Notes and Comment Blog


To calm a woman’s zeal

Aug 17th, 2016 4:01 pm | By

So we learn that FGM is practiced in Dagestan. Don’t worry about it though – it’s perfectly healthy.

Ismail Berdiev, the chairman of the North Caucasus Muslim Coordinating Center, told the radio station Govorit Moskva that female circumcision is a healthy, “purely Dagestani custom.”

“As far as I know,” Berdiev explained on air, “it’s done to calm a woman’s zeal somewhat. There’s absolutely no health problem here.”

Ah yes, to calm a woman’s zeal, so that she won’t enjoy sex any more, because if she enjoyed it…well that would be kind of gross, you have to admit. Who needs a woman to enjoy sex? What’s the point of that? It’s the man who’s supposed to enjoy it; all the woman is supposed to do is let him enjoy it. (By not talking for instance.) If she wants to enjoy it too she’ll be all “what about me?” when he just wants to focus on himself.

And there’s absolutely no health problem. She can still have a job and do all the domestic work, don’t worry about that.



Mr America

Aug 17th, 2016 3:26 pm | By

There he is.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump speaks at the Republican national convention in Cleveland, Ohio, July 2016. Photograph: Mike Segar/Reuters



Leaving Mormonism

Aug 17th, 2016 11:24 am | By

The Mormon church is losing people because it’s horrible.

Since November of 2015, when LDS leaders passed an anti-gay policy barring children of married LGBT couples from being baptized, the Mormon church has experienced a steady mass exodus, according to critics of the faith.

The controversial rule, adopted after same-sex marriage became legal in the US, said that if Mormon children of gay parents wanted to be baptized, they would have to denounce same-sex cohabitation and leave their family’s house when they turned 18.

Protests erupted, and within several weeks, Utah attorney Mark Naugle had helped more than 2,600 people file resignation papers.

Family values, eh? Ordering people to denounce and abandon their parents. Nice.

 

Leaving the church can be particularly challenging in a state like Utah, where a majority of residents are Mormon.

“It’s really important for people going through this to know that they’re not alone,” said Steve Holbrook, an ex-Mormon who helps organize mass resignation events.

Some who try to remain in the church and fight for change are ultimately forced out. Kate Kelly, a speaker at the Saturday ceremony, was excommunicated in 2014 after advocating for the ordination of women into priesthood.

Excommunicated for saying that women are human beings too.

The Utah woman said that Mormonism is defined by rituals and that many want to formally celebrate the act of leaving.

“The idea of the mass resignation event is to be able to mark your dissent with the way that the organization treats gay people, people of color and women.”

We’re cheering from the sidelines.



Trump decides no more Mr Nice Guy

Aug 17th, 2016 10:43 am | By

Trump has done a makeover of his campaign, to make it…more aggressive. Huh. There was I thinking it was already as aggressive as it was possible to be, short of opening fire on everyone in sight. But apparently I was wrong, apparently it was all bunnies and flowers until now.

He’s hired the top guy at Breitbart to run things. That all by itself tells us all we need to know. Imagine if he’s elected: will Milo Yiannopoulos be Secretary of State?

Donald J. Trump has shaken up his presidential campaign for the second time in two months, hiring a top executive from the conservative website Breitbart News and promoting a senior adviser in an effort to right his faltering campaign.

Stephen Bannon, the executive chairman of Breitbart News LLC, will become the Republican campaign’s chief executive, and Kellyanne Conway, a senior adviser and pollster for Mr. Trump and his running mate, Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana, will become the campaign manager.

Bill O’Reilly for Attorney General! Pat Buchanan for Secretary of Labor!

People briefed on the move said that it reflected Mr. Trump’s realization that his campaign was at a crisis point. But it indicates that the candidate — who has chafed at making the types of changes his current aides have asked for, even though he had acknowledged they would need to occur — has decided to embrace his aggressive style for the duration of the race.

Who knew he’d ever unembraced it? Not I, certainly.

Mr. Bannon has no experience with political campaigns, but he represents the type of bare-knuckled fighter that the candidate had in Corey Lewandowski, his combative former campaign manager, who was fired on June 20.

Mr. Bannon has been a supporter of Mr. Trump’s pugilistic instincts, which the candidate has made clear in interviews he is uncertain about suppressing. He is also deeply mistrustful of the political establishment, and his website has often been critical of Speaker Paul D. Ryan and Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader.

Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City who has become a close Trump adviser, has also urged the candidate to dig in and prepare to fight harder, and in a more focused way, in what has quickly become one of the nastiest presidential campaigns in modern United States history.

Yeah, that’s the ticket! You haven’t been disgusting enough yet, Donnie, be even worse.

The candidate has bucked efforts to rein in his impulsive behavior, committing repeated gaffes after telling his aides he planned to adopt a more presidential tone.

He can only do what he can do. He can’t pretend to be more intelligent or thoughtful or decent than he is, because he doesn’t know how, because he isn’t intelligent or thoughtful or decent enough to know. He’s not equipped to pretend to be “more presidential” because he’s inferior goods.



