Notes and Comment Blog

Guest post: Weaponized speech

Mar 11th, 2015 4:09 pm | By

Originally a comment by quixote on Hey the chant was on a school trip, so obviously no biggy.

Bigotry is harmful. Bigoted drunken chants are no exception. Bigotry uses speech to hurt, not to express a train of reasoning. It’s weaponized speech, and as such it stops free speech. It is the antithesis of free speech. The clearest example is not in racist speech but in gendered mobs aimed at women on the web, which is nastily effective at both hurting and silencing women while expressing no thoughts at all. It’s just plain old hatred and plain old hate speech.

This concept seems to be difficult mainly for some white males who are almost never the targets of weaponized speech.

To give an example of ideas that could be considered racist that are not weaponized, researchers (this was many years ago) wanted to study whether blacks were more violent than whites. They almost got shut down for racism, but ultimately managed to do an acceptable controlled study. (The short answer is no. Blacks as a group were actually slightly less violent than whites matched for age, gender, and income.) The difference was on the order of 13% vs 15% or something like that.

Of course, the great gaping chasm of difference was between males and females. 85% of violent attacks were committed by men, a little bit over 5% were not-directly-provoked attacks by women, and 10% were violence by women in response to attacks by men. I believe the numbers are still very similar.

And the fact that this vast difference was not being studied, while the piddling non-difference between races was studied woke up the sociology community to the fact that, yes, it really was a racist question. But my point is that you do have to ask the obnoxious question to see the answer. That kind of speech is and should be protected. There is an idea behind it. That is different from abuse and hate speech.

If we — meaning people like I’m-all-right-Jack Volokh — don’t wake up to the difference between abuse and speech, there’s not going to be any free speech for anyone except the Volokhs. Maybe that’s why he’s okay with it.

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

Guest post: Homophobia in American African Migrant Churches

Mar 11th, 2015 3:35 pm | By

Guest post by Leo Igwe.

A lot has been said about how American evangelists are supporting efforts and campaigns to legislate against gay marriage in Uganda and other African countries, but there is very little mention of African churches that are re-exporting a homophobic gospel to Europe and America. Many African Pentecostal groups are extending their mission overseas. They are promoting programs and activities that undermine the rights of gay people in this region. These churches are mainly from West Africa, particularly from Nigeria. They are establishing branches in immigrant communities in Western countries where they propagate “Africanized Christianity.” Yes, they qualify their Christianity as African because they think American and European Christians have drifted from preaching the true word of God. They claim that Western churches have teachings and practices that are incompatible with their Africanized Christianity. But this is only a ploy to create a gospel niche for themselves where they can promote doctrines that go against the human rights laws of these countries. One of these homophobic African churches in the United States is the Mountain of Fire and Miracle Ministries (MFM).

This church has its headquarters in Nigeria but it has branches in Europe and North America. MFM preaches against homosexuality. It regards homosexuals as sexual perverts in need of salvation and redemption. One of the prayer points of the Los Angeles branch of MFM is “Deliverance Prayers Against Homosexuality and Sexual Perversion.” The prayer point urges those who are caught in the sexual bondage of homosexuality, lesbianism, and other forms of sexual immorality to understand that their bondage can be broken “through the power of the blood of Jesus.” MFM branches in New Jersey and Katy, Texas have adopted the same prayer programs.

Another MFM branch of the church in Houston, dubbed the United States. and Caribbean Regional Headquarters, compares homosexuals and lesbians to dogs.

At the website, you will find the following wording:

The Bible refers to homosexuals and lesbians as dogs. Anyone who has ever engaged in these kinds of things would need to receive deliverance from the spirit of the dog, which has entered into him or her. Generally, in the spirit world, dogs symbolize sexual perversion. So, if you see yourself being pursued in the spirit by a dog, check your sexual life. It means that something must be wrong somewhere, whether in your heart or your activities. Psalm 22:16 says, ‘For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed [sic] me: they pierced my hands and my feet.’

Unfortunately, praying against homosexuality is a policy of the North American Network of MFM and it is documented here.

All human rights communities should be concerned about this church and its affiliates. These homophobic prayers should not be seen as innocuous intercessions and suppli- cations to God. The prayer programs are actually teachings that negatively and unfairly shape the minds and attitudes of the congregants. The hateful prayers are statements of opposition against homosexuality. Humanists, secularists, and religious individuals who support the rights of gay people should speak out against the activities of MFM. Perhaps a strong effort can be made to petition the leaders of the offending MFM branches to sanction the hateful prayers.

Just as the world came out and roundly condemned American evangelists who sponsored or supported the “Kill the Gays Bill” in Uganda, we should also condemn expressly African pastors and churches that are propagating hatred and persecution of gay people in the United States. Hate speech should not be considered a constitutional right when so many lives are at stake. Individuals and organizations must bring attention to the dangerous situation and publicly criticize African churches that are praying against homosexuality. There is a slight risk in such a protest. Criticism could be misconstrued as some type of racism. But condemning the activities of homophobic churches has nothing to do with racism. That would be a counter argument to avoid the real problem of hate speech. Protesting hate speech is a clear effort to protect the universal human rights of dignity, safety, equality and protection against fear of bodily harm.

The nontheist community can work and campaign for the respect and recognition of gay rights in the United States, Uganda, Nigeria, and in other parts of Africa. Together, we can object to African Pentecostal churches eroding the gains we have made in Europe and some of North America. We need to act now and complain about the dangerous church doctrine that equates homosexuals to dogs. Such an analogy and hatred has no place in contemporary America.

I urge readers of this article to form a protest committee and take action. Coordinate your efforts with other groups that are equally appalled by the situation. Form alliances to put an end to bigotry and hatred. It is our duty to demand social changes to better the world.

