Notes and Comment Blog

Brains and addiction

Jul 11th, 2016 12:08 pm | By

On Fresh Air a few days ago:

We’re going to talk about new ways of understanding and treating addiction. My guest, Maia Szalavitz, is the author of a book that examines scientific, behavioral and medical research about addiction. She says the methods of treatment and punishment haven’t caught up with the research.

Szalavitz is a journalist who’s been covering addiction and drug-related issues for nearly 30 years. She writes a column for VICE and has been a health reporter and columnist for Time magazine. She was addicted to cocaine and heroin from the age of 17 to 23. She stopped using in 1988, about two years after she was arrested and charged with cocaine possession. She faced a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years to life. A little later, she’ll explain why she never served time. Her new book about addiction is called “Unbroken Brain.”

GROSS: OK. So you were 17 when you started using hard drugs. And what do we know now about the brain development of teenagers and why teenagers are more vulnerable to becoming addicted?

SZALAVITZ: Well, there are three critical periods of brain development in the human. The first one is obviously prenatally. The second one is 0 to 5. And the third one is adolescence into young adulthood.

And what’s going on in the brain at that time is that the areas that give you drive and motivation and that get you out of the house and that get you seeking boyfriends and seeking friends and, you know, seeking to interact with your peers more than your parents – those areas are growing really strong.

And you are learning, you know, how to seek thrills and pleasure and how to maneuver amongst your peers and how to have relationships. Unfortunately, the stuff that develops later are the regions that are involved in self-control and in reining in that motivation and reining in that desire. So when you’re a teenager, you have sort of a very strong engine with weak brakes.

And the brakes don’t really develop until your 20s or so. And that means that if you are engaging in a highly pleasurable or highly comforting experience as a teenager, you’re going to be more likely to get addicted because your brakes aren’t developed that much yet.

Ah yes. I remember that teenage engine – that surge. I remember the way it used to rev itself sometimes with no road to run on. You know? Wild feelings with no very clear referent? “I want to…something…run away…somewhere…what do I want?” The link to addiction seems to make a lot of sense.

GROSS: So you quote a couple of things. You say 90 percent of all addictions begin during adolescence. And addiction is less common in people who use drugs for the first time after they’re 25. And addiction often remits with or without treatment among people in their 20s just as the brain becomes fully adult. What do you extrapolate from those statistics?

SZALAVITZ: Well – that this is a developmental disorder. And that there is a period of extreme risk. And this is not to say, of course, that you cannot become an addict later in life. But the most common time and the most likely time for you to develop an addiction is your teens and early 20s.

The teenage person isn’t the real person yet. Or, you could argue, the teenage person is the real person, before the fakery and caution and hypocrisy of the developed prefrontal cortex have tamed and limited her. I don’t buy the romantic view, myself: I prefer people with judgement and self-control over people with strong but self-centered feeeeeeeelings. I do think people are more their real selves as they gain judgement and experience.

And another thing that’s going on at that time is – if you aren’t using drugs or escaping into something else excessively at that time, you are developing social skills and self-soothing skills and other skills that allow you to live comfortably in your body. And if you spend that time escaping with drugs, you aren’t learning those other things – so that when you try to stop, you won’t have those ways of dealing available to you.

They go on to talk about “tough love,” and Szalavitz says it’s a crock of shit.

This notion of tough love and hitting bottom. It was two years after I got arrested that I got into treatment. After I got arrested, I got worse and worse. I didn’t hit bottom when I had the insight that allowed me to seek help. What I got at that point was some kind of hope that I could change.

And we have this idea that if we just are cruel enough and mean enough and tough enough to people with addiction that they will suddenly wake up and stop. And that is not the case. Addiction is actually defined by the DSM and by the National Institute on Drug Abuse as compulsive behavior that continues despite negative consequences. That’s the definition of addiction. So therefore, if punishment, which is just another word for negative consequences, worked to fight addiction, addiction actually wouldn’t exist.

And so we just have this thing so wrong. Addiction is a problem with learning from punishment, and we expect punishment to fix it. There’s something deeply wrong with that.

The harm reduction approach is much better, she says. Needle exchanges and respect; those work much better than “tough love.” Interventions can backfire – Kirt Cobain killed himself after an intervention. I did not know that, even though I drive past his house when I take Cooper for walks along Lake Washington. (You’d think I’d have picked it up as local knowledge, I mean.)

Then there’s a part where they talk about 12 step programs, and Gross keeps saying they’re very successful, which annoyed me because the stats for 12 step are terrible. It’s a huge myth that they succeed – they rarely do.

GROSS: So, you know, a lot of people have been able to give up their addiction, whether it’s drugs or alcohol, with the help of 12-step programs. And I think it’s fair to say a 12-step program helped you, although there are things that you found were not helpful within the program.

But you say, like, just relying on 12-step programs is the equivalent of saying to somebody who has cancer, we’re not going to give you any drugs. But here’s a self-help group. It’s really going to help you.

SZALAVITZ: I think the 12-step programs are fabulous self-help. I think they can be absolutely wonderful as support groups. My issue with 12-step programs is that 80 percent of addiction treatment in this country consists primarily of indoctrinating people into 12-step programs. And no other medical care in the United States is like that. We don’t tell people with cancer that you must learn to surrender to a higher power, to pray, to confess to your sins, to make restitution.