She has gone out of her way to make herself unwelcome

Aug 17th, 2016 10:09 am | By

A male political blogger objects, with the utmost politeness and restraint, to a “mouthy” female MP who expects protection after she gets threats.

‘Panic room’ is installed at office by mouthy Labour MP. Who’s paying?

I was just kidding about the politeness and restraint. He clearly thinks he’s being polite and restrained – he repeatedly says as much in the comments – but he’s delusional on that point. The scare quotes are not polite, “mouthy” is not polite, the question about who is paying is not polite.

It’s very hard to gauge the moral rights and wrongs of this situation.

Nobody should be put in fear for their life while carrying out a job that doesn’t carry that kind of risk with it – and I would certainly suggest that being a representative of the people like an MP should not.

However, Ms Phillips has gone out of her way to make herself unwelcome among a large proportion of the Labour Party’s members and supporters.

Look at that. It’s so classic. He’s (passive aggressively) indignant because a “mouthy” woman MP has “made herself unwelcome” – i.e. said things he doesn’t like. It’s as if he thinks female MPs should seek his permission before saying things he doesn’t like. And he’s hinting that she sort of kind of deserves threats in return.

Not only that; she has done this in her spare time – not as part of her work. You only have to look at her Twitter feed to see that she is an abrasive character.

How dare some woman be an abrasive character? Bitch.

You can probably tell, dear reader, despite the diplomatic language above, that I’m sick of her un-Parliamentary behaviour myself.

But I would not threaten her, and I certainly would not try to follow through on any threats she had received.

How kind, how generous, how forbearing. And such an elegant writer, with his despites and his dear readers – another Samuel Johnson, except not.

If she feels unwelcome, then the way she responds to that is a matter for her conscience.

But This Writer certainly hopes she is not claiming expenses for any structural alterations to her office or home that have been necessitated as a result of her own behaviour.

In other words – the bitch deserves it, because she’s a bitch, and she’d better not expect safety as part of her job, because it’s her own damn fault that she’s a bitch.

Mike Sivier, this genius is called.



How he remained untouched for so long

Aug 16th, 2016 5:59 pm | By

The Guardian explains more about Choudary’s activities.

Anjem Choudary and his extremist groups are believed to have inspired at least 100 people from Britain into terrorism, including organisations committed to campaigns of murder against the west, the Guardian has learned.

Documents from intelligence sources say his groups were at the heart of the Islamist movement in Britain, which has been left facing a “severe” threat of jihadi attack.

The defense of free speech depends to some extent on an absence of people like Choudary. If you have people who really are “inspiring” others to commit mass murders, then it becomes a lot more difficult to say those people have an absolute right to free speech. It’s no longer enough to say you can’t tell the mob to kill the corn factor when the mob is already outside the corn factor’s house. You have to say you can’t tell the mob to kill the corn factor at some unspecified time in the future, when you know the mob is actually going to do it.

The conviction represents only a fraction of the jihadi mayhem to which the lawyer is linked.

People connected to Choudary and his groups who turned to terrorism include Michael Adebolajo, one of the men who murdered the soldier Lee Rigby on a London street in 2013.

See that’s a problem. Free speech is a good…but not inspiring people to commit murder is also a good.

Choudary was a key figure for a succession of extremist Islamist groups. He was dismissed as a clown by some, while helping inspire youngsters to turn to terrorism in Britain and Europe, and enjoyed frequent media appearances.

That dismissal as a clown turns out to have been a big mistake.

It’s much the same with Trump. He’s a clown all right, but that doesn’t mean he can’t do immense harm.

A conservative estimate is that no less than 100 people from Britain linked to Choudary or his groups have fought or supported violent jihad, according to counter-terrorism sources. The figures were supported by a leftwing anti-extremism group that has studied the influence of al-Muhajiroun and its successor groups.

That number increases on taking into account those in Europe who joined organisations such as Isis after being involved with extremist groups Choudary helped establish or inspire, such as in Belgium and the Netherlands.

Choudary’s influence in Europe was such that the Dutch intelligence agency AIVD assessed him to be a key influence in the spread of the jihadi movement in the Netherlands. A spokesperson for AIVD said it stood by its assessment of Choudary’s central role in the UK first, and then Europe, set out in a 2014 document: “Since the 1980s the UK has harboured an active Islamist movement propagating an anti-democratic, intolerant and sometimes explicitly violent ideology.

“At its heart is the now banned group Islam4UK, previously known as al-Muhajiroun, al-Ghurabaa and Muslims Against Crusades. Its most familiar faces are Omar Bakri (currently resident in Lebanon) and Anjem Choudary, who acts as its spokesman. Modelling itself closely on this British movement, Sharia4Belgium was active in Belgium for several years …”

Belgium? What could possibly go wrong?

According to the European law enforcement agency Europol, Sharia4Belgium “engaged in organised indoctrination and recruitment of young people to participate in the armed conflict in Syria”. Choudary praised its leader after more than 40 of its members were convicted of terrorism.

