Notes and Comment Blog

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.

Tasneem Khalil

Jul 6th, 2016 3:54 pm | By

Facebook has disabled Tasneem Khalil’s account. He’s been reporting on the people behind the massacre in Dhaka and on the new IS video saying IS is going to keep on attacking Bangladesh. Now Facebook have disabled his account. That’s stupid and wrong and bad.

Tasneem Khalil ‏@tasneem 6 hours ago
Nice! Looks like @facebook has disabled my account for covering news about the rise of ISIS in #Bangladesh. Disappointing.

I understand #Bangladesh government is keen on downplaying/hiding ISIS presence in country. Why is @facebook aiding censorship?

Ridiculous indeed: the way @Facebook censors independent journalism.

Siddhartha Dhar ‏@SiddharthaDha11
@tasneem @facebook that is ridiculous. I can’t believe Facebook did that. What’s wrong with covering a story?
9:48 AM – 6 Jul 2016

He’s a journalist, Facebook. Look him up. Use your brain.

What exactly did she mean by that?

Jul 6th, 2016 12:05 pm | By

A new battle breaks out:

On 1 July, ELLE India featured the extraordinary author Arundhati Roy as the cover woman of the magazine’s July issue, in which she was interviewed on her writing, exercise habits and first new novel in 20 years. The interview also raised the issue of blackness, which MISHKA WAZAR interrogates.

Fans of Roy and her Booker Prize-winning debut The God of Small Things fawned over the cover and interview, which gave rare insights into the life of the private writer and activist.

However, the bubble of idolisation quickly burst somewhere during Roy’s answer to the first question of why she was featured on the cover of ELLE India. Her response was: “Because I have seen dark-skinned women on ELLE covers. I love that. I’m a black woman. Most of us are. Ninety percent of us are.”

Ok so Twitter gotten hip to Arundhati Roy glibly dropping the fact she’s black in a recent Elle interview?

— Zoé S. (@ztsamudzi) July 3, 2016

That “Twitter gotten hip?” is interesting – as if Twitter is the obvious go-to place for wise reflection on issues such as who counts as black and why it matters. Why does anyone think Twitter is useful for that? Twitter is useful for picking fights; it’s not useful for thoughtful discussion.

The answer raised some controversy. Tweeps quickly began to wonder why an Indian woman was calling herself black. What exactly did she mean by that? And who exactly is she referring to when she says that “most of us” are black?

And let’s kick the shit out of her just to be on the safe side, eh?

The use of the term black by non-black people of colour has been a contentious issue in progressive circles of late, especially in South Africa. There has been a Black Pride movement recently on the internet, with hashtags such as #BlackOut gaining popularity all over the world. But even within a positive movement, there are problems. When Jesse Williams spoke at the BET Awards last week, internet trolls were quick to downplay the message of his speech because Williams is mixed-race. Erasure of identity is common where people do not fit into certain circles exactly the way they’re supposed to, and so people began to erase William’s blackness. But how is this navigated when a well-known human rights activist embraces a term that many people believe does not belong to her?

By saying she identifies as black and who is anyone else to say she isn’t black?

No? That’s not the correct answer? That’s odd, I could have sworn…

As a black-identifying woman, Sikhona Nazo, a student at the university currently known as Rhodes (UCKAR), explains that, initially, she didn’t have a problem with Indian people identifying as black, because both Indian and black women are affected by whiteness. However it’s very problematic to refuse to acknowledge that the racism experienced by Indian women is different to the racism experienced by black women. Nazo says that the system is against both groups, but it’s against black women more. As an Indian woman living in India, who is not extremely dark-skinned, Roy has never experienced the same form of systemic and structural racism that black women do, and claiming that she does by embracing that identity is an erasure and dismissal of black women’s painful lived experiences.


Far from satisfactory

Jul 6th, 2016 11:37 am | By

The Chilcot report is out; the BBC summarizes.

Tony Blair overstated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, sent ill-prepared troops into battle and had “wholly inadequate” plans for the aftermath, the UK’s Iraq War inquiry has said.

Chairman Sir John Chilcot said the 2003 invasion was not the “last resort” action presented to MPs and the public.

There was no “imminent threat” from Saddam – and the intelligence case was “not justified”, he said.

