Notes and Comment Blog

One trans man’s pioneering quest

Apr 18th, 2019 3:16 pm | By

The Guardian is excited about a new movie.

Watch the trailer for Seahorse, a new feature-length documentary produced in association with the Guardian, about one trans man’s pioneering quest to start his own family. This is the story of the dad who gave birth.

Freddy is 30 and yearns to start a family but for him this ordinary desire comes with unique challenges. He is a gay transgender man. Deciding to carry his own baby took years of soul searching, but nothing could prepare him for the reality of pregnancy, as both a physical experience and one that challenges society’s fundamental understanding of gender, parenthood and family.

In other words, a woman had a baby. Stop the presses!

It’s a thing that happens every day all over the planet without making the news…but when it’s a woman who claims to be a man doing it, then it challenges society’s fundamental understanding of gender, parenthood and family.

Except it doesn’t, you know. It’s still a woman having a baby. The fact that Freddy claims to be a man doesn’t change that. Words don’t change physical realities that easily. Words can change emotional realities, legal realities, social realities, but they can’t change material reality.

Made with unprecedented access and collaboration over three years, the film follows Freddy from preparing to conceive right through to birth. The film, directed by Jeanie Finlay, premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival at the end of April, and will play in the UK later this year.

And what about the baby? What about the hormones Freddy is taking and their effect on the baby? No doubt that’s too boring and routine to bother talking about.

Guest post: Can the Internet Tell Me How I am Supposed to Think About the Bad Shit in the World?

Apr 18th, 2019 2:44 pm | By

Guest post by Claire Ramsey.

I have not been able to reconcile the competing ideas, feelings, and pieces of knowledge in my mind since the fire at Notre Dame in Paris was in the news.

In 2012 an act of white terrorism drove me to engage in anti-racism learning and action, when Trayvon Martin was murdered in cold blood by a domestic terrorist merely because he was Black. I could not go on living with the hatred and violence generated by white supremacy. Studying, reading, and learning have all offered compelling evidence that white people in the US, and particularly white women, are the only ones who can dismantle racism. We need to listen to Black voices, we need to believe Black people, we need to accept Black women as our teachers, and we need to invest money in groups and individuals we trust to lead us away from white supremacy. I paced, screamed and cried when a white terrorist murdered innocent people at church in Charleston. I am filled with rage at the white asshole criminal who destroyed those three churches in Louisiana. Each police murder of an unarmed innocent Black person looks to me like domestic white terrorism. I still have a lot to learn and a long, long walk ahead of me.

I am sad but not very sad about Notre Dame the building. Nor do I mourn the religious site at Notre Dame. I am not a fan of organized religion, ill-gotten ecclesiastical wealth, popes, pedophilia, or priests. The Notre Dame fire on April 15 was an accident waiting to happen – dry old wood and plenty of oxygen. It’s amazing that no one was killed in that fire. The structure’s insides will be rebuilt. Lots of big medieval buildings have been destroyed by various forces, and many have been rebuilt.

When I think of Notre Dame I think about the stone masons and draftsmen in 1163 who figured out how to start building such a huge structure with the limestone that was right under their feet. They knew they would never see their project completed. I think about those flying buttresses and the miracle of the human brains that imagined making them and analyzed how they would work. I try to imagine what that huge structure looked like to people when there were no other buildings around it. And I think about kilometer zero, a marker embedded in the concrete near Notre Dame. Parts of the structure that we, in the 21st century, prize were not ancient – the spire was 150 years old. The colored glass windows were replacement windows and not original. The stone was already crumbling from acid rain and other pollutants. Gargoyles’ noses had crumbled off.

I think we were struck by the images from Paris because we have a primal human terror of smoke and flames. I felt a similar primal fear on 9/11/2001 and on the day Mount Saint Helens erupted in 1980 – events I observed in real time, from very close locations. I feel similar fear and shock at forest fires, prairie fires, towns in Eastern Washington burning down from out of control fires. I couldn’t not look. But I didn’t want to look and have those images in my mind. Natural events, a terrorist attack, a construction accident – the flames and smoke are what they have in common to our primitive brains. The media exploits what they know we are drawn to. We can be smarter than the media though, and we can easily outsmart the media with our own ability to think.