The groups Choudary led were “the single biggest gateway to terrorism in recent British history”, says one study on his activities, details of which are published here for the first time, from the leftwing group Hope Not Hate. It said: “Over the last 15 years he has influenced and inspired over 100 Britons who have carried out or attempted to carry out terrorist attacks at home and abroad.”

Not such a joke after all, is he.

According to research from Hope Not Hate, supported by a counter-radicalisation expert who has worked with al-Muhajiroun members, Choudary helped Isis gain British recruits.

Hope Not Hate said: “In the six months following the creation of the Islamic State, Choudary was its biggest cheerleader in the English-speaking world and the network he helped create became the largest recruiter for IS in Europe.”

Choudary’s ability to operate in plain sight, seemingly without legal sanction, raises many questions. Sources in Britain’s Muslim community say Choudary was reported to the police, with some in the UK’s Islamic communities left baffled about how he remained untouched for so long.

Everybody thought he was a clown? Everybody thought it was free speech?

Not very reassuring, is it.



Paradigm

Aug 16th, 2016 5:02 pm | By

Seriously, go to Google Images and type in “vulgarian” to see what happens. It’s quite hilarious.

If that’s too much trouble, just click here.

H/t Charles Sullivan



It was never an issue

Aug 16th, 2016 12:27 pm | By

Trump says he’ll “never, ever forgive” voters if he loses the election.

What a strange man. Does he think we care? Does he think we’re all best friends, and we’ll be crushed and mournful and forever saddened if he never forgives us?

Dude, I’ll never ever forgive you for running for this election, but you didn’t ask me and I don’t expect you to care. It works the same way for you. We don’t love you, we’re not your buddies, and we don’t care whether you forgive us or not. We’re not invested in you. We’re just not that into you. We don’t think about you except when you force yourself on our attention the way you’ve been doing. You don’t matter to us except as a threat and an embarrassment.

You’re a vulgar, trashy, nasty little man. We look forward to never thinking about you again.



Our lives mean nothing

Aug 16th, 2016 11:51 am | By

A story out of Pakistan:

A British teenager claimed she was forced at gunpoint in Pakistan to marry her cousin, who raped her everyday for three years.

Tasbassan Khan [not her real name] alleged she was 15 when her aunt told her she was going on a summer holiday to Pakistan. Khan’s father had murdered her mother when she was 12, leaving her and three brothers in the care of their aunt in Doncaster, South Yorkshire.

Well that’s a jolly start to life.

Now 26, Khan told the Sunday Express, “I thought I was going to Pakistan on holiday. I was excited. Then two months passed and it was time to start the school year. I asked my uncle when I should go back and he just kept saying, stay a bit longer for weeks. After four months, he came up to my room with a gun and told me I had to marry my cousin.”

“I kept refusing, but he told me that if I didn’t do it he would kill my brothers. I was terrified but felt I had no choice. On my wedding night my cousin raped me. I thought my cousins were family. It felt so wrong. He raped me every night for three years. I felt I was a sex worker, stuck in that room. I was ashamed,” she added.

She was a sex worker, stuck in that room. A sex worker, a rape victim, a kidnapping victim. And worse, because it was family doing it to her.

After three years of torture, Khan was granted a divorce by a local Pakistani court and returned to the UK in 2008. The 26-year-old is now working with schools in collaboration with the organisation It’s My Right: No Forced Marriages, to fight the issue of forced marriages.

But that doesn’t mean she’s ok now. It’s left her emotionally scarred.

She has also urged the British government to take action to protect girls who are sent abroad and later forced into marriage.

“I don’t think they understand Asian communities. In Muslim families honour is incredibly important. His brother lives nearby and every time he walks past my house he spits.”

Khan further claimed that her brothers too, failed to support her. “Even my brothers aren’t supportive. I went to Women’s Aid but the Asian women there know my family. If I talked to them, they would tell them.”

“In Muslim culture, the girl is supposed to do as she is told. The backward people from villages in Pakistan think they can do what they want with us. Our lives mean nothing. We are just a way to get a visa. They will do anything to get someone over here. If they’ve family abroad, they gain respect,” Khan added.

That’s the situation Anjem Choudary would like to see everywhere.

H/t Lejla



Except it wasn’t a game

Aug 16th, 2016 10:58 am | By

Dominic Casciani takes a closer look at Anjem Choudary’s conviction, in a piece that was clearly already written and just waiting for the news to go public. Maajid Nawaz also has an already-written piece, that will be in the Times tomorrow.

The scenes would change – but not the words.

The flag of Islam will fly over Downing Street, was his favourite prediction, followed by some kind of rhetorical flourish. “The Muslims are rising to establish the Sharia… Pakistan, Afghanistan and perhaps, my dear Muslims, Londonistan.”

He would greet the journalists with a smile, and some guile, dressed up as charm.

One day outside Regent’s Park Mosque (he was banned from ranting inside its premises) he told the crowd he was honoured that I had turned up to hear him speak. He liked playing games. It gave him a sense that he was winning.

