Notes and Comment Blog

Senior salutes

Aug 29th, 2015 10:58 am | By

Meet a clear example of rape culture.

Boys at an elite New Hampshire prep school, where a former senior is accused of raping a 15-year-old freshman girl, rubbed the carved name of a man from the class of 1947 on a campus wall for good luck during an annual spring game of sexual conquest, according to a prosecutor.

Defendant Owen Labrie, 19, and his friends would touch the name of a man they dubbed “The Slaymaker” as they plotted to “slay” female classmates during a long tradition at St Paul’s school known as “senior salutes,” deputy Merrimack County attorney Catherine J Ruffle said outside the courtroom.

“‘Slay’ was the term the defendant and his friends coined,” Ruffle told a jury in Concord on Tuesday at the start of Labrie’s trial.

“Slay” means fuck.

So that’s healthy – boys have a contest to do something to girls, and they recognize the aggressive nature of it enough to equate it with killing – but not enough to refrain from engaging in the contest.

Labrie was found guilty on some counts but not on rape.

The dean of students from the school, Chad Green, testified he was aware of the senior salute tradition at St Paul and knew it could contain a sexual component.

“I came to understand the senior salute as one element of a larger vernacular the kids at St Paul’s used to describe a wide range of relations between students,” Green said.

Crude social media exchanges between Labrie and his friends about the accuser were presented as evidence. He admitted he and a friend drew up a list of girls they wanted to “slay” during their waning months of high school but denied the term meant sexual intercourse. The girl’s name was in capital letters.

Oh well, it’s only girls.

After a seemingly harmless tweet

Aug 29th, 2015 10:38 am | By

Updating to add: The Independent reporting wasn’t very thorough. Tim Roberts seems to be pretty much on a level with the fans who trolled him.

Good grief.

The Independent reports:

A veteran stage technician, who worked in the West End for more than three decades, has quit his job after a social media row with fans of actor Benedict Cumberbatch.

Tim Roberts walked away from his position as a light technician for The Phantom of the Opera last week after a seemingly harmless tweet he posted on his own account escalated into a row with self-styled “Cumberbitches”.

His messages prompted Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Theatres (RUT), which runs Her Majesty’s Theatre where Phantom is staged, to threaten him with disciplinary measures.

Mr Roberts criticised the company for “suppressing freedom of speech” among employees and he now fears he is unemployable in the West End.

He tweeted something critical about Cumberbatch’s Hamlet and the fan frenzy around it.

The tweet sparked a furious response from some fans who trolled his Twitter feed and even sent death threats.

Because that’s what you do.

Roberts responded rudely, and someone sent the whole thing to management at RUT, which opened an investigation.

The technician, who worked on Phantom for four years as well as Starlight Express and Bugsy Malone in the 1980s, was told disciplinary measures could be taken. “At that point I decided I would walk because I didn’t want to go through disciplinary,” he said.

So that’s his life ruined, because he said he didn’t admire Cumberbatch as Hamlet.

Eppur si muove

Aug 29th, 2015 9:54 am | By

Well color me surprised – a Catholic institution has budged. A Catholic institution has responded to public outrage, and thought again, and held a meeting, and budged. A Catholic institution has reversed itself on a homophobic policy. Stone the motherfucking crows.

The St. Mary’s Academy board voted Wednesday night to change the school’s policy on hiring gay employees after facing backlash over the administration’s decision to rescind a job offer to a gay counselor.

Students and high-profile donor Tim Boyle, CEO of Columbia Sportswear, had earlier condemned the choice not to employ 27-year-old Lauren Brown.

In response, administrators brought the board together and recommended members vote to expand the hiring policy.

No doubt they didn’t want to lose the donor, and other donors who might follow. I don’t care. They still budged.

In July, the Roman Catholic high school reversed its plans to make Brown an academic adviser after learning she was gay, the job applicant said. Friedhoff said the decision was made when Brown indicated she intends to get married.

Brown’s attorney said the 27-year-old had accepted the position in April and signed an employment contract. Friedhoff said the position was offered in April and a contract was sent to Brown, but administrators never received a signed copy.

Regardless of the precise reason or whether Brown had signed a contract, the decision not to hire her didn’t sit well with students. St. Mary’s families learned about the situation Tuesday night when the administration emailed parents.

Students aren’t always right, but sometimes they are. In this case they are.

About a dozen students showed up Wednesday morning to decorate a statue outside the school with rainbow heart glasses and a St. Mary’s hoodie with “FREE TO BE ME” taped on the front. The teens said the decision didn’t reflect the social justice values of St. Mary’s.

Good job, teens.

The original decision could have had financial implications for the school. Major donor Tim Boyle, CEO of Columbia Sportswear, said Wednesday afternoon in a statement that he and his wife had been “extremely disappointed” and believed the original decision should be reversed.

“Recently, one of us participated in a successful public forum hosted by St. Mary’s addressing how to prepare St. Mary’s students for the work force of the future,” Boyle said in a statement to The Oregonian/OregonLive. “The news this week is an example of how to not prepare students.  There is no place in the workplace of today, or of the future, for discriminating against an individual based on sexual orientation.”