About the author:

Leo Igwe served as the Western and Southern Africa representative for the Humanist and Ethical Union. He bravely worked to end a variety of human rights violations, including anti-gay hate, sorcery, witchcraft, ritual killing, human sacrifice, caste discrimination, anti-blasphemy laws, and most importantly child and adult witch superstitions. Igwe is currently involved in a three-year research program on “Witchcraft Accusations in Africa” at the University of Bayreuth in Germany.

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

Hey the chant was on a school trip, so obviously no biggy

Mar 11th, 2015 3:16 pm | By

The New Republic also has a piece on whether it’s constitutional for the University of Oklahoma to expel the two frat boys who led the racist chant on the bus. Of course it does; the New Republic is the National Review for people who think they’re on the left.

[A]s UCLA School of Law professor Eugene Volokh noted shortly before Boren’s announcement, a public university student has a right to express himself without being expelledeven if that expression is a virulent, racist chant. “First, racist speech is constitutionally protected, just as is expression of other contemptible ideas,” Volokh wrote. “And universities may not discipline students based on their speech.”

Public universities, that is.

Yes, and note that that’s not what Volokh noted; he left out the “public” part.

In 1972, the Supreme Court made clear that “state colleges and universities are not enclaves immune from the sweep of the First Amendment,” and a year later the court reaffirmed that “the mere dissemination of ideasno matter how offensive to good tasteon a state university campus may not be shut off in the name alone of conventions of decency.” That case, Papish v. University of Missouri Curators, involved a set of facts relevant to the Oklahoma case: Expulsion of a graduate journalism student who was sanctioned for handing out a newspaper “containing indecent forms of speech.”

Yes but “indecent” isn’t the issue. The problem with racism and with racist bullying is not that it’s “indecent” but that it’s harmful. That doesn’t automatically mean the First Amendment doesn’t apply, obviously, but it clutters up the issue to imply it has to do with what’s “indecent” (or “offensive,” which is a completely useless word for trying to think clearly about this subject).

Noting that a public university can reasonably regulate “the time, place, and manner of speech and its dissemination,” the court ultimately ruled that a student cannot be “expelled because of the disapproved content of the newspaper,” and ordered the student reinstated.

Of course, there are exceptions to this rule: when the offensive speech represents a “true threat” to the listener, or if the words had somehow been used to pick a fight or to incite others to violence. None of that seems to be the case here, as the chant appears to have been sung while on a school trip and not directed to a particular audience.

And therefore it was sealed off in an airtight bubble where it would have had no effect whatsoever on how the members of that fraternity interacted with non-white people at the university. And I’m Marie of Romania.

Why do people have to be so simple-minded about this stuff? Why do they have to pretend that if it’s not “I’m going to lynch you!!” screamed directly into the face of one person, it’s nothing at all?

The school, for its part, seems to have anchored the expulsion on the notion that the students created a “hostile educational environment” for everyone else with their “racist and exclusionary chant.” But where does such hostility and exclusion begin and end?

Gosh, I don’t know, therefore let’s throw up our hands and just let god take care of it.

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

The Constitution steps in

Mar 11th, 2015 2:38 pm | By

But it’s unconstitutional for the University of Oklahoma to expel students for saying racist things, some people in the Law Community are saying. Eugene Volokh says that.

1. First, racist speech is constitutionally protected, just as is expression of other contemptible ideas; and universities may not discipline students based on their speech. That has been the unanimous view of courts that have considered campus speech codes and other campus speech restrictions — see here for some citations.

If that’s true, it seems problematic. Places where people have to work closely together need to be able to regulate the extremes of how those people treat each other. To put it crudely, bullying can make group life hell, so people in charge need to be able to regulate bullying.

UPDATE: The university president wrote that the students are being expelled for “your leadership role in leading a racist and exclusionary chant which has created a hostile educational environment for others.” But there is no First Amendment exception for racist speech, or exclusionary speech, or — as the cases I mentioned above — for speech by university students that “has created a hostile educational environment for others.”

Then I guess I think there should be, for the reasons given.

2. Likewise, speech doesn’t lose its constitutional protection just because it refers to violence — “You can hang him from a tree,” “the capitalists will be the first ones up against the wall when the revolution comes,” “by any means necessary” with pictures of guns, “apostates from Islam should be killed.”

I’m not crazy about that “just because…” It’s easy to brush off threatening language that isn’t addressed to you or people like you. I don’t like that “just because” in reference to chants about lynching.

To be sure, in specific situations, such speech might fall within a First Amendment exception. One example is if it is likely to be perceived as a “true threat” of violence (e.g., saying “apostates from Islam will be killed” or “we’ll hang you from a tree” to a particular person who will likely perceive it as expressing the speaker’s intention to kill him); but that’s not the situation here, where the speech wouldn’t have been taken by any listener as a threat against him or her.

Oh is that so? How does Volokh know that? I don’t know that, so how does he? I’m very damn sick of people who are immune to that particular kind of threat dismissing and belittling it as no big deal.

Time has a piece on the question.

The University of Oklahoma’s decision Tuesday toexpel two students who played “a leadership role” in singing a racist chant that went viral after it was caught on video may assuage critics. But civil liberties experts say it could also be unconstitutional.

“The impulse to expel is understandable, but the decision is on constitutionally questionable ground,” said Ken Paulson, the President of the First Amendment Center and Dean of the College of Mass Communication at Middle Tennessee State University. “A public university is subject to the free speech guarantees of the First Amendment and may not punish students because they hold offensive views.”

A public university, he stipulates – Volokh didn’t limit it that way, but said “universities may not discipline students based on their speech” without limiting it to public universities.

Private institutions like private colleges or the national Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity have wide leeway to discipline or expel students for racist speech if it violates their codes of conduct. But the University of Oklahoma is a public research university, and civil liberties groups say it should be treated as an arm of the government.

So apparently Volokh is reaching farther than those civil liberties groups.

