Notes and Comment Blog


Jul 19th, 2015 3:43 pm | By


ITV News reports:

[Labour leadership contender] Liz Kendall told a Mail on Sunday journalist to “fuck off” when she was asked how much she weighed during an interview.

When she was asked what?? For what reason? Was the journalist planning to ship her somewhere? Is there an official weight limit for party leaders?

In the much-criticised article, journalist Simon Walters wrote: “In fact she looks the same weight as the Duchess – about 8st – though when I ask she slaps me down with a raucous ‘fuck off!’, adding quickly: ‘Don’t print that.’”

The Duchess? What duchess? The one in Alice in Wonderland? The one who was married to Andrew Windsor for awhile? The one who’s married to William Windsor? What does a duchess have to do anything? And how sweet of Simon Walters to goad Kendall with a stupid sexist question and then publish what she told him not to publish.

Reacting to the piece, Ms Kendall told BuzzFeed during a BBC Radio 5 Live segment:

I just think it’s unbelievable that in the 21st Century women still get asked such very, very different questions from men.

Can you imagine the Mail on Sunday asking the weight of the prime minister, George Osborne or any other leading politician?

Nope. It wouldn’t happen. (I suppose it could happen in a very particular kind of interview, a hair down, personal, backgrounder sort of interview that went into stuff about home life and exercise and do you jog yadda yadda. But it’s a stretch.)

Helen Lewis shared the relevant part of the article, saving me the misery of having to read the Mail:

Embedded image permalink

So f***ing patronizing.


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

Guest post: Off to America on a coffin ship

Jul 19th, 2015 12:52 pm | By

Originally a comment by Marcus Ranum on David Brooks tells Ta-Nehisi Coates to try some social mobility for a change.

For them, America was the antidote to the crushing restrictiveness of European life, to the pogroms. For them, the American dream was an uplifting spiritual creed that offered dignity, the chance to rise.

My ancestors came over because they faced near certain death in potato famines; they would have gone anywhere, except the landed class restricted the poor’s ability to relocate. So: off to America on a coffin ship; one more than half of the family made it, the rest were buried at sea. I started to read great great-grandpa’s journal, once, and couldn’t bear it.

Perhaps the famine was the “crushing restrictiveness of European life” though the pogroms were certainly nothing to sneeze at. I’m not sure what’s a dream of uplifting spirituality woven into “I hope the fucking neighbors don’t kill us this easter! let’s move to America!” Glad they made it. Europe has some fucking awful problems. Awful problems they exported to North America in the form of religious/ethnic cleansing of most of the extant population. That’s some fucking uplifting spiritual message, Europeans, right there.

The Chinese mined the guano and laid the track, and so did the Irish and Welsh and not a few Norwegians. Of course the Africans had it vastly vastly worse. The US would not exist without them, because Europeans didn’t have resistance to Malaria like many Africans (unfortunately, they get Sickle Cell in return; some tradeoff) The US economy was able to take advantage of slavery by force and slavery by necessity. When your choice is to surely starve in Ireland, New York City looks mighty fine. The entire American Dream is built – like all of the other wonders of the world – on the blood, sweat, and tears of slaves.

you reject the dream itself as flimflam. But a dream sullied is not a lie

What the dumbass doesn’t realize is this:
a dream shown to be a lie … is still a lie.

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

Panto dames and other drag queens on TV

Jul 19th, 2015 11:24 am | By

The day after Free Pride Glasgow issued its statement saying No to drag performances, Pink News ran a story about a Scottish broadcaster saying No to a drag queen. Uncomfortable timing eh?

Pride Glasgow has attacked Scottish broadcaster STV, for refusing to allow a drag queen to appear in its Pride coverage.

According to the Herald, the group were due to appear on the Riverside Show on the newly-launched STV Glasgow ahead of this week’s Pride event, but the show’s producer refused to allow drag queen Bee Fiarse Beaujambes to appear in the coverage.

Alastair Smith of Pride Glasgow said: “We had suggested to them that a drag queen come on the show to promote the gay pride event, but they said that they didn’t want young children asking what a drag queen is.

“It was really insulting. Basically they’re saying they want to do a feature on gay pride without actually mentioning anything gay. It was just a bit odd.”

Much the same way Free Pride’s exclusion of drag performances is just a bit odd, it seems to me.

“It’s just absolute nonsense, children who ask questions grow up to be the well-informed, open-minded adults of the future.

“They’re already used to seeing panto dames and other drag queens on TV, so I don’t understand what all the fuss was about.”

Right? Panto dames are a big thing in the UK, not to mention all the drag that Monty Python did. Mind you, there’s plenty of room for political analysis of that too, to point out that Monty Python could after all have included some women, but that’s another post. The point is just that drag is well familiar on the sacred family telly boxes of Britain, so what the hell, STV.