The Beeb offers highlights:

  • The circumstances in which it was decided that there was a legal basis for UK military action were “far from satisfactory”
  • The invasion began on 20 March 2003 but not until 13 March did then Attorney General Lord Goldsmith advise there was, on balance, a secure legal basis for military action. Apart from No 10’s response to his letter on 14 March, no formal record was made of that decision and the precise grounds on which it was made remain unclear

It’s hard for me to understand what it even means for one country to decide whether or not there’s a “legal basis” for it to attack another. It seems like a polite fiction, aka a smokescreen.

  • The UK’s actions undermined the authority of the United Nations Security Council: The UN’s Charter puts responsibility for the maintenance of peace and security in the Security Council. The UK government was claiming to act on behalf of the international community “to uphold the authority of the Security Council”. But it knew it did not have a majority supporting its actions

Well that’s the thing, isn’t it – there’s no such thing as “the international community.” It’s a ridiculous label, that nevertheless gets bandied about a great deal. There is the UN, but the U part is another polite fiction – but it is also an aspiration, while the “legal basis” for invasions isn’t even that.

Many alarming signals

Jul 6th, 2016 10:08 am | By

Deutsche Welle has more on that IS video from yesterday.

The video, which was verified by the US-based SITE Intelligence Group and Terror Monitor Group, contained clear signs that the terror group has some Bangladeshi nationals working for it.

One of the Bangladeshi jihadists shown in the video said: “what you witnessed in Bangladesh … was a glimpse. This will repeat, repeat and repeat until you lose and we win and the Sharia is established throughout the world.”

The video also appreciated last Friday’s attack on a restaurant in Dhaka that killed at least 22 people, the majority of them foreigners, from Italy, Japan, India and the United States.

The attackers were mostly from wealthy, liberal families – a development which is new in the country as terrorists involved in the previous targeted attacks were mostly from poor and conservative families.

Tasneem Khalil, a Sweden-based journalist who monitors online channels of jihadists, says the latest video has many alarming signals that need to be considered.

“The video essentially urges Bangladeshis to engage in an IS-led jihad in Bangladesh. This is a significant change from earlier IS’ communication in which people were encouraged to join the jihad in Syria,” he told DW, adding: “I see this as an open declaration of war against the Bangladeshi state.”

Arifur Rahman agrees with Tasneem.

There is much consternation at the fact that the killers and the guys in the video are from liberal rich backgrounds.

Arifur Rahman points out that the overall atmosphere in Bangladesh is filled with religious fervor to such a high level that regular youth-related activities cannot flourish. He said: “Unregulated private universities systematically employ radicalism favoring teachers who then attack gullible young pupils with a toxic narrative of jihadism.”

Religious fervor is like a loaded gun writ large.

Experts believe Bangladesh’s continued denial of the presence of international terror groups in the country will not help. “We have a very curious situation involving, on the one hand, a terrorist group that is openly boasting about its plans through magazine articles and now this video. And on the other hand, we have a government that is pushing those very threats under the carpet,” said Swedish journalist Khalil.

“The Bangladeshi government must immediately take robust steps to protect religious minorities and foreigners in the country – these are the key target groups of IS attacks,” he stressed.

Taslima of course says the same thing. I hope the people in power in Bangladesh pay attention at long last.

Targeted in mass numbers

Jul 5th, 2016 5:25 pm | By

IS has released another disgusting video saying it’s going to kill us all unless sharia is established everywhere.

Hailing the July 1 Gulshan terror attack, international terrorist group Islamic State has now released a video calling for jihad in Bangladesh and threatening more attacks on “crusaders” and “crusader nations.”

The video message believed to be issued from Raqqa in Bangla was first found in an IS-affiliate website and then released on YouTube early Wednesday.

In the video, three of the speakers are of Bangladesh origin, but they could not be identified immediately.

One of them said they would not stop until establishing Shariah law all over the world. “The Jihad that has come to Bangladesh now has been promised by Prophet Mohammed,” he said.

“We will not stop killing the crusaders till then; we will win or die for our religion as martyrs and achieve Sahadaat [martyrdom] … we don’t have anything to lose.”

He termed the current form of democracy a Shirk or unforgivable crime.

