Notes and Comment Blog

You know this would not be permitted

Dec 10th, 2013 3:37 pm | By

James Bloodworth has a good post at Left Foot Forward on why we oppose gender segregation at public events.

As long as neither gender is put at a disadvantage by imposed segregated seating – i.e. men and women will be ‘separate but equal’ – Universities UK don’t see any problem with it.

To get an idea of just how absurd this is, imagine for a minute the justified furore there would be if racial segregation were permitted on campus on the basis that black and white people were ‘different but equal’. Imagine if gay people were separated out from their straight friends on the basis that they were ‘difference but equal’, with those refusing to move booted out of the lecture hall for no other reason than their sexuality.

You know this would not be permitted, and yet it is with women. Why?

Because it’s different. It gets a partial exemption, or sometimes a full exemption. Why? Because it’s so hard to give up the subordination of women. Why? Because sex, and family life, and habit, and all sorts of things related to that. Because it’s up close and personal.

Religions get an exemption for hiring all-male clergy, after all. Why’s that? Why do you not see them any longer barring Other Races, when you do see them quite cheerfully barring women? Because gender inequality goes deeper than the other kinds. Why does it? Because it’s there, I guess, like Everest. Humans like to sort and rank and evaluate, and gender is the first criterion most people encounter.

Or to put it another way, I don’t know, but it does.

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

A woman defends gender segregation

Dec 10th, 2013 11:52 am | By

Camillia Khan, head of communications for the Federation of Student Islamic Societies, writes in the Huffington Post UK about gender segregation, or, as she prefers to call it, gender ‘segregation.’

The debate on ‘segregation’ has returned, and once again figures from across the spectrum have focused their lenses on Muslim students and Islamic societies. Universities UK recently published a guidance document, outlining the management of external speakers on campuses and have been heckled for coming to the rather simple conclusion, amongst many others, that side-by-side gender based seating is not against the law.

From across what spectrum? What lenses? She’s a clumsy writer. Universities UK hasn’t been “heckled” – it’s been disputed, often hotly, but not heckled. And then, what was disputed was not a conclusion that “side-by-side gender based seating is not against the law.” The law wasn’t the issue. The issue was university policy, not the law.

So we know already that Khan doesn’t bother to be precise about what she’s discussing.

The focus on this single case-study, buried amidst the document’s 42-pages, has been extremely disproportionate and led to sensationalist comments, vilifying Islamic societies and Muslim students. It is encouraging to see that Universities UK have chosen to remain firm on their objective and measured stance, acknowledging the nuances that exist with different theological perspectives.

Vilifying Muslim students? I don’t think so. I think Khan told a falsehood there. And why is it encouraging to see that UUK is “acknowledging the nuances that exist with different theological perspectives”? How is that their job or their role? They’re an organization of university vice-chancellors, not theologians.

Firstly, the term segregation itself is highly problematic and acts to conflate the reality further. As Saussure theorised on syntagmatic relations, ‘within speech, words are subject to a kind of relation that is independent of the first and based on their linkage,’ and segregation connotes various forms of separation and oppression – it is a word loaded with modern history, drawing  back to the belligerent injustices of the slave trade, apartheid, and the Holocaust. It blows the discussion out of proportion and acts to politicise it further. Segregation implies a hierarchy- a form of discrimination which asserts the dominance of one group over another- which is a very different reality to a voluntary seating arrangement which impacts both males and females equally. Thus, the current discourse is creating new imagined problems rather than solving existing ones.

Where to begin. Yes, segregation is a loaded word, but it’s the right loaded word. Calling it something more emollient than that is lying, and minimizing the ugly reality. A seating arrangement that spells out who may sit where is indeed a form of discrimination which asserts the dominance of one group over another. Segregation in seating can’t be fully voluntary, because it depends on everyone’s compliance.

The term ‘segregation’ denotes discrimination and isolation – and this couldn’t be further from the general reality. There needs to be a linguistic shift in the discourse – but more importantly, the shift must be an ideological one which accepts that there exist differences based on sound spirituality, and these need to be embraced, led by brave and nuanced organisations such as Universities UK. Male and female seating is a simple religious manifestation that has been established for multiple millennia and is one that is still actively implemented today by many churches, synagogues, mosques and other religious communities. Taking away the basic freedom to choose a room arrangement from mature and democratically elected student groups such as Islamic societies will only seek to alienate Muslim students from social engagement by denying their right to religious freedom.

She’s being deceptive again there. The issue isn’t meetings of groups such as Islamic societies, it’s meetings and debates open to everyone.

What a pathetic project, a woman defending her own segregation, and being deceptive to do it.