Beaujambes said in a Facebook post: “Those of you who know me will know that I am not the kind of person to feel rage, until today that is.

“After hearing that STV GLASGOW withdrew their request for me to be interviewed on the Riverside Show Tomorrow night to talk about Pride Glasgow because having a drag queen wouldn’t be ‘appropriate’ as ‘parents could be watching with their kids’..?!

“Anita Bryant and Brian Souter would be proud! Save the children!

“STV have shown themselves to be narrow minded and prejudiced. Pride was built on the stilettos of Drag Queens, they started the first one.”

I’m curious about what Pride Glasgow thinks about Free Pride Glasgow’s ban on drag performances.

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

Starvation and jaguars

Jul 18th, 2015 4:52 pm | By

Al Jazeera on slavery in Brazil.

Slavery is reported across the country, from farms in the wealthy south to five-star hotels in Rio de Janeiro and factories in São Paulo. But for decades, the heart of the problem has been this well-trodden route. It leads from northeastern states such as Maranhão and Piauí, known for their poverty and political corruption, to Pará, a vast state in northern Brazil encompassing much of the Amazon rain forest.

Former slave Elenilson de Conceição, whose furrowed face belies his 29 years, knows it intimately after he was himself enslaved to deforest the jungle. He was not paid a cent for three months of grueling labor and slept under the stars amid a forest filled with jaguars and deadly snakes. As he retraced the route with Al Jazeera America to highlight the problem, the raggle-taggle truck stops; the caged vans barely fit for animals; the shrill ferry horn, all brought back painful memories.

It’s estimated that nearly 5 million people were enslaved in Brazil.

Slavery was abolished in 1888, but land reforms forced the poor to continue to be exploited in terrible conditions on the same farms, historians say.

Oh gosh, you know what that sounds like? What happened here in the US. Slavery was replaced by a racist prison system that made a profit from contracting “prisoner” labor. Many of the prisoners were there on extremely fanciful charges. And then of course there was sharecropping…

Conceição, like many others, did not grow up understanding the concept of slavery. Instead, many of his parents’ generation understood themselves to be migrant workers. He, like those before him, was living in poverty when he was tempted by an unscrupulous agent — or gato — who lived locally and promised work. Conceição was trafficked to the Amazon and, amid death threats and violence, set to work without pay, days off, decent food, safety gear or bearable living conditions.

And no protections, because nobody had “bought” him with a large capital outlay.

Conceição said the bus finally stopped on the roadside near Santana do Araguaia, in Pará state. The men were ordered onto a cattle truck with a cage section on the back — a design that still gives him flashbacks when he sees it.

“The promise was that we would go to a farm, but actually when we arrived, there was no farm,” he said. “We simply walked into the Amazon forest. When we were in the middle of the forest, we stopped, and we were ordered to put up a canopy.”

The men’s mission was to deforest that part of the Amazon to create a ranch and sell the timber. Many others who are enslaved there are put to work on livestock farms, with others forced to do dangerous work in coalmines.

The 100-odd workers on the farm were woken at 4 a.m., when Barba would shout at them to get up. It would still be pitch black. There would be a long walk through the forest until work started at 5:30 a.m. It would not finish until 6 p.m. They never had a day off, and they had no idea how long they would be held before they were released. The food was white rice and uncooked black beans, with only dirty water to drink.

The men were left to fend for themselves in the middle of the jungle, sleeping in hammocks in the open under a leaking canopy.

“We spent most of the nights on our feet, since when it rained, the water would blow everywhere,” he said. “Most of our protection from the rain came from the trees above.”

There were snakes and jaguars and other animals around. They kept a fire going to scare the jaguars but found their paw prints in the mornings anyway.

The workers were not paid and were told they had a debt to their masters they would have to repay. “It turned out the bosses had everything we needed — food, water, work clothes, tools, medicine — but their intention was to sell it to us,” he said.

A debt to pay. For what? The gas it took to drive them there?

“In the evenings, we just kept talking and thinking, ‘How are we going to get away?’” he said. “Barba heard us and told us the bosses would find us and kill us.”

“I do not think I could have escaped. I had no money. I had left what I had at home. We could not have gotten away from there. There’s nowhere to go on foot. They took us to a place that you cannot walk, return, return on foot at all,” Conceição said.

So many crimes here. Fraud, kidnapping, unlawful imprisonment, extortion, theft, menacing…

Then after three months, the men were suddenly released and put on a bus to Monsenhor Gil. “In those three months I did not receive a single cent,” he said.

