Notes and Comment Blog

What’s up, Doc?

Jul 12th, 2015 10:17 am | By

Oh good grief. Unconscious sexism – it gets in everywhere.

A BBC story about the finding of a medieval ring in Norfolk.

The ring, found by a metal detectorist in South Creake, Norfolk, dates from between 1350 and 1430.

Dr Jonathan Good, author of The Cult of St George, said the ring “attests to the popularity of St George” and may be linked to a guild devoted to the saint.

Dr Good, who is associate professor of history at Reinhardt University, in Georgia in the US, said the ring “could have have owned by a guild member. It could have been a way of them showing their dedication”.

“It is in these pre-reformation times that St George came into his own in England,” said Dr Good.

Kathleen Kennedy, an expert in medieval rings and associate professor at Penn State-Brandywine University in the US, said it was “a wonderful find for Norwich”.

She said the ring was “originally enameled, so like so much of the medieval statuary remaining to us today, what we see as one colour would have originally been brightly variegated”.

Dr Adrian Marsden, a coin expert based at Norwich Castle Museum, said: “The ring has on it St George spearing a dragon. That is unusual and interesting because St George was a very popular saint in Norwich.”

A tweet from DOCTOR Kathleen Kennedy:

Kathleen E. Kennedy ‏@TheMedievalDrK 2 hours ago
hey @BBCNews If the 2 men quoted get to be called “Dr” why don’t I? … #medievaltwitter

Was it because they couldn’t remember if it was Doctoress or Doctorette?

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

Elementary good manners by way of an introductory salutation

Jul 11th, 2015 5:54 pm | By

One from more than three years ago, March 20 2012: I get email:

I got one today from someone who has commented here a few times as nmcc or NMcC, and who commented yesterday to tell me how wrong I am about the word “cunt” and to say “Sarah Palin is a cunt.” I deleted that comment and put him – his email address showed he’s a Nigel – in moderation. The message I got this morning expressed surprise at the deletion of the comment. (It started with “Hi” – this is more significant than you might think.) I replied, brusquely,

Really? You would have thought “Sarah Palin is a cunt” was well within my commenting policy? I’ve been very explicit about that. Other things not within my commenting policy: “Al Sharpton is a nigger.” “Woody Allen is a kike.” “Salman Rushdie is a wog.”

I hope that clears things up.

——– Ophelia Benson, Editor Butterflies and Wheels ———

He replied. This is how he replied:

Dear Ms Benson,
Thank you for taking the time to reply to my email.
I must say, I don’t expect much in the way of civility from the ‘new’ atheist type, but I confess I thought elementary good manners by way of an introductory salutation might not have been beyond you. Obviously not.

In regard to my comment: This is simply a difference of opinion, though one that you have blown up into a difference of principle – or, rather, you have attempted to do so. In my opinion (I assume I’m allowed to have an opinion since we don’t live in a ‘new’ atheist world yet, and neither, thank Christ, are we ever likely to!), and as I said in my comment, the word cunt, like the word dick, and like the word asshole, are rarely, if ever, used to refer to a particular anatomical feature of a male or female. Words can take on a life of their own. Language evolves and grows and changes to the degree that words are unrecognisable from what they first meant, implied or described. The word gay, of course, is an obvious example.
I use the word cunt all the time. So do a lot of people I know. I never use it with the slightest thought of it having any connection with the female genitalia. To my knowledge, neither does anyone else.
So, in fact, you are quite simply wrong to ascribe any inference of misogyny to me or anyone I know. Indeed, your introducing the terms nigger, kike and wog,  simply shows how ludicrously – not to mention hysterically and self-righteously – wrong you are.  The simple fact is, there is NO comparison to be made with the words mentioned. All 3 of those words, as far as I’m aware, were specifically coined to refer to others in a racist and openly hateful and derogatory way. Those words refer to specific people and are used to degrade and denigrate those specific people. The word cunt is NOT used in any such way by the majority of people who use it. It most certainly is not used to denigrate or degrade women.
You have a different opinion. Good for you. Keep advocating your point of view. Perhaps you’ll change my mind on the issue.
I am unlikely to change your mind for the simple reason that you have got no qualms about DELETING my point of view, and would further, in the unlikely event of you ever being in a position to do so, have no problem in countenancing my being made to conform to your mistaken and ludicrous views through threats of censorship.
I, on the other hand, am a democrat, and would not entertain for a second the idea of shutting anyone up, let alone you.
Incidentally, have you any idea how pathetic you appear to me in your phoney concern for women’s interests?
Are you not the person who is encouraging your fellow dopey ‘new’ atheists to attend a gig at an American military base? What was it you called those state-sponsored thugs and murderers? Oh yes, ‘good people’.
Tell me, what’s worse: Using the word cunt completely bereft of any hateful connotations or intentions in regard to women, or sanctioning and applauding those who, at the behest of a religious nut, are responsible for wrecking their already impoverished lives through murdering and maiming their children and husbands?
Go ahead, tell me. You hypocritical cunt.
Yours sincerely,
Nigel McCullough

Now back to the present day…where I was curious about past interactions I’d had with Ken White of Popehat, so I googled, and the first thing I found was a post Ken did about the above post about Nigel.

He says it’s great having lots of commenters – especially the silly ones.