If you went to a doctor for cancer and you were told that, you would think that you had found a quack. But in addiction, if you go to a treatment center, you will be told this is the only way. And the alternative is jails, institutions or death. So what I think is that we need to have within professional treatment no 12-step content.

That too is a problem, but I don’t think they should be called fabulous self-help when they seldom work. I think I blogged about a long article on the subject in The Atlantic last year, including this stark passage:

In his recent book, The Sober Truth: Debunking the Bad Science Behind 12-Step Programs and the Rehab Industry, Lance Dodes, a retired psychiatry professor from Harvard Medical School, looked at Alcoholics Anonymous’s retention rates along with studies on sobriety and rates of active involvement (attending meetings regularly and working the program) among AA members. Based on these data, he put AA’s actual success rate somewhere between 5 and 8 percent. That is just a rough estimate, but it’s the most precise one I’ve been able to find.

Szalavitz explains why 12 step programs shouldn’t be pushed on people some more, and Gross just repeats the myth about their success.

That doesn’t mean that professional treatment can’t refer people to AA as a support group. But professional treatment should consist of things that you cannot get for free elsewhere. So it should consist of cognitive behavioral therapy or motivational enhancement therapy or any of a number of different talk therapies that help people with addiction. I am not saying if 12-step programs work for you, you should quit them and do something else.

I am saying that your oncologist is not your breast cancer support group.

GROSS: But, I mean, 12-step programs do help so many people.

No. They don’t. That’s a myth. (What’s the source of the myth? Why, 12-step programs!)

SZALAVITZ: The data shows that cognitive behavioral and motivational enhancement therapy are equally effective. And they have none of the issues around surrendering to a higher power or prayer or confession. I think that one of the problems with the primary 12-step approach that we’ve seen in addiction treatment is that because the 12 steps involve moral issues, it makes people think that addiction is a sin and not a disease.

The only treatment in medicine that involves prayer, restitution and confession is for addiction. That fact makes people think that addiction is a sin rather than a medical problem. I think that if we want to de-stigmatize addiction, we need to get the 12 steps out of professional treatment and put them where they belong as self-help.

And not very effective self-help at that. I think they should be seen as support groups and nothing more.

In the hands of strangers

Jul 10th, 2016 4:04 pm | By

Joanne Payton pointed out this article by Afak Afgun to me, on that issue of women being banned from funerals in some Muslim countries or cultures or both.

She starts with the loving relationship she had with her father, and his death at the age of 46.

It was after his death that I became more aware of my gender. I cannot forget the day I saw his dead body. This was not to be the worst part of my day. Random Pakistani adults were coming up to me, as the eldest child, and telling me that now I have to be the ‘son’- as if a daughter couldn’t do what a son could. My father had never made me feel inferior because of my gender. All of a sudden everyone around me was communicating that I should feel bad because I was a girl and not a boy. It was devastating to hear such insensitive comments thrown at me, disguised as ‘sincere advice’ when this tragedy had befallen my family. There was not just sorrow, but pity in people’s eyes. Why? Because our nuclear family now consisted of just females, and a five-year old boy. I had never felt so insecure, frustrated and helpless. The day my father died was the day when I became exposed to the misogyny and hypocrisy engrained within the patriarchal culture I belong to.

He protected her from the patriarchal culture, but once he was gone, it came crashing down on her. It takes a whole world to resist patriarchal culture.

Our voices were sidelined in all the decisions around the funeral. My father’s wish for a quiet grave by a lake was ignored because the men in my extended family preferred a funeral in Pakistan. My sisters and I protested, but we were told not to quibble over such a ‘trivial matter’. My mother, raised in this very traditional, conservative and patriarchal society, complied with the men of the family. She had her own fears to deal with. Fear of exclusion from the family, fear of being stranded in Pakistan, fear of losing the custody of her children: a sad reality of countless young divorcees and widows in Pakistan.

So she left the girls with an aunt in Norway while she and the boy went to the funeral in Pakistan.

Funerals are an essential ceremony in many cultures. Even though funerals might be a traumatizing experience for some, for many, it is a chance to say farewell, pay respects and take final goodbye with the loved ones. For my sisters and me, having this opportunity taken away from us was not just gross discrimination, but I believe also caused unnecessary suffering.

Like many religious ceremonies across the globe, traditional Islamic funerals are also influenced by androcentric interpretations. Traditionally, the women do not attend the gravesites nor take part in the burial rituals in many countries. A few years ago, I learned about Afghan women who buried a woman without men present, and how an American Muslim woman flouted at her local imam and attended her father’s funeral. This is when I fully understood the unfairness of male-centered ceremonies and its negative impacts on women. Sadly, many women from Muslim heritage unquestionably accept such forms of exclusion from meaningful ceremonies and rituals of life. I find this profoundly worrisome.

So do I. It’s an exclusion I hadn’t been aware of before, and I find it dreadfully sad.

It was my mother, sisters and I, who nurtured my sick father, and who loved him. It still doesn’t make sense to me that we had to leave him in hands of strangers just because we were women. Those men did nothing for him when he was alive. So why should they get the privilege of burying him? Just because they are men?

We need to do better.

It’s the preaching

Jul 10th, 2016 3:43 pm | By

Irshad Manji says why it’s not enough for apologists for Islam such as CAIR to condemn the slaughter at Pulse.