The decision to release the workers came in the aftermath of a raid by inspectors from Brazil’s Ministry of Labor on a neighboring farm, in which 78 slaves were rescued. Conceição was given $77 to cover his trip home, but unlike the slaves rescued by the government, does not have a right to claim compensation. The owner of the raided farm was not arrested but was eventually ordered to pay $257 to $322 to each worker after a civil case brought by the Land Pastoral Commission.

For three months of hard work in horrific conditions.

I suppose David Brooks would tell them to look on the bright side.

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

Glasgow Pride says no drag

Jul 18th, 2015 3:49 pm | By

Free Pride Glasgow says no drag performances.

At Free Pride we hope to create a safe space for all people within the LGBTQIA+ community. We understand that sometimes this will disappoint some people within the community, however our priority is always to put the needs of the most marginalised groups within our community first.

Sometimes it will disappoint some people within the community? Why? Do some people within the community want an unsafe space?

Or maybe it’s that “a safe space” isn’t exactly the right thing to hope to create, or at least not exclusively. For a lot of people “a safe space” is one that has only straight people in it, after all. Gay pride has always been rowdy and raunchy and Dionsyian, proudly so – that’s always been part of the point. I’m not sure wanting to create “a safe space” is compatible with that.

This is why, after much discussion, the trans and non binary caucus decided not to have drag acts perform at the event. This does not mean that people of any gender can’t wear what they want to the event, we simply won’t be having any self-described drag acts perform at our Free Pride Event on the 22nd August.

Um…so no more playing around with gender, now it’s either trans or cis?

Is that really a good idea?

The decision was taken by transgender individuals who were uncomfortable with having drag performances at the event. It was felt that it would make some of those who were transgender or questioning their gender uncomfortable. It was felt by the group within the Trans/Non Binary Caucus that some drag performance, particularly cis drag, hinges on the social view of gender and making it into a joke, however transgender individuals do not feel as though their gender identity is a joke.

So there you go then. The answer is yes: no more playing around with gender. No more mocking it, no more teasing it, no more parodying it.

Is that really a good idea?

We would like to reaffirm that this is not to say that we do not want gender expression, which we do encourage, at our event. We encourage everyone to wear what they want and express their gender however they please! There will be no policing of peoples gender identity.

Except for no drag. There will be no frivolous performance of gender, there will be only serious expression of gender.

Safety first eh.

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

Apocalypse on the freeway

Jul 18th, 2015 1:47 pm | By

You’re riding along in a car on the freeway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas on a hot sunny afternoon, and the traffic slows, and then you see some weeds on fire next to the freeway, and then in the distance a car bursts into flames. And no it’s not a movie.

The fire, which erupted just after 2:30 p.m. and quickly grew to 3,500 acres, shut down the highway in both directions. By evening, it had destroyed 20 vehicles and at least four homes, and was bearing down on mountain communities. Most lanes of the 15 were open by Saturday morning, but hundreds of firefighters were still on the lines.

In a region where brush fires are a way of life, the scene on the main route to Las Vegas was surreal.

Many of those who fled their vehicles panicked, unsure of where to find safety as they watched the land around them burn. Cars, trucks and even a boat went up in flames on the freeway. Helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft made dramatic drops of water and flame retardant.

Once they could. They were delayed because there were drones in the area.

Officials said heavy winds mixed with dry chaparral and grass created a dangerous combination.

Shortly before the fast-moving blaze jumped the freeway and the cars caught fire, officials had to halt water drops because of a recreational drone flying nearby. It was the third time in recent weeks that firefighters were grounded because of drones. The devices could collide with aircraft that fly at low altitudes, authorities say.

It was not a movie.

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

David Brooks tells Ta-Nehisi Coates to try some social mobility for a change

Jul 18th, 2015 11:21 am | By

Via PZ, and various people on Twitter, I read David Brooks’s infuriatingly smug and defensive commentary on Ta-Nehisi Coates.

But the disturbing challenge of your book is your rejection of the American dream. My ancestors chose to come here. For them, America was the antidote to the crushing restrictiveness of European life, to the pogroms. For them, the American dream was an uplifting spiritual creed that offered dignity, the chance to rise.

What is the point of saying that? It’s not as if Ta-Nehisi Coates doesn’t know that. It’s not even as if Brooks thinks Ta-Nehisi Coates doesn’t know that. For many white people, America was a dream of escape and opportunity. Yes we know that.

Your ancestors came in chains. In your book the dream of the comfortable suburban life is a “fairy tale.” For you, slavery is the original American sin, from which there is no redemption. America is Egypt without the possibility of the Exodus. African-American men are caught in a crushing logic, determined by the past, from which there is no escape.

And David Brooks wants to explain to him why he’s wrong.