Today’s case in point: Ophelia Benson, who one suspects is not a strong booster of Sarah Palin, declined to publish a comment calling Ms. Palin a cunt. The commenter, one Nigel, professed disbelief that anyone would not welcome his trenchant commentary. Hilarity, as they say, ensues. Watch as Nigel works himself into a fury in reaching the conclusion that when people won’t publish “Sarah Palin is a cunt” on their blog, THAT’S FASCISM. Also, protip: if it requires 10 paragraphs to justify why you are not being a dick, you are probably being a dick.

One last thing: if you don’t want your name associated with such wankery, don’t sign your name to abusive emails containing such wankery.

There are a lot of amusing comments on that post, especially Ken’s.

I don’t know how free discourse can survive if we can’t go to a woman’s blog and argue about whether “cunt” is offensive or not without being ridiculed. That’s FASCISM.

@David Leech:

1. For someone who comes out swinging with “soviet” and “embarrassment,” you sure are a big girl’s blouse when it comes to “ad hominem.”


I would be very upset if anybody I invited back to my place thought they had to censor their speech because I was very sensitive.

Here you’re just being prissy because you disagree with the tastes of others. If you enjoy the society of people who are deeply invested in calling people “cunt” and engaging in multi-paragraph wanks about how it ought not be construed as offensive, then go seek out the society of such people. But here’s the thing about the real world: we’re not obligated to invite assholes into our house. We might have to tolerate assholes at work, we might have to tolerate assholes at school, but in our private space, freedom means not having to invite them in. Ophelia things Nigel is an asshole. Plenty agree with her. You don’t have a protected right to be liked if you’re a creep.

The good old days.

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

A boring job, but somebody has to do it

Jul 11th, 2015 1:10 pm | By

Some words of wisdom from Janet Stemwedel:

Janet D. Stemwedel ‏@docfreeride 3 hours ago
Next time you think you “hear” outrage online, imagine it is being delivered in a bored voice. Pointing out racism, sexism, etc. is BORING.

But even though it’s boring, pointing out words & deeds that harm others is NECESSARY to get folks doing them to notice, care, stop doing it.

Surely it’s outrageous that folks need repeated reminders that saying & doing harmful stuff is harming people, & that harming people is bad…

But sometimes it feels like the “outrage” is coming from folks who want to be able to do & say harmful stuff w/o being called on it.

With “sometimes” defined as “all the damn time.”

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

He did say some stupid things which cannot be supported

Jul 11th, 2015 12:57 pm | By

Maybe this will persuade the ragers to shut up at last: Paul Nurse says what Tim Hunt said was not acceptable. Sarah Knapton, science editor at the Telegraph, reports.

Sir Paul Nurse, a joint-Nobel Prize winner and friend of Sir Tim, told the Telegraph the embattled professor’s “chauvinist” comments had “damaged science”.

He added that since Sir Tim stood down last month, Sir Paul has been sent hundreds of vicious letters. Some argue that the Royal Society has not gone far enough in its condemnation of the Noble Laureate, while others criticise the 350-year-old institution for not backing the beleaguered scientist.

“Some have threatened to do things to my body parts,” said Sir Paul, in a weary tone. “The discussion has become totally polarised with extreme views on both sides. I have had hundreds of letters. I had five just this morning. It doesn’t seem to be going away.”

Louise Mensch, for one, is determined not to let it go away.

Sir Paul has stayed largely silent about the matter until now. He is a close friend of Sir Tim and they shared the 2001 Nobel Prize in recognition of their work on the cell cycle which hugely advanced cancer research. He describes him as ‘a lovely man’ who he has known since 1993.

See I’ve never thought he wasn’t a lovely man. It seemed pretty clear that he is one – lots of people said so, including lots of the people who deplored his clumsy “jokes” in Seoul. Lovely men can screw up. Sexism and casual contempt for women are entrenched and pervasive, at the same time as they’re considered not ok by people who give a damn. This means that it’s pathetically easy to be both lovely and sexist.

So Paul Nurse read about Hunt’s comments with a heavy heart.

Sir Paul, 66, said the affair had been hugely damaging for science and the Royal Society.

“Tim is a lovely man and I have known him a long time,” he said. “But there is no question about it, he did say some stupid things which cannot be supported and they had to be condemned. He said he was a chauvinist and that is not acceptable.

“It is sad because since I started working as a researcher in the late 1960s there have been really significant improvements and this kind of thing tends to set things back.

“The Royal Society can come across as old fashioned because you stay a member until you die so it can seem that we’re 30 years behind the times. But half of the Council are now women and we have a lot of initiatives to improve diversity. We have a Diversity Committee and allow mothers or fathers to work half time. Most other companies don’t do that.

“So it’s frustrating when things like this happen which make the Society seem out of touch.”

I wonder if Richard Dawkins will call Paul Nurse a witch hunter.

On June 11 Sir Tim stepped down from his role on the Biological Science Awards Committee and the Royal Society issued a strong condemnation of his comments saying they had ‘no place in science.’ The statement also acknowledged that gender discrimination was still holding back too many talented scientists.

Then it went further, announcing last week that it will replace portraits and busts of some of Britain’s most renowned male scientists at its London headquarters with artworks depicting leading women.

However the furore shows no signs of diminishing, mainly because so many eminent scientists have now backed Sir Tim.

And because Louise Mensch tweets about it nonstop (literally), and she has a column in the Sun.

“The hate mail that I get is divided into those who don’t think we have done enough and we should be more extreme in our censorship of Tim, and those who think we have treated him badly,” added Sir Paul.

“These are the extremes and it is sad that this is what the discussion has become. I have had physical threats. People feel very strongly on both sides. But I think it is right that Sir Tim resigned.