The video and Oklahoma’s response are part and parcel of a tension between freedom of speech and hostile educational environments that has been mounting in higher education for several months. Last spring, students at Smith, Rutgers and Brandeis succeeded in driving away graduation speakers who had held views students found offensive.

Well, “hostile educational environments” and “found offensive” are not the same thing, although there’s overlap. I do think that chant went way beyond merely “offensive” and into the middle of hostile educational environment.

“Universities are one of the primary battlegrounds for learning about free speech and understanding how to combat bigotry,” Ryan Kiesel, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Oklahoma, said in a statement that neither condoned nor condemned the expulsion. “The best antidote to hateful speech is the exercise of peaceful speech in return.”

It might be true that it would be better not to expel the students but to give them some heavy duty peaceful speech in return, instead. But as a matter of principle I don’t think public universities should be banned from ever expelling students for speech. I can agree it should be rarely used, but not never. But I’m not a lawyer, so my view on the subject is just that.

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

It’s just a bit of fun

Mar 11th, 2015 2:04 pm | By

Mo is very amused by the “Islamophobe of the year” awards; Jesus not so much.


It isn’t funny because it’s true.

Note the headline on The Guardian, too.

Author’s Patreon is here.

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

Still a hack

Mar 11th, 2015 11:18 am | By

Christina Hoff Sommers is still making videos for the American Enterprise Institute sniping at people who argue that there is sexism in video games. She made a new one on Monday, with a partial transcript.

“Is Gaming A Boy’s Club?” is the name of a school lesson plan developed by the Anti-Defamation League—ADL for short. The ADL is a well-respected organization that has fought anti-Semitism and racism for decades. As a long-time admirer of the ADL, I am baffled by its sponsorship of such a biased and dogmatic curriculum. The lesson plan advertises itself as meeting standards for inclusion in the Common Core—an influential national curriculum. The entire lesson plan is dedicated to the proposition that video games are a hotbed of sexism and misogyny, and it gives students the message that anyone who dares to suggest that games should be more inclusive can expect to be terrorized by malevolent gamers.

And that message is completely wrong and contrary to the truth because – no actually Sommers doesn’t say why. She can’t very well, can she, because the message is not wrong and contrary to the truth. Women who talk about sexism in gaming are likely to be terrorized by malevolent gamers, unless they do that talking solely in private. Sommers must be relying on some mental reservation or quibble about wording to make her claim somehow true. Maybe because not all critics can expect to be “terrorized”? Maybe she carefully chose that word because not all gamers resort to threats? Maybe she knows perfectly well that anyone who dares to suggest that games should be more inclusive can expect to be verbally harassed and abused, and chose “terrorized” for better deniability? Me, I would say “terrorized” can include verbal harassment and abuse, but then I’m the kind of person Sommers sneers at, so there you go.

Lesson materials include a video and an article by feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian—both are harsh indictments of the world of gaming. That would be fine if she were not the only assigned author. In another part of the lesson plan, the teacher places seven posters around the room—each bearing a statement about video games. Students are then told to attach Post-Its to those they agree with. Three are neutral—for example: “I have played video games” and “I have watched other people play video games.” But four are affirmations about sexism: “I have witnessed sexism in video games,” “I believe video games can perpetuate sexism.” None says anything positive about games—such as, “Gaming is an exciting activity for both women and men,” or “Sexism in video games is exaggerated.”The curriculum also includes a small group discussion on sexism and video games and “additional resources” that focus on—guess what?– harassment, misogyny, and terror in the culture of video games. The curriculum is not only obsessively one-sided—much it is false, misleading, or exaggerated. Let’s start with the very first sentence. “Video games do not have a good track record when it comes to positively including girls and women.” But on page 3 of the curriculum students learn that women now constitute 48 percent of video game players—up from 40 percent in 2010.

Note the word now. Then note the preceding phrase track record. See what she did there? The curriculum starts with “Video games do not have a good track record” and Sommers contradicts with “It’s improved.” But the fact that it has improved (assuming that’s true) doesn’t contradict anything about its track record.

What I hate most about this crusade of Sommers’s is the way it says “No no no don’t look under the surface, don’t point out things that everybody ignores, don’t say this cultural habit doesn’t have to be like this – LEAVE THE STATUS QUO ALONE.”

It was depressing to see Steven Pinker RT the Sommers video.



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


Mar 11th, 2015 10:55 am | By

Laura Bates won a press award yesterday for Everyday Sexism.

The founder of the Everyday Sexism project has won the inaugural Georgina Henry Women in Journalism Award for Innovation at the Press awards for 2014.

Laura Bates was awarded the prize at the awards event at London’s Marriott Grosvenor Square hotel on Tuesday night.

The other nominees for the award were the GroundTruth Project’s Middle East correspondent Lauren Bohn, reporter and blogger Iram Ramzan, and freelance journalist and Daily Mirror columnist Ros Wynne-Jones.

Oh looky there, one of the other nominees is Iram Ramzan – who wrote that guest post I published here just three days ago. She was the runner-up. Congratulations, Iram!

Women in Journalism launched the annual prize in honour of Henry, the former deputy editor of the Guardian and one of the founders of the campaigning group. Henry’s partner Ronan Bennett and children Molly and Finn were in attendance at Tuesday’s ceremony.

The Times won newspaper of the year at the event, with the judges praising its “searing investigation” into the Rotherham child abuse scandal.

More “orientalist reveries” I suppose.

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

Into shivers of orientalist reverie

Mar 11th, 2015 10:20 am | By

Nesrine Malik offers up a classic piece of warmed-over Edward Said at Comment is Free.

What happened is, a Lebanese tv presenter who is a woman told off a sheikh guest who is a man, and a video of the moment has gone viral (at least according to Malik it has). Malik’s point is big woop, because what she calls “Arab television news” is always like that. (There is such a thing? There’s generic Arab television news, about which one can generalize? Sounds dubious.) It’s always quarrelsome and noisy.