I suppose that’s why so many people thought he was a joke. But people can be ridiculous, ignorant, stupid, inadequate, and still do horrific things. Hitler looks like a screaming nonentity to us; Trump looks like a clown; Eichmann was a damn fool; it doesn’t matter.

Except it wasn’t a game. The evidence now shows that Anjem Choudary is one of the most dangerous men in Britain. Not a bomb-maker. Not a facilitator. But an ideologue, a thinker, who encouraged others not to stop and think for themselves before they turned to violence to implement their shared worldview.

Not a game at all.

Choudary’s mindset is really simple. There are two worlds – the world of belief, meaning Muslims, and the world of disbelief, everyone else. Assuming for a moment that the world neatly divides into such camps, these worlds are incompatible because the way of life of one threatens the existence of the other.

In his head there can be no compromise, no meeting of minds. Liberal democracy, personal freedom, the rule of law mandated by the people is all an affront to the will of Allah.

And the solution to all of this? A single Islamic state, under Sharia, for the whole world, for all areas of life.

What if you disagree? Well then you are not with him. You are against him – you’re a hostile.

And that’s not specific to Choudary, of course; it’s the theocratic mindset in general.

“I never heard Anjem overtly condoning acts of violence and terrorism,” says Adam Deen, who now works in counter-extremism for the Quilliam Foundation think tank.

“But there was an attitude and atmosphere that would tacitly approve it and at one point it became policy not to condemn acts like 9/11 because it would be seen as supporting the kuffar [disbelievers] and the infidels. So there was a tacit approval behind closed doors.”

And that’s why the charge that led to Choudary’s conviction was perhaps the only one he would ever face – inviting others to support Islamic State, a banned organisation bent on doing what he would never actually do himself. But it would take years, and the freak circumstances of the war in Syria, to lead to the evidence.

And yet he was inspiring murderers long before that.

One man who took Choudary very seriously was Michael Adebolajo. Alongside Michael Adebowale, he murdered Fusilier Lee Rigby outside Woolwich barracks in south-east London in May 2013. Adebolajo once stood alongside Choudary at demonstrations.

When this self-proclaimed “holy warrior” recorded his murder scene video, the rhetoric was straight out of the Choudary network’s book of soundbites.

Choudary said he didn’t “agree” with the killing. But he didn’t condemn it. And he didn’t condemn the 7/7 bombers either.

When IS burst on the scene in June 2014, Choudary’s hand was forced. His acolytes pushed him to announce his support.

One of his closest confidants, Siddartha Dhar, demanded action. “We have to declare our position – enough stalling!” he said in a private social media message.

Choudary and his lieutenants met and ate in one of their favourite Indian restaurants on the Mile End Road in London’s East End.

Two hours later he sent a single word message to his wife, Rubana. “Done,” he wrote.

“Allahu Akbar,” she replied. “I’m so happy.”

And later that night he sent a simple tweet. “May Allah grant success to the Caliph.”

He had backed the Islamic State – and went about telling others in more long lectures about how it met the historic and long-hoped for criteria that he was in a learned position to judge.

He thought he had avoided breaking the law because he was supporting a political concept – not the proscribed terrorist group behind it.

But he was wrong.

He told anyone who would listen that he would love to go there himself if only he could find his suitcase.

Was there now an opportunity to charge him? Scotland Yard reviewed 20 years of intelligence. The Crown Prosecution Service found the key in Section 12 of the Terrorism Act 2000. Anjem Choudary was charged not because of his beliefs in “an” Islamic state – but because he had invited others to support “the” Islamic State group.

Police arrested and later bailed him as they began months of trawling social media for precise evidence that could meet the prosecution test.

When I spoke to Choudary last year, he thought he’d beaten the rap and was absolutely fired up by what was coming over the horizon in Syria and Iraq.

He wasn’t the least bit concerned about the beheading of hostages, the taking of slaves and rape of women and girls by IS fighters.

Of course he wasn’t. That’s the whole point – turning your back on all this sissy compassion and fairness and equality nonsense and getting down to the business of treating people like shit. It’s the Glorious Empire of Sadism.

He didn’t rant in the witness box – he kept his cool – and there were flashes of the old Anjem. Confident, witty and, in his head, winning.

We debated how he would react as the great victim, were he to walk free from court.

Instead, when the guilty verdict came, he said nothing.

Anjem Choudary’s mouth had finally shut.

But he won’t be beheaded or tortured or set on fire. He’s lucky to live where he does.



Anjem Choudary

Aug 16th, 2016 10:03 am | By

Breaking news. Anjem Choudary convicted of inviting people to support Islamic State.

Choudary, 49, drummed up support for the militant group in a series of talks posted on YouTube, the Old Bailey heard.

He was convicted alongside his confidant, Mohammed Mizanur Rahman.

The Met Police said many people tried for serious offences “attended lectures or speeches given by these men”.

Counter-terrorism chiefs have spent almost 20 years trying to bring Choudary, a father of five, to trial, blaming him, and the proscribed organisations which he helped to run, for radicalising young men and women.

But it’s tricky, because free speech.

