties, which aren’t particularly comfortable,” Small told the Daily Beast when discussing the complicated act of willfully wearing something that brings about infliction.

No. Ties are uncomfortable, and they are unsuitable for vigorous physical activity, but they don’t actually deform and lame their wearers.

“The necktie has a universal currency of power whereas the high heel doesn’t. It’s too bound up in sexualization and objectification. Yet many women enjoy wearing them because they want to look conventionally sexy or because they like the confidence that comes with extra height.”

And they live in a culture where shoes like that are coded as sexy and beautiful, and where being sexy and beautiful is at the top of the list of things women are expected to be.

So when and why did women start donning the accessory? Elizabeth Semmelhack, author of Heights of Fashion: A History of the Elevated Shoe and senior curator at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, believes the answer lies in mid-19th-century pornography, which used the recent invention of photography to disseminate images of naked women in heels. While this convergence of events infused the shoe with its erotic aura and modern feminine identity, these women didn’t have to stand in a pair of stilettos for very long or move around that much.

Which is apparently how we still like our women.

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

Freedom of thought, conscience and religion

Oct 19th, 2014 11:00 am | By

The European Humanist Federation points out that the 2014 EU report on countries that are candidates for membership does a lousy job of monitoring abuses of the rights of non-believers in those countries.

…the 2014 reports have clearly failed to address the situation for non-believers in these countries, with not one single mention of their situation being present within the section on ‘Freedom of thought, conscience and religion’ in this year’s reports.

They do a good job on reporting violations of the rights of adherents of minority religions, but they leave out the rights of adherents of no religion. It’s as if rights came with religion but not with no religion.

Negating [neglecting?] to report on the situation for non-believers is one thing, but choosing to ignore outright attacks on the rights of non-believers is another thing altogether. Of all of the candidate countries, Turkey possesses the most repressive political climate for non-believers, with past progress reports declaring that “citizens professing a faith other than that of the majority, or with no faith, continued to experience discrimination[12]. However the 2014 report fails to report adequately on the situation for non-believers in Turkey, ignoring entirely instances such as in February of this year, when President Erdoğan equated Atheists with terrorists[13]. Moreover, there was a lack of criticism of the continuing existence of Article 216 of the Turkish Criminal Code[14] which has been used by authorities to curb the freedom of expression of Atheists, who are harassed and arrested for writing critical statements about religion either in books or online[15].

The rights of non-believers should form just as an important cornerstone of the progress reports as the rights of ethnic, sexual and religious minorities, and the Commission has failed to report on the challenges which non-believers face on a daily basis within potential and confirmed candidate countries. This is why the EHF calls on the Commission to include explicit references to the situation for non-believers in candidate countries in future reports. After all, if the EU truly believes that the right to freedom of expression for non-believers is a fundamental right, then the ability to exercise this right within candidate countries must be scrutinised, to better assess the commitment on behalf of these states to the advancement of fundamental human rights for all citizens, religious or otherwise.

Second that.

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

Look in another place

Oct 19th, 2014 9:39 am | By

If we get depressed about the tattered “heroes” of atheism and skepticism we can turn our attention away from them in favor of people like William Pooley, a nurse who caught Ebola while volunteering in West Africa. He was flown home to the UK and treated, and he recovered, so now he’s taking a well-deserved breather returning to Sierra Leone.

Mr Pooley will work at the isolation unit at Connaught Hospital in Freetown, Sierra Leone, where he will train staff and set up new isolation units.

He will work with a team from King’s Health Partners – a collaboration between King’s College London and three NHS trusts – which is operating in the country.

Dr Oliver Johnson, programme director for the King’s Sierra Leone Partnership, said: “It is fantastic that Will has chosen to join our small team here at Connaught Hospital.

“The situation here in Freetown is getting worse by the day and so Will’s experience and commitment will be vital as we do everything we can to stem the flow of cases.

“The best way of stopping Ebola spreading even further is to fight it at its source and I look forward to working with Will to do just that.”

Hats off to you William Pooley and Oliver Johnson and your team and all the health workers in West Africa.