“I want to ask you a question: how do you support this ‘Shirk’ notion of democracy? Don’t you know that it gives power to people to enforce law and have power whereas the power belongs to Alllah only? [according to the Qur’an]”

Don’t you know that “Allah” is a figment of the human imagination? That all these supposed rules laid down by “Allah” are just human rules dressed up as coming from a god? You fucking imbecile?

The second speaker labelled the government as kafir.

“Since the govt has changed Allah’s law and has implied man-made law they are all ‘Kafirs’ now. It is our religious duty to fight against it. Crusaders are killing innocents Muslims globally with planes and bomb attacks.

“So the Holey Artisan incident is our revenge to the lost blood of the hundreds and hundreds of Muslims who were killed,” he said.

Why? Why avenge them? They died as martyrs and you just said that’s a win for you.

“We believe the Shariah in Bengal won’t be achieved until the local Hindus are targeted in mass numbers,” said Sheikh Abu Ibrahim al-Hanif, the man leading the operations in Bangladesh, in an interview.

Oh god, it’s too disgusting.

Traffic control

Jul 5th, 2016 4:10 pm | By

You know how people like to use “intersectionalism” as a kind of intellectual bludgeon? Well that’s a silly question; of course you do, because we keep talking about it. Anyway – I’m wondering how they’re dealing with Toronto Pride and BLM. They crashed right into each other at that intersection on Sunday.

Members of the Black Lives Matter Toronto group briefly halted the Pride parade today, holding up the marching for about 30 minutes.

The parade didn’t re-start until after Pride Toronto executive director Mathieu Chantelois signed a document agreeing to the group’s demands.

The organization was given the status of Honoured Group for the parade, which is the grand finale of Pride Month. It did not give Pride Toronto advance notice of their planned sit-in.

In other words BLM was given the status of Honoured Group beforehand, and then halted the parade without warning.

Alexandra Williams, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto, told CBC’s Natasha Fatah that they held the sit-in because they wanted to hold Pride Toronto accountable for what she called “anti-blackness.”

Will Toronto lesbians and gays interrupt the next BLM event? Intersectionalism is supposed to cut all ways, you know.

Meanwhile, a gay Toronto cop has written an open letter to Pride:

This year, 2016, marked a first for me. My first Pride parade. I would be working, nonetheless it would be my first one in any capacity. Wow, what an event. What a spectacle, a joining of everyone.

The 2016 pride events really opened my eyes to something. The support that I have from my peers and supervisors has been unwavering. When I saw all those floats and officers marching (hundreds), I realized that my employer fully supports this part of me, and so many others like me. As I stood post at Yonge and College, ensuring a safe atmosphere, Chief Mark Saunders came up to me. I had the opportunity to salute him, and I knew that I had a leader who was invested in this celebration of Pride.

LGBTQ cops have struggled for decades. I am fortunate, because it is their struggles in the past, that have made my orientation an irrelevant factor in my workplace interactions. Members of police services, and their employers (like RBC, Telus, Porter, etc) have just as much right to participate as any other group.

Police officers are significantly represented in the LGBTQ community and it would be unacceptable to alienate and discriminate against them and those who support them. They too struggled to gain a place and workplace free from discrimination and bias.

I suppose this illustrates why intersectionalism isn’t the answer to all questions. You can invoke it all you want to but it doesn’t resolve issues like this one. It’s tragically easy to understand why BLM doesn’t want to participate in honoring cops as cops – and it’s also easy to understand why LGBTQ cops don’t want to be excluded from Pride. What’s the solution? I have no idea, and invoking intersectionalism doesn’t help me a bit.

A blood libel

Jul 5th, 2016 3:17 pm | By

Here’s a bad thing I overlooked, from the NY Times on June 23:

Echoing anti-Semitic claims that led to the mass killings of European Jews in medieval times, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority accused rabbis in Israel of calling on their government to poison the water used by Palestinians.

He made the unsubstantiated allegation during a speech to the European Parliament on Thursday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said in a statement later that Mr. Abbas had spread a “blood libel” in the speech.

He retracted the claim two days later.

Mr. Abbas was repeating a claim initially made on the website of an office of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Anadolu, the Turkish state-run news agency, repeated the claim on Sunday. It was echoed in The Gulf News, a daily newspaper in Dubai. The Anadolu article said that a Rabbi Shlomo Mlma, whom it called the “chairman of the Council of Rabbis in the West Bank settlements,” had issued an “advisory opinion in which he allowed Jewish settlers to poison water in Palestinian villages and cities in the West Bank.”