“He did a really stupid thing and then went on the Today programme and made the whole thing worse. I don’t hold with people who say it has shone a light on the issue. It would have been better if it hadn’t happened. It hasn’t been good for science or the Royal Society.”

Or for women in STEM or for women generally. It’s been bad for all four.

Sir Paul, who was knighted in 1999, became President of the Royal Society in November 2010, succeeding Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal.

In addition to the Nobel Prize he has received a Royal Medal, the Copley Medal, the French Legion d’Honneur and in 2013 became the winner of the Albert Einstein World Award of Science. He holds honorary degrees at the University of Kent, Warwick and Worcester and is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering.

Sir Paul, who is from Wembley, the son of a part-time cleaner and mechanic at Heinz, claimed his interest in science emerged on his long walks to school in north west London.

Not a child of privilege then, not a product of posh prep schools and posh public schools. I wonder if that’s one reason he gets the point.

H/t Maureen

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

The foundation of your personality

Jul 11th, 2015 11:08 am | By

Want to take a goofy online quiz? Here’s one that claims to be asking What Is Your Gender Identity? Only, that’s odd, because I answered the questions as truthfully as I could (as usual with goofy quizzes, many questions offered zero replies that really fit) and I got “you are Cis-Male.” Well, no, that’s not right.*

But the questions are fatuous anyway, because they’re mostly about superficialities. To be accurate my replies to several of them would have had to be “I don’t care one way or the other.”

But then it’s understandable that the questions are fatuous, because the opening claim is fatuous squared:

Your gender is the foundation of your personality and indicates how you choose to express yourself.

No, it isn’t. That’s completely, comprehensively wrong. My gender absolutely is not the foundation of my personality, and I bristle angrily at being told it is. It’s part of it; I can accept that much; but it’s absolutely not the foundation. And thank fuck for that, because really, why would it be? Why should it be? Why does it have to matter that much? There are other foundations of personality, to put it mildly, so why should I think my gender is the one and only? Why should anyone?

I could give you a considerable list of other things that are much more foundational to my personality, but I won’t, because it would be tedious and narcissistic. But my point is basically fuck gender. Gender needs to get over itself.

*I saw the quiz via a woman friend who also got the Cis-Male result. The quiz is probably a parody…or maybe just an unconscious parody.

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

Guest post: A choice by a feminist is not necessarily a feminist choice

Jul 10th, 2015 6:22 pm | By

Originally a comment by sambarge on Only when it is nothing more than a personal choice.

When the practice of hijab becomes nothing more than a personal choice, only then may it be considered a feminist statement.

I would argue, even then, that the choice to wear a hijab would be feminist neutral. There is nothing inherently feminist in the choice to wear a hijab and its history (whatever it may develop into in the future) is rooted in oppression.

A choice by a feminist is not necessarily a feminist choice. Allow me to give a non-veiling example:

25 yrs ago, I was an under-grad, thinking about grad school and my unwieldy last name. My parents were Italian immigrants and our family name included the dreaded “gigli” combination that English speakers find almost impossible to pronounce. Tired of the mispronunciations, I looked into the cost and process of changing my name. Initially, I chose my mother’s birth name. No feminist reasons, only that it was a family name I felt an ownership to, I had cousins with that name and it was easier for Anglos to say. But the cost was prohibitive and I didn’t like the idea of a new a birth certificate, as if SamBarge had never lived. It was weird. Also, my parents were uncomfortable with me changing my name. It seemed like a rejection, which is certainly wasn’t but all the same, what would they tell their friends? I didn’t hate my birth name, I just didn’t want to lug it through my whole life. I wanted life in my Anglo country of birth to be a little easier.

While I considered my options, my then boyfriend (now spouse) and I decided to get married. Suddenly, I was offered the opportunity to change my name to a lovely Anglicized German name for the low price of $26 (the cost of a new driver’s licence). My family’s protests about me changing my name disappeared. They were thrilled that they wouldn’t have to explain to their friends why I changed my name. All their friends completely understood this sort of name change. No one wondered why, my birth certificate stayed the same. This name change was easy, peasey, lemon-squeezy. It was as if society had been set up to make this choice easy.

And, of course, society was set up to make this choice easy. And it was my choice. My spouse would never have forced me to change my name and was a little surprised when I chose to do it. I had a lot of good personal reasons to make the change but he knew that I was a feminist who didn’t view marriage as an erasure of my previous existence for a rebirth as Mrs. Husband’s Name.

So I made a choice to which I had the privilege as a heterosexual woman to access. I made that choice as a feminist but it was not a feminist choice. It was a choice that was expedient and useful to me but it was a choice that upheld a patriarchal tradition.

That point was driven home a few years later when our friends were getting married. At the reception, the groom insisted that I tell the bride to change her name after marriage. Apparently, she wanted to hold on to her easy to pronounce and spell (and frankly preferable to her new spouse’s) name. Why would I tell her to do that, I asked? Because I had done it and I was a feminist so she should do it too, was his reasoning.

And so, every act by a feminist is not necessarily a feminist act AND sometimes our actions help to keep our sisters who would choose otherwise oppressed.

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

Nothing is perfect

Jul 10th, 2015 5:47 pm | By

Dr Amy Tuteur says breastfeeding isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and trying to force it to be can be dangerous.

