Notes and Comment Blog

It’s kind of like an “out of sight, out of mind,” deal

May 28th, 2016 5:55 pm | By

Oh god oh god oh god sometimes it’s time to just tell people to sit down and be quiet and stop writing anything for awhile, until they know something. It’s for their own good as much as anything. Nobody wants to be haunted forever by whatever idiotic thing she thought she believed at age 17 or 12 or whatever the age is of this tragically lost young person. It’s someone called V. Tanner at The Establishment, explaining Why We Must Stop Calling Menstruation A ‘Women’s Issue.’

That’s easy: we mustn’t. There is no “must” there. We don’t have to stop that.

For one thing who calls it that anyway? It’s not an “issue” (except in a rather antiquated sense of the word, as in “an issue of blood” – which is not the meaning here). It’s a reality and a nuisance, not an issue. There are some issues around it, like taxes on tampons and pads, but it is not itself an issue.

But whatever it is, an issue or a nuisance, it certainly is a woman’s whatever it is. Of course it is. It’s been one pretext for the persecution and subordination of women since forever. The fact that trans women don’t menstruate does not make menstruation not a women’s issue.

Also? I am very very very tired of people telling us yet more ways in which we need to erase women. So tired of it. So tired of it I could happily set fire to it, and then bury the ashes under a toxic waste dump.

But that’s just the title. It’s when you start to read the article that you realize how desperately V. Tanner needs to stop writing anything and learn things instead.

When we talk, write, and yes, even sing about menstruation, it is typically discussed from the perspective of cis women. And on the surface? That makes a lot of sense. Cis women are the majority when it comes to the demographic affected by this much-maligned shedding of uterine lining.

“This much-maligned shedding of uterine lining”??? Stop writing. Stop now, before it’s too late.

Also there’s the obligatory contempt for “cis women” and the grudging admission that there are several of us and the insistence on saying we’re “cis” at every mention. This isn’t how to social justice. Clunkyness is not a winning strategy.

However, the fact is that many cis women’s consistent framing of this biological phenomenon as a “women’s issue” does a lot more harm than many know.

What “consistent framing”? There is no such thing. Nobody bothers to “frame” menstruation as having to do with women, because of course it fucking is. How dare cis men consistently frame beards as a “men’s issue” amirite?

There’s some brilliance (we’re told) from trans people talking about how menstruation is all about them and not those horrible cis people.

Ame: Menstruating does cause me dysphoria. I feel extremely uneasy in the days leading up to my period, and it gets even worse during my period. I counteract this dysphoria by taking a contraceptive pill. I take it in a way that allows me to skip all my periods so I don’t have to deal with them, however sometimes I accidentally forget to take a pill, and end up having my period for the month. When this occurs, I opt for using tampons as I find that I’m less dysphoric with them as opposed to pads. It’s kind of like an “out of sight, out of mind,” deal.

Um…yeah? That’s not dysphoria, it’s menstruation. That’s because menstruation is unpleasant at best and disabling at worst. What do you think, it’s a picnic with Mozart playing for “cis” women? It’s not. And well done figuring out the advantage of tampons, which – don’t tell anyone! – is not exclusive to trans people.

I’m not going to read any more. But I do hope these people take a break from writing until they get better at it. These things take time.

He would shut her up if he could

May 28th, 2016 4:47 pm | By

RT talked to Maryam Namazie and Mohammed Shafiq yesterday. It was quite a disgusting display by Shafiq, and at the beginning even by the presenter – Shafiq would not stop interrupting Maryam.

Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, and Maryam Namazie, human rights activist, discussed the issue of Sharia law practices in Britain.

Mohammed Shafiq said that there are no Sharia courts: “They are Sharia councils, where people on a voluntary basis can go to get advice and get recourse according to Islamic principles.”

He added that every person of any religion is free to do that.

However, Maryam Namazie, human rights activist, said the UK government should reach a position where any type of religious arbitration, when it comes to family matters shouldn’t be allowed. She believes that it is “fundamentally discriminatory against women.”

According to Namazie, there is legal cover for Sharia courts.

“The Sharia councils call themselves courts; those who are presiding over them call themselves judges; the Muslim arbitration tribunals are using the Arbitration act,”she told RT.

Shafiq argues that politicians such as Theresa May and Prime Minister David Cameron have been employing a policy of targeting Muslims. “This is a part of neo-conservative agenda,” he says.

He believes this rhetoric comes in a climate of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hatred, which is perpetuated by the politicians, people in media, and other commentators. Shafiq says they demonize Muslims and their way of life.

At about 3:30 the presenter interrupts Maryam which he did not do to Shafiq.

At 4:30 Shafiq starts ranting at Maryam, accusing her of attacking Islam, constantly obsessing about it. At 5:50 he interrupts her. Then he interrupts her a second time to tell her to get a life, throwing her off stride for a second. Again @ 6:34.

The presenter interrupts saying can we give Mohammed a chance to respond! When Mohammed has repeatedly interrupted Maryam, which she did not do when he was talking. It’s incredible.

Then Mo responds and this time Maryam pays him back in kind. She had to, because he wasn’t going to let her talk without interruption, so she had to interrupt him right back, or he would have had an unimpeded chance to talk while she never did.

At 8:55 the presenter interrupts Shafiq (finally!!) to let Maryam respond. At 9:34 he interrupts her when she’s been responding to the presenter’s question for about 20 seconds. He simply will not let her talk.

At 10:18 Mo says “can I get a word in edgewise?”!

“That guy just put something in her drink.”

May 28th, 2016 1:03 pm | By

Don’t roofie your “friend” in front of these women. Or any other women, or anyone, or at all.


Ok, so we’re still recovering from the events, but we wanted to tell the story. And if it seems like the photo is making light of a heavy situation, it’s because we know FB prioritizes pics AND we needed to get your attention. This is no joking matter.

