Notes and Comment Blog

In prison for having a miscarriage

Dec 10th, 2014 5:33 pm | By

17 women are in prison in El Salvador for having miscarriages or abortions. The Center for Reproductive Justice is campaigning to get them freed.

With one of the world’s most extreme abortion bans, El Salvador prohibits women from receiving an abortion under any circumstance—not in cases of rape or incest, not even to save their lives. Since 1998, dozens of women have been wrongfully criminalized and imprisoned under this law—even when the pregnancy ended due to natural causes. Take action today to pressure the Salvadoran government to release Las 17 in time to go home to their families for the holidays.

It shares some of their stories.

Twenty-nine-year-old Teresa worked in a sweatshop in San Salvador and lived in a working-class neighborhood with her 8-year-old child.

In November 2011, without ever realizing she was pregnant, she went into early labor, giving birth in a toilet. The baby did not survive. Following this trauma, Teresa experienced heavy bleeding and eventually fainted. Her family summoned emergency services. At the hospital, she was reported to the police on suspicion of having induced an abortion.

Despite inconsistencies and lack of proof that Teresa performed an intentional act leading to the miscarriage, she was convicted of murder and condemned to 40 years in prison.

She’s been in prison for over two years. Teresa’s elderly grandmother is currently caring for her young child.

After 11 years in jail, Verónica is not yet halfway through her 30-year sentence.

At age 19, while employed as a domestic worker, Verónica became pregnant. Shortly before reaching full term in her pregnancy, she experienced an obstetric emergency that resulted in a miscarriage.

Her employers took her to the Chalchuapa Hospital, where she was reported to the police. Without witnesses or any direct proof, Verónica was swiftly convicted of murder. Even the judgment acknowledges the lack of evidence and states, “the motives the subject had for committing [murder] are unknown although it can be deduced that her motivation was to avoid social reproach.”

They’re horror stories, one after the other.

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

The cunning plan was successful

Dec 10th, 2014 5:01 pm | By

So James Watson’s little trick worked. The rich guy who bought his Nobel medal did indeed buy it to give it back to him.

Russia’s richest man has revealed that he bought US scientist James Watson’s Nobel Prize gold medal, and intends to return it to him.

Steel and telecoms tycoon Alisher Usmanov said Mr Watson “deserved” the medal, and that he was “distressed” the scientist had felt forced to sell it.

The medal, awarded in 1962 for the discovery of the structure of DNA, sold for $4.8m (£3m) at auction.

The medal was the first Nobel Prize to be put on sale by a living recipient.

Cool way to make 5 million bucks. Dignified, too.

In an interview with the Financial Times recently, Mr Watson said he had been made to feel like an “unperson” since a Sunday Times interview seven years ago in which he linked race to intelligence.

So he sold his medal in a fit of pique and in hopes that someone would pay a lot of money for it and then give it back to him. How touching. Racism gets its reward.

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

When you are raised to believe you have no choice in anything you do

Dec 10th, 2014 4:34 pm | By

Shaheen Hashmat did an interview for the Scottish Sunday Mail ten days ago, and she has the article on her blog.

This is the transcript of an article by journalist Jenny Morrison featuring the most in-depth interview about my experiences that I’ve done to date. It took me a while to agree to do this, as it would a mean a lot more detailed exposure closer to home and my fear of a backlash was greater. But the imbalance of efforts to raise awareness and provide support throughout the UK is too significant to dismiss an opportunity to at least try and address this. Please note the minor clarifications I’ve included below the transcript.

She’s brave.

She was just 12 years old when she escaped from her family home.

But Shaheen Hashmat says the emotional scars of her childhood have been harder to leave behind. Growing up in a large Pakistani family Shaheen, now 31, says relatives controlled everything from how she should dress, to who she should speak to. She was expected to work in her family’s businesses from an early age – and if she refused, she’d be beaten. As she grew up, Shaheen saw several female family members being put on a plane, sent to Pakistan and forced into marriage. When it became clear that the same fate awaited 12-year-old Shaheen, a concerned relative tipped off social services and the police. With the legal protection of the authorities, she was able to leave her family but it has taken years for her to come to terms with the honour abuse she suffered.

She’s talking about it now because she wants to help people in the same situation. When she was a child she thought she was all alone.

I would see people getting beaten and there was a strong history of forced marriage in my family. Every single aspect of my life was under strictest control. When you are raised to believe you have no choice in anything you do, when every aspect of your life is so closely monitored, you feel worthless. At times, I have felt suicidal. But I am determined that I am not going to hide away – what happened to me is not my shame, I didn’t do anything wrong. I’m not going to change my name or adopt a new identity because I shouldn’t have to hide. Sadly I’m not the only person this has happened to but if I can help others by speaking out, then I must.

When she was 12 she escaped, with the help of a relative and the police.

Shaheen says a turning point in her life came three years ago when she read Jasvinder Sanghera’s book Daughters of Shame. The book, which tells the stories of women who have survived honour abuse or been forced into marriage, let Shaheen see she was not alone. She said, “I could really relate to these women’s stories. I hadn’t been forced on to a plane and forced into a marriage but I was still a victim of honour abuse.”