The scientific literature contains new and disturbing reports of infant deaths due to hypernatremic dehydration as a result of inadequate breast milk consumption, deaths from falling out of mothers’ hospital beds as a result of pressure to room-in to promote breastfeeding, and, most recently, reports of hyponatremia due to dilution of breastmilk with water. It’s only a matter of time before there are illnesses and deaths from contaminated breastmilk bought and traded on the internet.

Why are these babies dying? They’re dying because lactivists are lying, exaggerating the benefits of breastfeeding far, far beyond anything in the scientific literature. And they’re lying about non-existent “risks” of formula to the point that mothers are afraid to use it even when supplementing with formula is a matter of life and death.

Tuteur points out that to be the perfect food for infants, breastmilk has to be not just nutritionally ideal but also abundant enough and accessible enough. If it isn’t, it’s not the perfect food.

Lactivists routinely ignore critera 2 and 3, and babies die as a result. They get around the need for an adequate supply of milk with a claim that is manifestly a lie, the claim that all mothers produce enough milk. It’s pretty clear that up to 5% of mothers cannot produce enough breastmilk to fully meet a baby’s needs. That’s hardly surprising since no biological process is guaranteed to work perfectly. If established pregnancies can have a 20% miscarriage rate, and they do, it is hardly surprising that breastfeeding can have a failure rate of only a fraction of that amount.

Lactivists get around the third criterion with another lie, that every baby is capable of efficiently extracting milk from the breast. Some babies just can’t do it for anatomical reasons, because of weak muscle tone, or because they simply never get the hang of it. It is a serious problem that lactivists simply fail to address.

At the end she provides some sources:

Breastfeeding-Associated Hypernatremia: Are We Missing the Diagnosis?

The incidence of breastfeeding-associated hypernatremic dehydration among 3718 consecutive term and near-term hospitalized neonates was 1.9%, occurring for 70 infants…

Conclusion. Hypernatremic dehydration requiring hospitalization is common among breastfed neonates…

Neonatal hypernatremic dehydration associated with breast-feeding malnutrition: a retrospective survey

Hypernatraemic dehydration and breast feeding: a population study

Deaths and near deaths of healthy newborn infants while bed sharing on maternity wards

H/t Lady Mondegreen

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

Very defiant

Jul 10th, 2015 4:03 pm | By

Via Ken White at Popehat, a horrible story of a judge abusing her power over children in a bad divorce case.

Judge Lisa Gorcyca, a judge in Oakland County, Michigan, is getting quite a lot of press this week for sending three kids to juvenile detention.

Judge Gorcyca doesn’t preside in criminal court. She doesn’t rule on delinquency petitions in juvenile court. She’s a judge in the Family Division. And she sent three kids to juvenile detention — and specifically ordered them separated — because they didn’t obey her orders to cultivate a warm relationship with their estranged father.

You can read about it here, or here, or here, or here, or at Reason.

She what??

My god, who would do that?

I was in an anguished and anguishing custody mess as a teenager. I can’t begin to describe the guilt and conflict I felt. I also can’t begin to imagine what it would have been like to have a judge send me to juvie for whichever decision I made. I was fifteen; what did I know?

Consider the things Judge Gorcyca said to, and about, these children as she declared them in contempt of court:

To the 15-year-old, who didn’t want to have lunch with his father because, he said, he saw his father hit his mother:

“You’re supposed to have a high IQ, which I’m doubting right now because of the way you act,” Gorcyca said.

“You’re very defiant. You have no manners … There is no reason why you do not have a relationship with your father. Your father has never been charged with anything. Your father’s never been convicted of anything. Your father doesn’t have a personal protection order against him. Your father is well-liked and loved by the community, his co-workers, his family (and) his colleagues. You, young man, have got it wrong. I think your father is a great man who has gone through hoops for you to have a relationship with you.”

. . . .

But to the boy, the judge said: “You need to do a research program on Charlie Manson and the cult that he has … You have bought yourself living in Children’s Village, going to the bathroom in public, and maybe summer school.”

Holy shit. She said that to a kid in a custody case.

To the boy’s little sister:

A girl, 9, was asked if she would also like to apologize to her father, but she had no audible response.

“I know you’re kind of religious,” Gorcyca told the girl.

“God gave you a brain. He expects you to use it. You are not your big, defiant brother who’s living in jail. Do you want to live in jail?”

The girl said she would try to work with her father during visits, and Gorcyca told the children to go to lunch with their father.

“Let’s see, you’re going to be a teenager,” Gorcyca told the girl.

“You want to have your birthdays in Children’s Village? Do you like going to the bathroom in front of people? Is your bed soft and comfortable at home? I’ll tell you this, if you two don’t have a nice lunch with your dad and make this up to your dad, you’re going to come back here (after lunch) and I’m going to have the deputies take you to Children’s Village.”

Ken says Gorcyca isn’t a monster, she’s got a case of power-madness.

Judge Lisa Gorcyca doesn’t hate kids. She isn’t some monster who has hidden sociopathy her whole career. The evil of Lisa Gorcyca — and people like her throughout America’s justice system — isn’t of the cinematic sort. It’s banal. It’s not the evil of wanting to hurt children; it’s the evil of indifference to them. It’s not the evil of bloodthirstiness; its the evil of petulance, the evil of mediocrity given power and then thwarted.

The banal kind of evil, in other words. It sounds plausible. People just aren’t very good at thinking about the suffering of other people.

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

How did he manage it?

Jul 10th, 2015 2:33 pm | By

How do you rise? You work very hard and you get yourself noticed. Science has an account of doing that by Eleftherios P. Diamandis.