I read this all like a slap and a revelation. I suppose the first obligation is to sit with it, to make sure the testimony is respected and sinks in. But I have to ask, Am I displaying my privilege if I disagree? Is my job just to respect your experience and accept your conclusions? Does a white person have standing to respond?

Actually he doesn’t have to ask. He doesn’t have to make it about him, just for one thing. He doesn’t have to get all “can a white person even speak??” about it. He doesn’t have to do any of this. He chose to do it, just as his ancestors chose to come here – and he gets a fat paycheck for doing it.

If I do have standing, I find the causation between the legacy of lynching and some guy’s decision to commit a crime inadequate to the complexity of most individual choices.

I think you distort American history. This country, like each person in it, is a mixture of glory and shame. There’s a Lincoln for every Jefferson Davis and a Harlem Children’s Zone for every K.K.K. — and usually vastly more than one. Violence is embedded in America, but it is not close to the totality of America.

Oh blah blah blah. No kidding; things are complicated; there’s not a straight line between lynching and one person’s commission of a crime; there’s good and bad; the good cancels out the bad, let’s all go watch football.

The point is not that violence is “the totality of America,” whatever that silly phrase would even mean. The point is that the structural arrangements of racism stayed in place for decade after decade after decade after the passage of the 13th and 14th Amendments, and that most of them are still in place. Now, today, in a neighborhood near you. This isn’t some fuzzy mumbling about the totality of anything, it’s literal as fuck. Pointing out that there are some good things somewhere is wholly beside the point.

In your anger at the tone of innocence some people adopt to describe the American dream, you reject the dream itself as flimflam. But a dream sullied is not a lie. The American dream of equal opportunity, social mobility and ever more perfect democracy cherishes the future more than the past. It abandons old wrongs and transcends old sins for the sake of a better tomorrow.

Oh no no no no no. That is something Brooks does not get to say. Yes, because he’s white; suck it up. He does not get to say that because he is not the one who would have to “abandon” the “old wrongs” that are still having their effects today. It’s very easy for him to value the future more than the past and to abandon old wrongs that weren’t done to him.

This dream is a secular faith that has unified people across every known divide. It has unleashed ennobling energies and mobilized heroic social reform movements. By dissolving the dream under the acid of an excessive realism, you trap generations in the past and destroy the guiding star that points to a better future.

It’s not Coates’s realism that traps people. It’s generations of residential segregation, neglected schools and infrastructure, and a massive wealth gap. What kind of “dream” does David Brooks suppose can come out of all that? What kind of “guiding star” does he think is even detectable from there?

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

The figure could easily have been as high as 1,250,000

Jul 18th, 2015 10:12 am | By

You know that experience of finding out about some large significant bit of history that you knew nothing about? Especially the kind that involves misery and death for a great many people? Especially the kind where the misery and death are at the hands of other people?

Martin Robbins just pointed out one in comments on a public Facebook post so I went away to Google and found an informative BBC article from 2011.

The fishermen and coastal dwellers of 17th-century Britain lived in terror of being kidnapped by pirates and sold into slavery in North Africa. Hundreds of thousands across Europe met wretched deaths on the Barbary Coast in this way. Professor Robert Davis investigates.

Hundreds of thousands?? I did not know that. How did I not know that?

In the first half of the 1600s, Barbary corsairs – pirates from the Barbary Coast of North Africa, authorised by their governments to attack the shipping of Christian countries – ranged all around Britain’s shores. In their lanteen-rigged xebecs (a type of ship) and oared galleys, they grabbed ships and sailors, and sold the sailors into slavery. Admiralty records show that during this time the corsairs plundered British shipping pretty much at will, taking no fewer than 466 vessels between 1609 and 1616, and 27 more vessels from near Plymouth in 1625.

Not content with attacking ships and sailors, the corsairs also sometimes raided coastal settlements, generally running their craft onto unguarded beaches, and creeping up on villages in the dark to snatch their victims and retreat before the alarm could be sounded. Almost all the inhabitants of the village of Baltimore, in Ireland, were taken in this way in 1631, and other attacks were launched against coastal villages in Devon and Cornwall. Samuel Pepys gives a vivid account of an encounter with two men who’d been taken into slavery, in his diary of 8 February 1661.

‘…to the Fleece tavern to drink and there we spent till 4 a-clock telling stories of Algier and the manner of the life of Slaves there; and truly, Captain Mootham and Mr Dawes (who have been both slaves there) did make me full acquainted with their condition there. As, how they eat nothing but bread and water…. How they are beat upon the soles of the feet and bellies at the Liberty of their Padron. How they are all night called into their master’s Bagnard, and there they lie.’

Here is the whole entry.