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

Apathy strikes again

Dec 10th, 2013 9:29 am | By

Bernard Hurley is at the protest against Gender Segregation and Universities UK’s guidelines on same. He says there aren’t many people there though, only about 150.


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

Je ne m’appelle pas Guy

Dec 10th, 2013 9:25 am | By

Note to spammers:

If you’re going to heap flattery on me by way of tricking me into thinking your comments are real, it doesn’t help to address me as “Guy.” If you call me Guy, I’ll think you’re not sincere.

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

Because this is a Christian school

Dec 9th, 2013 5:07 pm | By

That’s nice. A “Christian” school suspends a teacher because someone stole her phone and now there are naked pictures of her on a revenge porn site.

A female teacher at Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy in Ohio has been placed on administrative leave after school officials found a nude photograph of her on a “revenge porn” site.

A spokesman from the school said “we have an employee who appears in some photos that have been compromised and made digitally available,” but he did not indicate how the photographs were first discovered, or whether any of her students had seen them.

A parent of one of her students told WCPO that while “the woman is already a victim,” because this is “a Christian school, parents are upset that a teacher is even taking naked pictures and sending them to people — and her students are old enough to get online and Google their teacher’s name and the photos come up.”

“Parents are upset” that blah blah blah so they think it’s ok for the school to suspend a teacher for something that was done to her. How pleasant, how fair, how decent.

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

What will they do if a Muslim female Mandela sits with the men?

Dec 9th, 2013 3:40 pm | By

If you do go to that protest in Tavistock Square tomorrow, you might see Yasmin Alibhai-Brown there. She plans to go. She minces no words in her piece on the subject in the Independent.

Sexist dress codes and other behaviours are being spread and pushed in British universities by retrograde Islamic societies and individuals, most of them men – though there are always willing maidens who say “yes, yes, yes” to such diktats. UUK upholds this apartheid and offers up nauseating justifications. It’s done in the name of free speech. Yes, really. “Concerns … [for the] beliefs of those opposed to segregation should not result in a religious group being prevented from having a debate in accordance with its belief systems.” Furthermore, staff should not worry unduly about the rights and wrongs of this small matter.

Because it’s only women who are being shoved to the side. Women don’t count. Women don’t matter.

What will they do if a Muslim female Mandela sits with the men? Will they carry her out and throw her down the steps? Some preachers on campus are today telling women to get back into the home, to get out of public life. Muslim women in jeans or with hair uncovered have been asked to leave lecture rooms by clothes vigilantes. Two Muslim LSE students harangued me for my unholy attire and views just a month back. Such guidelines, in effect, endorse the most offensive prejudices about women: that they are a social and moral peril and if they sit with men, pornographic fantasies or molestations will make it impossible for anyone to concentrate on lectures, say, on Plato or the Life of the Prophet.

I’ve spent my entire life in jeans with my hair uncovered. I’m lucky that way.

Throngs of students, academics, parents, politicians, and feminists should fill Tavistock Square and shout out loud. Not that they will, what with Christmas shopping and perhaps inchoate fears. Various student unions roll over, again and again, before Islamicists and their outrageous demands – backing full veils, speeches by Wahabis – and thus far, there has been no clear condemnation from the NUS of this disgraceful document penned by the deluded UUK. This latest capitulation is a disaster for feminism, for university life, for modernism, for progressive ideals and for Muslims  most of all.

Muslim educational achievements are so abysmally low because our educators do not liberate them from dark age interpretations of Islam but rather encourage them. (Perhaps it’s a cunning plot to keep them down and out of mainstream life!) I know of female medical students – three Muslim and one Orthodox Jew – who will not touch male patients, of all-male religious professional networks and even worse examples.

Backward backward backward into the darkness.




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

Tavistock Square tomorrow at 5

Dec 9th, 2013 3:12 pm | By

Don’t forget the protest tomorrow, 5 p.m. in Tavistock Square. Well it’s 11 p.m. there now, so few of you who are able to go will see this reminder now…BUT MAYBE YOU WILL TOMORROW, ESPECIALLY IF I SHOUT.

So you who are in or near London, or willing to travel from less-near London, the Protest Against Universities UK, No to Gender Segregation rally-protest-demo is tomorrow. 5 p.m. aka 17:00. Tavistock Square, which is a nice square, up there north of Bedford Square and Russell Square.

Outside Woburn House, 20 Tavistock Square.

One of Kiran Opal’s designs for a banner:

Chris Moos's photo.

She designed several, which you can print: they are here.

No to gender segregation!