Here’s how it worked for me. I arrived at the University of Toronto in 1982 as a postdoctoral diploma candidate in clinical biochemistry. Coming from a rather poor country—Greece—was a disadvantage, so I did all I could to adapt to the new environment, fill in my knowledge gaps, and make a good impression with hard work and dedication. When I finished the diploma training in 1984, the chair of the department showed interest in finding a job for me. But I had to go back to Greece first to complete my medical degree. I finished it in 1986.

He went back to Toronto. He got a job at a biotech company, which wasn’t what he most wanted but he gave it his all.

The job was good and challenging, but it was not what I was aiming for in the long term. Meanwhile, a new chair had taken over in the department, and I set out to persuade him to hire me as an academic clinician-scientist.

I worked 16 to 17 hours a day, not just to make progress on the technology but also to publish our results in high-impact journals. How did I manage it? My wife—also a Ph.D. scientist—worked far less than I did; she took on the bulk of the domestic responsibilities. Our children spent many Saturdays and some Sundays playing in the company lobby. We made lunch in the break room microwave.

My colleagues and I managed to publish numerous papers, and I was invited repeatedly to present at national and international conferences. I was able to demonstrate, in the department’s annual report, scientific productivity comparable in quantity and quality to the full-time academics in the department. I made sure these activities were noticed.

Did you see it? It went by quickly. His wife worked far less than he did and took on the bulk of the domestic responsibilities.

Remember Agata Hop’s cartoon?

H/t Jen Phillips


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

Equality toons

Jul 10th, 2015 12:17 pm | By

There was a comic competition on gender equality.

UN Women together with the European Commission, the Belgian Development Cooperation, and UNRIC organized a Comic and Cartoon Competition on Gender Equality in 2015. The competition invited young European comic and cartoon artists and art students, aged 18 to 28 years, to picture their understanding of women’s rights and gender equality through cartoons and comics. The comics and cartoons had to be without words. Finalists were selected by a jury composed of professional comic artists, gender equality experts and communication experts. Below are the winners and semi-finalists!

It’s a little awkward that the first four winners are male, but oh well. (I’m assuming they judged them blind and so didn’t know who was female and who was male.)

I like the third place one, by Samuel Akinfenwa Onwusa Samuel:

Samuel Akinfenwa Onwusa Samuel was born in Zaragoza, Spain in 1987. He has been influenced by art and painting since he was a child. Samuel holds degrees in arts as well as in design and illustration from the School of Arts in Zaragoza. Since 2009, he has been serving as an illustrator for different companies in Spain. He also works as a graphic designer doing posters and corporate designs. Samuel has won a number for prizes for his posters.

Also the one by Agata Hop:

Agata was born in 1995 and is currently attending high school in Supraśl, Poland. She pursues her art through a number of projects covering illustration, comics, digital drawing and animation. She has worked at an animation studio, designed T-shirts for a dance workshop at the Grand Theatre in Warsaw, and created the logo for the Theatre Dolls and People in Bialystok.

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

Guest post: Only when it is nothing more than a personal choice

Jul 10th, 2015 11:58 am | By

Originally a comment by Saad on An entire way of dressing, behaving and believing.

I wonder how many progressive never-Muslims find this convincing and are tricked into thinking the hijab (and other such Islamic coverings) are some neutral thing that are only bad when the Taliban or ISIL enforces them. This is what my issue with people like Yusuf is. They’re doing a disservice by calling the concept and practice of hijab a way to avoid sexual exploitation or some sort of statement on behalf of women.

Also, let’s be very clear here that advocating for the right of hijabi women to feel safe in non-Muslim societies is not the same as defending the notion of hijab. She does not need to defend the hijab in general in order to defend women wearing hijab.

This is the stupidest thing I’ve read in quite a while:

Last week, I made a video for The Guardian newspaper’s website. In it, I explained how I see the hijab as a feminist statement. As far as I’m concerned this is a straightforward statement; it follows directly from my experience of the world.

This is pure bullshit. It does not follow from experiencing the world. How can a headdress which is required (or very sternly expected) of you by the male-dominated society around you be a feminist statement? And that is what the hijab is for very large parts of the Muslim world. It is a requirement and you face punishment of varying degree for not following it: mistreatment by family, harassment by community, fines by your government, or even corporal punishment.

Second, the issue of what the hijab is is quite simple. It is a disgusting tool used by a very patriarchal system to treat women like objects whose sexuality is used to bring honor or shame to their guardians and their community at large. That is all it is. I’m sorry, but the hijab hasn’t gotten to the point where it can be used by the targets themselves like some racial slurs can be used. Most of the Muslim world isn’t there yet.

An analogy I like to use about this is that there are arranged marriages that work out for the husband and wife. I know of several in my family alone. Just as you can be assigned a random roommate and end up becoming great friends, you can be arrange-married to a stranger and end up being a good match. This says absolutely nothing in defense of the coercive and anti-choice practice of arranged marriage. Just because some women feel that living with the requirement that your head must be wrapped in a cloth even in very hot weather is a good thing for them does not do a damn thing to paint the actual practice of hijab as it exists in large parts of Muslim societies in a good light.

The hijab is antithetical to feminism.

It’s all about choice. The question is: how many Muslim women who wear hijab around the world do it out of 100% personal choice and stand to face absolutely no criticism or violence for removing it whenever and wherever they choose? When the practice of hijab becomes nothing more than a personal choice, only then may it be considered a feminist statement. In other words, when a Muslim woman in a Muslim family and Muslim community can wear a hijab on Monday and then not wear it on a Tuesday (without receiving so much as a mean glance from her family and community), then we’ll talk about the hijab being a neutral or good thing.