Back to Robert Davis in the BBC article:

According to observers of the late 1500s and early 1600s, there were around 35,000 European Christian slaves held throughout this time on the Barbary Coast – many in Tripoli, Tunis, and various Moroccan towns, but most of all in Algiers. The greatest number were sailors, taken with their ships, but a good many were fishermen and coastal villagers. Out of all these, the British captives were mostly sailors, and although they were numerous there were relatively fewer of them than of people from lands close to Africa, especially Spain and Italy. The unfortunate southerners were sometimes taken by the thousands, by slavers who raided the coasts of Valencia, Andalusia, Calabria and Sicily so often that eventually it was said that ‘there was no one left to capture any longer’.

here are no records of how many men, women and children were enslaved, but it is possible to calculate roughly the number of fresh captives that would have been needed to keep populations steady and replace those slaves who died, escaped, were ransomed, or converted to Islam. On this basis it is thought that around 8,500 new slaves were needed annually to replenish numbers – about 850,000 captives over the century from 1580 to 1680.

By extension, for the 250 years between 1530 and 1780, the figure could easily have been as high as 1,250,000 – this is only just over a tenth of the Africans taken as slaves to the Americas from 1500 to 1800, but a considerable figure nevertheless. White slaves in Barbary were generally from impoverished families, and had almost as little hope of buying back their freedom as the Africans taken to the Americas: most would end their days as slaves in North Africa, dying of starvation, disease, or maltreatment.

I just plain didn’t know this. I knew about the Muslim slave trade within Africa, and I knew Barbary pirates existed, and I knew Christians were taken prisoner during the various wars, but I had no idea that Barbary pirates enslaved people on this scale.

It’s startling.

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

Stereotype 1, stereotype 2, stereotype 3

Jul 17th, 2015 4:44 pm | By

Dorothy Bishop in the Times Higher on the trouble with jokes about girls.

Personally, I think we should be allowed to criticise the policies of our institutions and to debate robustly with those whose beliefs are at odds with our basic values. However, when we are talking about the fundamental biological characteristics of the individual, it is a different matter.

If we say derogatory comments are acceptable in the context of a joke, this basically allows anything, because anything can be construed as a joke post hoc. Suppose someone said: “Let me tell you about my trouble with blacks. Three things happen when they’re in the lab: (stereotype 1), (stereotype 2), (stereotype 3).” I think most educated people would regard this as unacceptable, even if the speaker subsequently argues that they were being ironic. However, substitute “girls” for “blacks” and for many people it becomes OK.

So very many people.

I also think that academic institutions have the right to dissociate themselves from someone who brings them into disrepute by using racist or sexist language. Gender equality is very much on the agenda of academic institutions and funding bodies. Many universities with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) departments have seriously engaged with the Athena SWAN initiatives to address gender inequality in the workplace; the Royal Society and the European Research Council have come under fire for the low success rates of female grant applicants, and both organisations have taken this criticism seriously and are examining ways to ensure their processes are transparent and fair. Having a high-profile figure make a sexist joke in a public forum undermines such initiatives, and places the organisations in a difficult position whereby they either appear to condone sexism or risk being attacked for political correctness. Sexist language, however jokey, shows an insensitivity to gender issues that is at odds with the core values of most academic institutions. Calling this out is an indication of a commitment to women’s right to fair treatment and not a threat to academic freedom.

That seems reasonable enough, doesn’t it?

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

The need to believe

Jul 17th, 2015 4:19 pm | By

Turn everything on its head time. People who take climate change seriously are in denial!!! Says the Federalist.

I, a (distinguished) gray-haired, middle-aged man, was a speaker at the conference. My topic was “The Need To Believe In The ‘Solution’ To Global Warming.” I don’t know if Johnson took note, but it was folks like him that I had in mind. Lot of people who aren’t up on, say, radiative-transfer physics and model-cloud parameterizations, to name just two of dozens upon dozens of need-to-know subjects, are convinced the world is going to end in heat death, because why? Because they desperately desire the proposed solutions—even in the absence of a problem. And what are the solutions? The usual: increased size and scope of government and furthering corporate cronyism.

People who take climate change seriously desperately desire the solutions? The hell we do. The solutions are horrible. What we desire is to avoid destroying the climate needed for humans and other animals to go on living on this planet. That’s it.

This brings us to the crucial question: how do we reach educators like Johnson? We can’t do it with reality. Temperatures aren’t increasing, storms are down in number and strength, sea levels aren’t chasing folks from beaches, droughts are not increasing, parts of the world are growing greener.

I don’t have the answer. Do you?

Did anybody ever say that all parts of the world would turn brown because of climate change? I don’t think the fact that parts of the world are growing greener is very decisive.


