Notes and Comment Blog

The squalor of Bill Donohue’s crusade

Jun 22nd, 2016 4:50 pm | By

More of Bill Donohue’s attacks on people who dare to call the Catholic church to account.

June 7 – Margaret Markey should resign.

Bill Donohue comments on today’s lead story in the Daily News:

The Daily News is back at it again slamming the Catholic Church. But this time they really did themselves in: They floated a front-page story by a notorious anti-Catholic bigot accusing a local bishop of bribery.

Assemblywoman Margaret Markey—the number-one enemy of Catholics in New York—has accused Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of offering her a $5,000 bribe. He allegedly tried to get her to drop her support for a bill that would lift the statute of limitations on offenses involving the sexual abuse of minors. The bishop vehemently denies it.

Only a fool would believe Markey. First of all, the alleged bribe took place in 2010. Now are we supposed to believe that the same woman who is fixated on the statute of limitations as it relates to sexual abuse didn’t know that the statute of limitations for bribery in New York is three years?

Plus she didn’t report it, plus the media aren’t reporting on it.

When a public official tells malicious tales about a bishop, it is serious business. When the same person is a known anti-Catholic bigot, it is time for him or her to resign. Assemblywoman Margaret Markey should resign immediately. There is no place in public office for rogues like her.

Then he gives her work email address, so that his readers can harass her.

Next day – Probe of Margaret Markey Requested – by Bill Donohue, of course. He loves to report on himself in the third person.

Bill Donohue is calling for a formal investigation of New York State Assemblywoman Margaret Markey. Her defamation of Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio warrants a probe as to whether she has violated New York State’s ethics laws.

That’s the whole press release. I’m calling for Bill Donohue to go on a retreat to a very high mountain in the Himalayas, and there wait for further instructions.

The winsomely titled Markey Isn’t Only Victims’ Lobby Liar:

Bill Donohue comments on the victims’ lobby:

The plight of those who have been sexually abused, especially minors, is a condition eminently worthy of our compassion. Unfortunately, many of those who have professionally taken up the cause of these victims are dishonest activists who are not above lying to advance their interests.

Last week, NY Assemblywoman Margaret Markey lied about Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, accusing him of bribery.

In 2012, the director of SNAP, David Clohessy, admitted under oath that he has lied to the press.

In 2011, Terence McKiernan, founder of BishopAccountability, lied when he told a conference that Cardinal Timothy Dolan was protecting 55 priests.

Jeffrey—”I’m suing the s*** out of [the] Catholic Church” Anderson—has lied repeatedly about “smoking guns” that never seem to fire, trying to implicate the Vatican in U.S. abuse cases.

Last month, Yeshiva University lawyer Marci Hamilton lied to the press when she said the bishops pay my salary. She knows full well that the Catholic League is not funded by the bishops.

Attorney Mitchell Garabedian, whose role was acknowledged in “Spotlight,” twice pressed charges against a priest who was never found guilty of anything: In 2011, he blew up at me for simply questioning him; he was even condemned by the Boston Globe for his recklessness.

In 2012, author Jason Berry lied when he said that I defended the disgraced priest, Father Marcial Maciel. He knew this was untrue.

In short, we are not dealing with honest champions of the abused. We are dealing with liars who exploit the very persons they claim to help.

I’m not sure I take your word for it, Bill.

Even Timothy Dolan edged away

Jun 22nd, 2016 4:08 pm | By

The Daily News – not normally one of my favorite news outlets – reported on Bill Donohue’s stomach-turning gloat.

Markey’s bill would have extended the timeframe in which a victim could bring a case by five years, opened a six-month window to revive old cases, and treated public and private institutions the same when it comes to child sex abuse cases.

The 2016 session ended 5 a.m. Saturday without a vote.

The ferocity of his statements, particularly his contention that advocates were out to “rape” the Church shocked sex abuse survivors and even had the group representing Timothy Cardinal Dolan and the state’s Catholic bishops distancing itself from Donohue.

Which says something, given how terrible Timothy Dolan has been about this.

Melanie Blow, of the Stop Abuse Campaign, called Donohue’s use of the word rape “very offensive, but not surprising.”

“Abusers tend to be very good at portraying themselves as victims,” Blow said. “Sex offenders will say their victim ‘ruined their life’ by going to the police.”

She also argued that the “victims’ lobby” Donohue referred to “is really the children’s lobby.”

“Most victims of sexual abuse aren’t interested in large sums of money, nor could they possibly receive it from suing a relative, family friend, etc.” Blow said. “Victims want to protect children by holding abusers accountable, and (statute of limitations reform) with a lookback window is the only way to accomplish that.”