Monica, Marla, and I were at Fig at the Fairmont for their delicious happy hour (“Fig at 5.” Treat yourself). I was going on about something and saw Monica staring behind and making a funny face. I stopped. “What’s going on?” After a few second she said “That guy just put something in her drink.”

Now, Fig is a nice restaurant. We were enjoying our charcuterie platter and some fancy cheeses. That type of place. They had a bottle of wine they were splitting. It seemed like a first or second or third date. After a few “Oh god. What do we do”s, I got up to find her in the bathroom to tell her. Warn her. Tell her to get up and leave this creep. Make him drink it. Something.

So, after feeling awkward hanging out by the sinks in the bathroom til she was done, I approached. “Hey! Um, this is kind of weird, but, uh, we saw the guy you were with put something in your drink.”

“Oh My God.” She said. Shocked, kind of numb, so I babbled “Yeah, my girlfriend said she saw him put something in your drink and we had to say something. Woman to woman…you know. We had to say something. How well do you know that guy?” I was expecting to hear “We just met,” but I got:

“He’s one of my best friends.”

Shit. Yeah. One of her best friends. They had known each other for a year and a half. They worked together.

I continued to talk for a bit and said she could ask “the one with the short blond hair” any questions since she was the one who saw it and then left her to return to the table.

When I got back, Marla was talking to the server about what happened. Seeing if he or the manager could do anything. Monica filled us in on more of what she saw.

“He pulled her glass toward him, kind of awkwardly, then he took out a little black vial. He opened it up and dropped something in. Then he tried to play it cool, like checking his phone and hiding the vial in his hand and then trying to bring it back down slyly.” He apparently saw Monica looking. Marla said she was just going to lean over to Monica and say “that guy is acting really creepy” when she saw Monica already looking. Witnessing.

It only took a minute for the manager to walk to their table, see if everything was ok, allowed the girl to order a sparkling water. All super cool. He stopped by our table and said he couldn’t do much because he didn’t see it. But he did let security know.

The poor woman had to sit through 40 more minutes, sitting across from “one of her best friends” knowing that he was trying to drug her. Marla noticed him several times chinking his glass to hers to get her to drink. She played it cool. Mostly, I believed, just stunned. The staff wanted to jump in and dump the glass, dump him, do something! I was going through fantasies of walking up and demanding he drink the tainted glass of wine. Eventually, they finished up dinner. There was a delay getting their bill “The computer is down” is what the waiter kept saying to him. Then, in walks Santa Monica PD. They say “Come with us” and he doesn’t protest. Doesn’t ask why. Doesn’t seem surprised.

The head of security came by and said that because we notified them immediately, they were able to go back and review the footage from the security camera.

They got him on tape. They had proof of him drugging this girl. They took the glass away as evidence. They kept us for statements. We asked the girl if she had a ride home. “My car is at his place. In his building. We came together.” Part of a plan. We were blown away. She was still in shock.

But it wasn’t over.

From every table In our section, from through out the restaurant, people came by to thank us for taking action.

“It happened to my sister…I’m glad I was there to take her home.”

“It happened to my roommate at a producer’s party. He’s still messed up from it.”

“It happened to me. At a backyard barbecue.”

“It happened to me. At a bar I worked at.”

“Some Heroes don’t wear capes. Thank you. It happened to me. Thank you.”

“Fuck yeah you guys! You fuckin rock!”

At least 10 stories of being personally affected buy someone like this. Something like this. Those were only the ones who knew what went down. I am sure there were tons more stories through out the restaurant and the hotel.

We kept thanking the manager for taking action. We are well aware how many people would not have taken what we said seriously. Not taken action. Said their hands were tied.

So thank you, everyone at Fig and Fairmont in Santa Monica for keeping this guy from harming someone.

And thank you in advance to everyone who sees this and shares this and reminds each other that yes, you SHOULD say something. Even if it’s awkward or weird or just uncertain if anything can be done.

Know that YOU did something. And that it helped.

Don’t roofie anyone. That’s not too much to ask.

That sense of shame

May 28th, 2016 12:41 pm | By

A piece in the Guardian on menstruation by Bibi van der Zee and Katherine Purvis starts with this uncomfortable fact:

“Girls are literally selling their bodies to get sanitary pads,” says Dr Penelope Phillips-Howard. “When we did our study in Kenya, one in ten of the 15 year old girls told us that they had engaged in sex in order to get money to buy pads. These girls have no money, no power. This is just their only option.”

The joys of being a girl – you have this mess to deal with, and you have to engage in unwanted sex to get the money to deal with the mess.

“The persistent taboo around menstruation means that limited information is available to young women,” says Sabrina Rubli of Femme International. A study by the Canadian organisation in Nairobi revealed that 80% of girls had no idea what their period was before they started.

Oh, no – that’s horrifying. So 4 out of 5 girls in Kenya get scared out of their wits around age 12. That’s so cruel, however unintentionally.

That sense of shame, the sense of being guilty of an activity so secret that that no one will even talk about it, is then compounded by cultural prejudices and beliefs around menstruation which vary from country to country and region to region. In some cultures, it emerges, women are told that eating certain foods during their period will make them smell bad, in others women are sent away from the home or not allowed to bathe, while yet in others an association is made between menstruation and sexual activity.

An Ethiopian girl tells of how her father found her washing her underpants and demanded an explanation, she said it was nothing and he picked up a stick to hit her with. Her mother intervened, but her father said “menstruation happens only after a girl has had sex with a man” and he beat her.

Schools in particular can be full of pitfalls. There may not be adequate bathroom facilities; many have shared latrines, no locks on the doors, and no running water. According to the research, some teachers are unsympathetic and teaching methods may compound the problem. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, teachers prefer students to stand up when they answer a question, and girls often talked about their anxiety that they would have to stand up and reveal stains on their clothing.

Puberty is such hell for girls.