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

The lies bishops tell

Dec 9th, 2013 12:19 pm | By

The president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, archbishop Joseph Kurtz, issued a statement on the ACLU lawsuit on Friday. It’s the predictable pack of lies from the episcopal sack of shit. Yes that’s harsh language but the sack of shit is lying in defense of his vile organization’s insistence on forcing women to die of miscarriages in all hospitals that his vile theocratic organization controls. Think about that. This man of god, this priest at the pinnacle of the catholic organizational tree, is issuing official lies to defend the church’s policy of forcing hospitals to stand by while women die of miscarriages in the miserable way Savita Hallappanavar did.

It is important to note at the outset that the death of any unborn child is tragic, and we feel deeply for any mother who suffers such pain and loss.

No it isn’t. Nobody cares what you think is tragic, or how deeply or shallowly you feel. Nobody wants your distractions; the issue isn’t the death of the fetus, the issue is the life of the mother.

We cannot speak to the facts of the specific situation described in the complaint, which can be addressed only by those directly involved. The suit instead claims that our document titled “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services” (ERDs) encourages or requires substandard treatment of pregnant women because it does not approve the direct killing of their unborn children.

Because it forbids abortion under any circumstances, even if the fetus will die anyway, even if the woman will die without the abortion.

This claim is baseless. The ERDs urge respectful and compassionate care for both mothers and their children, both during and after pregnancy. Regarding abortion, the ERDs restate the universal and consistent teaching of the Catholic Church on defending the life of the unborn child—a defense that, as Pope Francis recently reminded us, “is closely linked to the defense of each and every other human right” (Evangelii Gaudium, no. 213). This same commitment to the life of each human individual has motivated Catholics to establish the nation’s largest network of nonprofit health care ministries. These ministries provide high-quality care to women and children, including those who lack health coverage and financial resources. The Church’s rejection of abortion also mirrors the Hippocratic Oath that gave rise to the very idea of medicine as a profession, a calling with its own life-affirming moral code.

Not when the pregnancy is killing the woman it doesn’t.

The Church holds that all human life, both before and after birth, has inherent dignity, and that health care providers have the corresponding duty to respect the dignity of all their patients. This lawsuit argues that it is legally “negligent” for the Catholic bishops to proclaim this core teaching of our faith. Thus, the suit urges the government to punish that proclamation with civil liability, a clear violation of the First Amendment.

The bishops do more than just proclaiming core “teachings” of their “faith” – they do their best to enforce their “teachings” on all catholic hospitals, and many hospitals obey.

A robust Catholic presence in health care helps build a society where medical providers show a fierce devotion to the life and health of each patient, including those most marginalized and in need. It witnesses against a utilitarian calculus about the relative value of different human lives. And it provides a haven for pregnant women and their unborn children regardless of their financial resources. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will continue to defend these principles in season and out, and we will defend ourselves against this misguided lawsuit.

No it doesn’t. Tamesha Means didn’t find any “haven” at that hospital that sent her home twice when she was miscarrying, and was about to send her home a third time when she was lucky enough to deliver her fetus while the paperwork was in progress.

The archbishop is a lying sack of shit.


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

Confusion in court

Dec 9th, 2013 11:46 am | By

One of those times when one just stares in helpless gobsmacked fury. Al Jazeera reports via AFP:

A Somali court has sentenced to jail a woman who said she was raped and two journalists who reported her story.

The court passed the verdict on Monday in the capital Mogadishu, saying the journalists were guilty of defamation and insulting state institutions.

The 19-year old woman, who is also a journalist, was handed a suspended six-month jail sentence for defamation and lying, during which time she will be confined to her home, said Judge Hashi Elmi Nur.

The journalists are to serve out their sentences, of one year and six months respectively, or pay a fine in order to win early release.

It is the second time this year Somalia has jailed a woman for speaking out about rape and journalists for interviewing her.

Somalia is a failed state, yet it manages to find time and effort to jail people for “insulting state institutions.”

In February, a Somali journalist and a rape victim he interviewed were both sentenced to a year in prison after being found guilty of “offending state institutions”.

In that case, the court found the woman had lied after a midwife conducted a “finger test” to see if she had been raped, which Human Rights Watch (HRW) said was an “unscientific and degrading practice that has long been discredited”.

A “finger test”!!? That’s not a test, it’s more rape.


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

The HIQA report does mention failure to terminate

Dec 9th, 2013 10:40 am | By

Now I’m reading the relevant section of the full report [pdf]. That does mention abortion, though not (so far) under that name. It has a detailed timeline of events. She was admitted Sunday afternoon, and

Spontaneous rupture of membranes occurred at 00:30hrs.

At 8:30 that morning, she was reviewed by the consultant obstetrician in charge of her care.

Savita Halappanavar’s plan of care, following this consultant ward round, was that a fetal ultrasound scan would be taken with instructions to – ‘Await events’

That ✝goes to a footnote:

Await events refers to the conservative (expectant) management of miscarriage as opposed to the surgical or medical management of miscarriage.