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that news outlets had not been able to find a Rabbi Mlma or any listing for the council mentioned in the article.

The fact that the claim appeared in Anadolu and The Gulf News makes his retraction pretty worthless.

His speech got a standing ovation.

Jewish groups quickly condemned Mr. Abbas’s comments.

“It is unconscionable that a foreign leader proudly states a blood libel in the European Parliament and he receives a standing ovation,” Moshe Kantor, the president of the European Jewish Congress, said in a statement.

The Gulf News article cited an Israeli organization critical of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank as the source of the claims. but the organization told Haaretz that it knew nothing about it.

Rumors that Jews had poisoned wells and other sources of water arose in the 14th century as the bubonic plague raged across much of Europe. The rumors led to the destruction of scores of Jewish communities. In Basel, Switzerland, and Strasbourg, France, hundreds of Jews were burned alive.

Ugly times.


Jul 5th, 2016 12:36 pm | By

Islamists like their televangelists too.

One of the attackers, suspected to be Rohan Imtiaz – the son of a politician of Bangladesh’s ruling Awami League – posted a message on Facebook last year quoting 50-year-old Naik, a Mumbai-based doctor and an Islamic televangelist, the Daily Star reported.

Naik’s speeches are beamed on Peace TV across the sub-continent, even in China, with a100 million viewership. He is said to be wildly popular in Bangladesh.

The founder of the Mumbai-based Islamic Research Foundation, Zakir Naik is banned in the UK and Canada for his hate speeches. He is also among 16 Islamic scholars banned in Malaysia.

So, Zakir Naik may have been one of the influences on the slaughterers at the Holey Artisan Bakery.

That doesn’t really tell us anything we didn’t know – they got their inspiration from somewhere, and wherever it was clearly wasn’t a well of generosity and compassion. They got their inspiration from someone or many someones who preach hatred and violence. What you see is what you get.

Yo, Zeus, wassup?

Jul 5th, 2016 11:04 am | By

NASA has put a spacecraft into orbit around Jupiter.

Around 10:30 p.m. on Monday, Juno passed over Jupiter’s north pole and through a region that Heidi Becker, the leader of Juno’s radiation monitoring team, described as “the scariest part of the scariest place.” In this belt of radiation, electrons bouncing back and forth at nearly the speed of light could have knocked out the computer and other electronics.

“They will go right through a spacecraft and strip the atoms apart inside your electronics and fry your brain if you don’t do anything about it,” Dr. Becker said.

But a titanium vault built for Juno proved up to the task of shielding its crucial systems.

Someone in a NASA video pointed out that Jupiter has a bunch of moons in different orbits traveling at different speeds, and picking your way through all that is [understatement] a challenge.

At 11:18 p.m., Juno’s main engine began firing to slow the spacecraft enough to be captured by the planet’s gravity. Juno also passed through the plane of Jupiter’s diaphanous rings. Although the mission planners had chosen a place that they thought would be clear, they could not be certain, and even a piece of dust colliding with a spacecraft moving at 130,000 m.p.h. could have caused considerable damage.

Juno traveled within 2,900 miles of Jupiter’s cloud tops, passing through almost the exact spot that the navigators had aimed for after its 1.7-billion-mile voyage. “Isn’t that incredible?” Mr. Nybakken said.

It is. It is.

The spacecraft will have to make multiple flybys, Dr. Bolton said, before the scientists will be able to start answering questions like whether there is a rocky core at the center of Jupiter. “We’ll be hesitant to guessing the wrong answer until we see more information,” Dr. Bolton said.

With a different vantage point from Juno’s polar orbit, the spacecraft’s cameras are likely to add to the number of known moons of Jupiter, now 67. “I expect that we will see some, and the number will keep going up,” Dr. Bolton said.

Radiation will gradually fry the instruments, and on the 37th orbit Juno will do a suicide dive into Jupiter, in order to avoid contaminating Europa with earthly microbes.

Troubling concerns

Jul 4th, 2016 5:34 pm | By

Crap news from India:

A Facebook group, which levelled a death threat against Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasrin, has raised fears of the influence and presence of dreaded Mideast terrorist group Islamic State in Kerala. The page, which had posts in Malayalam and English, was taken down on Saturday morning soon after media started reporting about its existence.