Bill Donohue should try hard to be a less awful human being.

Bill Donohue rejoices that victims of the church will still be sidelined

Jun 22nd, 2016 3:34 pm | By

A press release from Bill Donohue aka “The Catholic League” (which is really just Bill Donohue) on Monday –

First of all the image:

That’s the first thing you see, before you start reading the “press release.”

Now for the words:

Bill Donohue comments on a New York abuse bill that failed:

The bill was sold as justice for the victims of sexual abuse, when, in fact, it was a sham: the proposed legislation that failed to make it to the floor of the New York State legislature in the wee hours of Saturday (the session that began on Friday ended at 5:00 a.m. the next day), was a vindictive bill pushed by lawyers and activists out to rape the Catholic Church.

Pause to savor that. People who want justice for the victims of child-raping priests after decades of lying and concealment…are “out to rape the Catholic Church.”

There are many good people in the Catholic church. Bill Donohue is not one of those people.

The principal enemy of the Church, Assemblywoman Margaret Markey, was confident that her bill would pass. On May 30, she told her allies at the discredited Daily News—the paper broke every tenet of journalism in its war on Catholicism—that “there is a strong movement in our house to bring [the bill] to a vote in the next few weeks.” On June 5, she told her buddies, “I really think we have a chance of getting this bill passed.”

If the statute of limitations were lifted on offenses involving the sexual abuse of minors, the only winners would be greedy and bigoted lawyers out to line their pockets in a rash of settlements. The big losers would be the poor, about whom the attorneys and activists care little: When money is funneled from parishioners to lawyers, services to the needy suffer.

The Catholic League is proud of its role in this victory. On March 31, we contacted Assemblyman Brad Hoylman requesting that he amend his bill to cover public institutions, and not just private ones. On April 1, we wrote to all members of the legislature asking them not to allow the public schools a pass. We won on this request.

On May 2, the Albany Times Union published a full-page ad exposing the agenda of those out “to stick it to Catholics.” On May 25, we unmasked activist lawyer Michael Dowd. On June 7, we called for the resignation of Markey after she slandered Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio. On June 8, we called for an investigation of Markey for violating the public trust. On June 13, we named seven liars in the victims’ lobby. On June 18, the bill failed. While this was a win for justice, more needs to be done: Markey needs to be censured for her recklessness.

Or maybe Donohue can just inspire someone to kill her.


What would make Congress do what is right?

Jun 22nd, 2016 11:12 am | By

In the House today:

Hold the floor

Jun 22nd, 2016 11:07 am | By

Representative John Lewis on Twitter


We must hold the floor until we get a vote. The time to act is now. #holdthefloor #goodtrouble

We have turned deaf ears to the blood of the innocent & the concern of our nation. We will use nonviolence to fight gun violence & inaction.

Act today for the victims of gun violence. Act today for their families. Act today for our nation who cries out for action.#holdthefloor

Babies, students, and teachers. Mothers and fathers. Sisters and brothers. Daughters and sons. Friends and neighbors.

Jun 22nd, 2016 10:36 am | By

Democrats did a sit-in for gun control, so Republicans turned the cameras off.

Led by civil rights [giant] Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), Democratic members of Congress literally sat on the House floor on Monday to demand action on gun control. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) responded by ordering the cameras off and abruptly ending the session.

“We have lost hundreds of thousands of innocent people to gun violence,” Lewis said on the House floor during Wednesday’s morning session. Dozens of Democratic members of Congress stood beside him, before they all took a seat on the floor.

Was this Monday or Wednesday? Today, apparently, so I guess the “Monday” in the first paragraph is a typo.

Anyway – there is John Lewis, who is a hero of mine.

On Monday, after Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) led a 15-hour filibuster, the Senate rejected four gun control measures that would have expanded background checks to all gun sales and made it more difficult for people on the terror watch list to purchase firearms. The Republican-led House is also unlikely to pass gun reform after the Orlando shooting — a fact that Lewis noted on Wednesday.

“We have turned deaf ears to the blood of the innocent and the concern of our nation,” Lewis said. “We are blind to a crisis. Mr. Speaker, where is the heart of this body? Where is our soul?”

“Give us a vote!” he demanded, echoing rhetoric he used to demand the passage of the Voting Rights Act decades ago. “Let us have a vote.”

Republicans are so bizarre.