So there it is. It’s somewhat obscured and secretive, but it’s there. They opted for expectant management instead of surgical or medical management – a surgical abortion or medical induction of labor.

Updated to add:

Then on the Wednesday morning, two days later, when her condition had deteriorated badly, a junior consulting doctor ordered IV antibiotics, but

however, at this time the evidence shows that her treatment plan was not changed.

Which, given what has gone before, means it was not changed from expectant to surgical or medical management. They went on watching instead of terminating the pregnancy.

At 13:00 that day

Diagnosis of septic shock, most likely secondary to chorioamnionitis was made.

A couple of hours later she delivered, but it was far too late.

It’s interesting – and disturbing – that the summary of the report omits the part about surgical or medical management as the alternative to expectant management.

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

Doctors in such circumstances

Dec 9th, 2013 9:48 am | By

There’s the New York Times editorial on the Michigan case for instance. That takes it for granted.

The suit was brought on behalf of a Michigan woman, Tamesha Means, who says she was subjected to substandard care at a Catholic hospital — the only hospital in her county — after her water broke at 18 weeks of pregnancy. Doctors in such circumstances typically induce labor or surgically remove the fetus to reduce the woman’s chances of infection. But according to the complaint, doctors acting in accordance with the bishops’ directives did not inform Ms. Means that her fetus had virtually no chance of surviving or that terminating her pregnancy was the safest treatment option.

But the summary of the HIQA report doesn’t take it for granted at all; it doesn’t even mention it. It ignores the fact that doctors in such circumstances typically induce labor or surgically remove the fetus to reduce the woman’s chances of infection, and simply talks about managing the infection.

That is fucked up.

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

Don’t look behind the curtain

Dec 9th, 2013 9:06 am | By

I’ve been arguing with someone on Atheist Ireland’s Facebook page, on a thread I started with a post about the ACLU/Means lawsuit against the bishops. My arguee has been claiming Savita Halappanavar’s death had nothing to do with abortion, and I’ve been saying it did too so. Her latest reply pointed out that “that was not a finding of the HIQA report or the Coroner’s report.” I hadn’t heard of the HIQA report, that I recall, so I looked it up. It came out on October 7th.

I skimmed the executive summary [pdf], and read the parts that addressed the medical treatment of SH. My arguee is right, assuming the summary accurately reflects the full report: it doesn’t spell out that the failure to induce delivery is the probable reason SH developed sepsis. It says the sepsis was badly managed, but not how or why it got started in the first place. It seems to me to be strikingly evasive in that way.

So I’m wondering if it will strike other people the same way. Of course I’ve just primed you to see it that way, so this isn’t a survey of how this report strikes people. It’s a question about the report, and what you think of it. I haven’t so far been able to find any reaction in Ireland that sees it that way. I’m wondering how much the illegality of abortion and the taboo on it in Ireland shaped the way the report was carried out and how it was written, and the way it was received.

For instance on page 5 there is this:

3.1 Care provided to Savita Halappanavar

The Authority identified, through a review of Savita Halappanavar’s healthcare

record, a number of missed opportunities which, had they been identified

and acted upon, may have potentially changed the outcome of her care. For

example, following the rupture of her membranes, four-hourly observations

including temperature, heart rate, respiration and blood pressure did not appear

to have been carried out at the required intervals. At the various stages when

these observations were carried out, the consultant obstetrician, non-consultant

hospital doctors (NCHDs) and midwives/nurses caring for Savita Halappanavar

did not appear to act in a timely way in response to the indications of her clinical


That first sentence is shocking to me, given that in the US (I understand via Jen Gunter) the standard of care for rupture of membranes at 17 weeks is expeditious termination. The report, weirdly, skips right past that to focus on badly done “expectant management.” Expectant management is one option, but it’s risky to the woman and the odds of saving the fetus are very low. It’s not relevant to this case because the Halappanavars requested termination. Repeatedly. They begged for it.

So to me it seems weird and creepy and irresponsible that this report consistently ignores that option. Yes, the hospital handled the sepsis incredibly badly, but if they had done the termination when the Halappanavars asked for it, the sepsis would probably not have occurred. (The Irish anti-abortion types insist that the sepsis was not caused by the PRM at all.) The bad handling of the sepsis ought to take a distant second place to the allowing it to happen in the first place.

Tell me what you think.

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

Charlotte Church would like you to imagine

Dec 8th, 2013 4:31 pm | By

Charlotte Church on women in the music business, in this year’s BBC Radio 6 Music John Peel Lecture at the Radio Academy Radio Festival in Salford in October. (Salford! I’ve been to Salford. Kind of. I crossed a bridge into it, then crossed back.) She pulls no punches.

- I’d like you to imagine a world in which male musicians are routinely expected to act as submissive sex objects.