It is not clear who moderates the group, Ansarul Khilafa (The Followers of Khalifa). The threat against the Bangladesh writer known for her progressive views was made by one of the members of the group. The group had 135 likes before it was deactivated. The group’s presence comes amid a spate of terror attacks in Bangladesh, the busting of an IS module in Hyderabad and the arrests of IS sympathizers from various states in the last few months. It raises troubling concerns about whether the terrorist outfit, known for its beheading and sex slavery of captured non-Muslim women, is striking deeper roots in India.

Swastikas in Freedom Fields Park

Jul 4th, 2016 5:08 pm | By

More news from the fascists:

A memorial to the late Labour leader Michael Foot in his home city has been vandalised with extremist graffiti.

The stone tribute to Foot, who led the party from 1980 to 1983, was daubed with swastikas, obscenities and references to the British National party and English Defence League in Freedom Field Park in Plymouth, Devon.

The memorial opposite the house where the former parliamentarian was born in 1913 was erected in July last year after the money was raised through public donations.

Luke Pollard, who was a Labour candidate in Plymouth in the 2015 general election, posted on Facebook yesterday:

Today, I got a message that the Michael Foot Memorial in Freedom Fields Park had been vandalised with Nazi swastikas, BNP and EDL as well as some other offensive words.

Michael stood up against fascism and to see these symbols of hate on his memorial is sickening.

I was proud to be one of the organisers of the appeal for a lasting memorial to Michael and I know from the tweets, messages and conversations how important it is to so many people in Plymouth.

We live in toxic times which means it is even more important we stand up for what is right. Taking a stand against hate is in all of us. Nazi graffiti is unacceptable wherever it may be.

If you know who vandalised Michael’s memorial please report it to the Police. In the meantime I hope the council cleans the memorial up quickly. We don’t need thoughtless hate like this in our city.

Three swastikas, two BNPs, one EDL, and right at the top, the first one you see, CUNT.

The Guardian continues:

Former Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell tweeted: “This is disgusting beyond belief. Michael was a great man and a good friend. This strikes at everything he stood for.”

Tudor Evans, leader of the Labour group on Plymouth city council, tweeted a picture of the vandalism and wrote: “Nazi bastards.”

Welcome to post-Brexit hell.

Another murder of “witches”

Jul 4th, 2016 3:31 pm | By

News via Leo Igwe:


I just received the news that two alleged witches were burnt to death in Akpabuyo in Cross River state in Southern Nigeria. According to a local source, an angry mob lynched the two men after a ‘native doctor’ declared that they were responsible for several deaths of young people in the village. The native doctor is currently in police custody but according to my local contact person none of those who killed the alleged witches had been arrested. There are concerns that the matter may eventually die, that the ‘native doctors’ could be released any moment from now and nobody would be brought to justice!

We’re watching.


More booms

Jul 4th, 2016 3:11 pm | By

Now Medina:

A suicide bomber has killed four security officers and injured five others near one of Islam’s holiest sites in the Saudi city of Medina, according to the interior ministry.

The bomber struck as the officers were breaking their Ramadan fast near the Prophet’s Mosque, al-Arabiya TV says.

The mosque is the burial place of the Prophet Muhammad and Medina the second-holiest city in Islam after Mecca.

Blasts also struck two other Saudi cities on Monday.

Guess who the prime suspect is. No prizes for correct answers.

A series of deadly attacks worldwide were either claimed by, or blamed on, IS over the past week:

Allahu akbar.

Groomed for Trump

Jul 4th, 2016 12:41 pm | By

The New Republic points out that the right wing in the US has been encouraging ignorance and anti-intellectualism for decades and thus grooming a large chunk of the population to be unable to see through Donald Trump. Well yeah – it’s obvious, but worth saying anyway.

Not so long ago, in the days before Marco Rubio endorsed Trump, the Florida senator called him a “con artist.” It’s hard to imagine how anyone could dispute Rubio’s evaluation. The operations of Trump University alone paint the convincing portrait of a swindler. Yet the deeper question is how such an obvious mountebank could win the majority of a major party’s delegates. Is there something in the nature of the Republican Party and its conservative base that made them particularly vulnerable to Trump’s deceptions?