“Sometimes when I am in class and the teacher is teaching, I don’t concentrate on what is being taught because your mind is always on the thought that when you stand and your clothes will be blood stained and the teacher will see, hence you don’t concentrate.” Partly as a result, and partly for all the other reasons, girls often miss school when they are menstruating. The World Bank has estimated that a girl may thus miss between 10-20% of her education.

“‘Some people exchange sex for money,” one young girl told her interviewer. “The money is used to buy pads. Maybe she is being given money then they have sexual intercourse.’

“It’s referred to as transactional sex,” says Phillips-Howard. “But of course in some cases it is really coercive.” She worked on the 2013 and 2015 teams and also worked on further research, published last year, which drew on responses from more than three thousand women to find that one in ten 15 year olds said that they had had sex in order to get hold of money for pads. “‘She will go look for this money (to buy pads) from the men, and that’s how they can end up with the unwanted pregnancies,” one parent told the team.

Well at least it stops the bleeding for awhile.

And the long-term implications? As the researchers point out in the 2013 report: “Should others become aware a girl was menstruating, the girl would become (or was fearful of becoming) a figure of fun, being laughed at or teased. That this was so dreaded by the girls is perhaps indicative of it being seen as a form of emotional bullying. We wonder,” they ask, “if such bullying is the first step on the path towards gender abuse which females in this region become accustomed to. The context in which our study was set shows particularly high rates of gender-related physical, sexual and emotional violence, which appears to be an accepted part of life for women.”

I can’t read any more of it right now. It’s too tragic.

The judge, who happens to be, we believe, Mexican

May 28th, 2016 11:26 am | By

Like a lot of people, I don’t even know how to express my disgust and fear and shame-as-an-American that Donald Trump could be elected president of the US. How is this possible. How can so many people embrace such a loathsome sexist racist self-aggrandizing know-nothing fascist-leaning bully?

I don’t know the answer to that. I have no illusions about influencing anything, but I’ll probably point out some of his egregious awfulness now while I can. If he is elected we might not be able to.

From the Washington Post:

The Republican Party’s presumptive presidential nominee gave a fiery speech in San Diego and sought to leverage the power of his pulpit to shame one of this city’s federal judges, Gonzalo Curiel, who is hearing a class-action lawsuit against Trump University.

Trump delivered a lengthy monologue about the years-old case involving students who claim they were defrauded by Trump’s real estate “university.” He delved so deeply into details of the case — at one point, he talked about the origin of the name of the law firm representing him — that he seemed to lose the attention of his crowd.

Trump leveled a series of blows against Curiel. He called him “a hater of Donald Trump” and “very hostile” person who had “railroaded” him. He then taunted the judge, who has scheduled a trial for late November, after the election.

“I’ll be seeing you in November, either as president…” Trump said, trailing off. “I think Judge Curiel should be ashamed of himself. I think it’s a disgrace that he’s doing this.” Trump brought up Curiel’s ethnicity: “The judge, who happens to be, we believe, Mexican…I think the Mexicans are going to end up loving Donald Trump.”

It used to be so easy to ignore Donald Trump. I never saw The Apprentice. Trump was just the name of a joke-person. Good times.


Guest post: What to do if you get lost in the backcountry

May 28th, 2016 10:55 am | By

Originally a comment by MrFancyPants on Help that never came.

I’m not going to pass any judgement on this poor woman. She was clearly doing something that she loved and made a mistake. That could describe any one of us, but most of us don’t pay this kind of price.

Instead, I’ll offer some information. I have been a hiker, backpacker, climber, and outdoorsman since I was a child. As an adult, I’ve taught classes on backcountry survival, especially in situations where you get lost (which is REALLY easy to do). I’ve also been a Mountain Rescue volunteer in the past, for many years (albeit not anymore).

To correct one thing in the article right away: SAR (search and rescue) people do NOT recommend that you move once you realize that you’re lost. Instead, the recommendation is to stay put. You don’t know where the high ground is if you’re in a thick forest, so don’t wander around looking for it. Stay close to where you last had contact or a fix on the trail. Dead reckoning almost always leads you astray; if you wander off, you’ll be leaving the search zone of the SAR teams that come looking for you. I can state, definitively, that SAR teams do not go looking in low-probability areas until we’ve exhausted the high-probability ones. If we think that you were hiking down Trail X, then we’re going to look closeby to that trail. We’re not going to extend the search two miles in each direction from that trail, at least not right away. Each meter away frrom the trail does far more than simply double the search area. As SAR people, we know that if we find you within 24 hours, then your chances of survival are the best. We’ll do everything we can to maximize that probability.

Some more useful ideas:

  •  ALWAYS bring the Ten Essentials with you on any hiking trip, and know how to use them. They can get you out of exactly this kind of situation.
  •  Take a course in compass use. Mountaineering clubs offer these all the time. They are everywhere. The Colorado Mountain Club is the one that I know well, but there are similar things all around the country. Just google for them. The courses are cheap, and valuable. Once you know how to use a compass and a map, you can get within a few feet of a target objective on the map, from miles away. I’ve done this so many times, and it still astonishes me how easy it is.
  •  Remember simple facts. The sun rises in the east, sets in the west. If you know basically which direction from which you left a known waypoint, you can use these facts to get you back.
  • Do not rely upon GPS. It needs batteries, and those can run out, and it needs signals from the satellites, and those can be blocked. If you are going to hike in the back country, learn to use a compass and map.
  •  Learn about local flora and fauna, if possible. Lots of things are good to eat, out in the wild. Perhaps disgusting, but better than dying.
  •  Last but not least: if you’re not experienced, or don’t have the skills above, do not ever go out in the backcountry alone.

Once he’s paid for you, you are his to use and abuse

May 27th, 2016 6:33 pm | By

Sisters Uncut on why not the Nordic model :

Some may be be wondering why we are not supporting the Nordic model or ‘sex buyer law’, which is sometimes presented as the ‘feminist’ legal model regarding prostitution. Countries such as Sweden, Norway, and most recently France have implemented ‘Nordic model’-style laws.