Moreover, Arabic TV news is predominantly staffed by women. The presenter in question, Rima Karaki, follows a long tradition of formidable female anchors that began at al-Jazeera Arabic and MBC, and it is nothing unusual to be interviewed by a woman on most channels.

I suspect that London-based Sheikh Hani Al-Siba’i’s sexism was ramped up in the reporting of the story, and I daresay he would have been as huffy and pompous if it had been a male presenter who had interrupted and cut him down to size. It didn’t hurt the mythologising of Karaki’s behaviour that she is attractive, and was wearing a headscarf.

But the headlines that followed in the western press are part of a now established genre that morphs the everyday behaviour of Arab and Muslim women as being something impressive and counterintuitive. The images of female Kurdish fighters in their fatigues sent the western media into shivers of orientalist reverie.

Oh please. The nature of IS is more than enough to explain interest in female Kurdish fighters without drivel about shivers of orientalist reverie.

It is however, consistent with a long heritage of the western gaze, spanning everything from misery-porn about Muslim women, to ostensibly serious journalism that shows life “behind the veil”. It is the creepiest of obsessions, hiding behind the pretence of concern, while actually being akin to the behaviour of a peeping tom, both in terms of the smug reaffirmation of the western consumer’s implied superior values, and as a general fixation on Arab women as exotic creatures whose value is derived solely from their imprisonment in a gilded cage. I don’t know how many photo essays from Iran and Saudi Arabia of women shaving their legs in sepia-toned images we need to see before we get it; Arab women are not frozen in 2D behind a burqa.

It could be argued that anything that humanises and shows Arab women not being beaten, enslaved, force married or honour-killed is a good thing. But when everything that is not that is treated as a novelty, one is effectively reinforcing the stereotypes by saying, “Look! Here is a woman NOT being beaten, enslaved, force married or honour killed. How about that?”

Yeah, that’s the thing to worry about, reporting on “Arab women” not being beaten, enslaved, force married or honour-killed. That’s much more urgent than worrying about actual women actually being beaten, enslaved, force married or honour-killed.

It is undeniable that there are many ways in which women all over the world are trapped in patriarchal societies. But the Arab woman as an emblem of only that is proving a difficult stereotype to shift. Not just because it is not accurate, but because it seems people do not want their world views challenged, only simply reinforced.

And her evidence for that is the virality of a video showing an “Arab woman” telling off a man. So her point is that there is no kind of reporting that could shift the stereotype. So I guess everybody should just ignore the whole subject, is that the solution?

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

Some people stoned her, some abused

Mar 10th, 2015 3:37 pm | By

A woman in Afghanistan did a performance art thing about street sexual assault, and she got such a generous reception that she’s gone into hiding.

Kubra Khademi had hired a local blacksmith to forge a suit of armor with accentuated breasts and buttocks. She planned to wear it publicly to protest the way that women’s bodies are lecherously groped and abused in public spaces — something that first happened to her when she was only four years old.

“Somebody touched me and then he just walked away. I was just a female for him. He didn’t care how old I was,” the 25-year-old artist shared in an interview. “I was feeling guilty. Why did it happen to me? It was my fault. And I said: ‘I wish my underwear were made of iron.’”

She told the AP that she was publicly sexually assaulted several times after that, most recently in 2008, just before she took her entrance exams to study art at Kabul University. That time, she screamed. “All the people stared at me and even started yelling at me: ‘You whore! How dare you scream! Did you enjoy it?’” she remembered.

She’s a whore for objecting to sexual assault. What? Is it whorish of her to think her body belongs to her and not to the general public?

Kubra Khademi (Image via Twitter)

Via Twitter

Khademi’s activism culminated on the afternoon of February 26, when she emerged from her home wearing the metal suit, concealed by a coat. She removed the covering at the base of the Kata stone bridge and began to walk. Bystander Mina Rezaei described the eight-minute performance and the angry reactions it quickly provoked on her Facebook:

Crowds were wide-eyed and everyone was running to see the armored woman. Some complained about her clothes, some misused the situation and started touching girls’ bodies in the crowd, some people stoned her, some abused. It was so unbearable and scary. People were following both herself and her entourages while stoning all of them. During those eight minutes, the armored woman was scared and walked so fast. At the end she sat in a car, but people still stoned and kicked the car as a sign of goodbye to her.

Stoning. Well, that’s forthright, at least.

Some people even accused Khademi of being an American spy. She has since received so many angry emails and death threats that she’s purportedly left her home. According to her Facebook, she currently resides in Seoul, South Korea, though it’s unclear if that’s where she’s currently located.

Khademi’s brave performance follows that of many other artists  — from Pussy Riot to Tania Bruguera — who have forsaken the safe haven of the gallery to take their social activism into the streets, where it is most trenchant.

And then are made to pay for it.

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

Sigma Alpha Epsilon has a track record

Mar 10th, 2015 12:04 pm | By

It’s not the kind of track record you want.

The fraternity now boasts more than 200,000 living alumni, along with about 15,000 undergraduates populating 219 chapters and 20 “colonies” seeking full membership at universities.

SAE has had to work hard to change recently after a string of member deaths, many blamed on the hazing of new recruits, SAE national President Bradley Cohen wrote in a message on the fraternity’s website.

The fraternity’s website lists more than 130 chapters cited or suspended for “health and safety incidents” since 2010. At least 30 of the incidents involved hazing, and dozens more involved alcohol.

130 out of 219. Wow.

However, the list is missing numerous incidents from recent months. Among them, according to various media outlets: Yale University banned the SAEs from campus activities last month after members allegedly tried tointerfere with a sexual misconduct investigation connected to an initiation rite.

Stanford University in December suspended SAE housing privileges after finding sorority members attending a fraternity function were subjected to graphic sexual content. And Johns Hopkins University in November suspended the fraternity for underage drinking.