No good-bye for you

Jul 10th, 2016 11:12 am | By

I mentioned yesterday that the BBC photo of the crowd at Edhi’s funeral seemed to show only men. I’m now learning that in some majority-Muslim countries women are barred from all funerals, period. The Muslim Women’s League puts it this way:

The custom of excluding women from funeral ceremonies is a cultural tradition garbed in Islamic clothing that varies from one place to another, applied for example in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia but not necessarily in Egypt or Syria. Iran, considered by several media in the West as the most fundamentalist state in the Middle East, does not bar women from attending funeral services.

I find that heart-breaking.

He helped everyone without distinction

Jul 10th, 2016 10:50 am | By

Kashif Chaudhry on Facebook:

Extremist “Khatme Nabuwwat” group warns Muslims against Abdul Sattar Edhi and donating to his charities. In another message three years ago (attached), they prayed for his death and cursed him, calling him a disbeliever and blasphemer. Reason: He helped everyone without distinction and praised the Ahmadiyya Muslim community’s humanitarian work across the world.

Edhi is Pakistan’s supreme pride. The shameless & extremist Khatme Nabuwat group should be called out for spreading hate and poison in young minds against one of the world’s leading humanitarians. He is far more Muslim in my mind than all these ignorant mullahs combined. ‪#‎EdhiMyHero‬

Religion, eh? Tribalism first, universalist humanitarianism nowhere.

A fundamentalist agenda that seeks to communalise law and social policy

Jul 10th, 2016 9:18 am | By

Pragna Patel and Gita Sahgal explain the concerns behind the open letter to Teresa May on the Sharia inquiry.

In 2015, the UK government announced that it would hold an independent inquiry into the operation of Sharia Councils in the UK.  Predictably, some dismissed the move as yet another example of ‘Muslim bashing’ and ‘Islamophobia’ because it was located within the State’s counter- extremism strategy.

But some of us welcomed the inquiry precisely because it provided a vital and rare opportunity for the state to examine the resurgence of religious fundamentalism and extremism within black and minority communities in the UK, and its impact on gender equality and justice.

For years, many of us have been in the forefront of challenging minority religious fundamentalist and conservative forces, particularly Islamists, who want to legitimate the role of religion in the legal system. We have opposed the slow but insidious drip-drip effect of a fundamentalist agenda that seeks to communalise law and social policy in relation to women and family matters, bearing fruit in developments such as gender segregated seating in universities and the Law Society’s promulgation of ‘Sharia’ compliant legal guidance on inheritance. We have warned against those who tout Sharia or religious personal laws as alternative and ‘authentic’ forms of community mediation and governance: a profoundly regressive idea that has increasingly gained traction in this age of austerity and the state’s retreat from its promise to look after its citizens from the cradle to the grave.

We had hoped and understood that the inquiry into these alarming developments – that are conveniently ignored by some civil rights campaigners who decry state but not fundamentalist abuse of power – would be truly independent. However, we are now dismayed to learn that far from examining the key connections between religious fundamentalism and women’s rights, the narrow remit of the inquiry will render it a whitewash; and instead of human rights experts and campaigners, it is to be chaired and advised by theologians. The danger is that the inquiry is setting out with a pre-determined objective that will approve the expansion of the role of Sharia and religious arbitration forums and their jurisdiction over family matters in minority communities, albeit with a little tweaking to make it more palatable to the state.

Theology and human rights are fundamentally opposed. Human rights are human, secular, this world; they’re not about gods or “God.” The problems with religious laws and tribunals are human rights problems, so bringing in theologians to consult on them is quite the wrong way to go about it.

Those of us who work with abused and vulnerable women, largely from Muslim and other religious backgrounds, are alarmed by the prospect of a further slide towards privatised justice and parallel legal systems in the UK.  We know that in such systems vulnerable women and children will be even more removed from the protection of the rule of law and governance based on secular citizenship and human rights norms. These are norms that we, along with others worldwide, have struggled to establish within formal domestic and international legal systems.

At a time when we are threatened with the loss of the Human Rights Act, our concerns about the make up and terms of reference of the inquiry raise profound issues of constitutionality, legality and democratic accountability. It is for this reason, that an unprecedented number of women and human rights campaigners from across the world have come together to endorse the following open letter to Theresa May, the UK’s Home Secretary.

Then follows the open letter, which you’ve already seen.

Shamsia Hassani

Jul 10th, 2016 8:52 am | By

From A Mighty Girl:

A young Afghan street artist is helping transform Kabul’s war-torn walls into colorful canvases filled with messages of peace, hope, and female empowerment! 28-year-old Shamsia Hassani, Afghanistan’s first female street artist, hopes to use her art to “cover all the bad memories of war from people’s minds with colors,” while at the same time promote women’s rights. “I want to show that women have returned to Afghan society with a new, stronger shape,” she says. “It’s not the woman who stays at home. It’s a new woman. A woman who is full of energy, who wants to start again.”

Hassani, who was born in Iran to Afghan refugee parents, moved to Afghanistan in 2005 to study Fine Art at Kabul University. She first started creating street art after a British graffiti artist named Chu held a workshop in Kabul in six years ago. Street art, she says, appealed to her because it is so accessible to the general public; “I think that graffiti is better because all people can see it and it is available for all time.” Although the Western world often considers graffiti a crime, in Afghanistan, where there are few art galleries but plenty of blank walls, graffiti and street art are embraced as an opportunity to make cities more beautiful.

There’s a difference between graffiti and street art aka murals, isn’t there?