Well of course there is. Have we forgotten “the reality-based community” already?

In a sense, conservative voters have been groomed for Trump since the 1960s. As the historian Rick Perlstein wrote in The Baffler and The Nation in 2012, the American conservative movement has become more and more amenable to get-rich-quick schemes, snake-oil salesmen, and confidence men. Direct-mail barons like Richard Viguerie began raking in the dough in the 1960s by stirring up ideological hysteria and convincing an audience of senior citizens that only their small-dollar donation could fend off union bosses, abortionists, and gays. Of course, most of the money ended up with the fundraisers.

From the direct-mail bunco artists, it was a natural progression to conservative media selling ads to the most outlandish dream peddlers and conspiracy-mongers. After Perlstein subscribed to email lists for publications like Townhall and Newsmax, he started getting some strange notices, including “the 123-Cent Heart Miracle,’ the one ‘Washington, the medical industry, and drug companies REFUSE to tell you about.’ (Why would they? They’d just be leaving money on the table: ‘I was scheduled for open heart surgery when I read about your product,’ read one of the testimonials. ‘I started taking it and now six months have passed and I haven’t had open-heart surgery.’).”

If you’ve been trained to think that business is always and automatically honest and self-regulating, you’ve been trained to stop thinking in general.

In Perlstein’s words, “The strategic alliance of snake-oil vendors and conservative true believers points up evidence of another successful long march, of tactics designed to corral fleeceable multitudes all in one place—and the formation of a cast of mind that makes it hard for either them or us to discern where the ideological con ended and the money con began.”

There’s another factor at work here: The anti-intellectualism that has been a mainstay of the conservative movement for decades also makes its members easy marks. After all, if you are taught to believe that the reigning scientific consensuses on evolution and climate change are lies, then you will lack the elementary logical skills that will set your alarm bells ringing when you hear a flim-flam artist like Trump. The Republican“war on science” is also a war on the intellectual habits needed to detect lies.

They raised up a viper and now it’s biting them in the ass – and unfortunately it’s biting the rest of us too.

Nigel is off on his hols

Jul 4th, 2016 11:22 am | By

Now Nigel Farage has joined David Cameron and Boris Johnson in deserting the ship that they sank.

Nigel Farage says he is standing down as leader of the UK Independence Party.

Mr Farage said his “political ambition has been achieved” with the UK having voted to leave the EU.

Marina Hyde has some commentary on this scarper.

It is fair to say Nigel remains unaware of the difference in calibre between himself and a figure such as Theresa May (whatever your views on her). You sense he will be condemned to wonder furiously why the call to the top table doesn’t come, much as Liz Hurley may enquire furiously of her agent why she has been overlooked again for a role in favour of Meryl Streep.

Keen to get a clearer sense of the Farage diplomacy doctrine, I asked him: does he think the tone he took in the European parliament last week was a good negotiating tactic that will help the UK to get the best deal out of Europe? After all, for an MEP who must have spent a lot of time near airport bookshops over the past two decades, Nigel seems mystified by the tenets of even basic business manuals. Unless I missed the bit in Sun Tzu that explains that all battles are won by mugging off your opponents before you start.

Explaining the “context” of his artless and embarrassing rudeness, Nigel claimed that the session had been “the worst event ever in the history of the European project”. It was only right, he went on, “that they got just a tiny little piece of my mind”. That is certainly all he would have to spare. His failure to understand how avenues are being opened up for any future deal appears total. Any manoeuvrability is deemed “backsliding”. “If we start to concede in these negotiations now,” he explained, “we will get a rotten deal. We’ve got the trump cards.” Certainly the Trump cards. Perhaps he could use his new free time to pen Nigel Farage’s Art of the Deal.

Either way, according to Nigel, we are now going to see “the real me”, now he is no longer constrained by … by what? Decorum? Ukip’s famously rigorous party discipline? EU-based race discrimination legislation? It was rather unclear. Of all the Farage disguises, incidentally, Daffy Nigel is the least convincing. Was he going to get a seat in the Lords? “Oh gosh, I shouldn’t have thought so for a moment.” The main thing about his victory, he reminded listeners for the 2,345th time, was that “we were against the entire UK establishment”. Spoken like a man who had literally spent yesterday at a garden party at the home of newspaper proprietor Evgeny Lebedev, sitting opposite Liam Fox and Rupert Murdoch.