If only they could all escape, but it’s only a tiny fraction who can. Yet.

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

Thoughts on proportion

Dec 10th, 2014 3:32 pm | By

Not to flog the deceased equine too much or anything but there’s an interesting little point in here. Slate has a pre-apology piece about the law and consumers and redress, and it reminds me of a larger issue.

Summary: Edelman was wrong about the law, too: “treble damages” isn’t mandatory but at the discretion of the judge, and anyway there’s a $25 minimum.

MGL 93a(9)(3) requires that before bringing suit the plaintiff send a demand letter to the business asking for rectification of the unfair or deceptive act or practice. That gives the business a chance to settle things for something like actual damages. The whole purpose of the demand provision is to encourage settlement and to act as a control on damages.  (Refusal to parlay is one of the hooks that can result in treble damages.)

If the defendant’s offer of settlement is rejected by the plaintiff, the defendant can introduce its offer (and its reasonableness) at trial.  Here, the restaurant offered the professor a full refund of the overcharge in response to his email (which is fairly understood as a demand letter). Thus, in a lawsuit, if the defendant made a reasonable settlement offer, the court must limit damages not to the $25 minimum, but to the restraurant’s reasonable offer. See Kohl v. Silver Lake Motors, Inc., 369 Mass. 795 (Mass. 1976). I don’t see how the professor gets to treble damages here.

Good to know, in case y’all were planning to demand triple damages next time the taco truck cook counts your change wrong. But that’s not why I’m pestering the dead horse.
It’s fun to play gotcha with an unnaturally pissed off Harvard prof, but there’s actually a bigger point here. Yesterday, a few #Slatepitchy souls argued that, despite his dislikable approach, we should applaud Edelman for standing up against a restaurant that was, in some small way, cheating consumers. But whatever good he did was outweighed by his personal comportment. Lawyers have a lot of power in that they understand how to work the legal system and don’t need to pay anybody to write up a lawsuit on their behalf. And that power can very easily be abused, because it can still be expensive and time-consuming to defend against a crap case.

It’s like what we’ve been reading and saying about the police. The police too need to have good personal comportment. They don’t do good if their standard comportment is that of a bully and a potential violent assailant. They have a lot of power in that they can arrest us if they have a good reason (note the qualification); that doesn’t mean they should use that power to hassle people and then throw them to the ground if they get upset. Their job is not to escalate, it’s to de-escalate.

Lawyers and cops both have a responsibility to use the power their jobs give them with proportion. There are times when the police need to use force; their are times when lawyers need to get ferocious; for that very reason, as well as others, they need to do that only when it’s necessary and proportionate, as opposed to at the drop of a hat.

In short, lawyers and cops shouldn’t over-react.

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

Ben Edelman has apologized

Dec 10th, 2014 3:13 pm | By

Fair’s fair. I pointed at him for being a poopyhead so it’s only right to point out that he’s agreed he was a poopyhead and apologized for being it.

Here is Edelman’s newest statement, via his personal website:

Many people have seen my emails with Ran Duan of Sichuan Garden restaurant in Brookline.

Having reflected on my interaction with Ran, including what I said and how I said it, it’s clear that I was very much out of line. I aspire to act with great respect and humility in dealing with others, no matter what the situation. Clearly I failed to do so. I am sorry, and I intend to do better in the future.

I have reached out to Ran and will apologize to him personally as well.

Now that’s an apology.

Good outcome.

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

Free the 17

Dec 10th, 2014 2:43 pm | By

Via Center for Reproductive Rights on Facebook:

Today is International Human Rights Day! There’s no better day to tell Secretary of State John Kerry to stand up for the fundamental rights of El Salvador’s #Las17. SIGN the petition now to bring them home:

Photo: Today is International Human Rights Day! There’s no better day to tell Secretary of State John Kerry to stand up for the fundamental rights of El Salvador’s #Las17. SIGN the petition now to bring them home:

Photo: We’re joining our allies in El Salvador to call for the release of #Las17, a group of 17 women unjustly imprisoned due to the country's extreme abortion law.</p>
<p>SHARE if you won't stand for these human rights violations. Help us bring them home:


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

Guest post: One millionth of what it will cost in a few years

Dec 10th, 2014 11:48 am | By

Originally a comment by quixote on The gulf is rising.

I was a grad student at Tulane in the late 1980s and took many field trips out to the Gulf swamps. Some of them were to help a researcher studying sedimentation rates. Biologists knew then that what is happening now was going to happen. Even then, it would have been expensive to do anything about it, but about one hundredth or one thousandth what it costs now. And one millionth of what it will cost in a few years.

There are two main causes of the problem. Levees along the Mississippi push all the sediment out at one spot near Venice ( and make Gulf dead zones) instead of winding up at different spots all over southern Louisiana as the river makes itself new channels every year.