Quite right. There’s no place for it because there’s no good reason for it. It was just a thought-free entrenched prejudice, a mindless oook-feeling, and nothing more.

I found out about this via the Facebook page I stand with Barb Webb. Remember Barb Webb? She taught chemistry at a Catholic school near Detroit for nine years, until they fired her after she told them she was pregnant.

Webb, 33, says she told the administration last month she was 14 weeks pregnant and offered to take a leave of absence until after her child was born. She says she was told she could resign or be fired. She chose the latter.

Webb said she does not believe her firing was strictly based on the fact that she is gay, but that it was because she became pregnant outside of a traditional marriage.

The school’s morality clause, which all teachers are expected to sign, is “quite vague”, Webb said, in that it only states that teachers and other employees must not publicly display or teach anything that contradicts Catholic doctrine. Legal experts say such clauses can often mask unlawful discrimination.

It would be pleasant to see that school change its policy, and re-hire Barb Webb.

Guest post: So used to living in boxes

Aug 28th, 2015 6:16 pm | By

Guest post by Tigger the Wing.

I would be very upset if people as intelligent, thoughtful and educated as Josh and Ophelia were to stop discussing this extremely important topic because a tiny minority of people are loudly bullying anyone who dares to broach it.

This is happening i
n meatspace, too, and it is the older people who are being silenced yet again. Just one person can ruin an entire organisation by making it just too uncomfortable for anyone else to say anything.

And they are ruining things for trans people.

Just as we had been making headway, getting laws changes so that we didn’t have to conform to the gender stereotypes of a particular psych gatekeeper in order to be allowed to transition, because wider society is slowly coming around to the idea that gender expressions and restrictions are largely societal constructs (whereas being drawn to a particular gender performance, or repelled by it, seems to be a matter of personality) they decide that we can’t be allowed to discuss the very gender norms that we are trying to subvert.

Honestly, if I look at a crowded street, the most common clothing is a variation of T-shirt-and-jeans. Make up is more likely to be seen on apparently female people than male, but over here it’s not particularly prevalent. Hair length doesn’t map very well to gender, nor does jewelry. Perhaps that is at least partly why Ireland passed the gender recognition bill shortly after the marriage equality referendum.

We don’t want to go back to the mindset of the late 1940s, when governments realised that telling women to leave the workforce and become housewives was likely to create less of a violence problem than not having jobs for millions of returning soldiers. That, to my mind, is how recent the gender barriers were erected. Up until then, women worked.

In the 1950s, my mother had to fight to stay in work when she married, but did indeed give up when she had me and didn’t do paid work again until we had all grown and left home. She’s probably the only one of my maternal ancestors who didn’t work while raising children. Fragile femininity seems to have been if not exactly invented then certainly raised to a ridiculous level during the 1950s and 60s.

Why can’t we discuss this? Is it because the people raised in an era when many of the equality battles seem to have been won can’t see how vulnerable those gains are? Are they so blinded by the recent pinkification of everything that they cannot see what is lying behind it?

Don’t they see that questioning the premise of gendering of presentation and performance is NOT rejecting the rights of people to perform and present however they like, rather the opposite?

People have apparently become so used to living in boxes that they cannot see that what is important is the place that the box occupies; remove the boxes, the walls, and we don’t remove the places; we make it so that people can freely wander into any place they desire.

A new editorial committee that includes a public relations staffer

Aug 28th, 2015 6:05 pm | By

Alice Dreger has resigned from Northwestern.

Dreger, a noted researcher and author, submitted a resignation letter to Northwestern Provost Daniel Linzer on Monday. She said she’s stepping down because the university censored faculty magazine Atrium, forcing editors to take the digital issue offline after they published an article last March about a consensual blowjob involving a nurse in 1978.

In the wake of intense criticism, the medical school allowed the magazine to resume publication and to repost its online digital issues 14 months later, but it also imposed a new editorial committee that includes a public relations staffer and would have say over future issues.

A public relations staffer! That doesn’t sound very academic, or legitimate.

Dreger is the second faculty member to call it quits at Northwestern over the Atrium dispute. She went public about the conflict in June, after receiving the backing of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a free speech watchdog group.

The university’s lack of response to her concerns is partly why she decided to resign, Dreger said.

“It’s quite disappointing,” she told HuffPost. “Negative publicity around freedom of scholarship doesn’t matter to them as much as publicity about the hospital — I can only imagine that’s the calculation they’ve done.”

Greg Lukianoff, FIRE’s president and CEO, said he is “sad to see that Northwestern’s heavy-handedness led to them losing a champion of academic freedom.”

That’s how that works. Be too heavy-handed with a dissenter, and she just might walk out on you.

“The plain and simple fact is that Dean Neilson acted impulsively and wrongly in this situation,” Dreger wrote in her letter. “We all make mistakes, but this was a profound mistake that cut to the very heart of academic freedom. It should have been acknowledged and corrected immediately. That is most definitely not what happened. Instead, what happened was denial, avoidance, blame-shifting, and evasion. To this day, the university has not admitted its mistake, and it has not affirmed its commitment to academic freedom in a way that makes clear that similar incidents will not occur in the future. This failure should be embarrassing to an otherwise great university.”