He was aiming for the tire

Jun 21st, 2016 4:52 pm | By

Bridgette Dunlap says the reporting on that story about the Texas court that acquitted a guy of murder because he was defending his property was bad sloppy reporting.

A misreading of the verdict in a strange and upsetting Texas case has gone viral, since Gawker claimed: “Texas Says It’s OK to Shoot an Escort If She Won’t Have Sex With You.” Texas law does not say that, and the jury didn’t say that either. Pushing the idea that an “Insane Texas Law Made it Legal for a Man to Kill a Prostitute” is irresponsible; it misinforms the public and sends a terrible message to violent misogynists.

It is not in dispute that the defendant, Ezekiel Gilbert, paid the victim, Lenora Frago, $150 for 30 minutes of escort services advertised on Craigslist. After Frago refused to have sex with him, the defendant shot her. Frago was paralyzed and the defendant was charged with aggravated assault.  When she died seven months later Gilbert was indicted for murder instead.

The defense attorneys did argue that Gilbert was justified in shooting Frago because she had stolen from him and Texas law permits the use of deadly force to defend one’s property at night. That law is horrible and the defense is horrible, but that doesn’t mean it’s why the jury acquitted Gilbert.

The much more plausible reason for the verdict is that the jury believed the defendant’s claim that he didn’t intend to shoot the victim. Per Texas’ homicide statute, the prosecution needed to prove that Gilbert “intentionally or knowingly” killed Frago or intended to cause her “serious bodily injury.” The defense argued that Gilbert lacked the requisite intent for murder because when he shot at the car as Frago and the owner of the escort service drove away, he was aiming for the tire.

And he hit the tire, but a tiny piece of it hit Frago. (But she died, so doesn’t that make it murder? Morally, maybe. In Texas law, no. In the law of many states and countries, no – the law does distinguish based on intent.)

Unless someone has interviewed a juror or can read minds, they cannot claim the jury agreed the killing was justified. And the juries do not “cite” laws. They find facts and decide “guilty” or “not guilty.” And it isn’t accurate to call Frago a “prostitute.” Witnesses for the prosecution testified she was an escort who never agreed to have sex. Rather than siding with the killer’s characterization, writers should at least say “alleged.”

One would expect the jury to find that shooting at a car with an AK-47 is at least “reckless,” in which case he could have been convicted of manslaughter. But the prosecution didn’t charge him with manslaughter, only murder. Manslaughter is a “lesser included offense” of murder and the judge is entitled to instruct the jury if the evidence supports that charge, but it appears she did not. The jury can’t convict on a charge that isn’t before them.

I think Texas’s defense of property law is abhorrent and my gut reaction was that it was a reprehensible defense. This reaction suggests, that you should think twice before hiring me as your defense attorney, sadly. As Professor Michael W. Martin of Fordham Law’s Federal Litigation Clinic reminded me: “If the law allows the defense, the lawyer must use it, if it is viable, unless there is a good strategic reason not to. Otherwise, it is ineffective assistance of counsel. If the lawyer feels like he is ethically barred from using a legal, viable defense, he should ask to be relieved.”

H/t Nick Little, George Felis

It was a property crime

Jun 21st, 2016 1:41 pm | By

A Texas jury finds a man not guilty of murder for shooting a woman who refused to have sex with him.

A Texas jury has just acquitted a 30-year-old man who shot and killed a woman he met on Craigslist after she refused to have sex with him.

The man in question, Ezekiel Gilbert, has been cleared of murder after the Texas court determined that his actions were “justified after he shot an escort when she took his money but refused to have sex with him,” according to the Daily Mail.

Lenora Frago was shot in the neck by Gilbert on Christmas Eve 2009. As a result, the 23-year-old was paralyzed and died several months later.

The acquittal came from a Bexar County Texas court which determined that Mr Gilbert, who was facing a life sentence, should not be convicted of murder “because he was trying to retrieve stolen property.”

The defense argued that “the shooting was not intended to kill Miss Frago and his actions were justified because he believed sex was included as part of the fee.”

Apparently in Texas you’re allowed to kill people if you believe they stole something from you, including access to their own body.

Christopher Perkins, the young woman’s manager, explained to the court that while Frago was an escort, the $150 fee in no way guaranteed sex.

He explained that “Lenora normally would do lap dances and hanging out. That was her thing. Her regular customers were all quiet, reserved guys and she would hang out.”

Gilbert hugged his defense attorneys and thanked God, his lawyers, and the jury for being able to “see what wasn’t the truth,” as he claimed he was “just trying to retrieve” his stolen property… Frago’s body.

Yeah good old god. God always protects the johns.