“The media has labeled us as the ‘nation’s deadliest fraternity,’ ” Cohen said. In 2011, for example, a student died while being coerced into excessive alcohol consumption, according to a lawsuit.

Its insurer dumped it, so now it pays Lloyd’s of London the highest insurance rates possible.

Universities have turned down SAE’s attempts to open new chapters, and the fraternity had to close 12 in 18 months over hazing incidents.

But isn’t that what higher education is for?

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

Each Sunday morning he yells and pouts

Mar 10th, 2015 11:58 am | By

From Slate’s advice column by Emily Yoffe

Two years ago when my son was 10 he became very verbal about hating church and resisted going. My older son loves the teen group at Sunday school and assured his brother that when he made it out of the baby area, he, too, would love it. Well, he does not. Each Sunday morning he yells, pouts, and eventually succumbs to my threats.

Then he takes his snarky and unhelpful attitude to Sunday school. He doesn’t believe in God, and his very cool Sunday teacher works with that. I hated my boring church as a kid, and looking back I wonder, had I not gone to church would I have been a worse person? My husband was forced to attend his church when he was little. Now, he sleeps late Sunday morning, then hikes and does other activities. He is supportive of the fact that both our sons’ spiritual development is important to me. Do I force my son to go or give up?

—Mad as Hell Mom

No, you don’t force him to go. I wouldn’t call that giving up, I’d call it not forcing him to do something that shouldn’t be mandatory for anyone.

I too hated church as a kid. We didn’t go all that often, but when we did, I hated it. I hated Sunday school even more; I think I went only about twice.

We stopped going before I was old enough to refuse as opposed to complaining – long before I was twelve. Thank fuck for that. But I remain convinced that it’s not something parents should force on children, especially if they hate it. Of course many religious parents aren’t going to agree with me, but that’s what I think.

So I don’t like Yoffe’s reply.

You and your older son find spiritual and intellectual sustenance in the church, but your younger son finds the whole thing intolerable. You’ve been fighting this losing battle for two years, and if you keep going, your son will flee all observance as soon as he is able. I think you need to walk a more tolerant path. Tell your little atheist that you’ve been thinking about what he’s been saying about church, you’re tired of dragging him to Sunday school, and you’re reconsidering your stand. But before you do, you have a requirement he needs to fulfill. You want him to write an essay (minimum two typed pages) about the progression of his (dis)beliefs, and he must cite examples of people who have struggled with lack of faith—Biblical sources get extra credit. Then, if he takes this assignment seriously, release him. But say this doesn’t mean he gets to watch TV or play video games while his brother is getting religious instruction.

Jeezis. Punish him with homework, make his freedom from church conditional on doing the homework, and punish him in general for not going, just to make sure.

Godbotherers can be such bullies.

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

Guest post: On celiac disease, fat deposition, and nonsense on PBS

Mar 10th, 2015 11:01 am | By

Originally a comment by quixote on What next, How to Homeopathy?

@m-la, your two links relate to borderline celiac conditions. (I’m a biology prof with quite a bit of knowledge of both nutrition and human physiology, so forgive me for going all “Imma gonna lecture” on you.)

The links have no relation to the claim that GMO foods will somehow alter fat deposition. GMO foods, as far as I’m concerned, have plenty of other problems. (Bad agricultural practices, lower nutritional quality, potential introduction of allergens, lack of long term, independent research demonstrating safety, the list goes on for a while. I did a post on it a while back.)

None of the objections, though, have any relation to fat deposition. Or, for that matter, to causing celiac disease. Aggravating it is a different topic entirely.

For research on what can be a contributing cause to celiac disease, recent research implicates emulsifiers added to hundreds of commercial food products. That makes rather obvious biological sense. Emulsifiers emulsify fats. Cell membranes are fats. Emulsifiers can cause enough damage to the cells lining the intestines of some people to cause a problem.

Fat deposition can be altered by endocrine disruptors. These are any pollutants or additives that interfere with hormones, things like BPA, plenty of pesticides and herbicides, and so on. A recent general article is here with links to the research publications in that article. Endocrine disruptors are not the same as GMO food.

tl:dr It is nonsense to say that eating wheat is going to give you belly fat, except insofar as extra calories of any kind can have that effect. It’s also nonsense to say that GMO wheat will somehow have more of that effect than any other kind of wheat. And it’s nonsense to say that wheat or GMO wheat causes celiac disease. It may be poorly tolerated if you already have celiac disease. PBS should not be promoting nonsense. Very disappointing.

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

Not new, not unique

Mar 10th, 2015 10:30 am | By

Two University of Oklahoma students who led the racist chant have been expelled.

Two University of Oklahoma students were expelled Tuesday for their alleged “leadership role” in a racist chant by Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity members, a decision that President David Boren says speaks to his school’s “zero tolerance” policy for such “threatening racist behavior.”

The expulsions come days after the video surfaced and hours before the midnight Tuesday deadline that SAE members were given to pack their bags and get out of their house.

It was only a nine-second clip, but the fallout has been disastrous.

The national chapter of SAE shuttered the house at OU, and Boren said the university’s affiliation with the fraternity is permanently done.

“I was not only shocked and disappointed but disgusted by the outright display of racism displayed in the video,”said Brad Cohen, the fraternity’s national president. “SAE is a diverse organization, and we have zero tolerance for racism or any bad behavior.”

Is that right? A fraternity? A fraternity with zero tolerance for any bad behavior? I’m sorry, I don’t believe that for a second.

Boren said he’s done with SAE at Oklahoma.

“The house will be closed, and as far as I’m concerned, they won’t be back,” he said at a Monday news conference. The university also is exploring what actions it can take against individual fraternity members.

“There seems to be a culture in some of these fraternities, and it just has to be snuffed out,” Boren told CNN.

I continue to wonder if sexism and misogyny are as sharply rebuked as racism.