Dreger conceded she was able to resign in protest because she’s lucky enough to have financial support from her book, scheduled appearances and other writing, but she said other faculty wouldn’t be so lucky.

It’s great to be able to resign.

71 people in the back of the truck

Aug 28th, 2015 5:46 pm | By

It’s been a bad week for refugees trying to get to Europe.

In Austria, 71 people — including four children, the youngest just a year old — suffocated after being locked in the back of a truck, authorities said Friday. It remained unclear why the migrants, at least some of whom were believed to have been fleeing the war in Syria, were left to die. Hungarian authorities arrested four suspected smugglers, but a police official in Austria acknowledged they were likely low-level operatives and said the ringleaders remained at large.

Meanwhile, some 2,000 miles away, at least 80 people drowned overnight Thursday when a boat, unprepared for the rigors of a trans-Mediterranean voyage, capsized soon after it departed from the Libyan coast.

The deaths added to a toll of at least 2,500 people who have lost their lives this year while seeking sanctuary in Europe.

Life is shit where the refugees live, and it’s less shit in Europe. You do the math.

Until now, much of the focus among European policymakers has been on halting the flows, either by destroying smugglers’ boats or building fences to keep would-be migrants out of Europe.

But the deadly incidents this week reflect the lengths to which people are willing to go to flee their home countries and arrive on a continent that is seen as an oasis of stability and prosperity.

You want to talk about privilege – never mind being born in the “right” body, what about being born in one of the right countries? That’s privilege for real. Syria is not the right country to have been born in right now, and neither is Libya.

Once in Libya, the migrants are desperate to leave. The country has been torn apart by civil war, with multiple factions controlling various patches of territory. Underlining the confused situation, there were conflicting reports Friday as to whether one boat had sank or two. The reported death toll ranged from 80 to 200.

The peril doesn’t end after migrants arrive in Europe, as the deaths of 71 people in the back of the truck abandoned on the main highway between Budapest and Vienna attest. The badly decomposed bodies were discovered Thursday, and police were uncertain until Friday exactly how many were inside.

What privilege we have, those of us who don’t have to risk journeys like that.

Left to the Church and its tribunals

Aug 28th, 2015 2:03 pm | By

Damn, I missed this – last month a judge dismissed Tamesha Means’s ACLU-backed lawsuit against the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The ACLU immediately appealed.

A federal judge in Grand Rapids has dismissed a Muskegon woman’s ACLU-backed lawsuit that claimed Catholic anti-abortion doctrine caused her to receive improper care at Muskegon’s Mercy Health Partners before she miscarried in 2010.

The ACLU immediately filed a notice of appeal to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Catholic anti-abortion doctrine did cause her to receive improper care – she presented with a miscarriage and they told her to go home and wait. That’s not standard of care, it’s Catholic non-care.

The ACLU-drafted lawsuit contended Means “suffered severe, unnecessary, and foreseeable physical and emotional pain and suffering” because of policy directives set by the bishops and enforced at Mercy and other Catholic hospitals.

And risk, wholly unnecessary risk. Remember Savita Halappanavar? That risk.

Catholic hospitals that obey the ERD refuse to terminate miscarriages as long as the fetus still has a pulse.

The lawsuit sought damages and  a declaration that the conference’s actions were negligent, “not only to provide a remedy for the trauma she suffered, but also to prevent other women in her situation from suffering similar harm in the future,” in the words of the legal complaint.

The policies at issue are called Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services. They prohibit pre-viability pregnancy termination and informing patients that deliberate termination is a medical option.

Even in the case of a pre-viability miscarriage, when the fetus is doomed no matter what. The stinking “Directives” still say the woman has to wait, even if it kills her. It did kill Savita Halappanavar, and it has killed others whose families didn’t make a stink.

On Tuesday, June 30, U.S. District Judge Robert Holmes Bell dismissed the lawsuit without a hearing on the evidence. He based his opinion on written briefs submitted by both sides.

Bell cited two basic reasons for the dismissal:

  • Michigan federal courts have no jurisdiction over the bishops’ conference for policy directives issued by the Washington, D.C.-based organization.
  • It’s improper for courts to interfere in religious doctrinal decisions, which Bell concluded was behind the anti-abortion policy directives. Considering the Muskegon woman’s negligence claim would “impermissibly intrude upon ecclesiastical matters,” the judge wrote in his opinion.

So churches can run hospitals and they can order the staff to deny life-saving treatment and there’s nothing we can do about it.

Bell noted that Means still had recourse in the courts to sue doctors or hospitals for medical malpractice if she received inadequate medical care – but not, the judge concluded, to sue a religious organization or officials for their religious doctrine.

But suing the hospitals one at a time is useless – it’s the policy and the orders that have to be stopped.

“It is not up to the Court to mandate the larger structural and policy reform to  Catholic hospitals that Plaintiff seeks; that issue is left to the Church and its tribunals,” Bell wrote.

So the Catholic church can go right ahead and keep telling doctors to kill women in their hospitals.