What does that remind me of? Oh yes, Donald Trump working up the crowds by railing at…the elites. Donald Billionaire Scam-artist Trump pretending to be a populist opposed to Elites.

Its inappropriate theological approach

Jul 4th, 2016 11:07 am | By

A press release by One Law for All:

Today, an unprecedented number of women’s rights campaigners and organisations from Britain and internationally have submitted a letter to the Home Secretary raising serious concerns about the government’s ‘independent review’ into Sharia courts in Britain. The letter states that the limited scope of inquiry and its inappropriate theological approach will do nothing to address the discriminatory effect and intent of the courts on private and family matters: areas where, arguably, the greatest human rights violations of minority women in the UK take place.

Rather than taking a human rights approach, the government has constituted a panel and terms of reference more suited to a discussion in theology than one which serves the needs of victims whose human rights are violated.  By making these religious appointments, the government has lost a vital opportunity to examine the discriminatory nature of not only Sharia bodies but all forms of religious arbitration fora including the Batei Din.

The panel chair, Mona Siddiqui, for example, is herself a theologian. One of the scholars, Sayed Ali Abbas Razawi, is the joint secretary for Majlis Ulama-e-Shia, which sends delegations to the Islamic Republic of Iran. In his sermons, he has supported the death penalty in Islamic states, advised Muslims to go into government “and change the system” and says women dressed in “tight clothing” are “corrupted”. Another scholar, Qari Muhammad Asim, speaks of “men retain[ing] their wives in marriage” and sees women in relation to their male guardian: “Each women is someone’s mother, daughter, sister or wife”. He also trivialises violence against women by saying “women as well as men can be victims of domestic abuse”.

Both scholars advising the panel are on Imams Online. Khola Hasan, a judge at the Islamic Sharia Council, is a contributing editor to Imam Online. Clearly, Imams and Islamic scholars cannot investigate themselves.

“Women and Sharia Law: The Impact of Legal Pluralism in the UK” by Elham Manea published in May 2016documents the harmful and even life threatening consequences for vulnerable minority women in matters pertaining to the family.  Testimonials gathered by campaigners highlight some of the emotional, mental and physical effects of the courts on women and children.

The women’s rights campaigners are calling on the Home Secretary to establish a thorough and impartial judge-led human rights investigation, which will fully examine arbitration in family matters and whether violations of human rights are condoned or even promoted by Sharia bodies. Some examples are: women’s testimony being worth half that of a man’s, marital rape, sexual violence and domestic abuse, the age of consent, guardianship, forced marriage, honour based violence, ritual abuse, child custody and child protection, polygamy, divorce, sexuality, inheritance, inter-religious relationships, female dress codes and abortion. Broader issues such as the treatment of religious minorities including minority sects in Islam and decisions pertaining to apostasy and blasphemy must also be examined to understand the full range of threats faced by people affected by religious laws, and indeed, by the State promoting these laws.

The law and not religion is the key basis for securing justice for all citizens. Campaigners urge the government to do the right thing and ensure that the same principles of human rights, equality before the law, duty of care, due diligence and the rule of law are applicable to all British citizens.

See the press release for notes and contact information.

It really is shocking that a government review of religious courts should be run by conservative theologians who are there to defend the whole idea. We already know that conservative theologians think that conservative theology should be in charge of everything.

Never more “liberated”

Jul 3rd, 2016 4:23 pm | By

Peggy Orenstein in Mother Jones:

I have spent three years interviewing dozens of young women about their attitudes toward and experiences with physical intimacy. On the one hand, girls would enthuse about pop icons like Beyoncé, Gaga, Miley, and Nicki who were actively “taking control” of their sexuality. Whereas earlier generations of feminist-identified women may have seen Kim Kardashian West’s “happy #internationalwomensday” tweet and accompanying nude selfie (Instagram caption: “When you’re like I have nothing to wear LOL”) as something to denounce, many of today’s generation talked about it as an expression rather than an imposition of sexuality—brand promotion done on her own terms.

As one college sophomore told me, she never feels more “liberated” than “when I wear a crop top and my boobs are showing and my legs are showing and I’m wearing super high heels.” She added, “I’m proud of my body, and I like to show it off.”