The decision to shutter the fraternity was an easy one for Boren.

“If we’re ever going to snuff this out in the whole country, let alone on college campuses, we’re going to have to have zero tolerance and we have to act right away,” the former Oklahoma governor and U.S. senator said.

“This is not a place that wants racists or bigots on our campus or will tolerate it, so I think you have to send a very strong signal.”

That’s good. I hope the same applies to sexism.

Unheard co-director Chelsea Davis said a racist mentality is not new to campus and is not confined to one fraternity.

“Unfortunately, it took them getting caught on video camera for this to happen, but this is definitely not something that is brand-new. It’s not something that’s only seen within this one organization,” she said.

It would be nice if adolescents could find other, better ways to rebel.

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

Biden’s response

Mar 10th, 2015 9:42 am | By

Joe Biden issued a statement on the Republican Senators’ letter to Iran:

I served in the United States Senate for thirty-six years. I believe deeply in its traditions, in its value as an institution, and in its indispensable constitutional role in the conduct of our foreign policy. The letter sent on March 9th by forty-seven Republican Senators to the Islamic Republic of Iran, expressly designed to undercut a sitting President in the midst of sensitive international negotiations, is beneath the dignity of an institution I revere.

This letter, in the guise of a constitutional lesson, ignores two centuries of precedent and threatens to undermine the ability of any future American President, whether Democrat or Republican, to negotiate with other nations on behalf of the United States. Honorable people can disagree over policy. But this is no way to make America safer or stronger.

Around the world, America’s influence depends on its ability to honor its commitments. Some of these are made in international agreements approved by Congress. However, as the authors of this letter must know, the vast majority of our international commitments take effect without Congressional approval. And that will be the case should the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, and Germany reach an understanding with Iran. There are numerous similar cases. The recent U.S.-Russia framework to remove chemical weapons from Syria is only one recent example. Arrangements such as these are often what provide the protections that U.S. troops around the world rely on every day. They allow for the basing of our forces in places like Afghanistan. They help us disrupt the proliferation by sea of weapons of mass destruction. They are essential tools to the conduct of our foreign policy, and they ensure the continuity that enables the United States to maintain our credibility and global leadership even as Presidents and Congresses come and go.

Since the beginning of the Republic, Presidents have addressed sensitive and high-profile matters in negotiations that culminate in commitments, both binding and non-binding, that Congress does not approve. Under Presidents of both parties, such major shifts in American foreign policy as diplomatic recognition of the People’s Republic of China, the resolution of the Iran hostage crisis, and the conclusion of the Vietnam War were all conducted without Congressional approval.

In thirty-six years in the United States Senate, I cannot recall another instance in which Senators wrote directly to advise another country—much less a longtime foreign adversary— that the President does not have the constitutional authority to reach a meaningful understanding with them. This letter sends a highly misleading signal to friend and foe alike that that our Commander-in-Chief cannot deliver on America’s commitments—a message that is as false as it is dangerous.

The decision to undercut our President and circumvent our constitutional system offends me as a matter of principle. As a matter of policy, the letter and its authors have also offered no viable alternative to the diplomatic resolution with Iran that their letter seeks to undermine.

There is no perfect solution to the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program. However, a diplomatic solution that puts significant and verifiable constraints on Iran’s nuclear program represents the best, most sustainable chance to ensure that America, Israel, and the world will never be menaced by a nuclear-armed Iran. This letter is designed to convince Iran’s leaders not to reach such an understanding with the United States.

The author of this letter has been explicit that he is seeking to take any action that will end President Obama’s diplomatic negotiations with Iran. But to what end? If talks collapse because of Congressional intervention, the United States will be blamed, leaving us with the worst of all worlds. Iran’s nuclear program, currently frozen, would race forward again. We would lack the international unity necessary just to enforce existing sanctions, let alone put in place new ones. Without diplomacy or increased pressure, the need to resort to military force becomes much more likely—at a time when our forces are already engaged in the fight against ISIL.

The President has committed to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. He has made clear that no deal is preferable to a bad deal that fails to achieve this objective, and he has made clear that all options remain on the table. The current negotiations offer the best prospect in many years to address the serious threat posed by Iran’s nuclear ambitions. It would be a dangerous mistake to scuttle a peaceful resolution, especially while diplomacy is still underway.

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

You may not fully understand our constitutional system

Mar 10th, 2015 9:32 am | By

The Republicans are such comedians. Hahahahaha they’re sabotaging an agreement that could avert Iran’s development of nuclear weapons, in order to say yaboosucks to Obama. So so funny!

Amy Davidson at the New Yorker has one opinion piece of the many many opinion pieces out there.

Forty-seven senators, all of them Republicans, have sent a letter to Tehranthat might be summarized this way: Dear Iran, Please don’t agree to halt your nuclear-weapons program, because we don’t like Barack Obama and, anyway, he’ll be gone soon.

That may be shorthand, but it is not an exaggeration of either the tone or the intent of the letter, which was signed by the Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, as well as John McCain, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul. The signature drive was organized by Senator Tom Cotton. He is a thirty-seven-year-old Republican, who entered the Senate two months ago, from the state of Arkansas. Senators, as the letter helpfully informs the Iranians—this is an actual quote—“may serve an unlimited number of 6-year terms. As applied today, for instance, President Obama will leave office in January 2017, while most of us will remain in office well beyond then—perhaps decades.”

Or perhaps not. Presidents have term limits and  Senators don’t. That doesn’t mean Senators will necessarily get re-elected over and over again. It also doesn’t mean they can’t be charged with treason. There are a lot of things the absence of term limits doesn’t mean.

The letter opens, “It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system.” As the letter writers tell it, “The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen, and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.” It is a bit more complicated than that: Presidents can make commitments that are difficult to get out of (unless one wants to provoke a crisis), and Congress, instead of just being able to merrily modify, has to deal with things like vetoes. What is more extraordinary is the intent behind this tinny civics lesson—to tell a foreign power, one with which the United States is at odds, not to listen to the American President.