According to the lawsuit, Means was 18 weeks pregnant – a little more than four months — in 2010 when her water broke. She made three visits to a Mercy emergency room within a couple of days with pain and other symptoms and was not informed that pregnancy termination was an option. On the third visit, with an infection-induced fever and while about to be discharged again, she delivered a baby who died within three hours.

The ACLU lawsuit contended that Catholic doctrine incorporated in the bishops’ policy  directives prevented Means from getting appropriate care. The ACLU claims her care was negligent because the policy prevents staff from telling her “that terminating her pregnancy was an option and the safest course for her condition.”

According to the ACLU, Means was in “excruciating pain,” continuing her pregnancy posed “significant risks to her health,” and she suffered “extreme distress” and an infection that can cause infertility.

After Means filed her lawsuit, the bishop conference’s president denied that the conference’s church-based doctrines amount to negligence.

According to that statement, the Catholic Ethical and Religious Directives prohibit abortion but allow operations, treatments and medications for a pregnant woman to treat a “proportionately serious pathological condition,” even if doing so causes the unintentional death of the child.

Termination is the treatment for a miscarriage with PRM – premature rupture of the membrane. That’s the treatment, and the bishops prohibit it – so the president’s statement is lying bullshit.

Congress should do something about this, but it won’t. The Feds should do something about it, but they won’t. They’re either scared of religion or in thrall to it, or maybe both.

Oh well, it’s only women.

A protected site

Aug 28th, 2015 9:27 am | By

It’s not just IS destroying ancient heritage sites.

One such site in Yemen was obliterated in early June, reportedly by the Saudis.

A protected 2,500-year-old cultural heritage site in Yemen’s capital, Sana, was obliterated in an explosion early Friday, and witnesses and news reports said the cause was a missile or bomb from a Saudi warplane. The Saudi military denied responsibility.

The top antiquities-safeguarding official at the United Nations angrily condemned the destruction of ancient multistory homes, towers and gardens, which also killed an unspecified number of residents in Al Qasimi, a neighborhood in Sana’s Old City area.

Photographs from the scene and witness accounts posted on social media said the attack destroyed at least five houses and caused irreparable damage to the area, registered as a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Hisham Al-Omeisy‏@omeisy
Before & after pics of KSA airstrikes on Old City Sana’a #Yemen UNESCO Heritage site via @alexkpotter @hamedalbukhiti

The source is contested, but it wasn’t IS.

Hours after the destruction in Sana’s Old City, there were conflicting accounts of the precise cause. Saba asserted without attribution that a “Saudi bombing raid” had been responsible and that at least six people had been killed. A spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, Brig. Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri, was quoted by Agence France-Presse as saying that the coalition did not carry out an attack and suggested that a rebel ammunition storehouse might have exploded. Houthi fighters quoted in local news outlets denied having anything to do with the destruction.

The Director General of UNESCO made a statement:

In the early hours of 12 June 2015, the Old City of Sana’a, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was hit by a bombing raid. Several houses and historic buildings were destroyed, causing human casualties. Among the buildings destroyed was the magnificent complex of traditional houses in the Al-Qasimi neighborhood, bordering an urban garden (Miqshama), near the Sailah water channel.

“I am profoundly distressed by the loss of human lives as well as by the damage inflicted on one of the world’s oldest jewels of Islamic urban landscape. I am shocked by the images of these magnificent many-storeyed tower-houses and serene gardens reduced to rubble. This destruction will only exacerbate the humanitarian situation and I reiterate my call to all parties to respect and protect cultural heritage in Yemen. This heritage bears the soul of the Yemeni people, it is a symbol of a millennial history of knowledge and it belongs to all humankind” declared the Director General.

To all humankind.


Two sisters

Aug 28th, 2015 8:48 am | By

A horror out of a village in India. Amnesty International UK broke the story, and I tried to read their account first but it has drawn so much attention that the site wouldn’t load so I got the Independent’s version.

Two sisters who have been told they will be repeatedly gang-raped as a “punishment” for the crimes committed by their brother have pleaded with the Supreme Court to be protected.

The pair fled their village after an all-male council “ruled” that they should be raped, have their faces blackened and then be paraded naked because the brother eloped with a married woman from a higher caste.

They forgot the scare-quotes on “crimes committed.” Under reasonable laws and human rights regimes, there’s so such thing as the “crime” of eloping, nor is there such a thing as a “higher caste.” The whole story should be dotted with quotation marks.

But of course the whole thing is so grotesque that that part is almost tangential. In what universe do you punish X by raping Y and Z? In what universe do you officially and juridically punish anyone by raping anyone?

We know the idea. The idea is that the council is shaming and humiliating the brother by soiling two women in the brother’s family. It’s nothing to do with the women, it’s just a matter of dishonoring the brother, whose honor lies in policing the genitalia of the women in his family.

Meenakshi Kumari, who is 23, is petitioning for protection from India’s highest court for herself and her 15-year-old sister and family, who are the lowest caste in India – Dalit, or Untouchables.

It’s upper castes persecuting Dalits, and it’s men persecuting women.

After their brother Ravi married and ran away with a woman of the Jat caste, senior male members in the village, which is just outside  Delhi, pledged to “avenge the dishonour” by inflicting horrific and humiliating punishment on his sisters.