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


Jul 10th, 2015 11:40 am | By

A commenter asked why I used the name “Burma” instead of “Myanmar.” The BBC gave a useful explanation in 2007.

The ruling military junta changed its name from Burma to Myanmar in 1989, a year after thousands were killed in the suppression of a popular uprising. Rangoon also became Yangon.

The change was recognised by the United Nations, and by countries such as France and Japan, but not by the United States and the UK.

A statement by the Foreign Office says: “Burma’s democracy movement prefers the form ‘Burma’ because they do not accept the legitimacy of the unelected military regime to change the official name of the country. Internationally, both names are recognised.”

That’s why. I prefer the name that Burma’s democracy movement prefers, rather than the name that the military junta chose.

The two words mean the same thing and one is derived from the other. Burmah, as it was spelt in the 19th Century, is a local corruption of the word Myanmar.

They have both been used within Burma for a long time, says anthropologist Gustaaf Houtman, who has written extensively about Burmese politics.

“There’s a formal term which is Myanmar and the informal, everyday term which is Burma. Myanmar is the literary form, which is ceremonial and official and reeks of government. [The name change] is a form of censorship.”

If Burmese people are writing for publication, they use ‘Myanmar’, but speaking they use ‘Burma’, he says.

This reflects the regime’s attempt to impose the notion that literary language is master, Mr Houtman says, but there is definitely a political background to it.

That’s why.

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

Holistic starvation

Jul 10th, 2015 11:17 am | By

“Naturopathy” nearly claims another life.


A Sydney naturopath who allegedly told a mother to stop medicating her eight-month-old boy, leaving him close to death, has been arrested.

NSW Police said Marilyn Bodnar, a 59-year-old registered nurse and midwife who also practises naturopathy, had been consulted by the mother of the young boy seeking an alternative health treatment for the baby’s eczema.

Officers allege the naturopath advised the mother to stop the child’s medical and dermatological treatments.

Because eczema is natural and holistic and should be treated with love and sympathy rather than harsh artificial chemicals full of toxic GMO toxins?

The baby was admitted to Westmead Hospital in May suffering from malnourishment and developmental issues.

Police said the boy had lost more than a kilogram and was near death.

Did the registered nurse not notice?

The chair of the Australian Medical Association’s Council of General Practice, Dr Brian Morton, has advised patients to always follow evidence-based treatment.

“It’s very important to continue medical treatment that’s been prescribed and speak to the doctor who’s prescribed that before you make a decision,” he said.

“I think it’s very important that alternative health practitioners know when they’ve made an error.

“Alternative therapy doesn’t have much place in the treatment of dermatological conditions like eczema.”

But that’s looking at it non-holistically, treating the skin – the “derma” in “dermatological” – as a separate entity instead of treating the Whole Body holistically.

Seriously though…it would be nice if people would stop doing things like this.

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

Climate change? What’s that?

Jul 9th, 2015 5:57 pm | By

Oh well, it’s only the planet.

ExxonMobil, the world’s biggest oil company, knew as early as 1981 of climate change – seven years before it became a public issue, according to a newly discovered email from one of the firm’s own scientists. Despite this the firm spent millions over the next 27 years to promote climate denial.

Well, look at it from their point of view. The climate would be ok for their lifetimes, so why should they pay any attention to climate change when they could make good money flogging oil instead?

From that angle it makes perfect sense.

In the email Bernstein, a chemical engineer and climate expert who spent 30 years at Exxon and Mobil and was a lead author on two of the United Nations’ blockbuster IPCC climate science reports, said climate change first emerged on the company’s radar in 1981, when the company was considering the development of south-east Asia’s biggest gas field, off Indonesia.

That was seven years ahead of other oil companies and the public, according to Bernstein’s account.

Climate change was largely confined to the realm of science until 1988, when the climate scientist James Hansen told Congress that global warming was caused by the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, due to the burning of fossil fuels.

Bernstein’s response, first posted on the institute’s website last October, was released by the Union of Concerned Scientists on Wednesday as part of a report on climate disinformation promoted by companies such as ExxonMobil, BP, Shell and Peabody Energy, called the Climate Deception Dossiers.

That sounds worth reading.

Exxon, unlike other companies and the public at large in the early 1980s, was already aware of climate change – and the prospect of regulations to limit the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, according to Bernstein’s account.

“In the 1980s, Exxon needed to understand the potential for concerns about climate change to lead to regulation that would affect Natuna and other potential projects. They were well ahead of the rest of industry in this awareness. Other companies, such as Mobil, only became aware of the issue in 1988, when it first became a political issue,” he wrote.

“Natural resource companies – oil, coal, minerals – have to make investments that have lifetimes of 50-100 years. Whatever their public stance, internally they make very careful assessments of the potential for regulation, including the scientific basis for those regulations,” Bernstein wrote in the email.

Naomi Oreskes, a Harvard University professor who researches the history of climate science, said it was unsurprising Exxon would have factored climate change in its plans in the early 1980s – but she disputed Bernstein’s suggestion that other companies were not. She also took issue with Exxon’s assertion of uncertainty about the science in the 1980s, noting the National Academy of Science describing a consensus on climate change from the 1970s.

The Guardian provides the whole email at the end.