The second issue is the oil and gas industry which cut channels all through the wetlands to move equipment and build pipes. Salt water intrudes along those channels and kills the vegetation. The dead vegetation doesn’t hold onto the “jello” soil anymore, and the whole thing washes out to sea on the tides. There are early satellite photos of the area, which look like green wetland, and recent ones where the whole thing looks like lacy spider webbing on water.

And, yes, diversion of the river in its current state of pollution and fertilizer load could well create more problems than it solves. Telling the oil and gas industry to restore all the wetlands they ruined is probably also “too expensive.”

By the way, the only part of New Orleans above sea level is the very old part of town and the sliver along the river. Not a lot of sanctuary, especially when sea level rises. There is no land bridge to the mainland. And the causeways would have to be raised.

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

The “little princess” we see today

Dec 10th, 2014 11:42 am | By

It turns out that the pink princess model for girl children in the US is just as parochial in time as it is in place, according to Elizabeth Sweet in the Atlantic.

When it comes to buying gifts for children, everything is color-coded: Rigid boundaries segregate brawny blue action figures from pretty pink princesses, and most assume that this is how it’s always been. But in fact, the princess role that’s ubiquitous in girls’ toys today was exceedingly rare prior to the 1990s—and the marketing of toys is more gendered now than even 50 years ago, when gender discrimination and sexism were the norm.

The princess thing makes me pull my hair with disgust. It’s so infantilizing, so diminishing, so ridiculous. I even know one or two grown women who seem to model themselves on the pink princess paradigm, and what could be creepier than that?

In my research on toy advertisements, I found that even when gendered marketing was most pronounced in the 20th century, roughly half of toys were still being advertised in a gender-neutral manner. This is a stark difference from what we see today, as businesses categorize toys in a way that more narrowly forces kids into boxes. For example, a recent study by sociologists Carol Auster and Claire Mansbach found that all toys sold on the Disney Store’s website were explicitly categorized as being “for boys” or “for girls”—there was no “for boys and girls” option, even though a handful of toys could be found on both lists.

Really that just sums up the whole thing right there – this idea that there is “for boys” and “for girls” at all. That’s what sexism is: restricting people to “for girls” or “for boys” as if they weren’t allowed to decide for themselves. The world is for boys, the inside of the house is for girls. Jobs are for boys, domestic chores are for girls. Boys are real, girls are dolls. Men matter, women are vacant.

For a time in the 70s toys actually were marketed in a cross-gender way, showing boys playing with toy appliances and girls playing with carpentry sets. But it didn’t last.

Although gender inequality in the adult world continued to diminish between the 1970s and 1990s, the de-gendering trend in toys was short-lived. In 1984, the deregulation of children’s television programming suddenly freed toy companies to create program-length advertisements for their products, and gender became an increasingly important differentiator of these shows and the toys advertised alongside them. During the 1980s, gender-neutral advertising receded, and by 1995, gendered toys made up roughly half of the Sears catalog’s offerings—the same proportion as during the interwar years.

However, late-century marketing relied less on explicit sexism and more on implicit gender cues, such as color, and new fantasy-based gender roles like the beautiful princess or the muscle-bound action hero. These roles were still built upon regressive gender stereotypes—they portrayed a powerful, skill-oriented masculinity and a passive, relational femininity—that were obscured with bright new packaging. In essence, the “little homemaker” of the 1950s had become the “little princess” we see today.

Gotta enforce those gender differences, people. Without it you get ANARCHY and cats marrying dogs.

It doesn’t have to be this way. While gender is what’s traditionally used to sort target markets, the toy industry (which is largely run by men) could categorize its customers in a number of other ways—in terms of age and interest, for example. (This could arguably broaden the consumer base.) However, the reliance on gender categorization comes from the top: I found no evidence that the trends of the past 40 years are the result of consumer demand. That said, the late-20th-century increase in the percentage of Americans who believe in gender differences suggests that the public wasn’t exactly rejecting gendered toys, either.

While the second-wave feminist movement challenged the tenets of gender difference, the social policies to create a level playing field were never realized and a cultural backlash towards feminism began to gain momentum in the 1980s. In this context, the model outlined in Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus—which implied that women gravitated toward certain roles not because of oppression but because of some innate preference—took hold. This new tale of gender difference, which emphasizes freedom and choice, has been woven deeply into the fabric of contemporary childhood. The reformulated story does not fundamentally challenge gender stereotypes; it merely repackages them to make them more palatable in a “post-feminist” era. Girls can be anything—as long as it’s passive and beauty-focused.

Police that boundary.

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

Humanists gather in Accra

Dec 10th, 2014 10:58 am | By

Leo Igwe tells us that humanists and atheists in Africa are starting to speak up.

An increasing number of Africans do not have any religion. Many people across the continent are going open and public with their humanist, atheistic and skeptical views and identity. Non religious Africans are leaving the closet in their numbers. African unbelievers are beginning to organise like their religious counterparts in many countries. One of such countries is Ghana. Ghana is a religious country. But the country’s religiosity does not preclude irreligion. Non religious people in the country are a minority but they are not keeping quiet. They are no hiding. Godless people in Ghana are becoming visible. Non religious people are speaking out. The profile of humanism in Ghana is growing rapidly.