Donne vincono

Jun 21st, 2016 12:43 pm | By

Heyyyyyy – Rome has a woman mayor for the first time ever. Take that, Vatican!

In a landslide, to boot.

Thirty-seven-year-old Rome city council member Virginia Raggi has been elected as the city’s first female mayor. Raggi is an attorney and a member of the antiestablishment Five Star Movement (M5S). As of Monday morning, she’d captured 67 percent of the vote, according to the Italian Interior Ministry.

Raggi campaigned against corruption and failing public services, soundly beating her Democratic Party (PD) opponent Roberto Giachetti, who was backed by Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, also of the PD.

In Turin, another female candidate took the mayorship as well. Another M5S member, 31-year-old Chiara Appendino tallied more than half the vote against PD rival and incumbent, Piero Fassino.


The girls of Kavumu

Jun 21st, 2016 12:04 pm | By

Lauren Wolfe on Facebook:

I’ve just confirmed that the arrest warrant for the suspected ringleader of the rapes of at least 50 little girls in Kavumu, DRC, was issued suddenly last night. He was arrested in the early morning hours along with 67 men under his command. These horrifying attacks have been going on for three years and this all happened hours after I revealed what I knew the government was sitting on.

I’m just going to just say that I’m tearing up right now. In my wildest dreams I don’t think I dared to imagine such an outcome. But if you need any reassurance that journalism isn’t dead: This is it.

In a comment she adds:

This has been a massive collective effort of people I can’t name here.

Her article was published at the Guardian yesterday.

A five-year-old sat shyly in her metal hospital bed as her mother described what had brought her to Panzi hospital in the city of Bukavu, in the far east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A couple of beds down lay a tiny six-year-old girl, and further along sat a speck of a three-year-old in a fuchsia hoodie. This smallest girl had been brought in the previous night and had a painful fistula from gang rape.


In each case, what had been done to the girls is remarkably similar. Each was abducted at night from a wooden shack in their impoverished village, called Kavumu, about an hour-and-a-half drive from the hospital over the mudscape that is DRC in the rainy season. Each was then gang-raped and left in a nearby government-owned field overgrown with stalks of corn, sorghum and dried-out cassava; the area is used as a kind of subsistence farm by former rebel soldiers. A walk through the meadow is a tour of one spot after another in which little girls have been found bleeding and unable to move in the dead of night.

It’s been going on for three years – girls grabbed out of their homes in the middle of the night while their families sleep on.

Parents assert that they’ve been drugged by a kind of “magic powder” sprinkled over their houses during the attacks. Men in groups of two, three or four have raped as many as 50 children, aged 18 months to 11 years old. At least two have died from their injuries. These girls are extremely young and malnourished, and therefore smaller than normal. Their injuries have been so extensive that one of the experienced doctors at Panzi, a hospital famous for treating the legions of women raped in DRC, told me that they had made her faint.

This is not your average “war rape”. These are terrifying, targeted, individual attacks against the country’s smallest children being perpetrated by what appears to be a powerful man and his minions, who believe – as do local Mai-Mai militia fighters – that the virgin blood of girls will fortify them for battle. The Guardian cannot name the man for legal reasons.

But that man has now been arrested.

For many months the government has considered this man to be its main suspect – and even knows the names of men believed to be working under him. Yet it still has not moved to arrest him.

Since I left Kavumu in January, four more girls have been abducted and raped – one as recently as 3 June – according to sources close to the cases. I have spent the months attempting to understand the delays in arresting this man and his underlings, to no avail. I’ve been told everything from “The local prosecutor is too busy” to “Paperwork is still being transferred between offices.” Rumours that arrest warrants have been issued turn into rumours that they haven’t.

There’s also a suspect in the matter of the sleeping powder.

What is happening in Kavumu is a clear manifestation of a government unable or unwilling to confront its country’s rape crisis. For years the president, Joseph Kabila, was seemingly indifferent to the fact that there was even a problem. In 2009, however, he declared a “zero tolerance” policy on sexual violence. He appointed a special representative on sexual violence, Jeanine Mabunda, in 2014. Yet in all this time little has changed, either in terms of impunity for rape or in regard to helping victims.

For example, to this day not a single court-ordered reparation has been paid to a single rape survivor in the country. When DRC finally paid out $155,000 owed to 29 women who were raped in a town called Songo Mboyo in 2003, the money was given to the wrong women in a pathetic case of fraud. At the same time, Mabunda’s office has spent tens of thousands of dollars (if not hundreds of thousands) employing fancy American PR firms to speak on her behalf.