But that’s a very particular idea of “showing off” your body, and of being proud of it. What aspect of your body are you showing off that way, and what are you proud of? It’s not strength or health or ability. It’s hotness. That’s not the only thing a body is about, or for, or good at – and it’s not obvious in what way it’s “liberating” to single out hotness as the only significant aspect of one’s body worth being proud of.

And let’s be real: it’s not really “liberating” to wear high heels. Literally speaking it’s the very opposite of liberating, because it significantly impedes the wearer’s freedom of movement. The same applies, somewhat less obviously, to short skirts and crop tops. Sure, parading one’s hotness is liberating from repressive ideas about sex as shameful, but that’s only one form of liberation, and it’s not obvious that it’s still an urgent one now.

That’s Orenstein’s point, of course, but I wanted to zero in on that oddly limited idea of what it is to be proud of one’s body. But even if you do accept that idea, there are problems.

But a moment later it became clear that unless, through fortuitous genetics or incessant work, you were able to “show off” the right body, the threat of ridicule lurked. The young woman told me that a friend had recently gained some weight. It’s not that she couldn’t wear skimpy clothes, the woman explained. “But she knows how she would feel if there were asshole-y boys who were like, ‘She’s a fat girl.'”

Young women talked about feeling simultaneously free to choose a sexualized image—which was nobody’s damned business but their own—and having no other choice. “You want to stand out,” one college freshman explains. “It’s not just about being hot, but who can be the hottest.”

Well guess what: that’s not freedom. It may be a competition you want to enter, but don’t kid yourself that it’s freedom.

But as journalist Ariel Levy pointed out in her book, Female Chauvinist Pigs, “hot” is not the same as “beautiful” or “attractive”: It is a narrow, commercialized vision of sexiness that, when applied to women, can be reduced to two words: “fuckable” and “sellable.” No coincidence, Levy added, that this is “the literal job criteria for stars of the sex industry.”

And there are other things to be, other criteria, and by god there are other industries. Being fuckable and sellable has a short shelf life, and anyway those qualities are passive. Be passive if you want to, but again, don’t confuse that with being a Strong Powerful Woman in Charge of Her Own Destiny.

Follow that pickup

Jul 3rd, 2016 3:07 pm | By

H/t Stacy

Playing with fire in asbestos underpants

Jul 3rd, 2016 12:53 pm | By

Nick Cohen explains how the Brexit campaign embraced xenophobia as the path to victory.

Vote Leave, the respectable campaign of those “progressive” Conservatives Michael Gove, Boris Johnson, Iain Duncan Smith, Andrea Leadsom and Chris Grayling, promised not to incite racial tension. Last October, it barely mentionedimmigration in its propaganda. In May, its officers tried to ban Nigel Farage from the airwaves, so wary were they of contamination.

For all that, Farage proved to be the Mephistopheles of the Tory leavers. He offered them victory in return for what paltry souls they possessed. Going hard on immigration was the only way to win, he said. After a glance at the polls, “progressive” Tories agreed. On 3 June, a triumphant Farage could boast that their conversion was the “turning point”; the moment when Ukip’s wining stance on immigration became “mainstream”. It is still not true to say that race and immigration were all that mattered to everyone who voted leave. But they were all that mattered to Vote Leave. Mainstream Tories accepted that creating and exploiting fear would take them to victory. They played with fire and you can hear the flames crackling.

And Nick doesn’t see any potential for a not so bad outcome.

Whatever choice Brexit forces on us, Ukip and forces to its right will prosper. They will be able to say to supporters old and new that they were lied to and betrayed. Either immigrants would still be coming or their grievance-filled followers would be getting poorer.

I cannot imagine better conditions for resentment to rise. A referendum that was meant to let “the people take control” and “restore trust” will have achieved the opposite. You do not need an over-active imagination to picture the threats to the safety of anyone who looks or is foreign that may follow.

Last week’s violence could just be the start. Naturally, not everyone will suffer. No one is going to vandalise the Hurlingham club or firebomb Fortnum & Mason. Johnson, Farage, Gove, Leadsom, Duncan Smith and Grayling will have played with fire safe in the knowledge that, whoever else burned, it would not be them.


They’re all right Jack.