British Columbia is burning to the ground at the moment, but Exxon has its profits.

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

A collective of senior Buddhist abbots and influential monks

Jul 9th, 2015 5:25 pm | By

Human Rights Watch on Burma’s new “Buddhist women can’t marry out” bill.

Burma’s President Thein Sein should refuse to sign into law the discriminatory interfaith marriage bill passed by parliament on July 7, 2015, Human Rights Watch said today. The bill targets Buddhist women who marry – or seek to marry – non-Buddhist men and introduces vaguely defined acts against Buddhism as grounds for divorce, forfeiture of custody and matrimonial property, and potential criminal penalties.

The Buddhist Women’s Special Marriage Law was passed by a vote of 524 to 44, with 8 abstentions, by Burma’s two houses of parliament sitting in a joint session. The final version of the bill has not been made public. The legislation now goes to the president for his signature.

“The Special Marriage Law is a blatant attempt to curb interfaith marriages with absurd claims of helping Buddhist women,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “It’s the latest potential trigger for anti-Muslim violence pushed by religious extremists, and the president shouldn’t sign it.”

Besides being discriminatory, the bill violates internationally protected rights to privacy, religious belief, and equal protection of the law. It “only concerns Myanmar Buddhist women and their non-Buddhist husbands,” and applies to all Burmese Buddhist women age 18 or over. The law permits the township (district level) registrar to publicly display a couple’s application for marriage for 14 days, and permits any objections to the marriage to be taken to local court. The law places further discriminatory restrictions on women under age 20, who are required to obtain consent from their parents or legal guardian to marry a non-Buddhist.

So any bozo could come along and have “objections” to your marriage and take them to a local court!

The law also requires a non-Buddhist husband to respect the free practice of his spouse’s Buddhist religion, including displaying Buddhist imagery and statues, and engaging in Buddhist ceremonies. He must refrain from “committing deliberate and malicious acts, such as writing, or speaking, or behaving or gesturing with intent to outrage feelings of Buddhists.” Violations of these provisions are grounds for divorce, and in such a case the non-Buddhist husband would be forced to give up his share of jointly owned property, owe his wife compensation, and be denied custody of the children.

Talk about micro-managing things that are none of the state’s business…

The Special Marriage Law is part of a package of four so-called Race and Religion Protection Laws urged on Burma’s lawmakers by the increasingly powerful and influential Association of the Protection of Race and Religion, known by its Burmese acronym Ma Ba Tha. Ma Ba Tha is a nationwide collective of senior Buddhist abbots and influential monks, many of whom frequently denounce Burma’s Muslim minorities, especially stateless Rohingya Muslims. Ma Ba Tha first proposed a draft marriage bill in 2013. The government released a version in late 2014 that was drafted by the Supreme Court, but it had only minor changes from the original Ma Ba Tha draft.

Yes we’re familiar with organizations of male clerics that creep around the landscape policing everything anyone does. They make life hell.

“The parliament and president shouldn’t pander to extremists but rather reject any proposed law that will further divide Burma’s communities,” Robertson said. “As the November 8 national election looms, enacting laws that embolden those who thrive on discrimination and communal violence is a dangerous development.”

It’s a damn nightmare.

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

Citoyen Raif

Jul 9th, 2015 4:44 pm | By

A nice thing today – the mayor of Sherbrooke made Raif Badawi a citoyen de Sherbrooke.

That of course is Ensaf; this news and these photos are via her.

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

Burma’s Protection of Race and Religion Laws

Jul 9th, 2015 4:34 pm | By

Burma’s parliament has passed a bill limiting the right of Buddhist women to marry non-Buddhists.

The Buddhist Women’s Special Marriage Bill passed Tuesday is one of four known as the Protection of Race and Religion Laws, which have been criticized as discriminatory by rights groups. It mandates that Buddhist women register their intent to marry outside their faith and allows them to be stopped if there are objections.

I guess the government of Burma owns all the uteruses.

President Thein Sein has 14 days from when the bill was passed to sign it or return it with suggested changes.

“It’s shocking that Burma’s Parliament has passed yet another incredibly dangerous law, this time legislating clearly discriminatory provisions targeting the rights of religious minority men and Buddhist women to marry who they wish without interference,” said [Phil] Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division.

The point of religion: hating the out-groups.

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

A woman is too dirty to be a justice

Jul 9th, 2015 1:50 pm | By

The first woman nominated to Afghanistan’s supreme court has failed to win enough votes in parliament. Anisa Rassouli  got 88 of the 97 votes needed for her nomination to be approved. The Guardian reports:

Wednesday’s vote came after clerics and conservatives lined up to criticise the choice of Rassouli, who has been a judge for 24 years and is the current head of Kabul’s juvenile court. They claimed only men were fit to sit in the highest court in the country.

Last month, one MP made his views clear. Menstruating women were considered unclean in Islam and were not allowed to touch the Qur’an, Qazi Nazeer Hanafi said. As judges put their hands on the holy book every day, and it was unfeasible for a supreme court judge to take a week off every month, ran his logic, Rassouli’s appointment should be opposed.

“It is against Islamic law. I will make a campaign and tell the other brothers to vote against her,” said Hanafi. “It would be a crime if I voted for her.”

Because women menstruate, as part of the process that makes them able to gestate new human beings. Mr Not allowed to touch the Qur’an is basically saying the process that makes new human beings is so filthy that a menstruating woman pollutes everything she touches.