Both men were charged with one offence of inviting support for IS – which is contrary to section 12 of the Terrorism Act 2000 – between 29 June 2014 and 6 March 2015. The verdict on the two defendants was delivered on 28 July, but for legal reasons can only now be reported.

They made the mistake of swearing allegiance to IS, and publicly announcing it. (How? Twitter, of course. The sixth pillar of Islam, al Twitter.)

Choudary was once the spokesman for al-Muhajiroun, an organisation that can be linked to dozens of terrorism suspects.

Its leader Omar Bakri Muhammad fled the UK after the London suicide bombings on 7 July 2005. Over the years since, Choudary has become one of the most influential radical Islamists in Europe and a string of his followers have either left the UK to fight in Syria or tried to do so.

People used to tell me, when I blogged about him, that he was just a joke.

Supporters of Choudary included:

  • Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, the murderers of soldier Lee Rigby
  • Suspected IS executioner Siddhartha Dhar
  • Omar Sharif, a British suicide bomber who attacked Tel Aviv in 2003
  • Brusthom Ziamani, jailed 12 years later for planning to kill in the streets of London

But he didn’t murder or execute or kill people himself – he just inspired other people to do that.

Rahman used Facebook to tell people to join IS.

Commander Dean Haydon, head of the Met Police’s counter-terrorism unit, said the case which led to the conviction of Choudary and Rahman was a “significant prosecution in our fight against terrorism”.

He said: “These men have stayed just within the law for many years, but there is no-one within the counter terrorism world that has any doubts of the influence that they have had, the hate they have spread and the people that they have encouraged to join terrorist organisations.

“Over and over again we have seen people on trial for the most serious offences who have attended lectures or speeches given by these men.

“The oath of allegiance was a turning point for the police – at last we had the evidence that they had stepped over the line and we could prove they supported ISIS.”

Until then it was free speech.



Those who support bigotry and hatred

Aug 15th, 2016 5:58 pm | By

Ahahahahahahaha – Trump is promising a “test” for immigrants to make sure we don’t let in any terrorists, but what makes that funny is that his proposed test would exclude him. He would fail that test so hard – he would get less than zero. He would owe somebody something, he’d fail it so profoundly.

Donald Trump called Monday for a Cold War-style mobilization against “radical Islamic terror,” repeating and repackaging calls for strict immigration controls — including a new ideological litmus test for Muslim visitors and migrants — and blaming the current level of worldwide terrorist attacks on President Obama and Hillary Clinton.

The speech was one in a series of prepared remarks the Republican presidential nominee has scheduled, amid criticism of controversial off-the-cuff policy pronouncements that he has later dismissed as jokes or sarcasm. Reading directly from a TelePrompter, a subdued Trump rarely departed from his script.

The principal new initiative was what Trump called “extreme vetting” for “any hostile attitude towards our country or its principles, or who believed sharia law should supplant American law. . . . Those who did not believe in our Constitution or who support bigotry and hatred will not be admitted for immigration into our country.”

See what I mean? Trump has an intensely hostile attitude toward many of the principles of our country, and he not only supports bigotry and hatred, he foments and incites them. He’s a hate-filled bigot himself, and the core of his campaign is working other people into a frenzy of bigotry and hatred. He’s the worst bigot and hater anyone has seen campaigning for president in living memory. He’s a flaming, proud, noisy, shameless, red-faced bigot and hater. His proposed ideological test would exclude him.

He’s got a fucking nerve lecturing anyone else about bigotry and hatred.



Table, or ball?

Aug 15th, 2016 5:18 pm | By

There are actual flat earthers – people who believe the earth really is flat, and the only reason we don’t all realize this is because of the Giant Conspiracy.

Flat Earthers have a wide range of convictions. Some come to the movement from a religious place, others from a scientific one. But most believe in one simple principle: that NASA and everyone involved in space exploration are liars and that there is a massive conspiracy to hide the fact that the Earth is flat.

That would have to be such a massive conspiracy.

We can’t all be astronomers or physicists, of course. (I know I certainly can’t.) But I know a thing we can do: we can look at Google Earth, and see for ourselves how minutely accurate it is about everything we can see for ourselves – and that its earth is not flat. You can rotate the Google Earth for yourself. How could it be so accurate about everything and yet be lying about the rotation?

“Most of us believe that Antarctica is not a continent, but rather, the Earth is a disk, the North Pole is at the center and Antarctica is an ice wall around the perimeter,” Patrice explained. “There is no solar system. I mean, there’s a sun, obviously, and a moon and stars, because we can see them. You can also observe the flat Earth with your eyes.”

Actually no. What you can observe is ships disappearing over the horizon. Why do they do that? Because the Earth isn’t flat. If you can’t see the ocean from where you are, you can see planes disappearing over the horizon. Not a conspiracy, just reality.

One of the first people to assert that the Earth is round was Eratosthenes in 240 BCE, an Egyptian librarian who made measurements of shadows in two spots — hundreds of miles apart — at the same exact time. He found that the pillars in one city cast no shadow at noon and the pillars in the other city cast a significant shadow.