I am struck – and confounded – by the public moral instruction posted on the internet in the last 24 hours. They suggest that it is wrong to be sad about the fire at Notre Dame because human beings have committed worse crimes against other human beings, last month, last year, and over history. The moral instruction takes the form of “You are sad about Notre Dame but. . . you did not cry when XXXXX.” Or “You mourn a building in France but where were you when XXXX?” This a rhetorical move that I do not have the knowledge to really understand. But it rankles and it feels slightly fallacious, as did advertising for a Christian children’s fund in the 1970s, that pitched: “You can turn the page or you can save a child.” I asked around, and this rhetorical move is an example of the fallacy of relative privation – Wikipedia defines it “dismissing an argument or complaint due to the existence of more important problems in the world, regardless of whether those problems bear relevance to the initial argument.” Others call the move “whataboutery.”

The moral instruction via the fallacy of relative privation prompted a lot of thinking, about what I know and what I don’t know, about how to think. In particular, I was asking myself

“What shall I be concerned about?
How can I distribute my many feels about the world over the many bad situations in the world? Am I required to justify my worrying priorities?
How are they justifiable?
Specifically, are my worrying/sadnesses/shames/guilts merely the output of my white privilege? Am I a bigger racist asshole than I thought I was? (Because all of white people are, no matter what you think).”

I know a lot about the US, white supremacy, racism, the lives of Black Americans today and in the past, and white terrorism, far more than I did in the past. Most of this knowledge is new because it wasn’t in my history books in high school and I have a huge amount of privilege, so did not have to develop that knowledge to survive.

And even though I know that the moral instruction via the fallacy of relative privation IS A DAMN FALLACY, still I am compelled to ask:

Is there a way to reconcile what I know about white supremacy in the US/my own privilege with the images from France of French people in sad shock about Notre Dame?
Am I really only allowed to pick one tragedy to be sad about?
Can I think about the wonder of medieval engineering and be sad for French people?
Can being sad for French people coexist with my disgust at the pedophilia, murder, and violence of the Catholic Church?
(It feels to me like it can).

I am not French. I know that I am unable to genuinely understand what the fire in Notre Dame means to French people. I will not judge their response – that structure symbolizes French-ness to them, something outsiders can’t understand. Symbols are crucial. As a species, humans are symbol users and manipulators, for good and for bad. I am not the person who is going to chide French people about their response simply because I know about worse fires or worse events in the world. I am not going to tell French people how to be sad or what they should be sad about. By the same token I do not want to be told what to think or how to think. I am a white supremacist on a par with other white women. But I don’t think merely holding several ideas or several pieces of knowledge is a reliable marker of white privilege, or that it proves I am a thoughtless white woman.

I think racism and all of its evils now and in the past in the US is the most serious issue we face. it is the most dangerous part of American life. It is the most damaging part of American life. I say this despite the fact that I know about horrors taking place all over the world that hurt and kill people, and that world history is violent, bloody, and greedy. White privilege is reality. To deny it is racist and deluded.

Like all of us, I can consider two or three ideas or facts at the same time without upsetting my mental balance. I do not like the push to pick one over the other. But the public moral instruction offered on the internet leads to the conclusion – and sometimes to explicit critique – that it is wrong to see images of sad and shocked French people and feel sad for them, while simultaneously holding knowledge of the racism in the US and my role in it. That it is perpetuating racism to attempt to reconcile them in my mind.

I alway turned the page, so I guess I starved quite a few a children. Fallaciously, via relative privation. Sorry children. You said I only had two choices. I guess I picked the wrong one.

Girls who run

Apr 18th, 2019 12:20 pm | By

The footage of the race is shocking. How people can cheer this on confounds me.

When she refused, they set her on fire

Apr 18th, 2019 11:43 am | By

Mir Sabbir reports from Dhaka:

Nusrat Jahan Rafi was doused with kerosene and set on fire at her school in Bangladesh. Less than two weeks earlier, she had filed a sexual harassment complaint against her headmaster.