Sumit Kumar, another of Meenakshi’s brothers, said the members of the Jat caste were powerful in the village. “The Jat decision is final,” he told Amnesty International.

The woman with whom Ravi eloped may also be in severe danger, according to the international human rights group. She married him willingly and is thought to be pregnant – while it is not clear whether the brother himself is in danger.

The coverage by Indian news site Zee Media outlines the love story between Ravi and the Jat woman, saying they wanted to be together when she was forcibly married to someone else in February.

What a slut, thinking she gets to choose for herself what man she wants to live with and have sex with.

The two sisters fear for their lives, and have said they cannot return to their homes in the Baghpat district. Such unelected village councils, called khap panchyat, have been labelled “kangaroo courts” by the Supreme Court they are appealing to.

Yet their decisions continue to be carried out across India, as the country remains engulfed in a wave of international controversy over the treatment of women since the gang-rape and murder of a female student in 2012 and other murders, burnings and rapes since.

And this is why Taslima wants, ultimately, to return to India to live. She is needed there.

Amnesty has a petition to sign.

How to be allowed to say something

Aug 27th, 2015 6:21 pm | By

So let’s talk about gender.

First let me stipulate that I care deeply about the feelings of every one of you, and of every one of the people not reading this, too.

Let me stipulate that I’m taking the greatest care not to wrench any of those feelings.

Let me underline that I would never cause any bruising to anyone’s feelings if I could possibly help it.

Let me add that I understand profoundly and abjectly that intent is not magic.

Let me insist that your feelings and the feelings of everyone are the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning.

Let me say that I love you all more than I love Talenti raspberry chocolate chip gelato.

Let me assure you that I’m on your side.

Let me emphasize that I hope to be an ally, a good ally, a serious committed sensitive perfect ally.

Let me say that I understand completely that an ally’s job is to shut up and listen.

Let me swear that I will never talk over the voice of a marginalized community…except women of course, and lesbians and gays and queers, but never ever the voice of my trans sisters and brothers.

Let me admit that I know nothing at all about gender, that in fact I have minus knowledge about gender – I have ideas about it that are so wrong they suck all the knowledge out of everything for a 15 mile radius.

Let me confess that I’ve been a feminist for a long string of decades, and that therefore I am necessarily and automatically wrong and full of shit about everything – feminism, gender, LGBTQ issues, especially trans issues of course; identity, society, performativity, marginalization, stigma, GMOs, veganism, gluten, selfies, shoes, femmephobia – and everything else.

Let me bow while you spit on me and I assure you that my intentions are good even though they’re not magic.

Now, let’s talk about gender.

Oh dear I’m afraid that’s all the time we have. Tune in tomorrow for another episode of “Say Nothing Until You Have Apologized For All Of It First.”

Sniffing and denunciation

Aug 27th, 2015 1:35 pm | By

There’s an aspect of the recent clusterfuck that I think needs more attention, and that is the way the rhetoric and some of the thinking around it – and around trans activism in general – often has a religious flavor, or an Oprah-therapeutic flavor, or both.

For instance it’s a very popular trope to claim that the enemy of the moment, or the remark or joke or blog post or magazine article or book of the moment, is “hurting trans people.” Just today I saw a claim that trans people have “been hurt by Ophelia’s actions,” and that’s not the first claim of its kind that I’ve seen. You know what that sounds like? The all-too-familiar claim that an atheist or feminist or humanist has “hurt the religious sentiments” of people in Bangladesh or India or Pakistan.

Why is that such a popular trope? It’s not so in other branches of social justice or identity politics or whatever you want to call it. I don’t recall anyone ever saying of the slime pit or A Voice for Men that they were “hurting feminists” – do you? Damaging, harming, silencing, yes, but hurting? It sounds babyish. It sounds like children whining in the back seat – “Mommm, he’s hurting me!!” It doesn’t sound like something an adult wants to say.

Why is it different with trans issues? I would really like to know.

There’s also the attitude to belief, and to credulity. I talked about this in early June, as the clusterfuck was getting under way, in If someone says it, then you know it. There is this insistence that you have to accept what you’re told by the Approved People, and that not doing so is itself transphobic. What kind of epistemology is that? It’s not a kind I ever signed up for, I can tell you that.

And there’s also the attitude to heresy, which is what you would expect from believers.

The story they’re telling is that I simply can’t tolerate disagreement. That’s bullshit. The clusterfuck was never a matter of disagreement – it was a matter of heresy-finding. Alex Gabriel’s ridiculous “Smoke, fire and recognising transphobia” post was not a matter of disagreeing with me, it was a matter of sniffing out my heresy and denouncing it.

That’s what I have no intention of tolerating. And, after all, the people sniffing it out don’t want to tolerate what I do either – because they think it’s not so much wrong as evil.

There are of course plenty of views I consider evil and would never want to be associated with. I would agree that my attitude to such views is comparable to the attitude of religious people to heresy. It’s not that there’s never reason to consider a particular view morally unacceptable. It’s the particulars I differ on; I don’t agree that I’ve said anything morally unacceptable.