Humanists in Ghana have staged many social gatherings in the past years. This gathering has served a very important need. It has provided religious non believers in Ghana a sense of community. There is a growing humanist fellowship in this west African country.

Humanist fellowship is important because many atheists across Africa feel lonely and lone. Atheists think they are the only ones who entertain doubts and disbelief in God, when there are several non theistic people out there. The social gathering of humanists in Ghana is supplying that missing link. It is connecting non theists in way that has never been the case. Ghana’s religious landscape is changing. Africa’s ‘beliefscape’ is undergoing transformation. Humanists are beginning to discover that there are other people of like minds. The humanist movement in Africa is growing in strength and number. A wave of secularism and freethought is sweeping across the region.

That’s a great thing. Even if you think religion is wonderful, it’s good that people have alternatives to religion. If you think that religion is far from reliably wonderful, it’s even better that people have alternatives.

The humanist group in Ghana is not only making waves locally but also internationally. The group is gradually becoming the hub organised humanism in West Africa. Humanists in Ghana organised its first international humanist conference in 2012. That conference attracted participants from other West African countries and beyond. The event has demonstrated the vibrancy of organised humanism in one of the world’s most religious country.

Ghana Humanism is set to mark another milestone in the coming weeks. Humanist Association of Ghana is organising another international conference on December 20-21, 2014. The conference will be held at W.E.B Dubois Centre, Accra. The theme of the event is “African Youth for Science and Reason”. Topics to be discussed include Communicable diseases (Ebola, etc), Health and Medicine in West Africa, Science, Technology and Reason, Sex and Relationships as African Atheists, Feminism in Africa, Witchcraft Accusations in West Africa etc . There are plans to organise trainings and workshops for participants.

The theme of this conference is a welcome development for the region. Africa needs events that can expose its youths to reason and science. It is imperative that African youths begin to think rationally and scientifically because reason and science are the mainstay of modern development. One of the greatest obstacles to African development is superstition and religious extremism. These superstitious beliefs are common among young people. Religious fanaticism is draining Africa’s youth capital. African youths needs programs that encourage them to think critically as opposed to activities that reward dogma and blind faith. The members of the Humanist Association of Ghana are predominantly young people. This is a positive and promising development for the region. I hope other African youths will emulate their Ghanaian counterparts by embracing the values of reason science and critical thinking.

That’s great news. Tell everyone you know! Leo wants us to spread the word.

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

The Gulf is rising

Dec 10th, 2014 10:24 am | By

And now for something completely frightening.

The Louisiana coast is rapidly sinking into the sea. There are efforts and plans to move sediment around to save New Orleans and some pipelines and fishing grounds, but much of the Delta is doomed (and the planned fixes are hugely expensive, and Louisiana is a  poor state).

Southeastern Louisiana might best be described as a layer cake made of Jell-O, floating in a swirling Jacuzzi of steadily warming, rising water. Scientists and engineers must prevent the Jell-O from melting — while having no access to the Jacuzzi controls.

The problem is human-made. Over the last 80 years, Louisiana’s coast has been starved of sediment by river levees and eviscerated by canals dredged for oil and gas extraction. Now, southeastern Louisiana is sinking at one of the fastest rates on the planet as the Gulf is rising.

Already, 2,000 square miles have sloughed into the Gulf. Without action, the state could lose another 1,750 squares miles over the next 50 years.

If that happens, in 70 years New Orleans could be left on a razor-thin sliver of land extending into the open Gulf, battered by storms rolling over the watery graves of unprotected communities.

The economic effects will reverberate across the nation as the seas swamp half of the nation’s refineries and pipelines that transport 30 percent of the country’s oil and gas. The country’s largest port, an economic door to 31 states, would be vulnerable to run-of-the-mill tropical storms, causing shutdowns that cost the nation’s economy an estimated $300 million a day.

Not a trivial problem.

Most of us have known at least some of that ever since Katrina, but it’s easy to lose sight of just how drastic the situation is.

And the proposed fixes are no guarantee of anything themselves, because any fix they can do will have consequences elsewhere and it’s a mammoth engineering task to figure all that out. Sending a box to Mars looks easy in comparison.

“My concern is that a lot of people think if we just turn the river loose, it will just fill in all those holes we’ve created in the delta,” said Roberts. “Well, certainly it’s not as simple as punching holes in the levees.”

Every diversion project is a move in an ongoing chess match with nature. Each one faces different sets of variables and constraints, and engineers are struggling to anticipate the consequences of each step they take.

“Everything you do at one point on the river — anything you take out or put in — will have an effect on the rest of the river,” said Alex McCorquodale, a University of New Orleans researcher working on a study to determine how much sediment is in the lower Mississippi.

It’s a matter not so much of finding a fix as of juggling bad consequences in different places, or even the same places.

Considering how much remains unknown, a few scientists ask why Louisiana has staked so much on diversions. They worry the state could waste its last chance for the coast on a technique they believe poses its own habitat threats and exists only on computer models.