In the hope, perhaps, that Iran will develop nukes and a phalanx of Republican Senators will then vote to nuke the whole country into radioactive rubble. Is that the thinking? Or is it not as long-term as that? Is it really just “Hey, ayatollahs, don’t listen to that uppity guy in the White House, we hate him and you don’t want to piss us off”?

The prospect of Iran getting a nuclear bomb is a grave threat to world peace. The Obama Administration, which is trying to stop that from happening, has only a certain number of cards to play, and yet the Republicans are doing whatever they can to weaken its hand. (Their rationale is that key provisions of the deal on the table would reportedly last for only ten or fifteen years—even though a decade is a lot longer than the possible alternative of no years between now and an Iranian drive to build a bomb.) As with the invitation that John Boehner, the Speaker of the House, extended to Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, to speak before Congress, it is not clear whether the primary impetus has to do with foreign policy or with partisan theatrics. Is the intention to scuttle the nuclear negotiations, without regard for the ugliness that it brings to our politics? Or is it to humiliate and insult President Obama, no matter the cost to the goal of nuclear nonproliferation—even if it means another bomb in the world?

Another bomb in the world in the hands of fanatical theocratic clerics, which is absolutely the last place you want such bombs.

Here’s an odd thing – this scenario is basically the same as the plot of the latest episode of the network tv show “Madam Secretary,” in which a rogue diplomat murders the previous Secretary of State and does other bad things in aid of backing a coup in Iran, and it comes to light just as the President has signed a treaty with Iran. It was written well before this letter was sent. Maybe the Senators got their ideas from the tv show.

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

I am progressive on social issues but dude

Mar 9th, 2015 6:22 pm | By

I’m reading Steve Almond’s Against Football: One Fan’s Reluctant Manifesto. There’s an interesting bit on page 98:

And I can tell you exactly what happens to any dude who dares to speak out about the moral complexities of football. Here’s a sampling of the e-mails I received after writing such a piece for The New York Times Magazine, printed here verbatim:

OMG. I am progressive on social issues but dude – you are the biggest fucking pussy on the face of the earth. Change your tampon you woman.


I read an article you wrote about football and I couldn’t help but think of a slutty girl I knew growing up. I thought she had the biggest vagina I’d ever seen before until now…congrats dude, you have a bigger one.


Why do libs have to ruin everything we do for fun or to take our minds off the world? I don’t even like the Redskins but if that kind of stuff offends the large vagina crowd, I am a fan now.

Dispiriting, isn’t it. Those aren’t people we know, people pissed off at “FTB” or “SJWs” or Anita Sarkeesian. Those are a whole different bunch of people. But there’s all the same disgust and loathing of women. It’s a miracle we aren’t all at each other’s throats every minute of every day, with that kind of thing saturating the atmosphere.

Also, that first guy? Hahaha that’s funny, what he said. No, he’s not “progressive on social issues.” It’s funny that he thinks he is.

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

A small group of powerful people

Mar 9th, 2015 5:30 pm | By

Nick Cohen says there’s a scandal at the BBC that nobody dares talk about.

The scandal is simply this: the BBC is forcing out or demoting the journalists who exposed Jimmy Savile as a voracious abuser of girls. As Meirion Jones put it to me: “There is a small group of powerful people at the BBC who think it would have been better if the truth about Savile had never come out. And they aim to punish the reporters who revealed it.”

Jones was one of the BBC’s best investigative producers. He had suspected that Savile was not the “national treasure” the BBC, NHS, monarchy and public adored, ever since he had seen Savile take girls away in his car from an approved school his aunt ran in the 1970s. He broke the story which showed that Savile was one of the most prolific sex abusers in British history, and handed the BBC what would have been one of its biggest scoops. If it had run it. Which, of course, it did not. The editor of Newsnight banned the report. Thus began a cover-up which tore the BBC apart.

Close ranks, boys!

They fired Jones last week, and they forced his reporter on the Savile film, Liz MacKean, out too.

“When the Savile scandal broke,” she told me, “the BBC tried to smear my reputation. They said they had banned the film because Meirion and I had produced shoddy journalism. I stayed to fight them, but I knew they would make me leave in the end. Managers would look through me as if I wasn’t there. I went because I knew I was never going to appear on screen again.”

The BBC seemed to have gotten it right at one point…

Panorama responded magnificently to the news that the BBC had killed the Savile scoop. It broadcast a special documentary, which earned the highest audience in the programme’s history. Jones and MacKean described how their journalism had been suppressed, and Panorama went on to document Savile’s crimes. How open the BBC is, I thought. What other institution would subject itself to the same level of self-criticism?

What a fool I was. Since then, BBC managers have shifted Tom Giles, the editor ofPanorama, out of news. Peter Horrocks, an executive who insisted throughout the scandal that the BBC must behave ethically, announced last September that he was resigning to “find new challenges”. Clive Edwards, who as commissioning editor for current affairs oversaw the Panorama documentary, was demoted. The television trade press reported recently that his future is “not yet clear” (which doesn’t sound as if he has much of a future at all).

There are more demotions and promotions that fit the pattern.

I could go on, but I am sure you are weary of bog-standard jobsworths. The wider point is that the interests of those at the top of an organisation and the interests of the organisation can be miles apart.

If the BBC had exposed Savile, viewers would have admired its honesty. If it had bent over backwards to ensure that Jones and MacKean did not suffer for speaking out, everyone would say that it was behaving as a free institution should, rather than looking like the official broadcaster of a paranoid dictatorship or the board of directors of HSBC.

In the banks, the NHS, the police or the BBC, the greatest threats to those in charge, however, are not threats to the institution but threats to their status. If subordinates can contradict them, how can they justify their salaries and the prestige that goes with them? The Pollard review into Savile showed that status anxiety was generating real hatred at the top of the BBC.