Hassani, who also teaches graffiti at the University of Kabul, adds that “life as a female street artist poses particular problems when people who believe women should be in the home see her at work. “I worry all the time about security problems when I am in the street,” she says, “and maybe that something will happen, and I am afraid that I should leave.” But she is determined to continue spreading her art as a message of hope: “If I color over these bad memories, then I erase [war] from people’s minds. I want to make Afghanistan famous because of its art, not its war.”

In particular, Hassani intends to continue using her art to highlight women’s issues. “In the past, women were removed from society and they wanted women to stay only at home and wanted to forget about women,” she says. “Now, I want to use my paintings to remind people about women… I am painting them larger than life. I want to say that people look at them differently now.”

You can see more images of Hassani’s graffiti series on HuffPost — or follow her on Facebook at Shamsia Hassani.


An ancient art form deeply rooted in national history

Jul 9th, 2016 6:07 pm | By

A matador was gored to death by a bull today.

Victor Barrio, 29, a professional bullfighter, was killed when the bull’s horn pierced his chest.

The fight, in the eastern town of Teruel, was being broadcast live on TV.

Bullfighting really pisses me off. National tradition, skill, artistry, blah blah – yes but all of that is in aid of torturing an animal to death in front of a crowd, as entertainment. It’s fucked up six ways from Sunday, and it should just stop.

About 2,000 bullfights are still held every year in Spain, but the numbers are falling. In 2010, Catalonia became the second Spanish region after the Canary Islands to ban the tradition.

Opponents describe the blood-soaked pageants as barbaric, while fans – including Mr Rajoy – say the tradition is an ancient art form deeply rooted in national history.

So what? “Ancient” doesn’t excuse anything. “Art form” doesn’t excuse torture. “Deeply rooted in national history” doesn’t excuse anything.

Cat, what’s your opinion?

Jul 9th, 2016 5:47 pm | By

Erica Wood

“Cat, what’s your opinion on the UK leaving the EU?”

“I think you should repeatedly ask to leave, then when the door opens just sit there and stare at it. That’s what I would do.”

There is a difference between focus and exclusion

Jul 9th, 2016 12:16 pm | By

There’s a thing on imgur being passed around: a letter from “Concerned Students” – which probably just means A Student – to a law professor, and the law professor’s reply. The letter is both fatuous and objectionable, but the reply is a joy. The LP takes it as a teachable moment, and teaches the fuck out of it.

Mavaddat Javid posted it on his blog, which makes it easy to quote from it.

Here’s the beginning of the letter, to give a taste of its bullying tone and its faulty logic:

We write this letter to you with concern about your inappropriate conduct at ████ Law School.
Specifically you have presented yourself on campus, on at least one occasion, wearing a “Black Lives Matter” t-shirt. We believe this is an inappropriate and unnecessary statement that has no legitimate place within our institution of higher learning. The statement you represented and endorsed is also highly offensive and extremely inflammatory. We are here to learn the law. We do not spend three years of our lives and tens of thousands of dollars to be subjected to indoctrination or personal opinions of our professors.
████ Law School has prided itself on the diverse demographics represented within the student body. Your actions however, clearly represent your view that some of those demographics matter more than others. That alienates and isolates all non-black groups.

As someone who is charged to teach criminal law, it should be abundantly clear to you and beyond any question that ALL lives matter, as it is expressed unequivocally in the law. Furthermore, the “Black Lives Matter” statement is racist and anti-law enforcement and has been known to incite violence in this country. As someone who is paid to teach the law, you should be ashamed of yourself.

And for the fun part, some of the LP’s teaching. Do read the whole thing.

When your argument is based on a series of premises, you should be aware of them. You should also be aware that if any of these premises are factually flawed or illogical, or if the reader simply doesn’t accept them, your message will collapse from lack of support. Here is a short list of some of the premises in your memo, and my critique of them.

Premise: You have purchased, with your tuition dollars, the right to make demands upon the institution and the people in it and to dictate the content of your legal education.

Critique: I do not subscribe to the “consumer model” of legal education. As a consequence, I believe in your entitlement to assert your needs and desires even more strongly than you do. You would be just as entitled to express yourself to us if the law school were entirely tuition free. This is because you are a student, not because you are a consumer.

Isn’t that beautifully done? LP doesn’t accept CS’s premise that students’ rights can be bought and sold, and thus LP has a stronger belief in CS’s student rights than CS does. Very very elegant.

Premise: You know more about legal education than I do.

Critique: You don’t.

Most of the critiques are detailed and argumentative. That one isn’t.

Premise: There is an invisible “only” in front of the words “Black Lives Matter.”

Critique: There is a difference between focus and exclusion. If something matters, this does not imply that nothing else does. If I say “Law Students Matter” it does not imply that my colleagues, friends, and family do not. Here is something else that matters: context. The Black Lives Matter movement arose in a context of evidence that they don’t. When people are receiving messages from the culture in which they live that their lives are less important than other lives, it is a cruel distortion of reality to scold them for not being inclusive enough.

I would make one small edit there – it should be “If one says something matters, this does not imply that nothing else does.” Two more words. And no, it does not, just as if one says women are people this does not imply that men are not. I’m getting very bored with people ignoring that obvious truth.

Premise: What you think something means is the same as what it actually means.