I think the bar for what’s morally unacceptable on this subject has been set in a very odd place, or maybe a whole bunch of very odd places (it keeps shifting). I think the subject has been loaded up with pointless arbitrary thought-free shibboleths, and I don’t think that’s healthy – especially for trans people.

I’m not the only one who thinks this. I’m hearing from a lot of people who are afraid to say a word on the subject, because it’s so very easy to be branded a heretic and expelled from the community of good people.

It’s not good. It’s like trying to walk a tightrope over a pool full of sharks. That’s not how to have a working politics or a reasonable worldview or a moral compass. If we can’t think or talk clearly because of the sharks, we’re screwed.

45 years ago today

Aug 27th, 2015 12:15 pm | By

From a public post by Mary Scully on Facebook:

The Women’s Strike for Equality on August 26, 1970 in NYC was the first protest of the women’s liberation movement, now called the second wave of feminism. It was called on the day which marked the 50th anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the US Bill of Rights giving women the right to vote. The demands of the march were: Equal pay for equal work; Free 24-hour childcare; & Free abortion on demand, No forced sterilization. There had been many abortion actions for a few years but this was the first protest that proclaimed all of our demands.

There have been for a long while serious attacks on the women’s movement. Some belittle the movement because they have not sufficiently studied the history & have relied on media misrepresentations. From the very first emergence of feminism, media lied, distorted, vilified feminists. Some of the media lies & distortions include that the movement was white, middle-class, racist, “sex-negative,” homophobic, exclusionary, & pro-war. When the movement first began, media portrayed it as lesbians, man-haters, & spinsters too ugly to get a man.

Others deride the movement to support their opposition to identity politics–that is, because they resent when the oppressed stand up with independent power against their oppressor. Political power that is not controlled or shamed terrifies many people. A political analog is the vilification of Black Lives Matter.

Many just want to destroy feminism, however they can do that, because their hatred of women & women’s political & social power intimidates them. Now the feminist pioneers are belittled as TERFs & SWERFs & blue-nosed lily-white haters. That’s misogyny & ignorance talking–not the historic record. And what’s most offensive about it is that it completely eliminates Black, Latina, & lesbian women from the history of feminism–of which they were a central part.

For anyone who was part of that movement from the late 1960s to its decline in the mid-1970s, it was a glorious experience of women learning from each other about our oppression, of overcoming the competitive we were indoctrinated with toward each other, of standing together in a political anthem of defiance.

In 1970 I moved from Minneapolis to NYC to become part of the women’s movement & was publicity coordinator on the August 26th march. We were arrested twice, once while wall-papering the Playboy club with posters advertising the march.

These are two brief recordings of an interview done with me during an organizing meeting. It was a proud moment in my political life & I’m reposting on the 45th anniversary of that march which set off the women’s liberation movement.

Photo is front line of march.

H/t Vanina.

Shelby County v. Holder

Aug 27th, 2015 10:59 am | By

The Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU law school has a resource page on the Voting Rights Act.

The Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965 to ensure state and local governments do not pass laws or policies that deny American citizens the equal right to vote based on race. As the leading democracy of the world, the U.S. should work to keep voting free, fair, and accessible. That’s why the Voting Rights Act is so important. It makes sure every citizen, regardless of their race, has an equal opportunity to have a say and participate in our great democracy.

On June 25, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, removing a critical tool to combat racial discrimination in voting. Under Section 5 of the landmark civil rights law, jurisdictions with a history of discrimination must seek pre-approval of changes in voting rules that could affect minorities. This process, known as “preclearance,” blocks discrimination before it occurs. In Shelby County v. Holder, the Court invalidated Section 4 — which determines the states and localities covered by Section 5 — arguing that current conditions require a new coverage formula.

Because 1965 was such a long time ago, and since then we have totally achieved racial equality across the board, so there is no longer any reason at all to look with a particularly beady eye at laws passed by states that had Jim Crow laws for a century and more after Reconstruction. Oh heavens no.

It’s only a 200 mile drive

Aug 27th, 2015 10:36 am | By

A horrendous situation could be shaping up in Alabama. Note I say could be, because this is a situation that could happen if the legislature does X, with X being something it’s discussing but hasn’t yet enacted into law. The Huffington Post reports:

The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency said Monday that proposed budget cuts would force it to close all but four driver’s license offices, even though the state requires government-issued photo identification, like a driver’s license, to vote in elections.

The 45 other locations would be closed in phases, the agency said, if the Republican-controlled state legislature were to pass the kind of “drastic” budget cuts it’s now considering. Lawmakers have proposed $40 million for the agency next year, which would be a $15 million cut from what it received in state funding this year.

Four driver’s license offices in the whole state – and Alabama is not a tiny state. Four. That’s in a state with 4.8 million people. Just for people who need to get a first driver’s license that’s an appalling burden…but Alabama has a voter ID law that requires picture ID. Golly gosh gee what a coincidence that Alabama is one of the Deep South former slave states. What a coincidence that the Supreme Court cut the legs off the Voting Rights Act two years ago.