Picture Beyonce’s husband Jay Z stripped down to a T-back bikini thong, sex-kittening his way through a boulevard of suited and booted women for their pleasure.

Or Britney Spears’s Ex Justin Timberlake, in buttock-clenching denim hot pants, writhing on the bonnet of a pink chevy, explaining to his audience how he’d like to be their teenage dream.

Before we all get a little too hot beneath the gusset, of course, these scenarios are not likely to become reality, unless for comedy’s sake.

- The reason for this is that these are roles that the music industry has carved out specifically for women.

It is a male dominated industry, with a juvenile perspective on gender and sexuality.

Like so many other industries…TV and movies for example. Oh look, that’s all of pop culture accounted for.

When I was 19 or 20, I found myself in this position, being pressured into wearing more and more revealing outfits and the lines that I had spun at me again and again (generally by middle aged men) were

“you look great you’ve got a great body why not show it off?”


“Don’t worry it’ll look classy.  It’ll look artistic.”

I felt deeply uncomfortable about the whole thing, but was often reminded by record label executives just whose money was being spent.

Whilst I can’t defer all blame away from myself, I was barely out of my teenage years, and the consequence of this portrayal of me is that now I am frequently abused on social media, being called ‘slut’, ‘whore’ and a catalogue of other indignities that I’m sure you’re also sadly very familiar with.

I am, though for the opposite reasons; but both “reasons” are fundamentally the same despite the opposition.

H/t Jen Phillips

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

For the sake of dignity

Dec 8th, 2013 3:49 pm | By

David Robert Grimes wrote a piece in the Irish Times a few days ago saying why marriage equality is a good idea, starting with why homosexuality shouldn’t rumple anyone’s mind.

From the perspective of traditional Catholic doctrine, homosexuality is “ordered towards an intrinsic moral evil”, and is considered a deeply unnatural state of being –peccatum contra naturam.

Not only is this a classic example of the naturalistic fallacy, it also spectacularly fails to stand up if one takes even a cursory glance at the natural world; homosexual behaviour is ubiquitous in the animal kingdom and has been documented in more than 1,500 species, from giraffes to elephants to dolphins and our primate cousins.

Peccatum contra naturam is such a worthless category. I’ve said it before but what the hell…it never fails to entertain me, noting all the ways bishops and posts sin against nature. They wear clothes! And not only that, they wear clothes that are dyed different colors. You don’t see tigers wearing purple robes and jewel-encrusted tall hats; peccatum contra naturam. They eat cooked food! Peccatum contra naturam. When they get sick they take medicine. They travel in cars. They travel in airplanes. They use electric light. They are on the internet. They tweet. Peccatum contra naturam.

The comments are interesting.

This one:

For the sake of dignity, would the gay lobby desist from hijacking Nelson Mandela’s sad death in their campaign for same sex marriage?
He hasn’t even been interred yet for goodness sake.
It’s not that long ago since we had the unsavoury spectacle of the hijacking of a woman’s death for another ideological campaign here in Ireland.
Show some respect.
Have some class.
For once in your lives.

What an extraordinary thing to say, as if the death of Savita Halappanavar had nothing to do with the unavailability of abortion even in emergencies in Ireland. It’s not “hijacking” someone’s to death to point out that her death was preventable and would have been prevented under a slightly more humane law.

And as for Mandela: why not invoke him in a conversation about rights and equality and fairness?

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

Guest post by doubtthat: on being too cool for everything

Dec 8th, 2013 3:02 pm | By

Originally a comment on The book that continues to inspire college sophomores.

The functional difference between glibertarianism and nihilism is close to zero.

I was just speaking with a fellow attorney who is a big Ron/Rand Paul supporter and a self-professed libertarian.  The funny thing is that we agree on Step 1 of many issues:

-government spying is an absurd violation of our rights -bank bailouts just served to enable the unethical and likely criminal behavior that played a huge role in the collapse -we shouldn’t be engaged in silly foreign wars -the drug war is stupid…etc.

On all of those issues, we’re basically in agreement that our government handled and continues to handle those issue poorly.  The difficulty comes immediately when he tried to explain how to correct these things.

His solution to the problem of bank bailouts was…to just let them go under.  Fine, I say, but then something has to take it’s place.  We just had a fiscal collapse, how will the country keep running?

He refused to admit that this was a problem until I asked him how farmers would continue to exist.  They buy seed on credit and pay back the loan when the crop comes in.  If there is no entity in existence that can offer that first loan, how are people going to plat crops.

His answer, stunningly, was that the government should have loaned it directly.  Yes, indeed, I say, welcome to the wonderful world of progressivism.