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

Gender activists and hipsters with degrees in cultural studies

Oct 18th, 2014 5:51 pm | By

A month ago Christina Hoff Sommers did a 6 and a half minute video for the American Enterprise Institute in which she took a sarcastically skeptical look at the criticisms of gamer culture. There’s a partial transcript on the page and I transcribed some of the rest for myself.


She started by saying that hard-core gamers, those who play more than 20 hours a week, are 7 to 1 male to female.

But are video games rife with sexism? Do they promote a culture of misogyny and violence that must be dismantled? My answer is no. As I looked into the literature on gaming, I discovered that gamers make a lot of people nervous. Not only are most of them male—but the games they like tend to be action-packed, competitive, and often violent.

But obviously that’s not in any way a problem, as we can tell by noticing how very peaceful and free of violence the US is*. Everything is already perfect exactly as it is, so there’s no need for anyone to think about possible problems with gaming, or anything else. The only people who ought to be doing that kind of thing, in fact, are people who do it at the behest of and on the payroll of the American Enterprise Institute.

But now, gamers are dealing with a new army of critics: gender activists and hipsters with degrees in cultural studies. These critics are concerned that gaming is a largely hetero-patriachal capitalist pursuit. Why isn’t gaming more inclusive? Why must there always be male heroes? Why are the few females always portrayed as either Damsels in distress or sex objects? These critics have made some useful points about “sexist tropes and narratives.” But they ignore the fact that the world of gaming has become more inclusive. There are games that fit a vast array of preferences, and games with responsibly proportioned and appropriately garbed female protagonists. Yet the video game gender police have become so harsh and intolerant – relentless – many of them want more than women on both sides of the video screen – they want the male video game culture to die.[little laugh]

I wonder if that’s an attempt to deflect attention from the people who threaten the critics, by pretending that the critics too want someone or something to die. Not very nice if so.

Male gamers, as a group, do evince a strong a preference for games with male heroes and sexy women. Could that be because they are – uh [quick eye roll] male? There is no evidence that these games are making males racist, misogynist, or homophobic. In fact, all the data we have suggests that millennial males—born and raised in video game nation—are far less prone to these prejudices than previous generations.

All the data? I doubt that. Misogyny is too prevalent and hip and fashionable for that. It’s coming from somewhere.

But recently two feminist critics received and publicized death threats. Now, no one knows who sent them, there are millions of gamers, and I’m sure they include a few sociopaths, if it was indeed gamers who sent the threats. But many of the new culture critics have seized on the emails as a [sarcasm] sure sign of patriarchal pathology at the heart of gamer culture. According to one academic pontificator [sarcastic shaking of head], “what we are seeing is the end of gamers, and the viciousness that accompanies the death of an identity.” [sarcastic little laugh] Well I have spent the last few weeks looking into the gamer culture, talking to gamers, looking at the data – I don’t see pathology, or imminent death. What I see is a lively, smart, creative subculture…”

That’s a pretty callous dismissal of the death threats. She could have used the opportunity to speak out forcefully against them, but instead she chose to hint that maybe they were fake.

Her shtick these days seems to be just to pounce on anything feminists do in order to make fun of it. There are some feminist projects that I too think need opposing, like the ones that claim logic and science are more of a guy thing. But jeering at pretty much everything is a questionable kind of scholarship.

*I’m assuming that she’s talking about US gamers here, given that she’s doing this for the American Enterprise Institute, which doesn’t mean Mexico and Canada, much less Brazil and Peru.)

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

Another level

Oct 18th, 2014 4:01 pm | By

Here’s another branch of the Harassing Women on Twitter industry – people threatening a woman with rape because blah blah blah blah.

TV presenter Richard Madeley has said people who sent “sick rape threats” to his daughter are in “deep trouble”.

Chloe Madeley received threats on Twitter after defending her mother, Judy Finnigan, who caused controversy when she described a rape committed by footballer Ched Evans as “non-violent”.

Well that’s ironic. I wish people wouldn’t declare the rapes of other people “non-violent” – I wish people would just get out of the business of minimizing the rapes of other people altogether – but I don’t think the right response is to threaten such people’s daughters with rape.