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

A treat

Jul 17th, 2015 3:42 pm | By

Amy Schumer’s parody of 12 Angry Men, in which the twelve dudely jurors argue over whether Amy Schumer is not enough to be on tv.

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

Guest post: People who aren’t making the distinction between belief and reality

Jul 17th, 2015 12:23 pm | By

Originally a comment by PatrickG on “Like I actually had a tail”.

Let me try again, since apparently I was unclear (not an unusual experience for me):

1) I consider magical thinking to be harmful in and of itself, whether it be sincerely believing in drinking the blood of Zombie Jesus or sincerely believing that one is not really human. So when you say:

There is no woo in describing how you feel regardless of reality if a person knows that their feelings and reality are not consistent.

We’re in agreement there, but that’s clearly not the case for people who sincerely believe they aren’t actually human, which is the group I’m addressing. Not just “feeling” non-human, to be very clear. If you don’t think that is woo, you might as well just stop reading this comment, because we don’t live in the same world.

2) I am not claiming the non-existence of feelings or sincerely held beliefs, I am arguing against the subsequent claims (e.g. woo-pagan animal spirituality and reincarnation) that are based on those feelings. The fact that someone asserts something is essential to their identity may be a sincerely held belief, but doesn’t obligate me to take it seriously in the absence of compelling evidence or argument. The feeling that someone is not human does not make them non-human, and claiming such deserves no respect. One does not get to hand-wave away basic biological fact on the basis of sincerely held belief (well, unless you’re a Republican Supreme Court justice lying about birth control, but that’s a different topic entirely).

3) When you say:

Because of that society misses the people who meet diagnostic criteria and do just fine with the associated characteristics that we call conditions and illnesses. Many people with Tourette’s Syndrome, ADHD, autism and more are happy to be what they are and are not hurting anyone else beyond giving other people funny feelings that they use for mockery and “jokes” at best. You are taking a very negative stance with respect to people who do not appear to be harming you in the slightest.

I’ll address the TS/ADHD/autism reference in the next point.

The failure of medical science to properly categorize and (if appropriate) treat a specific phenomenon does not automatically mean I have to treat audio-visual hallucinations or similar phenomenon as just part of normal human variation (“No biggie!”). When I read accounts of people who, if I take them at their word, are actually experiencing AV episodes, and wave it off with “but it’s ok, because animals”, I’m appalled. That’s not a good response! When you say:

So apparently most people with audio hallucinations function just fine with them. They might even make reality more interesting.

I’m genuinely shocked at how casually you treat this topic. Sure, this is probably true for certain definitions of “function”, “fine”, “reality”, and “interesting”, but I find this proposition extremely dubious, given our society’s predisposition to miss diagnosable conditions, poor access to evidence-based medicine, and a very attractive network of woo that leads people to homeopathy, psychics, and Dr. Oz. That is what I find so harmful — believing that a possible psychiatric condition can be explained away because of freakin’ mythical animals.

I want to reiterate that I am speaking of people who aren’t making the distinction between belief and reality. Does that mean every Otherkin is in this category? No — but then, most people who use crystal healing or acupuncture aren’t typically suffering from serious medical complaints either, and we all recognize the harm there.

4) Here is the passage that really leads me to believe that I failed to make my point clearly:

MANY cultures around the world have actual respected and celebrated social roles for people whose minds do not function like the norm. You will lose this fight because we are not going anywhere and some of us are even psychologically advantaged when it comes to expressing criticism. I’m perfectly willing to use that in defense of other people like me and the only one that needs to celebrate that for it to mean anything is me.

I’m not talking about people whose minds do not function like the norm — that would be rather silly, since I’m one of those people. I’m talking about people who turn to woo to explain/celebrate their atypical status. This is the difference between the true-believer Otherkin described above and people with TS/ADHD/autism, and comparing the two is ludicrous.

So yeah, the claim that someone is really non-human deserves the same respect from me as the claim that someone speaks to Jesus, regardless of normal/non-normal function, which is a completely different issue.

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

People in advantaged countries like to think of themselves as especially complex, colorful, and special

Jul 17th, 2015 12:02 pm | By

So I look around for more on “the otherkin community.” I find a piece by Gavia Baker-Whitelaw from a few months ago. I read.

When she was 9 or 10 years old, Jessie read a book that would change her life forever: Julie of the Wolves, a story about a young girl who bonds with a wolf pack to survive in the Alaskan tundra. It precipitated Jessie’s realization that she identified as a wolf herself.

“I could certainly see a case being made that I latched on to wolves because of some difficult times in my life,” Jessie told me. “I saw family in them, I saw protection and familiarity, and I saw an escape from what I was dealing with in my life.”