He was infuriated with his own answer, but literally could not come up with another explanation.  He was smart to understand what a non-starter private lending would be, given the recent, you know, Apocalypse in the financial sector.

They’re like pissy high schoolers who are too cool for everything: this sucks, that sucks, this is gay, that’s lame…yet they never actually explain how anything could possibly work in their world, save for some nonsense about the gold standard.

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

Whooping around the clock

Dec 8th, 2013 1:08 pm | By

From last month, an article by Julia Joffe in the New Republic about the joys of having whooping cough, with thanks to Jenny McCarthy. Non-sincere thanks to Jenny McCarthy.

At this writing, I have been coughing for 72 days. Not on and off coughing, but continuously, every day and every night, for two and a half months. And not just coughing, but whooping: doubled over, body clenched, sucking violently for air, my face reddening and my eyes watering. Sometimes, I cough so hard, I vomit. Other times, I pee myself. Both of these symptoms have become blessedly less frequent, and I have yet to break a rib coughing—also a common side effect. Nor do I still have the fatigue that felled me, often, at my desk and made me sleep for 16 hours a night on the weekends. Now I rarely choke on things like water, though it turns out laughing, which I do a lot of, is an easy trigger for a violent, paralyzing cough that doctors refer to not as a cough, but a paroxysm.

There’s more, a lot more. About all that while at work, all that while eating at a restaurant, all that while going on tv to discuss world events, all that while interviewing a subject. And about children with all that.

There’s a reason that we associate the whooping cough with the Dickensian: It is. The illness has, since the introduction of a pertussis vaccine in 1940, has been conquered in the developed world. For two or three generations, we’ve come to think of it as an ailment suffered in sub-Saharan Africa or in Brontë novels. And for two or three generations, it was.

Until, that is, the anti-vaccination movement really got going in the last few years. Led by discredited doctors and, incredibly, a former Playmate, the movement has frightened new parents with claptrap about autism, Alzheimer’s, aluminum, and formaldehyde. The movement that was once a fringe freak show has become a menace, with foot soldiers whose main weapon is their self-righteousness. For them, vaccinating their children is merely a consumer choice, like joining an organic food co-op or sending their kids to a Montessori school or drinking coconut water.

I would add to that: it’s a “consumer choice” with extra added smug virtue, like joining an organic food co-op or sending their kids to a Montessori school. The people do it think it’s right-on and meritorious and thoughtfully nonconformist.

The problem is that it is not an individual choice; it is a choice that acutely affects the rest of us. Vaccinations work by creating something called herd immunity: When most of a population is immunized against a disease, it protects even those in it who are not vaccinated, either because they are pregnant or babies or old or sick. For herd immunity to work, 95 percent of the population needs to be immunized. But the anti-vaccinators have done a good job undermining it. In 2010, for example, only 91 percent of California kindergarteners were up to date on their shots. Unsurprisingly, California had a massive pertussis outbreak.

There is nothing virtuous about causing that to happen. On the contrary.

It would be an understatement to say that pertussis and other formerly conquered childhood diseases like measles and mumps are making a resurgence. Pertussis, specifically, has come roaring back. From 2011 to 2012, reported pertussis incidences rose more than threefold in 21 states. (And that’s just reported cases. Since we’re not primed to be on the look-out for it, many people may simply not realize they have it.) In 2012, the CDC said that the number of pertussis cases was higher than at any point in 50 years. That year, Washington state declared an epidemic; this year, Texas did, too. Washington, D.C. has also seen a dramatic increase. This fall, Cincinnati reported a 283 percent increase in pertussis.

Another win for obscurantism and willful stupidity.

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

Just because

Dec 8th, 2013 11:16 am | By

Michelle Goldberg also recently wrote about homeschooling as a way to shield child abuse. In the Daily Beast:

On September 9, the parents of Hana Williams, an Ethiopian teenager living in the state of Washington, were convicted of killing her. During the last year of her life, court documents show, she had lost almost 30 pounds as she was beaten, denied food, forced to sleep in a barn, and given cold outdoor showers with a garden hose. Much of the time she was kept barefoot, although she was allowed shoes if there was snow on the ground. Sometimes she was given nothing but a towel to wear. If Williams had been in school, someone might have noticed that she was underdressed and emaciated. But she was homeschooled, and so her parents, fundamentalist Christians in thrall to a harsh disciplinary philosophy, had complete privacy to punish her as they saw fit. She died naked, face down in the mud in their backyard.

Like so many things, privacy is a double-edged sword. We all want it and depend on it; we consider it a right; but god damn it can be abused. Domestic violence wouldn’t exist without privacy; “domestic” and “private” are much the same thing.