Mr Madeley tweeted “prosecution awaits” for the culprits but refused to comment on whether he had contacted police.

The Met Police said they were not aware of any complaint about the matter.

However, a spokesman added it could have been reported to any police force.

In an email to BBC Radio 1’s Newsbeat Miss Madeley said she wanted to stand up to “vicious attention seekers.”

She added: “I always ignore the disgusting troll tweets I get because I honestly do not want to give them any attention, but the tweet in question took it to another level.”

Aw, it’s just people having a little harmless fun. There’s no need to politicize it. </irony>

Now the Tory Justice Secretary Chris Grayling is saying sentences for internet harassment should be longer.

He told the Mail on Sunday quadrupling the current maximum six-month term showed his determination to “take a stand against a baying cyber-mob”.

The plan has been announced days after TV presenter Chloe Madeley suffered online abuse, which Mr Grayling described as “crude and degrading”.

Magistrates could pass serious cases on to crown courts under the new measures.

But, free speech.

Yes, free speech, but the state isn’t the only force that can suppress free speech. Harassers on social media can do that very effectively.

Miss Madeley told the Mail on Sunday she agreed with the new proposals to update the 10-year-old law.

“It needs to be accepted that physical threats should not fall under the ‘freedom of speech’ umbrella,” she said.

“It should be seen as online terrorism and it should be illegal.”

Those who subject others to sexually offensive, verbally abusive or threatening material online are currently prosecuted in magistrates’ courts under the Malicious Communications Act, with a maximum prison sentence of six months.

More serious cases could go to crown court under the proposals, where the maximum sentence would be extended.

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

Guest post: Horrified to listen in to some sexist chat

Oct 18th, 2014 2:50 pm | By

Originally a comment by Lee Brimmicombe-Wood on A rebellion against moral crusaders.

So far as I can see, the authoritarian gaming press has, to varying degrees, come down on the side of virtue. If the gamers are winning, as Summers suggests, I’m not seeing it.

Of course, as an industry insider it’s always possible there’s something I’m not seeing.

I wade into the open sewer of message boards only so far. However, I very much doubt that my corporate masters will ever be moved to send out a memo suggesting we ditch diversity or in any way rein it back in.

That said, when it comes to questionable content I’ve pointed the finger before at Marketing. Devs are, of course, responsible for most of the content, but Marketing departments are a hinge point in this discussion.

I recall an incident on a famous AAA franchise I worked on. The four-player co-op mode was to have four characters, and we pitched an equal gender balance and diverse racial makeup. We even addressed age, making one of the women an older, Helen Mirren type. Marketing nixed this. They hated the scheme with a passion and, so far as I could see, plotted to squash it.

How they did so was very interesting. They set up focus groups in the American midwest primarily made up of young males. And they structured the presentation to give them the answers they desired. The dudebros delivered, and some of our women designers, watching from behind one-way glass, were horrified to listen in to some sexist chat by the participants, commenting on the fuckability of the characters.

So, Marketing got what they wanted: of the four characters there were three white guys, their one concession to diversity being the black woman. There was no arguing with Marketing. They had the metrics from Left 4 Dead to prove whatever the hell they wanted with regards to player selection of women characters to play.

It’s not just dev culture that needs a sea change, but Marketing also. They have input into greenlight decisions. They have powerpoints with data that can push products one way or the other.

I’m hopeful that change is coming. But that change will, in part, be metrics-led, it will be founded on the facts about the growing presence of women in gaming, and the realisation that tapping that audience will lead to $$$$$. So part of the solution, crass though this may sound, is more and more women playing games.

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

A rebellion against moral crusaders

Oct 18th, 2014 12:55 pm | By

Christina Hoff Sommers is promoting an article at Spiked about #GamerGate as fantastic and honest. Let’s see.

Video games aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. They can be enormously time-consuming and often require a considerable level of dedication to master. However, there are good reasons for non-gamers to be paying attention to the video-games industry right now – it has become the site of a rebellion against moral crusaders and their relentless push to politicise every aspect of culture and society.

That’s not a good start. It’s never a good start to claim that it’s only analysis or criticism or interrogation of X that is political, while mere X itself just is, politics-free.