If that’s true, why did Allah arrange things that way? Why did Allah make women and menstrual blood in such a way that the menstrual blood seeps through the woman’s entire body and pollutes everything she touches? Why did Allah make menstrual blood a pollutant? Why didn’t Allah make it a nice clean sweet substance like dew or ginger ale?

Or, to get more basic about it, why did Allah make the men who worship Allah such woman-hating shits?

Rights advocates had hoped the presence of a woman on the supreme court could help overhaul Afghanistan’s inherently sexist legal system. Family and marital law favours men, and a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man. The vast majority of girls and women in Afghanistan’s prisons have been jailed for moral crimes, such as running away from home to escape a violent husband.

That’s a funny way to put it. Leaving a husband isn’t a crime at all. Adults don’t “run away from home”; they leave, if they need to, as is their right. The vast majority of girls and women in Afghanistan’s prisons have been jailed for non-crimes like leaving a violent husband.

Had her nomination been approved, one imminent challenge for Rassouli would have been to build Afghans’ trust in the formal legal system. In rural areas in particular, many people prefer local, informal councils to courts of law, which are often inaccessible and reputed to be slow and corrupt. However, the informal system often grants impunity to male suspects, such as those accused of domestic violence.

“Women who prefer to go to village courts don’t have enough information and are uneducated. If I talk to them face to face, I can explain why the formal system is better,” Rassouli said last month. “The main problem is security. We could bring the courts to the villages if there was better security, and then people wouldn’t use the local councils.”

Rassouli said her presence at the supreme court could potentially help women gain faith in the legal system. “We have a lot of women who come to the supreme court asking about their rights. Women are more comfortable talking to a female judge, so there’s need for me to be there,” she said.

So no wonder they didn’t approve her.

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

Council unanimously supports the decision taken by UCL’s executive

Jul 9th, 2015 12:58 pm | By

UCL has released the promised statement. It’s short and to the point.

9 July 2015

UCL Council, the university’s governing body, has today reviewed all of the circumstances of the resignation of Sir Tim Hunt as an Honorary Professor of the Faculty of Life Sciences on 10 June. Having seen the relevant correspondence, including the exchange of emails between Sir Tim and UCL, the Council is satisfied that his resignation was accepted in good faith. Council unanimously supports the decision taken by UCL’s executive to accept the resignation.

The subsequent extent of media interest was unprecedented, and Council recognises the distress caused to Sir Tim and Professor Mary Collins. Council acknowledges that all parties agree that reinstatement would be inappropriate.

Council recognises that there are lessons to be learned around the communication process. Consequently it has requested that the executive undertake a review of its communications strategy.

Note the last sentence of the first paragraph –

Council unanimously supports the decision taken by UCL’s executive to accept the resignation.

That’s important, because Louise Mensch and her footsoldiers have been saying over and over that there’s a rebellion in the Council and that many members wanted to reinstate Hunt to his honorary professorship. It appears that Louise Mensch was wrong about that…at least, wrong that they wanted it badly enough to go to war over it.

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

An entire way of dressing, behaving and believing

Jul 9th, 2015 12:31 pm | By

Iram Ramzan retorts to Hanna Yusuf’s article expanding on her “yay for the hijab” video.

I’m sorry but I have very little patience with this, oh woe is me attitude, when there are two women in Morocco who are being prosecuted for indecency for wearing summer dresses in a souq. As far as I am aware, no one is arresting Hanna for wearing her hijab nor is she being forced to remove it.

By implying that women who don’t wear the hijab are slaves to glossy magazines and consumer pressures, Hanna makes the same patronising generalisations that she claims others people make about hijabi women.

Even people who are in thrall to glossy magazines and consumer pressures can easily decide not to be. It’s not so easy for people who believe they are required to obey the rules of their religion to decide to disobey those rules. It’s no great wrench to decide that glossy magazines are just glossy magazines, but it’s a pretty big wrench to realize that some of the rules of your religion are bad rules. I suspect that’s why Hanna Yusuf imputes these crass motivations to people who aren’t like her.

“The control hijabi women have over their bodies,” Hannah continues, “Challenges existing structures”.

Where do I begin with this? Firstly, this idea that hijabi women have control over their bodies is not only simplistic but also ludicrous. Women are told to cover so that they do not provoke men’s desires – where is the control in that?

As for this idea that wearing hijab means you’re no longer objectified and no longer focusing on your appearance is nonsense. We’re humans at the end of the day and always concerned with our appearance. Women in headscarves are no exceptions to this.

It is true that the hijab makes women look duller and dowdier than they would without it. That’s the point of it, after all. But does that mean that their appearance just becomes a non-issue? Like Iram, I doubt it.

If it were just about covering the hair then there would be little issue. But the concept of the hijab is much more than just about covering the hair and Hanna knows it. As some Muslims wrote under my initial piece, it is an entire way of dressing, behaving and believing. Hence why she needed to research for three years before she decided to wear it, because once you put it on there is no going back. Women are free to wear one, just not free to remove it. And as soon as you wear the headscarf you are judged more harshly for your actions because of your perceived piety. If women without hijabs are “exploited” and “objectified”, then so too are those with hijabs, being upheld as models of good Muslim women.

I am glad that Hanna can make a free choice, and is able to have her free choice accepted by a tolerant society – despite insisting that is she faced by a wave of hostility. It is a pity that some of the societies where the headscarf is either compulsory or desired are not so tolerant.

The intolerance of those societies is much of the reason for hostility to the hijab, ironically enough.


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