Sisters Uncut cannot support the Nordic model, in part because it retains the criminalisation of people who sell sex – in particular, sex workers who are working together indoors for safety. This criminalisation has been extensively documented by sex worker-led organisations, and has also been noted by Amnesty International. The arrest and prosecution of sex workers is a form of state violence against (mostly) women and LGBTQ people, and advocates of the Nordic model are overwhelmingly silent on the fact that the law they are attempting to import retains criminalisation for those who sell sex – silence which does not persuade us that these campaigners meaningfully oppose this criminalisation of sex workers.

Except that the Nordic model is about decriminalizing prostitution, not criminalizing it.

Rosalie Haynes on Sisters Uncut:

I heard the anger in this John’s voice. The look in his eyes. It was hungry, it was murderous. I fought against him when he lunged at me, I tried to be strong. But it wasn’t enough. It never is enough. I was an ant in comparison to him. He was a man that would always tease me about being weak, you know,right before he’d rape me and carry out his sexual fantasies. (I think he liked that. He liked me to be reminded of how small and powerless I was, so then he could feel big and powerful). I was pinned, hurting, I wanted to close my eyes and forget everything. Who I was, who he was, what was happening, my whole life. I guess you could say I wanted to tap my shoes together and go home. That only happens in fairytales. This was far from one. The lives of prostituted girls/women are hardly rosey, are they?

For the next few weeks every time he called me I had to go over to his house. He threatened to hurt my family and friends. Especially my mum. Always. I legit think he was mentally disturbed. He always told me how when he was younger no girls wanted to go out with him & he felt like he missed out on a lot of fun & fooling around.

I think this is why he was obsessed with always buying me, because I was just a child.

She was fourteen. She was pregnant, and hid it from him. One night she had a miscarriage in his bathroom.

He was angry as ever when he came right back and attacked me again because of the “period” mess I made in bath. I tried so hard to clean it all up and to make sure there were no stains but I didnt have enough time. (I also think he had OCD) I tried to fight him all night, crying, hurting and screaming. But I felt too weak and I stopped resisting. He didn’t stop, they never do. He carried on and carried on and carried on.

He smeared the blood from my vagina on my face.



Amnesty International wants to decriminalize Johns like that. AI wants to make pimps and johns just good participants in capitalist consumerism, and prostitutes workers in an industry like any other industry.

SistersUncut I hope you do realise that you’re supporting the death of women too? Couldn’t really give a toss if people think I’m being extreme by saying that, because personally I’m not & realistically I’m not.

So, “they cut, we blood” yes, for sure we do. But what about the men who make me bleed?

Your support against the Nordic Model  means women like me will carry on bleeding.

Their words are still threats to me. But also their words are not heard by me anymore. I have grown deaf to them, see that’s where the lovely thing we like to call dissociation comes in and helps us lasses out.

Every man who’s ever raped me should be in prison.

Every man who’s ever beaten me to a pulp should be in prison.

Every man who’s EVER paid to have sexual access to a womans body and has tortured her sexually, physically and mentally, should be in fucking prison.

We’re always told to listen to the sex workers.

As a feminist group, AS WOMEN, you fucking disgust me just as much as the men who buy and rape me. I hope you are aware that’s a huge level of disgust.

You stand there and preach about refuges and DV services which I fully support. Carry on doing so.

But for some reason exploited women are left out of your activism? But that’s because you don’t class being prostituted as abuse, right? I’m assuming that this is the only answer?

Your support against it means women like me will carry on bleeding. And you’ll make it harder for men to be held accountable. Because like I’ve said many times before, anyone who doesn’t support the Nordic model and is against it, support rapists. End of. That’s how I see it and essentially, that IS how it is. You’ll probably disagree with that statement but I couldn’t really give a flying fuck. Though, I’m also aware you have a habit of ignoring women when they question you. So I won’t hold out for a response.

No sexual predator on this earth deserves the support of any woman OR any organisation to okay them buying their way into a womans body.

Surely, as “feminists” you should know this?

Once we are bought, once that transaction has been made we aren’t safe. We aren’t ever safe when we’re in the company of a John. But once he’s paid for you, you are his to use and abuse for as long as he likes.. He owns your body. He own everything. You know, there are no safe words. Safe words don’t exist in our world. No doesn’t mean no. Stop doesn’t mean stop. All we can do is stay silent and suffer in silence.

You are supposed to be a feminist organisation, right? Fighting for women’s rights? Fighting for women’s freedom? Fighting for women to live a life free from violence? Is supporting the commercialisation of my body a feminist action?

There’s more.

Amnesty has lost its vision

May 27th, 2016 2:44 pm | By

Here’s one way we can talk back to Amnesty International:

It’s Official — Amnesty International Creates the Human Right to Pimp and Purchase Sexual Acts

MAY 27, 2016 — Nearly a year after Amnesty International’s International Council released a proposal on prostitution, which it calls “sex work,” the organization’s International Board issued its global policy calling on governments to decriminalize pimping, brothel owning and sex buying. As of May 26, 2016, Amnesty has officially adopted a framework that will shape its advocacy to stand with exploiters, not the exploited.

CATW, along with survivors of the sex trade and other women’s rights and human rights activists, will continue to urge Amnesty to reevaluate its policy. Instead of the wholesale decriminalization of the sex trade, the organization must call on governments to decriminalize only prostituted individuals — not their exploiters. It should not allow pimps, traffickers and brothel owners, who profit from this multi-billion dollar global trade, and the sex buyers, who fuel it, to brutally abuse women with impunity.

Amnesty’s decision to legitimize the sex trade is a gross violation of human rights principles and international conventions, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 1949 Convention, the Palermo Protocol and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). As we continue to oppose this devastating move, our petition will remain active until we succeed in reversing Amnesty’s policy to decriminalize the sex trade.