Gene Turner, a distinguished LSU coastal researcher, points to studies that show high levels of nutrients from fertilizer upstream can cause wetlands loss by damaging plants in areas with high organic soils. He is concerned that the state doesn’t have a backup plan if its computer models are wrong.

“Every building code requires a fire exit, and right now this plan doesn’t have one,” he said. “Saying, ‘This is going to work’ isn’t a backup plan, not when you’re doing something that has never been done before, except on computers.”

Turner has the minority view in the coastal scientific community. Nonetheless, the state coastal agency has asked the Water Institute of the Gulf to gather a panel of outside coastal experts to look into those questions.

And then, all this depends on climate predictions, and there’s reason to think current predictions could turn out to underestimate the rate of climate change.

So read the whole thing; it’s an education in itself.


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

The Ebola fighters

Dec 10th, 2014 9:59 am | By

Not everything Time magazine does is awful. It has an excellent long piece on The Ebola Fighters as part of its Person of the Year feature. (The only trouble is it’s a huge pain in the ass to read because it gives you only a tiny window of written material at a time, and there seems to be no way to convert to the printable version. Apparently that’s fabulous for people reading on phones, but I’m not reading on a phone. grump)

A sample:

Why, in short, was the battle against Ebola left for month after crucial month to a ragged army of volunteers and near volunteers: doctors who wouldn’t quit even as their colleagues fell ill and died; nurses comforting patients while standing in slurries of mud, vomit and feces; ambulance drivers facing down hostile crowds to transport passengers teeming with the virus; investigators tracing chains of infection through slums hot with disease; workers stoically zipping contagious corpses into body bags in the sun; patients meeting death in lonely isolation to protect others from infection?

According to official counts, more than 17,800 people have been infected with Ebola virus in this epidemic and more than 6,300 have died since this outbreak’s first known case in rural Guinea in December 2013. Many on the front lines believe the actual numbers are much higher—and in any event, they continue to rise steeply. The virus has traveled to Europe and North America, where the resulting fear exceeded any actual threat to public health. In West Africa, however, the impact has been catastrophic. The number of Liberians with jobs fell by nearly half as businesses and markets closed in fear of Ebola. Sierra Leone’s meager health care network simply collapsed: Ebola patients were told by the government to stay home rather than look for a hospital bed. In Guinea, the epidemic stoked distrust of government and aid workers. Medical missionaries were driven from villages by violence and threats.

Mistakes were made.

…the MSF team determined that something new and dangerous was going on in the borderlands. Previous Ebola outbreaks had been isolated in a single area, but now the virus was widespread. As MSF’s Liu puts it, “Already there were multiple locations of clusters” up to 100 miles (160 km) apart. In raw numbers, the Ebola outbreak might have seemed small compared with the chronic contagions of cholera and malaria in West Africa. But an epidemic of Ebola, with its ghastly effects, could corrode civil society by spreading panic. The disease leaped to the top of MSF’s priorities.

But few officials wanted to hear it. Liu recalls fruitless conversations in March with ministries of health in the region, “pushing them and telling them that this was going to be different.” Again and again, health officials complained that the doctors—not the disease—would panic the populace. “We were quickly told by a variety of agencies that we were crying wolf,” Liu says.

One skeptic—perhaps the most influential and thus the most disastrous—was WHO, the health arm of the U.N. Underfunded and overly bureaucratic, WHO is, in the eyes of its many critics, woefully inadequate in dealing with rapidly emerging threats like Ebola. Worse perhaps, the agency’s local representatives are notoriously jealous of their turf and prerogatives. At this same critical moment, WHO offices in West Africa turned away a team of experts from the CDC working in Guinea, insisting that their help was not needed, says CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden. The CDC, a large and very well-regarded public-health agency, is unsurpassed in its capacity for action, maintaining some 2,000 field workers in 60 countries around the world. Those workers in turn can often summon resources from the U.S. to smother epidemics in their infancy abroad.

Teamwork at this early moment might have saved thousands of lives and ultimately billions of dollars in direct and indirect costs stemming from the Ebola epidemic. Instead, WHO closed the door, says Frieden.

I didn’t know that. I don’t know if it’s true or just something rivals say about rivals – maybe the WHO would say the same about the CDC and MSF. If it is true, it’s a massive tragedy.

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

The horrifying realization that he had been overcharged

Dec 9th, 2014 5:30 pm | By

An elegant young Harvard Business School associate professor ordered some Chinese food the other day. has the story.

Ben Edelman is an associate professor at Harvard Business School, where he teaches in the Negotiation, Organizations & Markets unit.

Ran Duan manages The Baldwin Bar, located inside the Woburn location of Sichuan Garden, a Chinese restaurant founded by his parents.

Last week, Edelman ordered what he thought was $53.35 worth of Chinese food from Sichuan Garden’s Brookline Village location.

Edelman soon came to the horrifying realization that he had been overcharged. By a total of $4.