That’s not right. Video games aren’t some natural phenomenon that simply happened, with no human interference. They’re a human, social creation, and as such they are political.

That doesn’t mean that what’s political about them was necessarily planned or coordinated, it just means that consumer preferences and demographics are not apolitical.

Games have been subject to right-wing moral panics in the past, Allum Bokhari continues, but now the panic is on the left.

Similar to the old right, the new cultural warriors argue that games promote violence and reinforce so-called rape culture. Arguments that games perpetuate sexism and racism are also fairly common. Instead of being seen as mere escapism, the tastes of modern gamers are portrayed as dangerous and subversive, a threat to right-on values. Gamers ought to be feared and shunned.

Really? Critics of gaming are saying gamers ought to be feared and shunned? I haven’t seen that.

In any case, this idea that “mere escapism” is – because it is mere – completely non-political and unable to shape or influence attitudes and behaviors is…fatuous. Why would that be the case? Why would the content of “escapism” simply slide off people like rain? Why wouldn’t the content do what content does, and help to shape our thinking? Especially if we consume it apolitically, without thinking or questioning?

The growing contempt of the games-industry elite for the preferences of gamers has accelerated in recent months.

Now that’s classic Spiked, pretending that any kind of criticism of Things As They Are is an “elitist” war against preferences.

Following a major confrontation between gamers and activists last August over allegations of journalistic favouritism, article after article has been published decrying the gaming community for its alleged bigotry, sexism and narrow-mindedness. The worst examples of ‘social-media harassment’ were used as an excuse to present gamers as a mass of hateful savages. To those familiar with the regular and sometimes absurd panics over football fans, this language will sound familiar.

However familiar the language is, that doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

If people are saying that the social media harassment is representative of all gamers, then they’re making a gross error, if only because that can’t be known. But if they’re saying, for instance, that the culture of gaming seems to be compatible with social media harassment, then they’re saying something at least defensible.

But gamers have started to fight back. They have taken to social media in huge numbers to defend their hobby against the new onslaught of cultural warriors.

Wait. Isn’t that just confirming the claim that a lot of gamers seem to go in for social media harassment? When “to defend their hobby” so often means “to call Anita Sarkeesian a lying cunt who should be killed”?

With most gaming journalists taking the side of the activists, gamers know they can only rely on their own voices. Gathering around YouTube personalities (who now have several million hits on their videos) and a small number of friendly journalists and academics, the movement known as GamerGate has taken the entire industry by storm. It has dragged prominent figures like Jimmy Wales and huge companies like Stardock, Electronic Arts and Intel into the fray. And it simply refuses to go away.

The movement has no specific list of demands, but it is quite clear what its general attitude is. It wants the cultural warriors out. It wants the cosy clique of activists and journalists to lose their influence. It wants the demonisation of gamers to end. It wants diversity, not conformism.

To put it another way, it wants the cosy clique of activists and journalists silenced so that the cosy clique of gamers can proceed unchanged.

The backlash has achieved considerable results already. A major gaming site bucked the industry trend and decided to allow open discussion on its forums. The processing giant Intel decided to pull advertising support from one of the centres of anti-gamer misanthropy. Gamers have taken on the ideologically disciplined, well-connected forces of the authoritarian left – and they’re winning.

Hmm. Have the ideologically disciplined, well-connected forces of the authoritarian left been issuing a lot of death threats? Have they been issuing any? Have they created any games that involve punching one of their perceived enemies in the face repeatedly?

To me, it suggests that there is a crisis brewing for the cultural warriors. In their attempts to police language and culture, they are alienating the very demographics they used to rely on for support. This isn’t a right-vs-left battle, it’s an authoritarian-vs-libertarian one – and the authoritarian side is hemorrhaging support (if, indeed, it had any to begin with).

If we are at the point where women, minorities, and left-wing sympathisers prefer to support right-wing libertarians over the authoritarian gaming press, it suggests something interesting is taking place in this surprisingly large arena of cultural politics. The full results have yet to be seen, but I suspect it won’t end happily for the new class of moral crusaders.

The game is on.

Complete with death threats and sexist slurs. Congratulations.




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