In October 2015, as part of the Global Day of Action against Amnesty’s proposal, we circulated a Global Declaration urging the organization to uphold human rights, especially those of women. If you fit into the categories of “We, the undersigned…” as described in the text, please join the signatories who have already rejected Amnesty’s decision to endanger the lives of countless women and girls by condemning them to commercial sexual exploitation.

A human rights organization has a duty to protect the most marginalized among us, especially those who lack real choices. Amnesty is the first and the most prominent grassroots human rights organization in the world. With this policy green-lighting prostitution as a source of employment and empowerment for women, Amnesty has lost its vision of a world where every human being has a right to live with dignity, free from violence. However, we hope that Amnesty will one day reclaim its mission and credibility, and that it will once again abide by international law and fight for the human rights of all.

Until then, it’s official: Amnesty is advocating the right to pimp, buy sex, and profit from the sale of sexual acts off the backs of women and girls everywhere.

You can sign the global declaration here.

The news is BAD but not SURPRISING

May 27th, 2016 12:04 pm | By

Ars Technica says hang on, there’s some bad reporting of the “nightmare” “superbug” going around. Read the whole thing; I’ll share a few takeaways.

It’s important to note that we don’t know exactly how long mcr-1 has been hanging around in bacteria or where it first came from. It may have spread around the globe in months or been lying low and spreading quietly for years. Either way, it was inevitable and expected that mcr-1-carrying bacteria would pop up in the US. (Although, in weeks of testing other bacteria from the Pennsylvania clinic where the patient was identified, no other mcr-1-carrying bacteria have been found.)

While concerns still stand, the alarmist headlines are unnecessary—and so are the errors.

Here’s what you can ignore

First, the “first” bit. The first line of the Post’s article states: “For the first time, researchers have found a person in the United States carrying bacteria resistant to antibiotics of last resort.”

Nope—this isn’t even close to true. This is absolutely not the first time a person in the US has been found with a bacteria resistant to a last-resort antibiotic. There are several last-resort antibiotics, and many bacteria over the years have shown up with resistance to them—including colistin.

So…the news is terrible, it’s just that it’s not all that new.

Here’s the quick take-away

Thursday’s report of a mcr-1-based colistin-resistant bacterial infection in a US patient is concerning, but unsurprising. The plasmid based resistant gene threatens to spread to other bacteria, potentially to ones that are already resistant to last resort drugs, such as CRE. However, the trajectory of mcr-1’s emergence and its contribution to drug resistant infection trends is not yet clear. For now, the case serves mostly to highlight the ongoing crisis of rising antibiotic resistance and furthers the need for better stewardship of old antibiotics and development of new ones.

Well I was already plenty scared of the ongoing crisis of rising antibiotic resistance, so…ok.

Dr Heimlich does the Heimlich

May 27th, 2016 11:32 am | By

This is a very cool story. I heard about it yesterday, before it was in the papers, on Facebook via my friend Janet Heimlich, author of Breaking Their Will. Her name has always reminded me of The Maneuver, of course, but I always assumed it was just coincidence. It’s not.

Dr Henry Heimlich uses Heimlich manoeuvre for first time at 96

The surgeon who gave his name to the simple but dramatic procedure used to rescue people from choking saved someone’s life with the Heimlich Manoeuvre for the first time this week aged 96.

Dr Henry Heimlich’s technique for dislodging food or objects caught in people’s throats has been credited with saving untold thousands of lives around the world since he invented it in 1974 – but he had never once had cause to use it in an emergency situation himself.

Last Monday, however, the retired chest surgeon encountered a female resident at his retirement home in Cincinnati who was choking at the dinner table.

Without hesitation, Heimlich spun her around in her chair so he could get behind her and administered several upward thrusts with a fist below the chest until the piece of meat she was choking on popped out of her throat and she could breathe again.

Bam. Job done.

“It was very gratifying,” Heimlich told the Guardian on Friday by telephone from Cincinnati.

“That moment was very important to me. I knew about all the lives my manoeuvre has saved over the years and I have demonstrated it so many times but here, for the first time, was someone sitting right next to me who was about to die.”

She was too startled to talk at the time, but he sat there beaming. They had dinner together the next night to celebrate.

Standard practice for dealing with choking prior to 1974 was to thump the afflicted person on the back. But Heimlich argued then, and still does, that that can force the obstruction further into the gullet, not dislodge it.

He worked on various theories until he finally came up with the procedure in 1974, designed for use by the general public, not just medical personnel, of putting one’s arms around the casualty and exerting upward abdominal thrusts, just above the navel and below the ribs, with the linked hands in a fist, until the obstruction is dislodged.

The last line of the story though…

After her brush with death, Patty Ris wrote Dr Heimlich a note, saying: “God put me in this seat next to you,” she told the Cincinnati Enquirer.

But then why didn’t God just magic the bit of meat down or out, instead? Or cut it smaller? Or liquefy it just before she swallowed? Or change the menu to salmon? Why does God always do these weird patches?


This neoliberal policy

May 27th, 2016 10:46 am | By

Amnesty made it official yesterday.

Amnesty International has formally adopted a policy calling for the legalization of prostitution around the world. The organization’s senior director for law and policy, Tawanda Mutasah, said:

“Sex workers are at heightened risk of a whole host of human rights abuses including rape, violence, extortion and discrimination. Far too often they receive no, or very little, protection from the law or means for redress.”

He fails to mention that, under legalization, these human rights abuses are amplified, nor does he consider how or why the law would address said abuses, once sanctioned under law.

It’s a bizarre thing to say. Sex workers are at heightened risk of a whole host of human rights abuses including rape, violence, extortion and discrimination, so let’s legalize pimping and johnning. Wut? The rape and violence and extortion are inherent in the “sex work.” Making it legal to rent a woman doesn’t change that.

This neoliberal policy, in the works for some time but now formalized, was developed, in part, by pimps and traffickers. Despite the fact that the system of prostitution exists in direct conflict with the human rights of women and girls, and despite ample evidence to show that legalization only increases abuse and exploitation, Amnesty International pushed forward with this policy, effectively abandoning any semblance of respect for women.