And in a remarkable demonstration of skewed priorities, while the government has declared that there isn’t enough money to pay reparations, in February Kabila gave $2.16m worth of Toyota Land Cruisers to Congo’s national football team.

If only the rape victims could play football.


An act of compassion

Jun 20th, 2016 3:56 pm | By

From the Daily Beast:

Sheikh Farrokh Bahram Sekaleshfar, a Shia cleric of Iranian descent, sits opposite a reporter from the Australian TV network ABC. He is about to be kicked out of the country over his views, but he insists he played no role in the June 12 Orlando massacre.

Sekaleshfar’s name appeared in the news this week after a U.S.-born Afghan-American, Omar Mateen, shot dead 49 people and injured 53 others at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

Sekaleshfar is on record saying that “death is the sentence” for homosexuals and that executing them is an act of “compassion,” since earthly punishment will gain them leniency in the afterlife. He has spoken on the subject at least twice in the U.S., once in 2013 at the University of Michigan, and again in April at the Husseini Islamic Center north of Orlando.

Some say he has the free speech right to say that, and the proper response is to dispute him, not revoke his visa.

Maybe, but then again – religion is a somewhat special case, in the sense that some believers take clerics very seriously, and think of such pronouncements as binding. That’s foolish and credulous of them, but then people are foolish and credulous.

Then again again, it’s not possible to expel all the clerics who say such things, so what’s the point?

In his interview with ABC, Sekaleshfar said he had made his comments in an academic setting, and that he regretted that they had been made public. He said he advocated the death penalty only for homosexuals who have anal sex in public in a country that abides by Islamic law.

“When does this question of death theoretically arise?” he asked the reporter. “It arises in a particular scenario that is such a small probability that I’ve never even heard of such a scenario arising in such a country, with such a mandate, where the rule of law is Islam.”

Then why talk about it?

But he’ll just say it somewhere else.


At a funeral

Jun 20th, 2016 1:12 pm | By

Boko Haram again.

Boko Haram fighters have killed at least 18 people at a funeral in northeast Nigeria, residents and a police official have said.

The attackers shot at mourners and set houses on fire after arriving on motorbikes in the village of Kuda near Madagali town in Adamawa state on Thursday evening, witnesses said.

At least ten more were injured, according to a witness.

Resident Moses Kwagh told the Reuters news agency that people waited until three hours after the attack and then counted 18 women’s bodies. Some women were still missing, he said.

“When we said that Boko Haram is still in this place, some people sit in Abuja and claim that there is no more Boko Haram – but see what has happened,” Kwagh said.

Ramadan mubarak, eh.


Allegiance to [omitted]

Jun 20th, 2016 12:36 pm | By

The FBI has released partial transcripts of Omar Mateen’s conversations with police while he was shooting up Pulse in Orlando.

As we’ve previously reported, Mateen threatened to use explosives, including a car bomb and a suicide vest. Investigators say they didn’t find those items in or outside the club. In the calls, Mateen also identified himself as”an Islamic soldier” who pledged allegiance to a terrorist group, FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Ron Hopper said Monday.

Throughout the calls, Hopper says, Mateen spoke in a “chilling, calm and deliberate manner.”

That’s how “Islamic soldiers” work. They’re chill.

A key name is missing from the official text, that of ISIS, the terrorist group to which Mateen reportedly pledged allegiance in the call. The term was redacted, in a move Attorney General Loretta Lynch discussed Sunday.

The discussion reported by CNN is singularly unenlightening.

FBI Director James Comey said Monday there were three calls with Mateen.

“During calls he said he was doing this for leader of (ISIS) who he named and pledged loyalty to,” Comey had said. “But he also claimed to pledge solidarity with the perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombing and solidarity with a Florida man who died as a suicide bomber in Syria for al-Nusra Front, a group in conflict with the so-called Islamic State. The bombers at the Boston Marathon and the suicide bomber from Florida were not inspired by (ISIS) which adds a little bit to the confusion about his motives.”

Lynch also said that political correctness is not getting in the way of terror investigations and that maintaining contacts within the Muslim community is very important because “if they’re from that community and they’re being radicalized, their friends and family members will see it first.”

“We investigate these cases aggressively, no stone is left unturned,” she told Bash. “There is no backing away from an issue, there is no backing away from an interview because of anyone’s background. Because for us, the source of information is very, very important.”

I don’t get it. I don’t get why ISIS is in parentheses, or redacted.

Back to NPR and the transcript. It’s nasty.