Her courage in speaking out against sexual assault, her death five days after being set alight and everything that happened in-between has gripped Bangladesh and brought attention to the vulnerability of sexual harassment victims in this conservative South Asian country.

The vulnerability of female people in general.

“Conservative” isn’t really the right word for setting a woman on fire because she reported sexual abuse. (I’m going out on a limb here and surmising that “harassment” also doesn’t quite cover what the headmaster did.) Setting people on fire isn’t really a conservative versus progressive issue.

Nusrat, who was 19, was from Feni, a small town 100 miles (160km) south of Dhaka. She was studying at a madrassa, or Islamic school. On 27 March, she said the headmaster called her into his office and repeatedly touched her in an inappropriate manner. Before things could go any further she ran out.

Then she and her family went to the police to report it, a brave move and her death sentence.

At the local police station she gave a statement. She should have been provided with a safe environment to recall her traumatic experiences. Instead she was filmed by the officer in charge on his phone as she described the ordeal.

In the video Nusrat is visibly distressed and tries to hide her face with her hands. The policeman is heard calling the complaint “no big deal” and telling her to move her hands from her face. The video was later leaked to local media.

The headmaster was arrested.

Things then got worse for Nusrat. A group of people gathered in the streets demanding his release. The protest had been arranged by two male students and local politicians were allegedly in attendance. People began to blame Nusrat. Her family say they started to worry about her safety.

We see milder forms of this here, of course – men working together to defend sexual abusers and revile accusers. It’s not “conservative,” it’s just hatred of women.

Nevertheless, on 6 April, 11 days after the alleged sexual assault, Nusrat went to her school to sit her final exams.

Her brother tried to go with her but he was kept out.

According to a statement given by Nusrat, a fellow female student took her to the roof of the school, saying one of her friends was being beaten up. When Nusrat reached the rooftop four or five people, wearing burqas, surrounded her and allegedly pressured her to withdraw the case against the headmaster. When she refused, they set her on fire.

She managed to give a statement before she died.

Nusrat’s death has sparked protests and thousands have used social media to express their anger about both her case and the treatment of sexual assault victims in Bangladesh.

“Many girls don’t protest out of fear after such incidents. Burqas, even dresses made of iron cannot stop rapists,” said Anowar Sheikh on BBC Bengali’s Facebook page.

“I wanted a daughter my whole life, but now I am afraid. Giving birth to a daughter in this country means a life of fear and worry,” wrote Lopa Hossain in her Facebook post.

H/t Lady Mondegreen

Permission to go outside

Apr 18th, 2019 9:13 am | By

On a different part of the planet:

One of four women who was recently subjected to a brutal public lashing by armed Taliban fighters in Afghanistan has spoken about her experience, amid an increase of violent punishments given to those violating its strict interpretation of religious law.

Aziza, who like many other Afghan women only uses one name, was rounded up by the Taliban’s shadow police for being out of her house without her husband and not being fully veiled. She was beaten so badly she lost consciousness.

Not punishments and not any kind of police, just a group of criminal men committing extreme violence against a woman.

Aziza said she was arrested by armed Taliban fighters after they entered a local market. She was wearing a burqa without mesh covering her face.

“Women in our area have no identity and they are considered incomplete without men. Sometimes men are not available and many women died in the remote areas as they were unable to reach hospital,” she said.

Not only are they considered incomplete without men, they’re violently assaulted for being outside without men.

Describing the incident, Aziza said: “There was a rush in the market when suddenly the Taliban came. Everyone tried to run away but I was unable to escape and they came and asked why I was not wearing a veil with a face mesh.”

She said she lost consciousness during the flogging and that no one came to help her.

“I am afraid of the Taliban now and feel they will be more violent against women. I am still unable to get over what happened.

“The Taliban teach us about our roles under sharia. They told us to serve our husbands with food and roles in the kitchen, and that you don’t have permission to go outside for shopping or to the doctor without a mahram [male guardian]. This is not the way to treat women.”

No it is not.

Evidence about the president’s actions and intent

Apr 18th, 2019 8:46 am | By

Meanwhile the report is out.