If you’ve ever wondered what happens when a Harvard Business School professor thinks a family-run Chinese restaurant screwed him out of $4, you’re about to find out.

(Hint: It involves invocation of the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Statute and multiple threats of legal action.)

The correspondence follows. Edelman ordered from a menu on the website of Sichuan Garden, and each item (of four) was charged $1 over the price on the menu. Edelman pointed this out, Duan apologized for the fact that the website hadn’t been updated recently. Edelman demanded a triple refund.

And then it got worse, and then worse, and then worse again. Check it out, because it’s quite a display of patrician bullying and cruelty.

Updating to add: the Guardian also reports.

Duan responded an hour or so later, telling Edelman that his is a “mom and pop restaurant” and plaintively offers to honour the website price. But it was too late for hearts and minds with Edelman.

“It strikes me that merely providing a refund to a single customer would be an extremely light sanction for the violation that has occurred,” he replied. “To wit, your restaurant overcharged all customers who viewed the website and placed a telephone order – the standard and typical way to order takeout. You did so knowingly, knowing that your website was out of date.”

“You don’t seem to recognise that this is a legal matter and calls for a more thoughtful and far-reaching resolution. Nor do you recognise the principle, well established in applicable laws, that when a business intentionally overcharges a customer, the business should suffer a penalty larger than the amount of the overcharge.”

The exchange went on in the same vein. Duan offered to refund the difference, and the $12 which Edelman demanded, to no avail.

A rich guy has been overcharged $4! This must not stand!

Another useful lesson in what not to be.

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

Being surprised to see

Dec 9th, 2014 4:52 pm | By

Angus Johnston of StudentActivism says Yes, Christina Hoff Sommers is a Rape Denialist.

If you were around for the so-called Culture Wars of the mid-1990s, you probably remember Christina Hoff Sommers — her 1994 book Who Stole Feminism? was a centerpiece of right-wing attacks on mainstream feminist theory and organizing at the time. Recently Sommers has re-emerged as the “mom” — that’s literally what they call her — of #GamerGate, that weird movement of video game fans obsessed with “ethics in gaming journalism” and what they see as feminist attacks on their hobby.

I haven’t paid more than desultory attention to Sommers since the nineties, so when I somehow wound up at her Twitter feed on Saturday I was surprised to see her supportively retweeting this:

Joanna Williams @jowilliams293

If universities are really in the grip of a rape culture, why did Rolling Stone need to invent their story on the topic?

10:53 AM – 6 Dec 2014

I know that “I was surprised to see” so well. I too remember her from the culture wars of the mid-nineties and I too find her new persona quite astonishing.

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

Smears and smudges

Dec 9th, 2014 3:44 pm | By

Jenny Kutner at Salon also reports on Dawkins’s unfamiliarity with the Men’s Rights movement.

Noted evolutionary biologist and atheist thinker Richard Dawkins addressed questions of gender discrimination in science head-on at a recent event at Kennesaw State University, responding to a question about the value of feminism in science and the necessity of the men’s rights movement. Dawkins, who has been criticized for contributing to the atheist community’s endemic sexism, said he believes feminism to be “enormously important” — but he wasn’t so sure about men’s rights.

“Feminism, as I understand it, is the political drive towards the equality of women, so that women should not be discriminated against — nobody should be discriminated against — on grounds that don’t merit discrimination,” Dawkins said. “But I don’t, I hardly — is there a men’s rights movement to be supported?”

I look forward to a new series of outraged posts and tweets about these “smears” of Dawkins and his contributions to the endemic sexism in the atheist community. You know they will happen. But…they’re not “smears.” He said what he said. He is who he is – what he says influences many people, so when he says sexist things, yes, he contributes to the atheist community’s endemic sexism.

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

Elam is hurt and offended

Dec 9th, 2014 2:45 pm | By

Aw. Paul Elam is shocked and saddened that Richard Dawkins hasn’t heard of his important movement. Futrelle has the story, starting with who Dawkins is and how often he tweets regrettable nonsense.

He puts his foot in his mouth so often on Twitter that it’s sometimes difficult to tell the difference between his real account and this absurdist parody.

In a recent interview, he doubled down on some of his most appalling earlier remarks, reaffirming that he believes there is such a thing as “mild pedophilia” and that pregnant women who discover that they are carrying a Down syndrome fetus should probably “abort and try again.” And in that interview he reminded us all again just why so many feminist atheists have turned against him, telling his interlocutor that

I occasionally get a little impatient with American women who complain of being inappropriately touched by the water cooler or invited for coffee or something … .


I occasionally get a little impatient with British men who talk smack about American women who don’t like being assaulted at work.

So, Futrelle goes on, you might think he’d know all about the Men’s Rights Movement, but nope.

At a recent event at Kennesaw State University – yep, the same place where a student organization tied to A Voice for Men held a little conference not long ago – Dawkins offered a surprising, if somewhat limited, defense of feminism. And he reacted with puzzlement when he was asked about the Men’s Rights movement.