2:35 a.m.: Shooter contacted a 911 operator from inside Pulse. The call lasted approximately 50 seconds, the details of which are set out below:

Orlando Police Dispatcher (OD)
Shooter (OM)

OD: Emergency 911, this is being recorded.

OM: In the name of God the Merciful, the beneficial [in Arabic]
OD: What?

OM: Praise be to God, and prayers as well as peace be upon the prophet of God [in Arabic]. I let you know, I’m in Orlando and I did the shootings.

OD: What’s your name?
OM: My name is I pledge of allegiance to [omitted].
OD: Ok, What’s your name?

OM: I pledge allegiance to [omitted] may God protect him [in Arabic], on behalf of [omitted].

OD: Alright, where are you at?

OM: In Orlando.

OD: Where in Orlando?
[End of call.]

There are few things more revolting than those pious invocations to sanctify the act of murdering people. The merciful, the beneficial – how dare you.


How quaint

Jun 20th, 2016 11:10 am | By

I wonder what horrors lurk under the story of Lee Kaplan and the 12 girls removed from his house a couple of days ago.

The girls were found without birth certificates and other public records have not yet been located, according to authorities. Lee Kaplan, 51, faces a number of charges including statutory sexual assault and aggravated indecent assault for allegedly fathering two of the children with the oldest girl found, now 18.

When authorities raided Kaplan’s Feasterville home on Friday after receiving a tip, the children were found hiding in the basement and in a chicken coop, among other places, according to Lower Southampton Director of Public Safety Robert Hoopes.

The oldest is 18 and two or more of the others may be hers along with her rapist’s.

A couple is also charged in the case. Daniel Stoltzfus is charged with conspiracy of statutory sexual assault and children endangerment. His wife, Savilla Stoltzfus, is charged with endangering the welfare of a child.

The Stolftzfus’ allegedly told police they gave the oldest girl, who they said was their daughter, to Kaplan several years ago in exchange for financial help.

Isn’t that also enslavement? You’re not allowed to “give” people away in exchange for money. That’s called slavery, and it’s not permitted.

Savilla Stoltzfus allegedly said that all of the children were her offspring, Hoopes told CBS News on Monday.

“She was in the house, and she said that, but we don’t really know,” Hoopes said. “There’s no documentation.”

Well they certainly sound like nice people, giving all their daughters to that Lee Kaplan fella.

Hoopes said the children found in Kaplan’s home were outfitted in traditional Amish attire, and as a result, were brought to homes in nearby Lancaster County, which has a large Amish community.

Of course they were. Amish, “prairie,” burqa – it’s all the same shit.

Atwood takes the prize

Jun 19th, 2016 6:04 pm | By

Margaret Atwood has won the 2016 PEN-Pinter prize.

Margaret Atwood has said that she is humbled to win an award from PEN celebrating her political activism, describing herself as “a stand-in for the thousands of people around the world who speak and act against [human rights] abuses”.

The PEN Pinter prize was set up seven years ago in memory of the Nobel prize-winning playwright Harold Pinter, and is given to a writer of outstanding literary merit who, in the words of Pinter himself on winning the Nobel, casts an “unflinching, unswerving” gaze upon the world and shows a “fierce intellectual determination … to define the real truth of our lives and our societies”.

The Booker prize-winning Canadian author was picked by a judging panel chaired by Maureen Freely, who said: “In a profession dominated by careerists who are content to tend to their own gardens, Margaret Atwood is the shining exception.

“She does not just stand up for her principles: in novel after novel, she has put them to the test. What she does as a campaigner has only served to deepen her work as a writer of fiction. She is an inspiration to us all,” said Freely.

And the best part is she gets to name a co-winner. Now that would be a pleasing opportunity.

Atwood will now choose a co-winner of the prize, the 2016 International Writer of Courage, who will be revealed at an event at the British Library in October. The winner, said PEN, would be an international writer “who is active in defence of freedom of expression, often at great risk to their own safety and liberty”, with previous recipients including Gomorrah author Roberto Saviano, Mexican journalist Lydia Cacho and the imprisoned Saudi blogger Raif Badawi.

So many to choose from.

In other news, Catherine Deveny is back on Facebook.

The more susceptible are more susceptible

Jun 19th, 2016 5:44 pm | By

Carla Clark at Brain Blogger on repressed memories: bullshit or not?

The idea is that repressed memories are different to suppressed memories. Suppressed memories we have pretty solid proof of, although some of us are better at it than others, which in some scientific circles, as we mentioned in a recent article on how best to control intrusive thoughts, has resulted in these proficient thought controllers being dubbed ‘natural repressors’.