Critique: We are all entitled to (and should make every effort to) discern meaning. There can be reasonable differences of opinion about what something means. Something can even carry a meaning that has a larger life of its own, regardless of the meaning ascribed to it by a particular person. For example, the flag of the Confederacy carries the meaning of white supremacy, even if a particular person thinks it only means “tradition.” One person, or even a group of people, cannot take away the flag’s odious meaning just by declaring that it means something else. Similarly, ascribing a negative meaning where none exists does not bring that meaning into being.

As a factual matter, I’m not sure that last sentence is accurate. Ascribing a negative (I would call it pejorative) meaning can bring that meaning into being if there’s a receptive audience for it. Lies can be believed. It’s more accurate to say that ascribing a pejorative meaning does not automatically change what people originally meant.

Anyway – read the whole thing.

If more people thought that way

Jul 9th, 2016 11:42 am | By

Many of my friends are mourning the death of Abdus Sattar Edhi. The BBC has details:

Renowned Pakistani philanthropist Abdul Sattar Edhi, who dedicated his life to the poor, has died at the age of 88.

Mr Edhi’s family said he died on Friday at a medical centre in Karachi where he had been having treatment for weeks.

The Edhi Foundation now provides a broad range of free social services, including ambulances, orphanages and support for the elderly and disabled.

His funeral was today. Thousands of people went. The Beeb has photos of the crowd. (Sadly it appears to be pretty much all men.)

Nobel peace laureate Malala Yousafzai described Mr Edhi as a “legendary figure”.

“He lived his life for the lives and happiness of others and that is why he is a role model. I haven’t seen anyone else like him,” she told the BBC.

She also repeated her call for him to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Mr Edhi came from a family of Gujarati traders and arrived in Pakistan in 1947.

But he decided to take up philanthropy after seeing how the state failed to help his family care for his paralysed and ill mother, Dawn newspaper reported.

He opened his first clinic in 1951 and the Edhi Foundation grew to be the country’s largest welfare organisation, running schools, hospitals and ambulance services across the country, often plugging gaps in services which the state simply fails to provide.

Which is somewhat surprising, given the status of Islam in Pakistan and what we’re always told about Islam’s concern for the poor.

Correspondents say Mr Edhi was Pakistan’s most respected figure and was seen by some as almost a saint.

In 2014 he told the BBC that simplicity, honesty, hard work and punctuality were the cornerstones of his work.

“It is everyone’s responsibility to take care of others, that’s what being human means. If more people thought that way, so many problems could be solved,” he said.

The truth in a nutshell.

Next be your family

Jul 8th, 2016 12:45 pm | By

Ewa Banaszak on Facebook yesterday:

This is what has happened to our family last night !! This is so sad and disturbing to go through… Especially that we have been in here for 10 years, working, studying and putting all that we can… Please share and spread the word so that it doesn’t happen to someone else!!!

To stało sie w naszym rodzinnym domu wczoraj wieczorem !!! Jest to tymbardziej smutne i niepokojące przez co przechodzimy… Tymbardziej że mieszkamy tutaj 10 lay, pracujemy, uczymy sie i wkładamy wszystko co możemy… Proszę o udostępnianie i nagłaśnianie żeby się to nie powtórzyło…

Updating to add:

The BBC reports:

A Polish family are “scared to go out on the streets” after a racially motivated arson attack at their home.

Ewa Banaszak said her family wanted to stay but racist comments have “intensified” since the referendum.

Police said the fire was started deliberately in a shed at the house in Plymouth and a “hate-filled letter” containing threats was sent.

Ewa Banaszak, aged 22, has lived in Plymouth with her family for nine years. She described what happened: “My sister was in the bathroom and noticed the shed was on fire from the garden.

“The shed contains bicycles, an electric lawnmower and trimmer – there wasn’t any fuel in it. My dad used the hose to try and fight the flames. It wasn’t working well so he opened the doors and hosed inside.”

Ms Banaszak told the BBC she “didn’t feel safe any more”.

“It has been very intense after the referendum, with people saying ‘go back to your own country’. We’ve had verbal comments over the last couple of years but it has intensified after the vote and now this, which is the most serious incident yet.

“We have been here for such a long time. I will always be Polish but this is our home, where we live and work. People are scared to go out on the streets and speak Polish. We won’t go back.”

The police believe the fire was started deliberately.

No escape

Jul 8th, 2016 11:56 am | By

What was that we were saying about racism and abuse and hatred and violence?

In Fermo, Italy on Tuesday:

A Nigerian man who had recently fled to Europe to escape Boko Haram militants was beaten to death on the streets of Italy this week as he tried to defend his wife against racist abuse.

Emmanuel Chidi Namdi, 36, and his wife Chimiary, 24, were walking through the north-central Italian town of Fermo on Tuesday when a man called Chimiary a “monkey” and tried to grab her, according to local priest Vinicio Albanesi, a friend of the couple.

Namdi intervened, and the resulting fight left him in a coma. He was pronounced dead on Wednesday.


Amedeo Mancini, a 38-year-old Italian man who is part of an “ultras” gang of extremist soccer fans, was arrested Thursday on suspicion of killing Namdi. Mancini told investigators that he’d insulted the couple because he thought they were stealing a car, and he claimed that he’d acted in self defense after Namdi attacked him, HuffPost Italy reported.

But Chimiary told the priest that the attacker had bludgeoned her husband with a road sign and continued to beat him as he lay unconscious on the ground, according to HuffPost Italy.