The Guardian (like everyone else) is racing through it and sharing some highlights. Like the part where it’s less exculpatory than Barr told us it was:

In his introduction to the second part of his report, on obstruction of justice, Robert Mueller goes much further than attorney general Bill Barr has suggested and points to serious wrongdoing on Trump’s part that could amount to criminal activity.

Mueller states that had his team concluded that the president had committed no crime, they would have said so. Instead, Mueller writes:

Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment.

There’s more trouble for Trump in the next sentence. Mueller alludes to having found “evidence about the president’s actions and intent” that “prevent us from conclusively determining that no criminal conduct occurred”. Mueller adds:

“Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

Which is…you know…quite an ordinary situation in criminal investigations. They can find some evidence but not enough. The suspect walks, but that doesn’t automatically mean the suspect didn’t do it.

If only it had been.

But he was frustrated and angered

Apr 18th, 2019 8:28 am | By

So, Barr turned in the expected shocking performance.

The Guardian was watching:

“The report recounts ten episodes involving the President and discusses potential legal theories for connecting these actions to elements of an obstruction offense,” Barr says.

It’s hard to avoid the sense that Barr is going out of his way to defend Trump here. Because while Mueller documented those ten episodes, Barr says he and deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein:

“Concluded that the evidence developed by the Special Counsel is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.”

Barr adds:

Although the Deputy Attorney General and I disagreed with some of the Special Counsel’s legal theories and felt that some of the episodes examined did not amount to obstruction as a matter of law, we did not rely solely on that in making our decision.

Barr says one of the other things that influenced his belief that Trump did not obstruct justice is that there was evidence that Trump was “frustrated and angered by his sincere belief that the [Mueller] investigation was” hindering his presidency.

But the White House “fully cooperated” with the special counsel’s investigation, Barr says.

You have got to be fucking kidding. Of course Trump was furious and outraged that anyone dared to investigate his corrupt and dangerous actions; we already knew that; being really really pissed off doesn’t turn obstruction of justice into not obstruction of justice. What kind of Attorney General treats the rage of the perp as exculpatory? Of course Trump’s belief was “sincere”; Trump sincerely believes he is the only person on the planet who matters; how would that make him any less guilty?

Mind you, that is how a lot of violence against women gets explained away. “He was sincerely jealous and angry”; not guilty. But that’s a defense argument, not a prosecutor argument. The AG is not supposed to be the president’s attorney.

Next entry:

Barr said that Trump did not obstruct justice – but in doing so admitted he had “disagreed with some of the special counsel’s legal theories” in coming to that conclusion.

Barr also claimed, falsely, that the White House “fully cooperated” with Mueller. In fact, Trump refused to be interviewed.

Barr also seemed to claim that Trump being “frustrated and angered” mitigated against some of the obstructions of justice allegations.

I’m feeling a tad frustrated and angered right now; what can I get away with?

He does not want to

Apr 17th, 2019 4:31 pm | By

Trump is very very very mad about the subpoenas and the committees and the subpoenas and everything. Just fit to be tied.

The slew of demands from the House committees has infuriated Trump, who has told aides that he does not want to cooperate with the inquiries, according to people familiar with his thinking.

He is particularly angry about the efforts by the Ways and Means Committee to obtain his tax returns, telling aides he will fight that demand all the way to the Supreme Court and adding that, by then, the 2020 election will be over.

“You’re never going to see his tax returns,” Anthony Scaramucci, a former White House official and Trump adviser, said on MSNBC on Tuesday. “He’s not going to release them.”

Never never never never never! Do you understand?!

I wonder if it crosses his tiny mind that he’s telling us he’s dirty. He was lying about the returns, saying they were “under audit.” If now he’s just saying “NO, NEVER” then he’s telling us they would expose him for the dirty rotten crook he is. That’s a little bit interesting.

The churches of St. Landry Parish

Apr 17th, 2019 4:12 pm | By

Eugene Scott at the Post points out that Trump tweeted about Notre Dame twice but had said nothing about the three Louisiana black churches that burned down.