“I didn’t, I hardly knew — is there a men’s right movement?” he commented. “If there is discrimination against men, then that’s bad too,” he conceded, only to add that “I haven’t heard of it.”

The audience responded with laughter.

To AVFM head boy Paul Elam, this was the equivalent of shots fired. In a post today, Elam excoriated Dawkins for not having heard of his little movement, and not being aware of the terrible gynocentric injustices being heaped upon the world’s men.

Oh no! Now Dawkins has both sides mad at him.

That’s where expertise on feminism can get you sometimes.


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

Officers too often escalate incidents with citizens

Dec 9th, 2014 12:14 pm | By

The Justice department released the conclusions of its civil rights investigation of the Cleveland Police Department yesterday. Techdirt reports on some of what it says.

The DOJ’s report opens with the de rigueur statements about how dangerous policing is and how grateful the nation is that there are men and women willing to do this difficult job. But this is mercifully brief. The token belly rub doesn’t even last a full paragraph. The generic praise that makes up the two first sentences is swiftly tempered by these curt sentences.

The use of force by police should be guided by a respect for human life and human dignity, the need to protect public safety, and the duty to protect individuals from unreasonable seizures under the Fourth Amendment. A significant amount of the force used by CDP officers falls short of these standards.

And one more thing – the need and duty to minimize the damage done by their use of force; see previous post.

The next page briefly summarizes how the CPD falls short.

The unnecessary and excessive use of deadly force, including shootings and head strikes with impact weapons;

The unnecessary, excessive or retaliatory use of less lethal force including tasers, chemical spray and fists;

Excessive force against persons who are mentally ill or in crisis, including in cases where the officers were called exclusively for a welfare check; and

The employment of poor and dangerous tactics that place officers in situations where avoidable force becomes inevitable and places officers and civilians at unnecessary risk.

That’s no good. Law enforcement isn’t warfare. They’re not supposed to be trying to kill us or take us out. They’re supposed to use the minimal force necessary, not the maximum possible.

The pattern or practice of unreasonable force we identified is reflected in use of both deadly and less lethal force. For example, we found incidents of GDP officers firing their guns at people who do not pose an immediate threat of death or serious bodily injury to officers or others and using guns in a careless and dangerous manner, including hitting people on the head with their guns, in circumstances where deadly force is not justified. Officers also use less lethal force that is significantly out of proportion to the resistance encountered and officers too often escalate incidents with citizens instead of using effective and accepted tactics to de-escalate tension. We reviewed incidents where officers used Tasers, oleoresin capsicum spray, or punched people who were already subdued, including people in handcuffs. Many of these people could have been controlled with a lesser application of force. At times, this force appears to have been applied as punishment for the person’s earlier verbal or physical resistance to an officer’s command, and is not based on a current threat posed by the person. This retaliatory use of force is not legally justified.

The bolding is Techdirt’s, I think.

It sounds all too familiar. Cops lose their tempers when people disobey them. I can sort of see why they would, up to a point, but the fact remains that that’s not part of their job and not what they’re supposed to do. The report makes clear that they’re trained to de-escalate, not escalate, but that’s not what happens.

People who want to be cops aren’t the kind of people who should be cops, it appears.

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

The man was in respiratory arrest

Dec 9th, 2014 11:48 am | By

A doctor I know said this on a Facebook thread about the way the police treated Eric Garner, especially after they slammed him to the sidewalk:

Diabetic or not, the man was in respiratory arrest, an immediately life-threatening situation and one which any emergency responder with first aid training should recognize. Prone positioning with hands behind the back is a significant risk factor in inducing sudden respiratory arrest, which is why the hog tie position has been outlawed in many jurisdictions. Garner showed visibly obvious signs of severe respiratory distress. His diabetes was about the 987th issue on his list of Problems. If police officers are unable to recognize that a man they had just arrested is in respiratory arrest, they are a danger to public health in the conduct of their duties.

I find that compelling (so I got permission to quote it). You would absolutely think that would and should be part of police training. How could it not be? They train to use physical force and restraint; how could they not be trained also to recognize the potential dangers of that physical force and restraint, and what to do about them?

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

Drop that plate right now

Dec 9th, 2014 9:20 am | By

Well merry Xmas to you too, Fort Lauderdale. (Look, I said it! I’m an atheist and I said merry Xmas. Booya.)

Fort Lauderdale was, until a judge suspended operations, happily arresting people for feeding the homeless in city parks. Nöfuckingel.

A Florida city that made it illegal to feed homeless people on the street and arrested a 90-year-old charity volunteer for defying the ordinance must sit down for mediated talks with opponents of the law after a judge issued a 30-day stay of the law on Monday.

Meanie judge. The cops were having so much fun busting do-gooders for giving food to poor people.

Fort Lauderdale’s city council passed the homeless feeding ban last month after an all-night session beset by protesters. Arnold Abbott, a World War II veteran and longtime charity volunteer in the community, was among the first people to be arrested and charged with violating the new law. “One of the police officers said, ‘Drop that plate right now,’ as if I were carrying a weapon,” Abbott told Local 10 after his arrest. Days later, he and other volunteers served the homeless again while police looked on and filmed them.