Read the story of what they went through in Nigeria and then on the escape to Italy and then when they got there, if you want to break your heart. Watch the video of their wedding, performed despite their lack of the documents necessary for a legal marriage.

Namdi’s death this week inspired an outpouring of condolences from officials and supporters around Italy. It also heaped scrutiny on the anti-immigrant backlash flaring up across the continent.

“Today the government is in Fermo with Father Vinicio and local institutions in memory of Emmanuel. Against hate, racism and violence,” Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi tweeted early Thursday.

Fermo Mayor Paul Calcinaro said Namdi’s death was “like a nightmare” and condemned the “creeping racism that cannot and must not find space in any way in our city.”

While the town of 40,000 has overwhelmingly welcomed migrants and refugees, there have been pockets of anti-immigrant sentiment. Several churches hosting refugees have been targeted in bomb attacks in recent months.

Trajectory: bad.

Verbal abuse, spitting and barging

Jul 8th, 2016 10:56 am | By

The Guardian tells us:

Police recorded a 42% rise in complaints of hate incidents – numbering over 3,000 – in the weeks before and after the EU referendum, amid a heated national debate about immigration leading up to Britain’s decision to leave the union.

New figures released on Friday showed a large rise in reported incidents, averaging over 200 a day. Police said 3,076 hate crimes and incidents were reported to forces across the UK between 16-30 June; one week before and one week after the vote on 23 June.

Police chiefs said the rise amounted to a 42% increase in reporting week on week, and an increase of 915 reports compared to the same time last year. Privately some police chiefs fear the real figure could be higher, with past studies suggesting just one in four hate crimes are reported to police.

Also of course there could well be distortions in the reporting caused by Brexit, reporting on Brexit, reporting on post-Brexist racism, all that – people could be prompted to report things that they wouldn’t have otherwise. The reporting of incidents of X doesn’t equate precisely to the actual incidents of X. Reporting is just reporting, and it’s highly fallible.

National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for hate crime, assistant chief constable Mark Hamilton, said:“We now have a clear indication of the increases in the reporting of hate crime nationally and can see that there has been a sharp rise in recent weeks. This is unacceptable and it undermines the diversity and tolerance we should instead be celebrating.

“Forces have been monitoring and managing hate crime more robustly since the attacks in Paris in 2015. We believe that greater awareness and confidence in the police response has contributed to this increase in reporting.”

Police said the main type of offence seen during the 16-30 June period was “violence against the person, which is primarily harassment, common assault and other violence (verbal abuse, spitting and ‘barging’)”.

The trajectory – it is not good.


Jul 8th, 2016 9:29 am | By

The words “Reichstag fire” keep coming to mind.

The Washington Post:

At least five Dallas police officers were killed and seven others wounded Thursday evening in an attack by snipers in downtown city streets that followed a peaceful protest over recent police shootings. The Dallas police chief said an attacker told authorities “he was upset about the recent police shootings” and “wanted to kill white people, especially white officers.”

The city’s downtown suddenly exploded into violence at around 9 p.m. when gunshots echoed through the streets, sending protesters and police officers alike scattering for cover. Authorities said two civilians were also injured during the shooting.

I can see such terrible possibilities flowing from this.

The police had a long conversation with one suspect before they killed him with a robot explosive.

Before they sent in the robot, Brown said, a hostage negotiator talked to the suspect at length.

In those conversations, Brown said the suspect told police that “he was upset about Black Lives Matter” and angered by the recent police shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota that dominated national news this week.

“He said he was upset about the recent police shootings,” Brown said during the Friday morning news conference. “The suspect said he was upset at white people. The suspect stated he wanted to kill white people, especially white officers.”

I’m sure Donald Trump will be too grownup and responsible to capitalize on that.


The incident came on a night when protests raged nationwide over the fatal police-involved shootings of two black men earlier in the week.

On Tuesday morning, Alton Sterling was fatally shot by police in Baton Rouge. Less than 48 hours later, Philando Castile was fatally shot by an officer in Minnesota. Video footage of the killings or their aftermath spread quickly on social media, spurring widespread anger and renewing a debate over race and police departments’ use of deadly force.

As in other cities across the country, protesters gathered in downtown Dallas just before 7 p.m. for a march from Belo Garden Park to the Old Red Courthouse.

For two hours, roughly 800 protesters marched peacefully, chanting and waving signs.

And then at around 9 it all went to hell.

We’re not on a good trajectory here.


A seemingly friendly employee offered her help

Jul 7th, 2016 11:59 am | By

David Futrelle reports on a horrendous thing that was done to Chanty Binx – the red-haired hate figure who’s been abused by the abusive gang online for the past three years.

Now one of her haters has put her back in the spotlight again, and in a supremely creepy manner. Not long ago, you see, Binx stopped by a government-run liquor store in the Toronto area to pick up a bottle of wine. A seemingly friendly employee offered her help.

In fact, he claimed later, he had recognized her from the internet, and was hoping to hear her speak to make sure she really was who he thought she was.

After she left, he somehow accessed the store’s surveillance footage, took a screenshot of her visit to the store, and put it up on Facebook (without the blurs you see below):


Gruesome enough? Woman has the audacity to go to a store, and a worker at the store steals security footage of her and posts it on Facebook with abusive commentary.

This time Binx has decided not to lay low. She spoke with CityNews about the latest twist in the internet war on her. The report is chilling, and well worth watching.