On Tuesday, state authorities charged Holden Matthews, a 21-year-old white man and the son of the local police deputy, with hate crimes in the Louisiana church attacks. He was earlier charged with arson.

Of course, the churches in Louisiana are significantly younger than Notre Dame. But they also have a rich history and played a significant role in St. Landry Parish’s black community. At least one hosts a cemetery containing graves of black people enslaved in Louisiana.

“My church has a lot of history,” the Rev. Gerald Toussaint of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, which is more than 140 years old, told the Daily Advertiser. “I don’t understand it. What could make a person do that to a church?”

Greater Union Baptist Church is also more than 100 years old, according to Pastor Harry Richard, whose grandfather was one of the congregation’s founders.

Their histories are relatively short because the potential parishioners were otherwise engaged and couldn’t get away, if you know what I mean.

The burning of black churches was a common intimidation tactic during the Jim Crow era. “For decades, African-American churches have served as the epicenter of survival and a symbol of hope for many in the African-American community,” Derrick Johnson, president of the NAACP, said last week in a statement condemning the fires. “As a consequence, these houses of faith have historically been the targets of violence.”

The houses and sometimes the people in them.

Image result for birmingham church bombing

The church fires have, of course, drawn wide coverage and attention. The Louisiana governor mentioned it in his recent state of the state. But top Trump administration officials have not spoken out on or condemned the violence.

Good people on both sides, both sides.

It’s at $1,529,669 as of this moment.

Flying while self-involved

Apr 17th, 2019 12:33 pm | By

Spare a thought for the flying trans people.

Flying while transgender — a term that increasingly includes not just those who are male or female but also those who identify as both or neither, like me — is undeniably improving.

So transgender means being the sex opposite the one “assigned at birth” and being neither sex and being both sexes. So it’s entirely incoherent. Could its real meaning be just “more special than you”?

Anyway, at least the flying part is improving. Because? Airlines no longer give pink drinks to women and blue drinks to men? But they’ve never done that. It’s hard to see what difference it could make.

Last month, United Airlines expanded its gender options: Passengers can select male, female, undisclosed or unspecified, and can choose the honorific “Mx.” “Fly how you identify,” the airline touted in its feel-good tweet — and American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Alaska Airlines quickly promised they’d make similar changes.

Ahhh, I see, it’s purely symbolic. You don’t get called by your name, let alone by Ms or Mx. It doesn’t happen. You’re packed in like sardines, they give you some coffee or gin and maybe a little packet of peanuts, they let you leave the sardine tin at the end. End of story.

But never mind that, the point is that “Mx” in blinking golden letters over your seat row isn’t good enough, because screening.

My hair is clipped to a fade. My shoulders have started to thicken from barbell presses. Even without a binder, my chest is flat. I am often called “sir,” particularly in airports, particularly when I wear the men’s blazer that I have learned differs in some inscrutably minute way from all the other men’s blazers I wear, and makes people read me differently.

But I am more often called “ma’am.” I have a soft jawline and curved hips. Which button had they pressed this time? And what had then caused the agent to reclassify me, rethink me, re-sort me into the other category? The other category — when neither category actually fits?

Etc etc etc fucking etc; me me me me me what I’m like me me me me. How about if we threw out “trans” altogether and just went with “narcissist”? Would be quicker.

Which item doesn’t belong?

Apr 17th, 2019 11:53 am | By

When he thinks about feminism, he thinks “TERF”

Apr 17th, 2019 10:58 am | By

Well that’s us told:

Nonbinary Femmes Must Be Included in the Feminist Movement.

“Must” on whose orders? There is no such “must.”

But besides that, what the hell is a nonbinary femme supposed to be? I think I’ve asked that before, possibly to the point of tedium, but nobody seems to be able to explain. It’s having it both ways, if you ask me.

At any rate it’s clearly nothing to do with women, dreary old humdrum commonplace neither trans nor nonbinary women. They’re too boring to bear, so feminism needs to be livened up by being ordered to include men who identify or present or perform or pirouette or show off “as” women.