Heather Doney and Rachel Coleman, two women who themselves grew up in homeschooling families, have documented dozens of horrific cases on their website, Homeschooling’s Invisible Children, which launched in May. A database of local news stories and official documents, the site is searchable by category, including Fatality, Food Deprivation, Imprisonment, Physical Abuse and Sexual Abuse. Under Sexual Abuse, to take just one of them, Doney and Coleman found almost 70 victims since 2000—and those are just cases that made the papers.

Coleman, an Indiana University Ph.D. student who studies the role of children in the Christian right, does not believe that homeschooling parents are more abusive than others. Some 1.5 million Americans kids are taught at home, and there’s no reason to think that more than a small fraction of them are subject to severe violence. Indeed, Coleman says she wouldn’t even rule out homeschooling her own children. But she argues that because the practice is almost entirely unregulated in much of the country, it can make abusive situations worse, allowing parents to hide their crimes and denying kids access to outside authority. “Homeschooling enables parents to isolate children,” Coleman says. “That can enable them to abuse them.”

It’s a helluva knotty problem, because monitoring homeschooling would obviously be massively labor-intensive. If I were a bureaucrat tasked with figuring out how to do it I wouldn’t have a clue where to begin.

The Home School Legal Defense Association was founded in 1983, just as homeschooling was catching on among an ascendant Christian right. Many in the movement believed that public schools indoctrinated children in godless secularism and saw homeschooling as a way to give their kids an education steeped in biblical values. At first, homeschoolers faced a great deal of official resistance—some states banned homeschooling outright, while others strictly limited it. During the past 30 years, though, HSLDA has successfully fought to eliminate or drastically loosen those regulations.

Even regulations about monitoring parents who have already been reported for abuse…

Earlier this year, Pennsylvania state Sen. Andrew Dinniman sponsored new legislation in response to the 2012 deaths of two young homeschooled boys in Philadelphia: 6-year-old Khalil Wime, whose parents were arrested for starving and torturing him to death, and 5-year-old Dashawn Harris, reportedly beaten to death by his mother’s boyfriend for mispronouncing the word “sad” during a homeschooling lesson. He is awaiting trial for first-degree murder.

Under Dinniman’s bill, when families with recent child-abuse complaints start homeschooling, child protective services would have to be notified. The parents wouldn’t necessarily be prohibited from pulling their kids out of school, but there would be an outside risk assessment.

The homeschooling movement reacted with outrage. “Bad Bills Threaten Homeschooling Freedom” said an alert sent out by HSLDA. The organization was indignant that families that had already been investigated for abuse would be investigated a second time “just because they had decided to homeschool their children.” As of now, legislation’s future is unclear. “We have heard some concerns in questions about the bill,” said Dinniman’s legislative director, refusing to speculate on its chances.

That “just because” is telling. Yes, parents suspected of abusing their children would be subject to a risk assessment “just because” they decided to homeschool their children – imagine that! Imagine thinking that removing children from the one environment where they have ready access to adults who are not their parents might not be ideal for children subject to abuse.


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

The empirical mismatch

Dec 7th, 2013 4:25 pm | By

Here’s a useful and enjoyable item at Brian Leiter’s blog – the full version of a letter to the Guardian by Rae Langton and John Dupré.

Your headline reads ‘Male and female brains wired differently, scans reveal‘ (2 December 2013). What do scans reveal? ‘Maps of neural circuitry show women’s brains are designed for social skills and memory, men’s for perception and co-ordination’. Yet another deeply confused ‘hard-wired brain’ story. It has received much comment, not least for the empirical mismatch between the data and the conclusion, given that the cited study apparently provides ‘strong evidence for behavioural similarities between the sexes’ (Cordelia Fine, But there is something even more basic at stake.

Please, please, will scientists, science journalists, and readers wake up to this truism: if the mind is the brain, any mental difference will be a brain difference. Suppose there are some actual mental differences between men and women, whatever their prior causes. (Hard to imagine training up half of humanity one way, half another, without creating some differences between them.) There will then be some neural differences. Suppose you have two televisions, whose images are different. You call in the technician, who trumpets the discovery that they differ in their pattern of pixels. How remarkable! Actually, no. That bit we knew already: no difference in the images without a difference in the pixels. Same for ourselves: no difference in states of mind without a difference in states of brain. That doesn’t mean it has to be that way, or is designed to be that way. Even if your mind is your brain, that doesn’t mean ‘your brain made you do it’—as if the ‘you’ were a different being, a soul puppet whose strings are pulled by your neurons. Let’s not fall for this confusion, or we’ll take what happens to be the case, and freeze it.  We’ll take differences, however they may have come about, and make them seem inevitable and appropriate.  We don’t need this deterministic fairy-tale. It’s bad for men and women, bad for science, bad for us all.

No one will listen, of course.