Plenty of kids are obsessive, but for Jessie, her love of wolves became a lifestyle and a spiritual experience, including “phantom shifts,” or episodes where she felt the physical characteristics of being a wolf.

“I would prowl my room late at night as a wolf, usually when I was restless or agitated. This was comforting to put myself into another place. Whether this is mental or spiritual, I don’t really know. I still do a version of this to this day, and I know it’s felt like both. I’m diagnosed with depression and generalized anxiety, and there are many days where putting myself in ‘wolf mind’ helps to relax me.”

Now, see, all of that is consistent with its being fantasy, and I’m all for fantasy. I was hugely into fantasy as a child, and I’ve always felt slightly sorry for kids who weren’t into it.

But actually “identifying as” another species goes beyond fantasy, and yes I think it’s risible in adults.

If you truly believe that you’re not human, people on the Internet will probably be the first to know. That’s where the term “otherkin” first sprang up in the early ’90s, in quiet little online culs-de-sac dedicated to those who believed they were dragons and elves. To someone who thinks of him- or herself as otherkin, the issue is one not of mental illness but of freedom of expression.

There’s ambiguity there. Truly believing you’re not human is not quite the same as thinking of oneself as not human – “thinking of oneself as” is the same as pretending.

But hey – it’s not harmful, it’s just first world special snowflakeism.

You don’t come to the conclusion that you’re a dragon without a certain amount of self-examination. Many otherkin are aware that some outsiders think they’re delusional. The psychiatric professionals I contacted for this story, however, were surprisingly forgiving.

Dr. Marc D. Feldman, clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Alabama and inventor of the term “Munchausen by Internet,” told me that otherkin didn’t seem like a good fit for mental health treatment.

“People in advantaged countries like to think of themselves as especially complex, colorful, and special,” he wrote in an email. “The otherkin phenomenon certainly reflects this first-world preoccupation. But it isn’t illegal, doesn’t victimize other people, and isn’t a form of mental illness (unless people become delusional about it), so I don’t see a particular need for ‘treatment.’”

Just so. As I said, I’m all for fantasy…but that doesn’t mean I can’t find some fantasies funny.

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

The Plutester

Jul 17th, 2015 11:21 am | By

Want more Pluto snaps? Of course you do.

NASA ‏@NASA 36 minutes ago
Frozen, craterless plains discovered in heart of Pluto’s ‘heart’ @NASANewHorizons #PlutoFlyby

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NASA ‏@NASA22 hours ago
Pluto moon Charon’s ‘Mountain in a Moat’ is a preview of future close-up images: #PlutoFlyby

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Can you find the snow leopard?

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

To separate the inhabitants of Paradise from the inhabitants of Hellfire

Jul 17th, 2015 11:08 am | By

The LA Times has been reading the journal of Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez. They found the predictable.

On Abdulazeez’s blog, there were a number of entries dealing with Islam and jihad.

“Every one of them [the Companions of the Prophet Mohammad] fought Jihad for the sake of Allah,” reads one recent post. “Every one of them had to make sacrifices in their lives and some even left all their wealth to make hijrah to Medina.”

Says another recent post: “This life we are living is nothing more than a test of our faith and patience. It was designed to separate the inhabitants of Paradise from the inhabitants of Hellfire, and to rank amongst them the best of the best and worst of the worst. Don’t let the society we live in deviate you from the task at hand.”

That’s the kind of thinking that makes religion so lethal – that idea that “this life we are living is nothing more than” some test or practical joke or punishment by a magical unavailable god, and that it’s the job of believers to help that god “rank” people and sort the good from the bad – and destroy the bad. That’s probably the single worst idea humans have come up with.

“Brothers and sisters don’t be fooled by your desires, this life is short and bitter and the opportunity to submit to allah may pass you by,” another post notes.

Bad. Bad idea. Bad thought.

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

About Pluto

Jul 17th, 2015 10:31 am | By

NASA is doing a press conference about Pluto right now on NASA tv.

Right now: what are these polygons?

What are these dark smudges?

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

Another one

Jul 16th, 2015 6:04 pm | By

Reuters reports:

Four Marines were killed on Thursday by a gunman who opened fire at two military offices in Chattanooga, Tennessee, before being fatally shot in an attack officials called a brazen, brutal act of domestic terrorism.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation named the suspect as Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez, 24, but said it was too early to speculate on a motive for the rampage, which comes at a time when U.S. military and law enforcement authorities are increasingly concerned about the threat posed by “lone wolves” to domestic targets.

NBC News reported that Abdulazeez was a naturalized American who was born in Kuwait. U.S. law enforcement officials said they were investigating whether he was inspired by Islamic State or a similar group.