“I’m not religious, but I do believe in creation,” Long said. “If you’re coming from a point where you know the Earth is flat, you also know that Earth was created. The two are connected. You can’t be a flat Earther and be an atheist. I’ve never met one; I don’t think there are any out there.”

How are the two connected? Why couldn’t a zany madcap creator create a not-flat Earth? Why assume this creator wants a big table instead of a ball?

I think there should be some people who think the Earth is shaped like a sock, and some who think it’s shaped like a corkscrew, and some who think it’s shaped like an ear of corn.



A choice

Aug 15th, 2016 2:57 pm | By

The AP reports:

The soldier pointed his AK-47 at the female aid worker and gave her a choice.

“Either you have sex with me, or we make every man here rape you and then we shoot you in the head,” she remembers him saying.

She didn’t really have a choice. By the end of the evening, she had been raped by 15 South Sudanese soldiers.

So that’s what you get for being an aid worker.

On July 11, South Sudanese troops, fresh from winning a battle in the capital, Juba, over opposition forces, went on a nearly four-hour rampage through a residential compound popular with foreigners, in one of the worst targeted attacks on aid workers in South Sudan’s three-year civil war.

They shot dead a local journalist while forcing the foreigners to watch, raped several foreign women, singled out Americans, beat and robbed people and carried out mock executions, several witnesses told The Associated Press.

For hours throughout the assault, the U.N. peacekeeping force stationed less than a mile away refused to respond to desperate calls for help. Neither did embassies, including the U.S. Embassy.

War doesn’t make people nicer.



Wisdom

Aug 15th, 2016 10:46 am | By



A decree of apostasy

Aug 15th, 2016 9:50 am | By

The Independent has found a horror in London: Haredi Jews are trying to fundraise a million quid to try to stop divorcing parents taking their children with them out of the reactionary religion. The money is to pay the legal bills.

The Independent has seen flyers for a fundraising event in the Stamford Hill area of London that call for the community to back the bid, saying: “Rescue The Children Convention: We now need one million pounds and therefore the community is requested to join in with a minimum sum of £500.”

The flyers were accompanied by a letter of support from a local rabbi stating they wish to fight cases involving 17 children: “To our great pain, and our misfortune, our community finds itself in a terrible situation – 17 of our pure and holy children where one of the parents, God rescue them, have gone out into an evil culture, and want to drag their children after them.

“This is a decree of apostasy and this situation has motivated our rabbis who are in Israel… to come here in a personal capacity to increase prayer and to gather money for legal fees, and to achieve this a convention has been organised of prayer and also to collect money.”

Theocratic bullying and coercion at its most intrusive.

Campaigners and former community members have told The Independent the tactical funding of legal fees tears families apart by denying those wishing to leave the religion access to their children as a punishment for no longer believing in ultra-Orthodox Judaism.

They say the practice unfairly skews child custody battles in favour of the funded parent who remains in the faith groups, rather than enabling custody to be decided on the basis of the best interests of children.

Because it’s religion, which is about what’s good for the greedy god, not the struggling impaled humans.

An investigation by The Independent earlier this year found more than a 1,000 children in Charedi communities are attending illegal schools where secular knowledge is banned and they learn only religious texts, meaning they leave school with no qualifications and often unable to speak any English.

So it’s not “school” at all then. What they get is not education.

Imtiaz Shams, co-founder of Faith To Faithless an advocacy group for ex-religious people, told The Independent: “Faith to Faithless has come across many parents for whom leaving their faith has had huge consequences for their relationship with their children. Many have had to “go back into the closet” in terms of their lack of faith, even from their own children, simply to protect this bond.

“Leaving faith can put the financial and social weight of the whole religious community against the parent: it is part of the systematic prejudice faced by non-religious people from religious communities. Leaving the Ultra-Orthodox community can be particularly difficult as these parents can be isolated, may not know what their rights are or have the financial and emotional support required to fight these custody battles.”

All to feed a greedy god who sees us as snacks.



A sacred duty to rape these poor women

Aug 14th, 2016 5:21 pm | By

The New York Times reporter Rukmini Callimachi was on Fresh Air the other day. One of the things they talked about was the sex slavery of Yazidi girls and women.

GROSS: So the ISIS men who raped these women and used them as sex slaves, they believed that the Quran gave them justification to do it as long as the women didn’t get pregnant?

CALLIMACHI: Yes, yes. The Quran has about more than a dozen references to the phrase those your right hand possesses. And what scholars of Islam have explained to me is that phrase means a slave. And that phrase comes up in sections that deal with what are the licit forms of sexual intercourse that a man can have? So you can have sex with your wife. You can’t have sex with anybody else except those your right hand possesses, right? Now, what scholars explain to me is that even though the Quran lays out slavery as one of the licit forms of sex with a woman, what ISIS has done is, of course, taken it to a different level.