Our author Tre’vell [sic] Anderson explains:

In recent years, dialogues about what it means to be a woman and how these definitions interact with the persisting intersectional feminist movement have moved from ivory towers to the red carpet, the streets, and living rooms nationwide. Yet still, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming people’s lived experiences are erased. Nonbinary femme folk, in particular, confront violence and marginalization — as well as joy, love, and triumph — in their own ways.

Unlike women, you understand. Women confront no violence and no marginalization, because women have peak maximum superfluous privilege. Bitches.

We get a photo of a guy in a bright orange hoody, fishnets, and spike-heeled orange boots.

I can’t remember how young I was, but I had a love for my mom’s size-6 high heels. I’d come home from school and be all by myself — so I’d dance in them, hittin’ the runway, practicing walking up and down the stairs. It’s funny because people nowadays say, “You know how to walk in heels better than girls!” and I’m like, “There’s no shade, I’ve honestly been doing it a lot longer than most girls.”

I started wearing makeup and clothes from the “girls” side of the store in college at Lincoln University. It was very cool to see that a lot of the Black men on campus really did not care about me presenting as femme.

Etc etc etc etc fucking etc. It’s all about the wearing and the performance. It’s the normal (but no less irritating for being normal) self-absorption of youth. It’s nothing to do with feminism. Feminism does not have to include that. It’s beside the point.

The idea, to the extent that there is one, seems to be something along the lines of: femmey gay men share in some of the stereotypes about women that serve as excuses to exploit and abuse them, therefore feminism must include them. That doesn’t follow. Here’s a badly-guarded secret: femmey gay men don’t necessarily love or feel in solidarity with women, in fact it’s quite commonplace for such men to hate women. Surprise!

Next candidate:

I thought for a long time that I was a transgender woman, but, through drag and the queer scene in Brooklyn, I realized I didn’t have to adhere to the stereotypical traits of what society thinks is a woman. I know where my head is, but I feel like I have this mind-over-matter mentality, so I’ve never felt like I had to prove my identity to anyone through appearance. For a lot of people, drag is their art and their job. For me, drag is literally a part of my identity. It’s me channeling my femme side.

There are some places where people really do look at being nonbinary as a joke, but I’m not in any way ashamed of myself. I do have privilege because I’m not constantly presenting femme. To society, I present mostly as masculine. I always have to remember that society’s lens is so different from a queer person’s, so I have no problem correcting someone who mistakes a pronoun. Five years ago, I would punch a bitch in the face…

No commentary needed.

Next candidate:

But when I think about the feminist movement, I think of the special brand of really virulent anti-trans feminism — the TERF (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist) Movement. I tend to feel grateful that the feminism that I’ve encountered has been really welcoming. I’ve seen it refined to help the most people by including trans women and moving towards the inclusion of nonbinary or transfemme people. It’s brave to go up against the deep programming we all have around the gender binary — because everyone (and cisgender feminists in particular) has been programmed to think that a vagina equals a woman, and we need to fight for women with vaginas to have rights. That last part of that statement is absolutely true, but we also need to chip away at that, having women and transfemmes who may or may not have certain parts be included in this movement.

Nope. No feminist has to include that guy in her feminism.

Muh authoriteh

Apr 16th, 2019 5:56 pm | By

Trump says he can do whatever he wants:

President Donald Trump issued the second veto of his presidency Tuesday, stopping a congressional resolution that would have sought to end US involvement in the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

“This resolution is an unnecessary, dangerous attempt to weaken my constitutional authorities, endangering the lives of American citizens and brave service members, both today and in the future,” Trump wrote to the Senate Thursday.

His constitutional authority – as if it were personal to him as opposed to attaching (or not) to the office. I’m pretty sure normal presidents use the third person in statements of that kind – they talk of the executive branch or the president but not their personal selves. Trump is too dumb to grasp the difference.

Supporters of the War Powers Resolution argued the US shouldn’t be involved in the war without explicit permission from Congress. Opponents argued the US does not have “boots on the ground” and is offering noncombat technical assistance to Saudi Arabia, an ally.

Several supporters made clear their votes were also aimed at expressing their frustrations with Trump’s continued support for Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has been implicated in the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The bill passed the House 247-175. Sixteen Republicans voted yes with Democrats and one voted present. In the Senate the vote was 54 to 46, with seven Republicans voting with Democrats.