Suppressing a memory involves some form of consciously directed effort – a choice – to attempt to not think about it or not. A bona fide repressed memory on the other hand is often considered to happen without free will in response to traumatic events, or has been buried so deep in our subconscious minds that it can take years for the memory to fully resurface.

That’s the spooky Hollywood kind, that finally comes roaring out of the darkness if Joanne Woodward just keeps calling you sweetie long enough.

Indeed, supporters of both sides tend to agree that there is no direct empirical evidence as of yet that unconscious memory repression is a real and reliable phenomenon. You see, the problem with investigating the existence of repressed memories is their subjective nature.

There is no real way, at present, to peek inside the minds of those claiming to have had, or indeed claiming to currently have, repressed memories and see what is going on. All we have is their word. Even if there is solid proof of being exposed to traumatic events, humans are pretty susceptible to self-deception, the memory itself may have never been truly repressed and pushed out of the realms of conscious recall.

And yet we’re told (in some circles) that we simply have to believe, and if we don’t, we’re turning our backs on survivors.

So far, the evidence we have is largely circumstantial and highly-subjective evidence. While some of that evidence comes from sexual abuse victims and genocide survivors on the one hand, other reports of repressed memories come from people claiming to be abducted by aliens, which as you can imagine in the scientific community, doesn’t help matters much.

Exactly. It casts a lot of doubt on the techniques used to dredge up these “repressed” memories.

While false memory syndrome is NOT considered a syndrome in the DSM, the production of false memories is indeed real and has been tested in the lab, and the term is widely used to describe the hypothesis that recovered memories have the potential to be partially incorrect or altogether false.

In fact, this year, one study indicates that it is not the process of hypnosis itself that can produce false memories in some individuals. In fact, the results suggest that those that are the most readily hypnotized, i.e. are highly suggestible and have flexible belief systems, are also more susceptible to the development of false memories.

That’s the thing, isn’t it. If you’ve never formed the habit of noticing bullshit and reacting against it…then you haven’t, and so you’re susceptible to being fooled by bullshit.

Can we have that please?

Jun 19th, 2016 4:25 pm | By

Sarah Champion MP on Twitter:


Branded as witches

Jun 19th, 2016 4:07 pm | By

From Cross River State, Nigeria:

Two children age, 10 and 7, were this morning, rescued from being murdered by some members of Divine Zion of God Church Ikot Abasi Effiom district of Akpabuyo LGA.

Led by one Prophet David Effiom Zion and some members of their family, the children were accused by their cousin of being witches and allegedly snatching her baby in a dream.

The stigma that confronted the children since they were branded witches took on a new dimension when the children were taken to the forest, tied to a tree, battered and assaulted with a machete by some members of the family, leaving them with cuts and bruises all over their bodies.

This happened on the heels of the screening of the movie ‘The Fake Prophet’ in Ikot Offiong Ambai community in Akpabuyo Local Government Area (LGA) by Basic Rights Counsel Initiative (BRCI), a child’s rights organization based in Calabar.

Respite came the way of the children when an uncle who arrived from town demanded the release of the children with threats of calling the police and on learning of BRCI’s visit, took the children to the venue where the movie highlighting issues of child abuse and witchcraft branding was being screened.

Ten and seven years old.

Speaking also, Theresa Okpa who is the Executive Director of Mediatrix Development Foundation (MDF), the NGO of the Wife of the Governor of Cross River State, Dr. Linda Ayade said issues of child witch branding is abuse of the rights of children and assured that the Mediatrix Foundation is partnering with organizations like BRCI to address issues relating to the abuse of children’s rights.

I hope they succeed.

The children were given medical attention and allowed to stay with the uncle who rescued them.

H/t James Ibor.

Guest post: The referendum

Jun 19th, 2016 3:15 pm | By

Guest post by Maureen Brian, originally a reply to a question about whether Brexit is binding or not.

The majority in Parliament is certainly for remaining though the whole process seems to have unhinged one or two minds so that it’s difficult to say who would vote which way after the referendum! Some may see it as morally binding: others will not and that’s whichever way the result goes.

All the legislation supposedly “imposed by Brussels” operates through laws passed by Westminster. That includes the treaties at various stages of the EU’s development. In many cases passing that legislation repealed earlier UK legislation so that we can’t just roll them all into a ball and repeal the lot. That would leave us with no laws on things like food safety, exhaust emissions, motorway signage and about a million other things. They would have to be done one by one and given a very small majority already, fractious Tory party and in all probability vast amounts of emotion and pique it could take twenty years! No-one but me seems to have thought of this. It’s not come up in the debates or press coverage.