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

Shopping and baby Jesus

Dec 7th, 2013 4:08 pm | By

So American Atheists’ Times Square billboard was specifically intended to make Sarah Palin’s head explode?

When Sarah Palin speaks, ad nauseam, of the “war on Christmas,” she’s referring not only to attempts to secularize the holiday season in general, but also the secularization of Jesus’ birthday itself.*

*This sentence has been updated to remove a reference to Palin’s opposition to the commercialization of Christmas, because apparently she likes the commercialization of Christmas, which is confusing. 

Hmm. Maybe she likes it provided it goes hand in hand with lots of baby Jesus and his birthday? Because Jesus loved capitalism and people who get rich by paying low wages, and because if God didn’t want the planet to melt then we wouldn’t have been intelligently designed to design them. Do I have that right?

That’s why this year’s annual anti-Christmas billboard by the atheist advocacy group American Atheists seems specifically crafted to make Palin’s head explode into a million pieces. The fifteen-second digital ad, which is currently running in Times Square, contends that the “true” meaning of Christmas is not Christ, but things like gifts, the Rockettes, and, most provocatively, Chinese food, which is what Jews eat.

“If Sarah Palin is under the impression that Christmastime is about Jesus,” Dave Muscato, spokesman for American Atheists, tells Daily Intelligencer, “I invite her to take a look at any shopping mall the day after Thanksgiving. Christmastime is, and has been for a long time, about giving gifts, spending time with family and friends, eating, drinking, and being merry; volunteering or giving to charity, and a hundred other things that have nothing to do with religion.”

But Daaaaaaaaaaave – a shopping mall the day after Thanksgiving is not Christmas. It’s black Friday! Everybody knows that.

They forgot to say chocolate mince pie.


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

Homeschooled for good

Dec 7th, 2013 3:21 pm | By

There’s a website, Homeschooling’s Invisible Children. It was founded by two women who were homeschooled themselves, Rachel Coleman and Heather Doney.

Inspired by the recent high profile deaths of several homeschooled children, including Lydia Schatz, Hana Williams, and Nubia Barahona, HIC shines a light on the dark side of homeschooling, where a lack of outside protections for homeschooled children has led to some horrifying consequences.

Homeschooling can be a useful educational tool in the hands of the right parents, but when it falls into the hands of the wrong parents the results can be disastrous, and it is the children who suffer.

HIC documents and archives cases where homeschooling was not in the best interest of the child and was instead used as a means to isolate, abuse, and neglect, resulting in exceedingly harmful or fatal outcomes. This is for Lydia, Hana, Nubia, the children of the Gravelles and Kluths, and all of those whose stories we may never hear.

Warning: This site’s content includes mention of severe child abuse, torture, and untimely death and contains pictures of children who died under such conditions.

The most recent post there is about Miranda Crockett. [trigger warning - abuse, murder]

10-year-old Miranda Crocket was tied up when she drowned in an ice cold bathtub, the culmination of months of abuse at the hands of her father’s girlfriend. Miranda lived alone with her father, Dan Crockett, until her father’s girlfriend, Chandra Rose, moved in with them with her three children, aged 4, 6, and 11, in the summer of 2012. Miranda was withdrawn from school and was homeschooled by Chandra that fall alongside Chandra’s children. Chandra claims that Miranda threatened her children, and that the abuse she heaped on the girl was retaliation. Chandra locked Miranda in the bathroom, tied her up, forced her to take ice baths, and shut her in a hard plastic storage box barely big enough to fit her body. The day Miranda died, she had escaped from the locked bathroom and Miranda had retaliated by tying her hands to her ankles, tying a cord around her neck to cause her discomfort, shutting her in the storage box for several hours and, ultimately, putting her in the ice cold bath where she drowned.

If she hadn’t been taken out of school, she could have asked for help. Children don’t always do that, because they’re afraid to, but the possibility would have been there. But she was taken out of school and “homeschooled” – which being interpreted means, tortured to death.

The Oregonian reported last March:

The judge also unsealed court documents that for the first time publicly revealed what happened in the Fairview apartment the girl shared with her father, Rose and Rose’s children, ages 4, 6 and 11. It describes abuse heightened by Miranda’s isolation after she left the public school system so Rose could home-school her with the other children.

According to the probable cause affidavit, Rose told police that in the hours before paramedics arrived at the apartment, Miranda had escaped from the bathroom and wouldn’t tell Rose what she used to unlock the door. Rose said she tied the girl’s hands to her ankles with scarves and uninflated balloons. She also tied a cord around the girl’s neck and legs to try to make her uncomfortable.

She placed the child in the fetal position in the storage box, leaving her there for 30 minutes to three hours. Rose also put Miranda in an icy cold bath.

Miranda was home “schooled” all right.



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