“[I feel like] I’m being watched constantly,” she told CityNews. “No matter what I do, I’m under a monitor.”

Now that the CityNews segment has run, the hate campaign against her has predictably ramped up again.

Futrelle included a selection of the violent fantasies expressed about torturing her to death. There’s one about a gang of men ripping her cunt to shreds and stomping on her ugly tits and smashing her teeth with a hammer and fucking her face until she dies and cutting open her body and pouring in lye. Good healthy stuff, it’s great that they get it out there instead of letting it fester.

What makes me all the more disgusted by this is remembering that Richard Dawkins chose to tell his million-plus followers to go ahead and mock her a few months ago. He told them: “Yes, she deserves abundant mockery, the more the merrier.” It was before the stroke; it may be that he wouldn’t do that kind of thing now even if he hadn’t turned his Twitter account over to the RDF staff…but he did it then. He did it even though many people begged him to stop. Who knows if maybe the guy at the liquor store was encouraged by Dawkins to “mock her” by posting stolen security footage of her buying a bottle of wine.

That’s a very bad tiger to ride.

He has ridden a tiger, and knows the tiger he rides

Jul 7th, 2016 11:24 am | By

A powerful essay by Matthew Parris in the Spectator about feeling, for the first time in his life, ashamed to be British.

I’ve sometimes regretted what we do but never hated what we are. Foibles, yes; miscalculations, yes; selfishness and silliness — well, which of us is immune?

But these last few months I’ve seen a Britain, specifically an England, that I simply do not like. I’ve seen a nasty side, and seen colleagues and friends pander to it in a way I never thought they would. It has made me feel lonely in my own country, and the experience has touched me irreparably.

The reliance of the leaders and opinion leaders of the Leave campaign upon resentment of foreigners, dislike of immigration and — in many cases — hatred of immigrants, has been absolutely disgraceful. It should be a stain upon our conscience.

I’ve been feeling the same thing, from a distance. I’m not used to seeing Britain this way, and it feels horribly sad.

On the day of the result he was near Parliament watching people do a CNN interview.

In front of the camera I saw two people shouting at each other and sensed the argument was out of control. Next up for interview, I sat down to watch. The interviewer was Christiane Amanpour, her interviewee the MEP Daniel Hannan.

I have never seen so violent an argument on TV. Nobody won but both lost their tempers. Amanpour accused Hannan of trying to win the Leave campaign by inciting hatred of immigrants; Hannan insisted he had never done so, had never even argued against immigration, but simply for Britain to ‘take back control’. Shouting, he challenged Amanpour to cite any example of anti-immigrant language he had ever used.

I’m sure the record will bear Daniel out. I doubt he’s a racist or wants sharp reductions in immigration. He will have been fastidious in his language. But his rage was instructive. Beneath the furious denials and the angry demands for chapter and verse was the rage of a man in acute personal discomfort about the company he has kept and the currents in society whose cause it has become his lifetime’s work to champion, while carefully disavowing what drives them. Amanpour hardly landed a blow on Hannan because she did not put the most wounding charge: that he has ridden a tiger, and knows the tiger he rides. He — and I use him only as an eloquent example — raises his hands in repudiation of the destination he hears his followers bawl for, yet offers to take them halfway there. He has only argued (as he shouted at Amanpour) for people to ‘take back control’.

That. I’ve seen some people I know doing that, and it has shocked me to the core.

I once asked Enoch Powell whether, no racist himself, he ever felt squeamish about some who cheered his speeches. He replied — to laughter from our audience — that in politics you take support from wherever it comes. The reply diminished him.

Over the last few months a poison has been seeping through our national life. My faith in my fellow English, in our democracy, and in those who serve it in high places led me wholly to underestimate its potency or its capacity to spread.

‘You just don’t get it, do you?’ Brexiteers have crowed to me: ‘You’re out of touch.’ They are right. I was. I did not know my own country. I do now. And I like it a little bit less.

Trump is doing us the same service. I feel very alienated from a country where Donald Trump is so popular.

Bundy wants a speedy delayed trial

Jul 7th, 2016 9:26 am | By

Ammon Bundy is grandstanding again.

Bundy, looking pale and thin after five months in jail and lacking the quiet vigor he exuded during the 41-day occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Eastern Oregon, has so far never spoken out of turn during proceedings leading to his Sept. 7 trial.

But he shot out of his seat at the end of a hearing on Wednesday where U.S. District Judge Anna J. Brown had earlier denied his request to delay the trial date — a date he argued in February violated his right to a speedy trial.

First he wanted a speedy trial, but now that they’ve scheduled that, he wants a delayed trial. That’s so Bundy.

 Ammon and his brother Ryan initially lead the charge for a trial to start even sooner than is currently planned. When the proceedings began in February, the government warned the court that it could take until the spring of 2017 to prepare for such a complex trial.

But the brothers pushed for the observance of their rights under the Speedy Trial Act, and Judge Brown settled on a start date of Sept. 7.

Ammon and Ryan “were loud and clear leaders on case management issues from the beginning,” Brown said.

And a delay in the Oregon trial would muck up the schedule in Nevada, Brown said, where the Bundy brothers and five other Oregon defendants are also facing charges related to the 2014 showdown at patriarch Cliven Bundy’s Bunkerville, Nevada, ranch where protesters stopped the government from seizing Bundy’s cattle.

During the Oregon occupation, Ammon Bundy led daily press conferences outlining the militants’ demands and describing his legal theory that the Constitution bars the federal government from owning land.