That sounds familiar. We are up here, peasants; we can’t hear you. Leave your tribute in a basket and we’ll haul it up.

The power of hierarchies is hard to break. But if you want to fight fraud in the City or the rape of children, it has to be broken. A start can be made by insisting that everyone from John Humphrys in the morning to Evan Davis at night tells the truth about the purge of the BBC’s truth tellers.

But without hierarchies, what would the peasants have to ogle at?

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

Real Sooners are not racist

Mar 9th, 2015 4:52 pm | By

The president of the University of Oklahoma posted his statement on Facebook.


To those who have misused their free speech in such a reprehensible way, I have a message for you. You are disgraceful. You have violated all that we stand for. You should not have the privilege of calling yourselves “Sooners.” Real Sooners are not racist. Real Sooners are not bigots. Real Sooners believe in equal opportunity. Real Sooners treat all people with respect. Real Sooners love each other and take care of each other like family members.

Effective immediately, all ties and affiliations between this University and the local SAE chapter are hereby severed. I direct that the house be closed and that members will remove their personal belongings from the house by midnight tomorrow. Those needing to make special arrangements for possessions shall contact the Dean of Students.

All of us will redouble our efforts to create the strongest sense of family and community. We vow that we will be an example to the entire country of how to deal with this issue. There must be zero tolerance for racism everywhere in our nation.

President Boren


I wonder if he would have reacted as strongly as that if it had been sexism or homophobia rather than racism. I’m afraid I doubt it, mostly because frat boys and other brands of sexist boys at universities do talk shit about women and we don’t see their fraternities or football teams being shut down. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely think he should have reacted the way he did, it’s just that I think people should react just as strongly to the sexist or homophobic equivalent.

(The trouble is people think there is no such equivalent, and that talking shit about women or LGBT people isn’t the same as that loathsome ditty on the bus, for complicated subtle historical reasons that they can’t quite explain. So we just have to put up with the sexism, because hey, it’s only women.)


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

Part of a culture of hate

Mar 9th, 2015 4:05 pm | By

5Pillars thinks the murdered people at Charlie Hebdo had it coming.

There are also no prizes for guessing the winner of the “International” category.

The French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo which was the target of a murderous attack in January won the prize here for its continual stoking of Islamophobic sentiment by caricaturing Muslims as terrorists and ridiculing their beliefs.

Charlie Hebdo’s repeated mocking of Muslims is part of a culture of hate that is intended to marginalise, further alienate and further endanger a community that has effectively been “otherised” in much the same way that Jews were in Nazi Germany.

No it isn’t.

I wonder how much attention 5Pillars pays to the way Ahmadiyya Muslims are treated in Pakistan. I wonder how much attention it pays to the way Christians are treated in Pakistan and Egypt and Nigeria. I wonder what it makes of the fact that the vast bulk of the victims of Boko Haram and Daesh are Muslims, killed dead by Islamists like the ones at 5Pillars.

What disgusting shits they are.

H/t Tendance Coatesy

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

We have to look at those more subtle things as well

Mar 9th, 2015 12:04 pm | By

Frat boys at the University of Oklahoma chant a racist ditty on a bus, get themselves on YouTube.

University of Oklahoma president David Boren stood with his students Monday in protest of a video that appears to show Sigma Alpha Epsilon members participating in racist chants. The video is “disgraceful,” Boren said at the protest, according to the Oklahoman. “Real Sooners are not bigots, real Sooners are not racist.”

The video, posted to the Twitter and YouTube accounts of the black student alliance Unheard, is just 10 seconds long. In it, a busload of white students — apparently members of the fraternity’s University of Oklahoma chapter — chant: “You can hang ‘em from a tree, but it will never start with me/There will never be a nigger SAE.”

Unheard posted the video Sunday, organizers told The Post. The person who captured the chant on video sent it to the group in a private message on Twitter and has asked to remain anonymous.

That fraternity is now closed by order of both SAE’s national organizers and by Boren himself.

They have until midnight tomorrow to get their stuff out of the frat house, and they’ll have to find their own housing. The university has severed all ties with that chapter of the fraternity.

But the video is just one incident on a campus that was already in the process of confronting larger issues of race and discrimination — something that both Boren and many students said they were determined to change.

Although the video exploded into a national story, some students hope it has the potential to become something different on campus: A teaching moment to discuss what Boren called “more subtle forms of discrimination.”

“We have to look at those more subtle things as well,” he said.

Cue the groans and sneers about microaggressions and hurt fee-fees.

Boren wasn’t the only prominent school official — or, arguably, even the most visible one — stepping out to make their condemnation of the video clear. Bob Stoops, head coach of the university’s football team, also attended a student protest alongside several football players and about 100 athletes. His presence was particularly noteworthy, because he is the face of the school’s powerhouse football program and arguably the state’s most famous employee.

Well, you know, that’s not a healthy arrangement either. Universities should be about education, and the football coach should not be the most important person there.

In a working document, Unheard outlined several issues it wants the university to address. Those include the apparent under-representation of black faculty members in departments beyond the African American studies program; black student recruitment and retention rates; a lack of black scholarship opportunities; and what organizers say is a lack of black student representation in many planning committees for major campus-wide events.

Boren referred to several of these issues on Monday, saying that after meeting with Unheard earlier this year, he plans to work on about “95 percent” of them. “Upon reflection, I found myself agreeing with them; let’s do it,” he said on Monday.

“Sometimes, people can be thoughtless,” the university president added. “They can be insensitive and not even know.” He hopes his campus can work to “make people more aware” of racial insensitivity. “It’s hard work building a family,” he added, “But we’re gonna build one. We’re gonna keep on working on it.”

It’s very easy to not even know, which is why people talk about privilege a lot.

Here’s that chant. Don’t play it at work if you can be heard.


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