The four remaining driver’s license offices would be in the cities of Birmingham, Huntsville, Montgomery and Mobile, meaning that the cuts would hit people in rural areas hardest. Someone who currently can visit the office in Dothan in southeastern Alabama, for instance, would instead have to travel 107 miles to Montgomery or 186 miles to Mobile to obtain a license for the first time. (Renewals can be done online.)

The legislature passed Alabama’s photo ID law in 2011, arguing that it would prevent voter fraud — even though proven cases of in-person voter impersonation fraud are extremely rare. Voters had previously been allowed to show non-photo forms of identification, like a Social Security card or a utility bill. Now, if voters don’t have one of the acceptable forms of photo ID, they can obtain a free Alabama voter photo ID card from a county registrar’s office. And still some long-time voters couldn’t vote in last year’s elections, because they didn’t have a way to travel to such an office to get the ID.

Just 41 percent of eligible Alabama voters participated in the 2014 general election, which was the lowest rate for the state in 28 years. Voting rights advocates warn that the threatened office closures would inevitably cause difficulties for otherwise eligible voters.

And that’s the goal. And the Supreme Court made it possible.

Myrna Pérez, deputy director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, said that it was important to consider the real-world impact of such budget cuts on low-income and minority voters in the state.

“This is one of a million reasons why we, as a country, need to rethink why it is that photo ID laws are being enacted and who it is that they are harming,” she said. “Strict photo ID requirements have placed enormous burdens on the right to vote for some of our most marginalized members of society, which is compounded when states don’t make those ID-issuing agencies accessible and available.”

2012 Brennan Center report showed that the Alabama driver’s license offices that operate on a part-time basis — those that would be on the proposed closures list — tend to be located in areas with high concentrations of minority voters, who disproportionately live in poverty. It also found that nearly one-third of eligible Alabama voters live more than 10 miles from an ID-issuing agency.

And guess what – people who live in poverty are less likely to be able to afford a car and the gas to get anywhere than people who have enough money.

One thing this reminds me of is the Sunday afternoon before Katrina, when Ray Nagin told everybody to get out of New Orleans. Get out, he said. Mandatory evacuation, he said. What he didn’t say was how the fuck people without cars were supposed to do that. And you know what? There was no way. They couldn’t. They were stuck there. Lots of them drowned. More died of dehydration over the next week.

It’s enough to make you sick.

H/t Cathy Newman.

It was just not something you expect

Aug 27th, 2015 9:41 am | By

We know humans tend to see faces everywhere, and that Jesus-loving humans see Jesus faces everywhere, but some are so tenuous they bend the mind a little.

Like this one. It takes a lot of good will to see a face at all, and if you do consent to see it as a face…it looks like a very grumpy scowling face of someone advanced in years, which isn’t the usual idea of Jesus. (Also of course there are no actual images of Jesus taken from the life, so nobody knows what actual Jesus actually looked like. Maybe he looked like Yasser Arafat.)

It’s nice of the guy in the blue check shirt to hold up a little image of Jesus for comparison, but since the image isn’t authoritative, it doesn’t really tell us anything. Plus even if it did does the scowly face in the cabinet look anything like it? It seems most unlikely – Jesus is hardly ever portrayed as scowly, even when knocking over tables.

The story is from the Plymouth Herald, which explains with sarcastic solemnity:

A CHURCH organist believes he can see the face of Jesus in a cocktail cabinet.

Robert Burgess-Moon, aged 35, bought the item through the classified adverts section of the newspaper.

Mr Burgess-Moon, who lives in Whitleigh with his partner Martin, says he was watching TV one night when he got a strange feeling.

“I thought ‘There’s a face looking at me through the cabinet’,” he said.

“It looked like the face of Jesus, the image everybody has of him.

“We were quite shocked really, it was just not something you expect, it’s like a Holy Spirit cabinet now.”

The trouble is, it doesn’t look a bit like the image everybody has of him – unless “a bit like”=has whorls that can be seen as eyes and a nose and a mouth. I guess you can decide that everything that can be seen as suggesting eyes and a nose and a mouth is an image of Jesus, but it sounds quite tiring.

Back in January former submariner Andy Metcalf believed he saw the face of Jesus in a bruise on his arm.

Mr Metcalf, aged 45, said there was “some kind of message” in the mark which appeared on his left arm after he had a fight with a friend who bit him.

Earlier this months a photographer was left stunned after seeing a creepy face resembling Lord Voldemort in a firework.

The Plymouth Herald is just having a laugh there. Naughty Plymouth Herald.

H/t The Freethinker.

When we slot everyone into boxes

Aug 26th, 2015 4:44 pm | By

This is quite funny, in a sad sort of way – a piece by Greta C. in Free Inquiry and republished on her blog.

“Fundamentalist believers want everything to be simple. They want their moral choices to be straightforward: they want a clear rulebook that outlines their choices, written for them by a perfect god. They want the world divided up into clearly labeled categories, with good people in one box and evil people in another. It’s so childish. The world isn’t like that. And the world shouldn’t be like that. It would be horrible. Why would they even want that?”

Lots of atheists I know say stuff like this. I say it myself.

See what I mean? Funny.

Either/or thinking is an easy way out. But it’s a trap.