Then there’s the question of whether Cameron, if still in post, should have preliminary discussions with the other 27 states before he pulls the plug – invokes Section 50 which then gives us two years to get out, nowhere near long enough!

If Parliament should decide to over-ride the referendum result, as it could, then an entirely different set of shenanigans will be triggered, possibly with parties splitting, one or more general elections with unworkable results and a completely impotent government for however long that takes. Not that it’s very competent now.

If you ask me what’s going to happen then sorry but I haven’t the faintest idea. I may get a hint on Thursday night as I’m a Counting Agent at the count in Halifax i.e one of the Labour Party’s official observers. Results will be counted for Calderdale MBC then fed to the regional collation place, then announced. It could be mid-day Friday when we have the full result.

The Leave people seem to be splitting – great criticism of a UKIP poster which was just too close to a well-known and easily found for comparison Nazi propaganda film. Other Leave leaders really do not like it! Then Boris is proposing even more immigration “as long as we control it” plus an amnesty for illegal migrants already here for some time. That will not go down well with many supposedly on the same team. Watch this space.

Psychoanalysis and Hollywood

Jun 19th, 2016 12:38 pm | By

I’m reminded by a Facebook conversation that there are people who still believe in “repressed memory.” (I’m reminded – see what I did there?)

An interesting article from 2008 talks about it as a cultural phenomenon:

ARE SOME experiences so horrific that the human brain seals them away, only to recall them years later? The concept of “repressed memory,” known by the diagnostic term dissociative amnesia, has long fueled controversy in psychiatry. During the 1980s, claims of childhood sexual abuse based on recovered memories led to a spate of highly publicized court cases. A number of the supposed victims retracted their allegations in the early 1990s, admitting that they had been swayed by therapeutic techniques. Yet the scientific validity of dissociative amnesia has remained contested ground.

In a recent study, professor of psychiatry Harrison Pope, co-director of the Biological Psychiatry Lab at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital, put “repressed memory” to the test of time. He reasoned that if dissociative amnesia were an innate capability of the brain—akin to depression, hallucinations, anxiety, and dementia—it would appear in written works throughout history. In collaboration with associate professor of psychiatry James Hudson, Michael Parker, a professor of English at the U.S. Naval Academy, Michael Poliakoff, director of education programs at the National Endowment for the Humanities, and research assistant Matthew Boynes, Pope set out to find the earliest recorded example of a “repressed memory.”

They found quite a lot from the 19th century, but nothing before that.

The researchers then offered a $1,000 reward—posted in three languages on more than 30 Internet websites and discussion groups—to the first person to identify a case of dissociative amnesia in any work of fiction or nonfiction prior to 1800. They received more than 100 responses, but none met the “repressed memory” criteria. Although many early texts describe ordinary forgetfulness caused by natural biological processes, as well as instances of individuals forgetting happy memories and even their own identities, there were no accounts of an inability to recall a traumatic experience at one point and the subsequent recovery of that memory.

In a report of their findings published in Psychological Medicine, Pope and his colleagues concluded that the absence of dissociative amnesia in works prior to 1800 indicates that the phenomenon is not a natural neurological function, but rather a “culture-bound” syndrome rooted in the nineteenth century. They argued that dissociative amnesia falls into the diagnostic category “pseudo-neurological symptom” (or “conversion disorder”)—a condition that “lacks a recognizable medical or neurological basis.”

It makes such a compelling story.

 What, then, accounts for “repressed memory’s” appearance in the nineteenth century and its endurance today? Pope and his colleagues hope to answer these questions in the future. “Clearly the rise of Romanticism, at the end of the Enlightenment, created fertile soil for the idea that the mind could expunge a trauma from consciousness,” Pope says. He notes that other pseudo-neurological symptoms (such as the female “swoon”) emerged during this era, but faded relatively quickly. He suspects that two major factors helped solidify “repressed memory” in the twentieth-century imagination: psychoanalysis (with its theories of the unconscious) and Hollywood. “Film is a perfect medium for the idea of repressed memory,” he says. “Think of the ‘flashback,’ in which a whole childhood trauma is suddenly recalled. It’s an ideal dramatic device.”

That’s what I mean about compelling. Movies can show the memory as it’s recovered – that is, they can seem to show it, which for us open-mouthed watchers amounts to the same thing. Movies can be incredibly good at overwhelming our critical faculties.