I get that there are plenty of libertarian feminists who think pimping should be legalized, but does Amnesty not get that there are plenty of sex workers who think it shouldn’t?

For having had the courage to draw the king naked

May 27th, 2016 10:10 am | By

Cartoonists for peace:

Cartoonists Gado and Zunar were presented the 2016 Cartooning For Peace award on World Press Freedom Day at a ceremony in Geneva’s Palais Eynard.  The award is given out every two years by Cartooning For Peace to cartoonists who have shown courage in their fight for freedom of expression.  Zunar, who has seen his books banned and confiscated by the Malaysian government since 2010, is now facing a possible 43-year prison sentence for a series of tweets in 2015.  Gado, who has been called “the most important cartoonist in Africa,” was fired by the Kenya-based Nation Media Group newspaper chain because of — in Gado’s words — “corporate and political pressure.”

An open-air exhibition of cartoons by Zunar and Gado along Geneva’s Lac Leman — along with the cartoons of other artists in support of Cartooning For Peace —will continue through June 4, 2016.  The catalogue of cartoons on display can be accessed here.  An educational supplement to the exhibition catalogue can be seen here.

Cartooning For Peace cartoon exhibition poster

“Gado and Zunar remind us how fragile this liberty remains in Africa and in Asia as well as in other regions of the world. Through their commitment towards open and transparent societies, Gado and Zunar, who have received threats in their countries of origin and can no longer practice their profession, confront us with our responsibility to preserve freedom of expression and act in order to support the combat of those who cannot express themselves through their art” — Kofi Annan, Honorary President, Cartooning For Peace Swiss Foundation

“For having had the courage to draw the king naked, Gado and Zunar are faced with a power machine that seeks to silence them. What this Prize seeks to do is just the opposite: to amplify their voices, which are those of democracy and justice” — Cartoonist Patrick Chappatte, co-founder of Cartooning For Peace

Sadiq Khan signs

May 26th, 2016 5:55 pm | By

A press release from the Board of Deputies of British Jews:

Board of Deputies President Jonathan Arkush has welcomed Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan’s decision to join mayors from across Europe and the United States in signing an AJC pledge to take action against antisemitism in their communities.

The Board of Deputies, Community Security Trust and the London Jewish Forum approached Mayor Khan to sign the pledge, which has been endorsed by more than 150 mayors from 30 European countries.

The pledge is part of the Mayors United Against Antisemitism initiative, developed by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) in July 2015 and launched in Europe later that year. The Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, was the first European Mayor to sign the pledge, followed by those from Frankfurt, Madrid, Milan and Copenhagen. More than 300 mayors from 50 American states also supported the project.

Jonathan Arkush, said: “Antisemitism is one of the greatest challenges facing Jews in London and across the country. Just two weeks into the job, Sadiq Khan has signed up to AJC’s campaign against antisemitism. Taken together with his attendance at the Yom HaShoah Holocaust commemoration event, this sets a very positive tone that we hope will be replicated throughout his mayoralty. We also thank Barnet and Camden Assembly Member Andrew Dismore for his particular role in championing this initiative in City Hall.”


Mayor  Khan, said: “Sadly, for many Londoners, antisemitism is a very present problem.  As a British Muslim, I am no stranger to discrimination and prejudice. That’s why, as Mayor for all Londoners, I am determined to fight racism in all its forms and will make challenging hate crime a priority. I am proud to sign the Mayors United Against Anti-Semitism pledge and I will encourage other Mayors across the country and Europe to do the same, to help send the message far and wide that anti-Semitism is totally unacceptable and can never be justified.”

David Harris, Chief Executive Officer of the American Jewish Committee, said: “The Mayor’s support for this initiative is special for three reasons. First, as Mayor, he has demonstrated continuity in opposition to all forms of antisemitism, as his predecessor Boris Johnson was also a signatory. Second, with all the recent concerns expressed about currents within Britain’s Labour Party regarding antisemitism, this is a particularly welcome and important development, since he is such a prominent member of the Labour Party. And third, Sadiq Khan is the first mayor of the Muslim faith of a major Western capital. Thus, his signature sends a very powerful message not only to the London Jewish community, but well beyond, about potential friendship, support and cooperation.”

Well done Sadiq Khan.

Dance dance dance

May 26th, 2016 5:30 pm | By

To make up for the antibiotic resistance story, have some Verreaux’s Sifakas shaking their booties.

You can panic now

May 26th, 2016 4:34 pm | By

It’s over. We’re about to lose antibiotics.

For the first time, researchers have found a person in the United States carrying bacteria resistant to antibiotics of last resort, an alarming development that the top U.S. public health official says could signal “the end of the road” for antibiotics.

The antibiotic-resistant strain was found last month in the urine of a 49-year-old Pennsylvania woman. Defense Department researchers determined that she carried a strain of E. coli resistant to the antibiotic colistin, according to a study published Thursday in Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, a publication of the American Society for Microbiology. The authors wrote that the discovery “heralds the emergence of a truly pan-drug resistant bacteria.”

Colistin is the antibiotic of last resort for a horrific strain of supberbugs, some of which kill half the infected people.

Health officials said the case in Pennsylvania, by itself, is not cause for panic. The strain found in the woman is treatable with some other antibiotics. But researchers worry that the antibiotic-resistant gene found in the bacteria, known as mcr-1, could spread to other types of bacteria that can already evade other types of antibiotics.

It’s the first time this colistin-resistant strain has been found in a person in the United States. In November, public health officials worldwide reacted with alarm when Chinese and British researchers reported finding the colistin-resistant strain in pigs, raw pork meat and in a small number of people in China. The deadly strain was later discovered in Europe, Africa, South America and Canada.

“It basically shows us that the end of the road isn’t very far away for antibiotics — that we may be in a situation where we have patients in our intensive-care units, or patients getting urinary tract infections for which we do not have antibiotics,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said in an interview Thursday.