But everybody loves him! He says so himself!

Why care

Apr 16th, 2019 5:00 pm | By

Katie Herzog notes a commonality in mourning cultural destruction:

As I watched Notre Dame burn yesterday, I was reminded of the fire at the National Museum of Brazil last year and the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan by the Taliban in 2001. You didn’t have to be a Brazilian or a Buddhist to care about those losses, and you don’t have to be a Catholic or a Parisian to care about Notre Dame now.

I’ve blogged about both of those, and a lot more – the shrines in Timbuktu, the statues in Palmyra, the mosques in Gujarat.

Art works aren’t people, but art works matter to people, so it’s not devaluing people to give a damn when examples of the human genius for creating objects that matter to people are demolished. Ancient artifacts have a big place on the universal mattering map.

Walking beside his mother

Apr 16th, 2019 4:00 pm | By

The replies are even funnier.

Alors oui, nous rebâtirons la cathédrale Notre-Dame

Apr 16th, 2019 3:35 pm | By

It was close.

Notre Dame Cathedral was within “15 to 30 minutes” of complete destruction as firefighters battled to stop flames reaching its gothic bell towers, French authorities have revealed.

A greater disaster was averted by members of the Paris fire brigade, who risked their lives to remain inside the burning monument to create a wall of water between the raging fire and two towers on the west facade.

Merci, pompiers.

The cathedral is owned by the state and has been at the centre of a years-long dispute between the nation and the Paris archdiocese over who should finance restoration work to collapsed balustrades, crumbling gargoyles and cracked facades.

How about both? Or maybe a 75/25 split, with the church giving more because the cathedral is a nice little earner? Assuming it is; I’m guessing but I don’t know.

After the conflagration was declared completely extinguished, 15 hours after it started, the junior interior minister, Laurent Nunez, said the structure had been saved but remained vulnerable. He praised the actions of the firefighters but admitted the fate of the cathedral had been uncertain. “They saved the edifice, but it all came down to 15-30 minutes,” Nunez said.

Close close close.

The fire, which had started at the base of the 93-metre spire at about 6.40pm on Monday, spread through the cathedral’s ribbed roof, made up of hundreds of oak beams, some dating back to the 13th century. These beams, known as la forêt (the forest) because of their density, formed the cross-shaped roof that ran the length of the nave and transept above stone vaults.

As hundreds of tourists and Parisians stood and watched the flames leaping from the roof, there was shock and tears as the cathedral spire caught fire, burned and then collapsed into itself.

The 500 firefighters at the scene then battled to prevent the flames from reaching the two belfry towers, where the cathedral bells hang. If the wooden frame of the towers had caught fire, it could have sent the bells – the largest of which, the Emmanuel Bell, weighs 13 tonnes – crashing down, potentially causing the collapse of both gothic towers.

But we are waiting

Apr 16th, 2019 11:49 am | By

Dahlia Lithwick points out many things Trump has done in full public view that amount to the various kinds of wrongdoing Mueller’s team investigated.

There’s the alleged telling an official to close the southern border and promising a pardon in advance, there’s the lying about Wikileaks, there’s the spreading filth.

Last week, as professor David Rothkopf ably summarized here, Attorney General William Barr testified that he was able to be the arbiter of whether the president obstructed justice, which is actually not the case. He also reversed a long-standing Department of Justice policy to defend statutes because the president told him to. The treasury secretary has refused to abide by a law that on its face demands that the president’s tax returns be turned over to the House Ways and Means Committee, again at the president’s request. In other words, in many departments, we are seeing Trump appointees willing to put the president above the law. We saw a mass purge at the Department of Homeland Security ostensibly because no senior officials are willing to break the law hard enough and fast enough to mollify the president. We heard the president invoke the word treason explicitly to describe his critics. But we are waiting for William Barr to summarize for us whether Robert Mueller concluded that the president has violated the law.

They’re doing all this out in the open, while we watch.