Islamic State had threatened to step up violence in the holy fasting month of Ramadan, which ends on Friday.

Happy holidays. Have a nice Eid.

The SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks extremist groups, said that Abdulazeez blogged on Monday that “life is short and bitter” and Muslims should not miss an opportunity to “submit to Allah.” Reuters could not independently verify the blog postings.

According to a resume believed to have been posted online by Abdulazeez, he attended high school in a Chattanooga suburb and graduated from the University of Tennessee with an engineering degree.

At least we still have our guns.

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

The family tree

Jul 16th, 2015 5:41 pm | By

Since I got Sally Hemings’s relationships with the Jefferson family off by a generation, I thought I might as well look her up and get it straight in my head. From the Monticello site:

Sally Hemings,[1] whose given name was probably Sarah, was the daughter of Elizabeth (Betty) Hemings. According to her son, Madison Hemings, her father was Thomas Jefferson’s father-in-law John Wayles. There are no known portraits of her. Sally Hemings became Thomas Jefferson’s property as part of his inheritance from the Wayles estate in 1774 and came with her mother to Monticello by 1776. As a child she was probably a nursemaid to Jefferson’s daughter Mary (slave girls from the age of six or eight were childminders and assistants to head nurses on southern plantations).

Her father was John Wayles, the father of Jefferson’s wife Martha – so she was Martha Wayles Jefferson’s half-sister. She was Jefferson’s half-sister-in-law. She was the aunt of their daughters. She was a close relative…but of course as a slave, she wasn’t treated as a relative. She was treated as a slave.

That’s how plantation life was. Lots of slaves were close relatives of their owners and their owners’ families, but they weren’t treated as relatives.

It’s such a bizarre way to live. Fanny Kemble wrote about it in her Journal of a Residence on a Georgian

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

“Like I actually had a tail”

Jul 16th, 2015 4:52 pm | By

This should be something from the Onion but apparently isn’t: Amber Roberts at Vice: Otherkin Are People Too; They Just Identify as Nonhuman.

Well no. If you’re nonhuman then you’re not people too. That’s just definitional, so it’s silly to claim otherwise. People are human.

But that’s not even the silliest part; the silliest part is claiming to “identify as” nonhuman. I can “identify as” Shakespeare if I want to, but I’m not a bit more Shakespeare for having so “identified” than I was before.

Otherkin are people who identify as partially or entirely nonhuman. A dragon, a lion, a fox—you name it—there is probably someone out there who feels like they are more these things than they are human. The otherkin community can be found lurking on Reddit, Tumblr, TV Tropes, and other online forums.

A dragon, a lion, a fox – such a narrow range. What about a 1964 Cadillac, a baked yam, a canyon, a fart, a poem, a hurricane, a red sweatshirt with a hole in the left elbow?

I spoke to John on Reddit, a 19-year-old from Knoxville, USA, known on the web as Noslavic. He introduced himself: “I am a red fox-kin who was, as we call, awakened about a year ago.” He said that awakening felt, “at the very least, relieving,” because “everything seemed to come together for me.

“I started getting odd dreams where I would change physically into a fox, and they were very realistic—honestly. And after a while, in real life, it felt quite real, like I actually had a tail, I actually had ears, I actually had paws.”

And people really think they’ve had visits from extra-terrestrials, or that their teacher took them on a rocket ship, or that there’s an exciting new world hiding behind a nearby comet and the way to get their is to kill yourself.

While some otherkin identify as the animal, others identify with the animal—in more of a spiritual way. This is the case for Ri Na Gach, an 18-year-old “lionkin” who wishes to remain anonymous:

“I feel a special connection with the lion. I feel like I demonstrate many of the same characteristics as the animal. It’s mostly a secret in my day-to-day life, but the traits that I share with lions do help me. In pagan religions of the past, it wasn’t uncommon to believe that humans would be reborn as animals, so the idea that I was, in a past life, a lion, is not as far-fetched as some would think.”

Again with the lion. Notice it’s all glam animals. Why don’t they feel as if they demonstrate many of the same characteristics as the slug, or the oyster, or the pigeon, or the rat?

And the fact that something was believed in a pagan religion of the past does nothing to make it not far-fetched.

I’m going to go knit myself a giraffe suit.

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

By tram to Kew Gardens

Jul 16th, 2015 1:33 pm | By

I suddenly took it into my head to go to Google images and type in

london transport poster kew

Mine eyes boggled at the result.

I’ve collected a hefty stack of London Transport postcards over the years, but it’s only a fraction of what there are. They did especially fetching ones advertising the joys of Kew Gardens.

Image result for london transport poster kew

Image result for london transport poster kew

Image result for london transport poster kew

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