It’s like the opening scene of a horror movie, except that it’s not a movie. You know the Black Death? It took out a third of the population in much of Europe; in some places it took half. Think about it.

Scientists and public health officials have long warned that if the resistant bacteria continue to spread, treatment options could be seriously limited. Routine operations could become deadly. Minor infections could become life-threatening crises. Pneumonia could be more and more difficult to treat.

That secure feeling we’ve all grown up with, that most diseases and infection are treatable? That’s over.

Help that never came

May 26th, 2016 11:28 am | By

Ouch. This is sad. The NY Times:

She was a 66-year-old woman who wandered off the Appalachian Trail in the thick Maine evergreen forest and waited for nearly a month for help that never came.

“When you find my body, please call my husband George and my daughter Kerry,” Geraldine Largay wrote in her black journal, about two weeks after she got lost and set up camp on high ground, as hikers are trained to do. “It will be the greatest kindness for them to know that I am dead and where you found me — no matter how many years from now.”

Geraldine Largay at the Poplar Ridge Lean-to on the Appalachian Trail in Maine on July 22, 2013. This photo, taken by a hiker who crossed paths with Ms. Largay, is the last known image of her. CreditDottie Rust, via Maine Warden Service

They looked for her, but failed to find her.

Ms. Largay tried to text her husband to tell him she was lost. She got herself to high ground, perhaps hoping to be seen by an airborne searcher. And she kept a diary, in which she seemed to come to terms with the idea that she would not be found alive.

The file, which was first reported by The Boston Globe, is a detailed accounting of one of the biggest search operations in this state’s history that offers a glimpse of Ms. Largay’s monthlong fight for survival, and her calm preparation for the end. Rescuers have said they believe they came maddeningly close to Ms. Largay — perhaps as near as 100 yards — but, in Maine’s impermeable forests, even that distance might as well be miles away.

Sad sad sad.

I used to watch those Bear Grylls reality tv shows where he got dropped off somewhere remote with a knife and a camera crew, and used his survival training to get back to Notremoteland. I wish Geraldine Largay had made it out.

According to the case file, Ms. Largay knew she was lost the day before she was supposed to meet her husband. On July 22, she attempted to text him, but the message was never delivered, probably because of bad reception.

“In somm trouble,” read the message. “Got off trail to go to br. Now lost. Can u call AMC to c if a trail maintainer can help me. Somewhere north of woods road. Xox.”

The following day, she tried to text again.

“Lost since yesterday,” Ms. Largay wrote. “Off trail 3 or 4 miles. Call police for what to do pls. Xox.”

Her remains were found in October.

Be careful out there.


May 26th, 2016 11:09 am | By

They tell us it’s National Spelling Bee day. I learn that there’s such a thing as “the dreaded schwa.”

Ultimately, the Bee is its own very strange world, and most of us visit for only a day or two a year. It’s a word where the hushed ESPN announcers think nothing of referencing the “dreaded schwa” — a schwa is the sort of “uh” sound that can be made in a word by any of several vowels, like the “a” in “against” or the “o” in “melody.” If it shows up in a word you don’t know, it can be very hard to figure out which letter to choose when spelling the word from hearing it pronounced. Thus: the dreaded schwa.

Oh, sure – you get that in writing, too, of course – those flashes of doubt about a particular schwa in a not very common word. Sometimes spellcheck helps you, and sometimes it doesn’t even know the word – mine didn’t recognize “rebarbative” this morning. Seriously?! Such an excellent word, plus I’ve used it before and your spellcheck is supposed to know you.

There’s a guy on local public radio here – Bill O’Grady – who drives me crazy by over-enunciating so much that he pronounces e-schwas as if they were ee. Beelieve, reeject, deecide, and so on. He’d make a hash of writing poetry, because he keeps turning iambs into dactyls.


Rationality ought to be polite and humorous

May 25th, 2016 5:12 pm | By

The Times talked to Richard Dawkins the other day, and The Australian republished the interview.

He is thrilled that The God Delusion was recently translated, unofficially, into Arabic and circulated online. “It’s been downloaded ten million times, mostly in Saudi Arabia, but also in Iran and Iraq. I get very encouraging messages; there’s a substantial underground of nonbelievers in those countries. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a secular uprising?”

Hey you know what? It was also recently translated into Kurdish, by the guy who translated Does God Hate Women? I passed a few questions on to Dawkins for him, and also helped him with some English idioms. The translation was published a few weeks ago, and I helped the translator get copies to Dawkins. I share his view about the benefit of the Arabic translation. Whatever our disagreements, I think that’s a good thing.

But then there’s the other stuff.

Dawkins blames the rise in extremism on a confusion between religion and politics. “In the case of Islam, religion has got bound up with a sense of identity. It would be very nice if people did identify with science, but we don’t say, ‘Join the science party, join the rationality party.’ Maybe we should.” The West should be more confident about its values, he says. “We should have a sense of identity as rationalists. We should be more proud of that and it should take on some of the gentle decency of the Church of England. Rationality ought to be polite and humorous. Aggressive atheism is sometimes attributed to me, but I think wrongly.”

That’s the self-knowledge problem again. He still thinks it’s wrong to call him aggressive, after who knows how many aggressive tweets. He still apparently thinks his rationality is polite and humorous, after who knows how many rude tweets.

Ah well, we all have our faults. I’m glad he’s recovering.

He always eats out of a dog bowl at home

May 25th, 2016 4:08 pm | By

The Guardian, on…um…

It’s easy to laugh at a grown man in a rubber dog suit chewing on a squeaky toy. Maybe too easy, in fact, because to laugh is to dismiss it, denigrate it – ignore the fact that many of us have found comfort and joy in pretending to be animals at some point in our lives.