Of course, the most important problem with the either/or view of life is that it’s, you know, not true. Insert rationalist rant here, about how reality is more important than any comforting lies we could make up about it, and how we need to understand reality as best we can so we know how to act in it. But the other problem with the either/or view of life is that it’s a trap. It closes us off from life. When we follow someone else’s pre-packaged rules about how to act, without ever questioning them, we retreat from engaging with the world at the most intimate and powerful level. When we slot everyone into boxes, we don’t let ourselves be surprised by them. The hard, bright walls clearly dividing the world become a prison. Living a life of absolute certainty, with every decision already made for us — it would be like living in Nineteen Eighty-Four, or in Camazotz.

Or at Purethought Blogs.

A humanist statement

Aug 26th, 2015 4:19 pm | By

The IHEU has an Amsterdam Declaration that is a statement of the fundamental principles of modern Humanism. The first one was in 1952, and it was updated in 2002. They tweeted about it, so I had a look.

Humanism is the outcome of a long tradition of free thought that has inspired many of the world’s great thinkers and creative artists and gave rise to science itself.

The fundamentals of modern Humanism are as follows:

1. Humanism is ethical. It affirms the worth, dignity and autonomy of the individual and the right of every human being to the greatest possible freedom compatible with the rights of others. Humanists have a duty of care to all of humanity including future generations. Humanists believe that morality is an intrinsic part of human nature based on understanding and a concern for others, needing no external sanction.

If it were mine I would tweak that to add something to “the right of every human being to the greatest possible freedom.” Freedom is a great good but it’s not enough. Maybe “equality” is the word that needs adding.

2. Humanism is rational. It seeks to use science creatively, not destructively. Humanists believe that the solutions to the world’s problems lie in human thought and action rather than divine intervention. Humanism advocates the application of the methods of science and free inquiry to the problems of human welfare. But Humanists also believe that the application of science and technology must be tempered by human values. Science gives us the means but human values must propose the ends.

3. Humanism supports democracy and human rights. Humanism aims at the fullest possible development of every human being. It holds that democracy and human development are matters of right. The principles of democracy and human rights can be applied to many human relationships and are not restricted to methods of government.

There, that gets at what I would have added – human development. Freedom and opportunity for development, perhaps. Freedom by itself isn’t enough because so many people have no opportunity for development at all, no matter how free they are. Freedom is pretty worthless if you’re starving and overworked and in constant danger.

4. Humanism insists that personal liberty must be combined with social responsibility. Humanism ventures to build a world on the idea of the free person responsible to society, and recognises our dependence on and responsibility for the natural world. Humanism is undogmatic, imposing no creed upon its adherents. It is thus committed to education free from indoctrination.

5. Humanism is a response to the widespread demand for an alternative to dogmatic religion. The world’s major religions claim to be based on revelations fixed for all time, and many seek to impose their world-views on all of humanity. Humanism recognises that reliable knowledge of the world and ourselves arises through a continuing process of observation, evaluation and revision.

And if observation, evaluation, and revision are prohibited, you have a rigid anti-human system, which is what most religions are.

6. Humanism values artistic creativity and imagination and recognises the transforming power of art. Humanism affirms the importance of literature, music, and the visual and performing arts for personal development and fulfilment.

7. Humanism is a lifestance aiming at the maximum possible fulfilment through the cultivation of ethical and creative living and offers an ethical and rational means of addressing the challenges of our times. Humanism can be a way of life for everyone everywhere.
Our primary task is to make human beings aware in the simplest terms of what Humanism can mean to them and what it commits them to. By utilising free inquiry, the power of science and creative imagination for the furtherance of peace and in the service of compassion, we have confidence that we have the means to solve the problems that confront us all. We call upon all who share this conviction to associate themselves with us in this endeavour.

You got it.


That “you” again

Aug 26th, 2015 3:55 pm | By

Waiting for a bus. A truck went by – a St Pauli Beer truck. There was a slogan on the side, under the logo of the “St Pauli girl” and her armful of beers.

You never forget your first girl.


Take that, ERD

Aug 26th, 2015 3:33 pm | By

The ACLU tweeted a graphic:

Embedded image permalink


Guest post:

Aug 26th, 2015 3:28 pm | By

Originally a comment by iknlast on When the bishops say No.

often the first they hear of it is when they are refused a procedure the way Rachel Miller was

As my mother heard of it when she was refused the same service in 1967, though not at a Catholic hospital. The hospital was a Navy hospital, which routinely performed the procedure. The DOCTOR was Catholic, and refused to do his duty because he didn’t believe my mother should be entitled to make her own decisions.

For the record: my mother was not Catholic. My mother was a fully grown woman of 31, and had 5 children. My mother was intelligent enough and capable enough to understand the implications of the surgery and make her own decisions about what she wished to do.

When my mother showed up pregnant again 3 years later, the doctor (the SAME doctor) chewed her out for getting pregnant, in spite of his refusal to provide her with any sort of contraceptive assistance. She nearly died in that pregnancy, and would have left behind five small children and one dead baby (who would not have survived either) for my father to deal with.

That was my first experience with Catholics. Unfortunately, it would not be my last.