They’re not just saying that it’s licit. They’re saying that it’s holy. They’re saying that because it was, in their eyes, practiced by the Prophet, Muhammad it is, therefore, a sacred duty to rape these poor women. And some of the most heartbreaking interviews I did were with women who described how the fighters would pray before they raped them. They would then rape them. They would go and take a shower, and then they’d come back and pray again because, to them, the act of the rape was – I don’t know how else to put it – but almost like an act of communion.

GROSS: Leaves me speechless. And the women who you interviewed who were used as sex slaves…

CALLIMACHI: Yeah.

GROSS: …They were mostly Yazidi women, members of a religious minority who…

CALLIMACHI: Right.

GROSS: …ISIS basically practiced genocide on. I mean, they…

CALLIMACHI: Yes.

GROSS: Yeah.

CALLIMACHI: Yes.

GROSS: So these were women who were taken while other Yazidis were being just, like, wiped out.

CALLIMACHI: Right. The only women I’ve spoken to are Yazidi women. And it seems that ISIS singled out this particular ethnic group for this very crime. There have been a few anecdotal cases of Christian women being taken as sex slaves and a few anecdotal cases of Shia women being taken. And, of course, we know the terrible story of the American aid worker, Kayla Mueller, who was also taken in this manner. But those accounts are very much at the anecdotal level. There’s very few of them, whereas with the Yazidis, it was a systematic, planned-out orchestrated thing that they did. They showed up on Sinjar Mountain on August 3 and 4 of 2014 with empty trucks, specifically to fill them with women and to take them back to use them in this underground sex trade.

GROSS: And they’re still doing this? I mean, they’re still practicing…

CALLIMACHI: They’re still…

GROSS: They’re still, like, raping women and…

CALLIMACHI: Absolutely, absolutely. There’s about…

GROSS: …And holding them hostage…

CALLIMACHI: Yeah. There were…

GROSS: …And in slavery.

CALLIMACHI: Right. There were 5,000 – more than 5,000 Yazidi people that were taken by ISIS starting in August of 2014. And Yazidi community leaders and the U.N. say that there’s around 3,000 that are still in captivity. That includes women, children and a handful of men who were allowed to live.

But yes – and they – a lot of them have had, at some level, contact with their families because when you go to the camps in northern Iraq, a lot of the families are spending every ounce of their strength right now trying to come up with the ransoms to essentially pay the smugglers to get their girls out.

So they know that they’re alive. The girls will take the fighter’s cell phone and run off to the bathroom and make a quick phone call or hide his phone and wait for him to leave the house and then call. And so there’s contact. We know that they’re – we know that many of them are still alive. And it’s just absolutely gutting to think what’s happening to them.

It shows where religious thinking can get you – the idea that one man 14 centuries ago made a habit of enslaving Outsider women, therefore it’s a Holy Duty for Insider men now to do the same thing. There’s no need to think about what’s good or bad for the women in question, no need to think about their feelings, no need to wonder if it might be cruel to rape girls who have been kidnapped by an army of strange men. None of that. It’s just about what this one man did 14 centuries ago – all because he’s a “prophet,” and not just a prophet but the prophet – and that justifies the mass rape of Yazidi girls and women, it justifies the murder of Asad Shah, it justifies “marrying” little girls age 9.

It’s a bad bad way of thinking. If a god really does approve of that, that god is a bad bad god.



“Trolling” makes it sound cuddly

Aug 14th, 2016 1:43 pm | By

Sky News talks to Kate Smurthwaite about online abuse and harassment.

It would be nice if Sky News had not stuck the label “Thought Police” next to Kate’s name in the caption. It’s not “thought policing” to want to be free of abuse online.



Writing and editing

Aug 14th, 2016 11:53 am | By

On Saturday Review yesterday they talked about a novel, The Summer That Melted Everything. One of the participants said it was quite good but there was a great deal too much of it, and added with much passion that Americans really need to learn to edit their novels and take out a lot. That resonated with me because I’m reading Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. I found it at a Little Free Library the other day, and was surprised 1. that it was so heavy and 2. that there was a huge heavy Donna Tartt I’d never heard of before. Now, having googled it, I’m surprised all over again about 2, because there was a huge fuss about it in 2013. Lots of mass media critical acclaim, and not quite so mass media critical not-acclaim.

My view is that it’s decidedly one of those novels that need a lot taken out. It’s fairly gripping, but in my case it requires a lot of dancing ahead to keep up the gripping quality. There’s just way too much of it for what there is. There are very long novels that need to be that long because there’s a lot going on. This isn’t that. There’s way too much moment by moment detail, that doesn’t add anything and isn’t all that amusing or beautiful or explanatory or anything else that would justify its presence. Cut cut cut.

And then – I’m finding it fairly gripping but it never occurred to me to think of it as a literary work of art. It’s not. The writing is ok but it’s nothing to make your hair stand on end – and there’s way too much of it, and when there’s way too much, quality becomes hard to discern among all the padding. It’s just the protagonist telling us stuff, often in way too much detail. His voice isn’t particularly distinctive or brilliant.

So it appears there was a to and fro about it back in 2013. Vanity Fair reported on the to and fro.