Secret Life of the Human Pups is a sympathetic look at the world of pup play, a movement that grew out of the BDSM community and has exploded in the last 15 years as the internet made it easier to reach out to likeminded people. While the pup community is a broad church, human pups tend to be male, gay, have an interest in dressing in leather, wear dog-like hoods, enjoy tactile interactions like stomach rubbing or ear tickling, play with toys, eat out of bowls and are often in a relationship with their human “handlers”.

Ok, so my first question is, how do they make a living with that? Do they wear the rubber dog suit to work?

In the documentary, we see Tom, AKA Spot, take part in the Mr Puppy Europe competition in Antwerp, a mix of beauty pageant, talent show and Crufts; David, AKA Bootbrush, talk to camera in a leather dog mask; two pups walk through London pretending to wee on lampposts to raise awareness of their identity; and lots of men jumping up for “treats”, barking and wagging their mechanical tails.

It’s sweet that they’re walking around (quadripedally? don ‘t tell me they cheat and walk upright – that would be horribly dishonest – but walking quadripedally for an extended time is very uncomfortable for humans – our arms are too short, our pelvises are not tilted that way, our wrists are too weak, our backs are arched the wrong way – I could go on) – it’s sweet that they’re walking around pretending to piss on lampposts to raise awareness of their identity. I guess. Depending on what comes next. If we’re soon hearing from pups on Twitter raging at us about our species privilege and our radical feminist pup exclusion, it might not be so sweet after all.

When I speak to Tom, he is keen to point out that puppy play is about more than just outfits and surface-level power games: it’s about being given licence to behave in a way that feels natural, even primal. “You’re not worrying about money, or food, or work,” says Tom, who works as an engineer in a theatre.

Oh. That seems to imply that Tom doesn’t wear the rubber dog suit to work (or pee on  his boss’s leg or eat out of a bowl on the floor of the break room). So they’re not full time pups, it’s just something they put on and take off.

For now.

Tom learned about puppy play gradually – then he went all in, and the result was “a breakup with his former fiancee Rachel” (meaning, I think, that she left him) and having a new “relationship” with his new “handler,” Colin.

“I wouldn’t say it was the catalyst, but it was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” says Tom. “Then I had this moment of panic because a puppy without a collar is a stray; they don’t have anyone to look after them. I started chatting to Colin online and he offered to look after me. It’s a sad thing to say, but there’s not love from the heart in me for Colin – but what I have got is someone who is there for me and I’m happy with that.”

That’s not sad so much as tragic. It’s horrifying. He’s so into pretending he’s a dog that he decides he has to have a “handler” even though he (clearly) doesn’t much like him? A grown man?

The psychiatrist Carl Jung argued that our conscious minds contain intuitive, emotional, sensation and thinking archetypes. Are the sort of men drawn to puppy play simply exploring their intuitive self? “Absolutely,” says David. “Puppy play is exactly that – play. There is an immense amount of pleasure from gambolling around in a club playing with squeaky toys because you’re making people laugh, you’re being a cute little puppy.”

Guys, you’re doing it wrong. I hate to tell you. It’s true that dogs can provide a lot of fun and play, but that’s if the dogs are dogs and the humans are humans. Cooper gets huge joy out of chasing his squeaky snake toy and bringing it back to me to throw again, and I get fun out of giving him the fun and watching him be absurd – and I’m goofy with him and talk in silly voices and the whole nine yards, but I’m still not down on the floor racing him for the squeaky snake toy. Also I get bored after a few minutes and go do other things. We’re all different, and life’s a pageant, and all that, but…you’re doing it wrong.

Kaz, another pup, argues that for some, being a puppy isn’t just a fun mask to try on – it’s how they identify; it’s who they are. “Even when I worked in PC World I would sometimes walk up to people and nip at their shirt,” he says, laughing. “I got in trouble once; someone walked into the PC repair centre and I had part of their dad’s computer in my mouth. But the other staff knew I was like that to everyone. They didn’t find it weird.” For Kaz, pup play can be summed up in the phrase: “Be dog”. He will socialise as a pack, enjoy physical closeness with other pups and always eats out of a dog bowl at home. “It’s just nice, it makes me feel comfortable,” he explains, before adding “But I always eat with a knife and fork and at a table. Otherwise it’s time-consuming and you can’t watch TV.”

But what about how he identifies then? He said it’s who he is. If it’s who he is, how can he eat with a knife and fork and at a table? Why does he want to watch TV?

Then, of course, there is the sex. Puppy play is often part of a larger sexual practice that crosses over with leather folk, furries and BDSM. But, as Kaz is keen to point out, not always. “People automatically jump to the conclusion that this is gear we wear to have sex. I used to get asked awful questions like, if I liked having sex with dogs. But it’s certainly not that, and it’s not always sexual. Members of my pack, we spend a lot of time together at home just being dogs. There’s nine of us and my partner is our handler. A big part of it is a feeling of family and belonging; we’re there to look after each other.”


When in doubt, slap up a wall

May 25th, 2016 11:46 am | By

More on Trump’s carefree approach to the truth:

Donald Trump says he is “not a big believer in global warming.” He has called it “a total hoax,” “bullshit” and “pseudoscience.”

But he is also trying to build a sea wall designed to protect one of his golf courses from “global warming and its effects.”

Belt and braces, people, belt and braces. Of course this business about global warming is just a scam by the elites to make everyone ride donkeys to work, but all the same, better be safe than sorry when it comes to golf courses.

The New York billionaire is applying for permission to erect a coastal protection works to prevent erosion at his seaside golf resort, Trump International Golf Links & Hotel Ireland, in County Clare.

A permit application for the wall, filed by Trump International Golf Links Ireland and reviewed by POLITICO, explicitly cites global warming and its consequences — increased erosion due to rising sea levels and extreme weather this century — as a chief justification for building the structure.

Ok ok ok but that’s the lawyers talking. You know how bureaucracies are about granting permits, so the lawyers just say whatever it takes. The real reason Trump wants the wall is to keep out all the fish who might try to sneak a free round.