That guy fought in Dubya Dubya 2 and yet he’s unpatriotic enough to ignore a LAW that says you can’t feed the homeless in the park? What the hell happened to The Greatest Generation, huh?

Like several other cities in Florida and elsewhere that have enacted similar crackdowns on helping the homeless in public, Fort Lauderdale’s policy is the brainchild of a man called Robert Marbut. Marbut believes that on-the-street feedings only enable the homeless to remain homeless and the poor to remain poor, and makes claims about how panhandlers behave that are contradicted by research findings.

Marbut charges cities between $40,000 and $50,000 to share his insights, which are then used to justify legal crackdowns such as Fort Lauderdale’s.

Ah that’s nice. This crank goes around Florida handing out his crank Wrong Things and gets paid 40 to 50 k for his trouble, while homeless people get new obstacles. That’s the American Dream right there.

The National Coalition for the Homelessestimates that Fort Lauderdale was the 13th city this year to impose restrictions on where homeless feeding programs can be located, and the 22nd to make it harder to feed the homeless in general.

A Broward County official who works with the Fort Lauderdale government complained to the Sun Sentinel that the press coverage of the anti-feeding law has created an unfair and inaccurate picture of the city as a hard-hearted community. But the feeding ban is only the latest in a sequence of petty crackdowns. Earlier this fall the city made it illegal to sleep in public. Over the summer, city leaders passed a law empowering police to confiscate any personal belongings stored on public property, in an apparent effort to discourage homeless people from keeping what few possessions they have with them on the streets.

Or they could speed things up by shooting all the homeless people for “resisting arrest.”


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

Nice smiles

Dec 9th, 2014 8:11 am | By

Last September, as schools started up after the summer break, some teachers at P.S. 220 in Queens, New York wore matching Tshirts to school, even though the teachers’ union urged them not to. You can probably see why the union said don’t do it.

Teachers from P.S. 220 in Queens wear shirts
Photo Credit: NYPD Facebook

Eric Garner was killed by the police in July. The Tshirts were a message. They were an ugly message.

Tensions between unions for city teachers and police officers are heating up over a United Federation of Teachers directive telling school employees not to wear T-shirts to work backing the NYPD.

At issue is an online message circulated earlier this week to UFT members cautioning them against a grassroots members’ plan by some to show the sartorial support for police on the first day of school — and that violators could be reported to the schools chancellor.

So the point of the Tshirt is to say “it’s fine to kill people in the process of arresting them for selling untaxed cigarettes, oh and by the way we don’t see race.”

The warning infuriated Patrick Lynch of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, already angry at UFT boss Michael Mulgrew for backing the Rev. Al Sharpton’s anti-police-brutality rally held Aug. 23 in the aftermath of the chokehold death of Eric Garner in July.

Angry why? Are the cops supposed to be completely beyond questioning?

In his own statement, Mulgrew said that while he encourages his members “to express their opinions,” Department of Education regulations “require school personnel to avoid distracting clothes and openly political statements when in school.”

Sound familiar?

Note that Mulgrew wasn’t telling teachers to wear “question the police” Tshirts.

At any rate, that photo creeps me out. P.S. 220 must be a horrible place to work.

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

Buoyed by something that feels like knowledge

Dec 8th, 2014 5:10 pm | By

Steve Novella did this piece about Dunning-Kruger last month. Is it wrong that I find some of it extremely funny?

Like this, quoting Dunning…

What’s curious is that, in many cases, incompetence does not leave people disoriented, perplexed, or cautious. Instead, the incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge.

I see someone bouncing along like one of the creatures in the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, puffed out by the hot air of something that feels to them like knowledge. And so I laugh.

Also Dunning:

An ignorant mind is precisely not a spotless, empty vessel, but one that’s filled with the clutter of irrelevant or misleading life experiences, theories, facts, intuitions, strategies, algorithms, heuristics, metaphors, and hunches that regrettably have the look and feel of useful and accurate knowledge.

We do pick up a lot of clutter as we proceed. I recognize my own clutter pretty regularly – I’ll start to think I know something about the law and then remember it’s just something I saw on some tv show about cops or prosecutors or both. Our brains are Velcro to all the passing junk that floats by.

Novella this time:

The Dunning-Kruger effect is not just a curiosity of psychology, it touches on a critical aspect of the default mode of human thought, and a major flaw in our thinking. It also applies to everyone – we are all at various places on that curve with respect to different areas of knowledge. You may be an expert in some things, and competent in others, but will also be toward the bottom of the curve in some areas of knowledge.

Admit it – probably up to this point in this article you were imagining yourself in the upper half of that curve, and inwardly smirking at the poor rubes in the bottom half. But we are all in the bottom half some of the time. The Dunning-Kruger effect does not just apply to other people – it applies to everyone.

This is one reason I think the distinction between what we know and what we’ve been told is important. If we’ve only been told, the chances are good that we’re in the bottom half on that subject.

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