But now his lawyer is complaining about the word “leader” for Bundy – he being so shy and retiring and all.

“Mr. Patrick, I meant no offense,” Brown said. “I am only using the word he has been referred to as.”

Ammon Bundy stood and picked up the thread.

“I want to make sure I won’t be considered the leader for the purposes of sentencing,”he said.
“Of course not,” Brown said. “Please sit down. You have a lawyer to speak on your behalf.”

“I have my rights to speak,” Ammon Bundy said.

“Not right now you don’t,” Brown told him.

Ammon, who over five months of hearings has remained quiet while his lawyers did the talking, turned toward the packed gallery.

“I want it known that both times I have spoken, she has shut me down,” Bundy yelled. “I tried to talk, and she shut me down.”

“Yes she has,” one of his supporters yelled back.

“All right, that’s it,” Brown said, and ordered the courtroom cleared.

It’s a court. It has rules. It’s not personal to Bundy.

Guest post: When you take some of the arguments about race and reword them for gender

Jul 7th, 2016 5:09 am | By

Originally a comment by Artymorty on What exactly did she mean by that?

Well I did some reading around, and — whaddayaknow — everything I could find of the left’s efforts to reconcile their conflicting ideas about gender and race is terribly flimsy. I thought at least I’d find some food for thought, but no. This was the best I could muster:

– “Gender is more deeply rooted in one’s own mind, while race is more forcibly imposed by the surrounding society.” (Hmm citation seriously needed there.)

– Transracialism is about Deception therefore it’s deceitful, whereas transgenderism is about Truth therefore it’s true. (Circular reasoning at its most absurd.)

– Transgendered folks face discrimination and social disapproval in a way that folks who identify outside of their prescribed racial identities don’t. (This doesn’t really address the question — but what’s worse, it isn’t necessarily true, as we’ve seen in the case Arundhati Roy here, and of course Rachel Dolezal last year. Monnica T. Williams, a psychologist writing at Psychology Today, said, “The real issue is that switching from White to Black defies the unspoken social order and therefore elicits social punishment. Dolezal’s parents were so distressed with her “downgrade” that they needed to publicly “out” and humiliate her.”)

– Gender dysphoria is real and recognized in the DSM-5 while “transracial” folk don’t have a named psychological condition. (Well, for one thing, sometimes they do: body dysmorphia is no less “real” than gender dysphoria is; take a look at Lil’ Kim. But more to the point: since when do liberals put so much stock in the supposed wisdom of the DSM of all places?!)

It’s striking when you take some of the arguments about race and reword them for gender. Like this Guardian piece, for example:

Perhaps it feels convenient to white people men who desire to unravel systemic effects of a hyperracialized hypergendered society (especially those effects that they feel affectwhite people men negatively) to embrace the notion of a transracial transgender identity, as if such a thing exists. But to argue that real parity between race and ethnic groups the sexes in the United States exists – and can be exchanged one-on-one – is to deny protections for those groups marginalized by institutional power.


Crossing over […] doesn’t subvert the structure; it reinforces it.


If anything, to believe that one can transfer one’s identity in this way is a privilege – maybe even the highest manifestation of white male privilege. The ability to accept marginalization, to take on the identity of blackness womanhood without living the burdens of it and always knowing you could, on a whim, escape it, is not a transition toblackness womanhood; to use it to further your career or social aspirations is not to become black a woman.


To deny the complexities of racial gender identity is to plead ignorance. To demand that your racial gender identity be seen as fluid because you are inconvenienced bywhiteness maleness and your ambitions are thwarted by other people’s blacknessfemaleness is just a new reason for a very old kind of erasure.

Sounds like a TERI — a Trans(racial) Exclusionary Radical Intersectionalist.


It’s all about collaboration

Jul 6th, 2016 5:14 pm | By

Brian Cox says how Brexit is doubleplus ungood for science.

He thinks ongoing scientific research at all levels is vital. Which brings us, almost neatly, and inevitably, to Brexit — the elephant in every room, pub and Uber journey in the capital. Last weekend thousands of people marched from Trafalgar Square to Parliament to protest against the planned departure from the EU. I ask what effect Brexit will have on the amount of money available for research. “I promised myself I wouldn’t really talk about it,” he demurs. There’s a pause, before he quietly but convincingly does so.

“What you can say as a fact is that we receive more than a billion currency units a year. Pounds, euros, whatever it is, it’s about a billion,” he begins. “So the first question is what happens to that. It’s obviously a big hit to the university research base. That’s extremely problematic.” A member of the Royal Society’s staff points out that “10 per cent of university research funding comes from the EU”. Cox nods.

“Even more urgent is the position of EU nationals in our system,” he says. “Not only in lectureships and professorships but post-docs and students. All these things need addressing. But it’s not just science. There’s an enormous list.”

I suggest that British science might become isolated: unable to attract talent, its own talent unable to travel easily to foreign research posts. “Absolutely,” he nods. “When you look at my fields, particle physics and astronomy, it’s all about European and global collaboration. The European Space Agency, the European Southern Observatory, CERN. The “e” in CERN stands for Europe — our whole science infrastructure is European. The facilities we have are part of a much wider structure: one single country generally cannot afford to build large facilities on its own. It’s all about collaboration.”

And collaboration is quite a good thing, after all. It’s something to strive for. It’s a big improvement on war and fighting.