There is no crime called collusion. There has never been a crime called collusion, but that is the crime from which Donald Trump—never having seen the Mueller report—says he has received “complete and total exoneration.” Very few people have actually seen the Mueller report, but we do know that there was no explicit finding by Mueller on the question of whether Trump obstructed justice. And yet, when it comes to that very question, much of what we saw happen before our very eyes—Trump’s treatment of James Comey, his complaints about Jeff Sessions, multiple efforts to stymie the investigations—could certainly be understood to be elements of obstruction of justice. So acute is the sense of national shock and trauma at Trump’s open and flagrant misconduct that we are waiting patiently for a Mueller report to confirm that we have all been seeing what we’ve all been seeing for the past two years. We are standing next to a burning building and waiting for Robert Mueller to let us know if he smells smoke.

We don’t know what else we can do.

Dry timber

Apr 16th, 2019 11:19 am | By

What may have happened:

A heritage fire safety expert has said his heart sinks and he fears for the worst every time he sees scaffolding on a historic building.

Stewart Kidd said all construction sites were inherently dangerous places, but the danger was so much higher in a heritage building.

“We’re talking about timber, we’re talking about very dry buildings because they are old, we’re talking about nooks and crannies, we’re talking about voids and ducts where fire can spread unseen and pop out a long way from where it started.”

He said data from Scotland suggested that about 8-12% of fires in heritage buildings occured when contractors were present.

“What we know is that any kind of hot work, effectively any form of heat application during construction, is dangerous. So not just welding, not just brazing, it is also cutting, it is also grinding, it is also soldering and it is particularly lead work on roofs.”

Kidd, a consultant who has written numerous books on fire risks in heritage buildings, pointed to the loss of the National Trust country house Uppark in 1989 which occurred while contractors were putting a new roof on after the 1987 gales. “They applied too much heat and set fire to the timber under the lead which smouldered and then burst into flames.”

I bet the people who were working on Notre Dame are feeling like crap today.

Change of location

Apr 16th, 2019 11:02 am | By

That shindig with Jair Bolsonaro at the Museum of Natural History? It’s off.

Plans to honor Brazil’s far-right president with a black-tie gala at the American Museum of Natural History have been scrapped after a public outcry that saw New York’s mayor brand Jair Bolsonaro “a very dangerous human being”.

Bill de Blasio was among those to speak out after plans for the 14 May event emerged last week, claiming Bolsonaro’s “overt racism and homophobia” and his hostility to the environment mean it would be wrong for such a museum to host him.

Museum staff and scientists in both the United States and Brazil also blasted the decision to pay tribute to a rightwing populist who critics fear is leading the South American country into a new era of Amazon destruction with profound implications for Brazil’s indigenous people and the battle against climate change.

That in particular seems like a deal-breaker. Which team should the AMNH be on: team don’t destroy the Amazon rain forest, or team do destroy the Amazon rain forest? The Natural History part would seem to answer that question in a case where team-choosing is an issue.

Move it to a Trump-owned building. Perfect fit.

The Guardian helpfully links to its own January 2 article on Bolsonaro’s swift moves against the Amazon rain forest:

Hours after taking office, Brazil’s new president, Jair Bolsonaro, has launched an assault on environmental and Amazon protections with an executive order transferring the regulation and creation of new indigenous reserves to the agriculture ministry – which is controlled by the powerful agribusiness lobby.

Previously, demarcation of indigenous reserves was controlled by the indigenous agency Funai, which has been moved from the justice ministry to a new ministry of women, family and human rights controlled by an evangelical pastor.

Not a guy the AMNH should be celebrating.

Red line

Apr 16th, 2019 6:02 am | By

Cue Trump screaming.

House Democrats issued subpoenas Monday for records from Deutsche Bank and other financial institutions, seeking information regarding President Trump’s business ventures as several congressional panels took steps to intensify their scrutiny of the president’s personal accounts and corporate dealings.

The subpoenas, first reported by the New York Times, were issued by the House Intelligence and Financial Services committees, which have been leading the Democrats’ probe of Trump’s finances. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Financial Services Committee, said in a statement Monday that Trump’s “potential use of the U.S. financial system for illicit purposes is a very serious concern.”

And if there is…