Michiko Kakutani, the chief New York Times book reviewer for 31 years (and herself a Pulitzer winner, in criticism), called it “a glorious Dickensian novel, a novel that pulls together all [Tartt’s] remarkable storytelling talents into a rapturous, symphonic whole. . . . It’s a work that shows us how many emotional octaves Ms. Tartt can now reach, how seamlessly she can combine the immediate and tactile with more wide-angled concerns.” According to best-selling phenomenon Stephen King, who reviewed it for The New York Times Book Review, “ ‘The Goldfinch’ is a rarity that comes along perhaps half a dozen times per decade, a smartly written literary novel that connects with the heart as well as the mind.”

Meh. No it isn’t. It’s interesting but overstuffed.

But, in the literary world, there are those who profess to be higher brows still than The New York Times—the secret rooms behind the first inner sanctum, consisting, in part, of The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, and The Paris Review, three institutions that are considered, at least among their readers, the last bastions of true discernment in a world where book sales are king and real book reviewing has all but vanished. The Goldfinch a “rapturous” symphony? Not so fast, they say.

Wait. First, nobody considers the Times highbrow. Second, few people consider the New Yorker highbrow. The New Yorker and the NYRB don’t go in the same category.

But on to the backlash:

“Its tone, language, and story belong in children’s literature,” wrote critic James Wood, in The New Yorker. He found a book stuffed with relentless, far-fetched plotting; cloying stock characters; and an overwrought message tacked on at the end as a plea for seriousness. “Tartt’s consoling message, blared in the book’s final pages, is that what will survive of us is great art, but this seems an anxious compensation, as if Tartt were unconsciously acknowledging that the 2013 ‘Goldfinch’ might not survive the way the 1654 ‘Goldfinch’ has.” Days after she was awarded the Pulitzer, Wood told Vanity Fair, “I think that the rapture with which this novel has been received is further proof of the infantilization of our literary culture: a world in which adults go around reading Harry Potter.

In The New York Review of Books, novelist and critic Francine Prose wrote that, for all the frequent descriptions of the book as “Dickensian,” Tartt demonstrates little of Dickens’s remarkable powers of description and graceful language. She culled both what she considered lazy clichés (“Theo’s high school friend Tom’s cigarette is ‘only the tip of the iceberg.’ … The bomb site is a ‘madhouse’ ”) and passages that were “bombastic, overwritten, marred by baffling turns of phrase.” “Reading The Goldfinch,” Prose concluded, “I found myself wondering, ‘Doesn’t anyone care how something is written anymore?’ ”

Exactly. The writing is only adequate. Dickens too was an overstuffer, but at the same time, he was a genius with the language. Stone cold genius. At his very frequent best he’s a hair-stand-on-ender. There’s nothing at all like that in Tartt’s book.

I find these controversies interesting.



Terms

Aug 14th, 2016 10:55 am | By

Someone I don’t know commented on a Facebook thread about a New Yorker article that asks if God is transgender. The comment expresses a very familiar, conventional, and convenient religious idea, but it’s one that makes no sense, and is the source of endless horrors. It’s an idea that should be disputed more often than it is.

Is there no end to the arrogance of humanity? We are constantly making God on our own terms instead of His, which is really nothing more than deciding that we know best and really ought to be God.

There’s so much wrong with that claim. I could go on about it for hours. The most obvious item is that if we can’t use our own terms when it comes to “God” then what are we even talking about? Human terms are all humans have, so why are we talking about a “god” that has entirely different terms?

I asked it there and got an unenlightening reply:

Me: What else can we do? What other terms do we have access to?

Commenter X: His terms. A God we could fully comprehend or explain is too small to be true or be worshiped.

Uh huh. The standard answer, but so useless. In that case, what do we have to do with such a god at all? Why do we worship it? How do we know it merits worship? How do we know anything about it? What kind of ridiculous, bullying game is this in which we’re told to worship something we’re also told we can’t possibly understand?

So I said some of that:

But how can we? How can we do anything with terms that aren’t ours? What is it we’re worshiping if it’s radically separate from our terms?

Also, the problem with saying we mustn’t “make God on our own terms instead of His” is that that means we can’t second-guess any part of God-based morality. But what if it’s the wrong morality? How can we decide which morality to follow if we’re not allowed to “make God on our own terms instead of His”?

Commenter X: All great questions to ask. I believe the Bible is the Word of God, and I believe it answers a lot of those questions, but in order to understand it correctly, we need to know its context. We need to know about the dead sea scrolls, the talmud, the old covenant and the new. And most importantly, we need to believe in Jesus as Lord and pursue a relationship with Him. If we seek Him wholeheartedly, He is faithful to make Himself known.

The familiar cop-out.

But at that rate we can’t have any kind of secular morality at all, we just have to obey words from an old book, while arguing about which words and which book and which interpretation and yadda yadda.

It’s all a cheat. We have to be able to think critically about morality, using the only terms available to us, which are of course human terms. That is not arrogance – the real arrogance is pretending to know which god is the real one and that we have to obey it.