Notes and Comment Blog

A protected site

Aug 28th, 2015 9:27 am | By

It’s not just IS destroying ancient heritage sites.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Director General of UNESCO made a statement:

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

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

To all humankind.


Two sisters

Aug 28th, 2015 8:48 am | By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amnesty has a petition to sign.

How to be allowed to say something

Aug 27th, 2015 6:21 pm | By

So let’s talk about gender.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, let’s talk about gender.

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

Sniffing and denunciation

Aug 27th, 2015 1:35 pm | By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

45 years ago today

Aug 27th, 2015 12:15 pm | By

From a public post by Mary Scully on Facebook:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo is front line of march.

H/t Vanina.

Shelby County v. Holder

Aug 27th, 2015 10:59 am | By

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

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

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

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

It’s only a 200 mile drive

Aug 27th, 2015 10:36 am | By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s enough to make you sick.

H/t Cathy Newman.

It was just not something you expect

Aug 27th, 2015 9:41 am | By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

H/t The Freethinker.

When we slot everyone into boxes

Aug 26th, 2015 4:44 pm | By

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

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

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

See what I mean? Funny.

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

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

Or at Purethought Blogs.

A humanist statement

Aug 26th, 2015 4:19 pm | By

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

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

The fundamentals of modern Humanism are as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You got it.


That “you” again

Aug 26th, 2015 3:55 pm | By

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

You never forget your first girl.


Take that, ERD

Aug 26th, 2015 3:33 pm | By

The ACLU tweeted a graphic:

Embedded image permalink


Guest post:

Aug 26th, 2015 3:28 pm | By

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s only going to cost you everything you have and everything you are

Aug 26th, 2015 11:31 am | By

Vyckie Garrison said something very important and clarifying in a public Facebook post just now:

Quiverfull is not a cult. People like the Duggars who embrace the worldview and practice the lifestyle are not adhering to some unique, anomalous form of Christianity. Quiverfull IS regular Christian “family values” teaching writ large and lived out to its logical conclusion.
True Believers™ are not the primary problem here … the only thing “extreme” about Quiverfull families is the degree to which they put Christian ideals into practice.

Being in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is a set up for dysfunctional game-playing and crazy-making head trips. According to Christianity, Jesus subjected himself to torture and death, so that we could have the “free gift” of eternal life … and by “free,” He means, it’s only going to cost you everything you have and everything you are.

When the very definition of perfect love is sacrificing your children and martyring yourself, there is no place for emotionally healthy concepts like boundaries, consent, equality, and mutuality. There is no form of Christianity which is not inherently messed up and spiritually abusive.

There … I said it.

And said it brilliantly.

When the bishops say No

Aug 26th, 2015 11:22 am | By

The good news is, the ACLU succeeded in convincing a Catholic hospital to provide a standard of care procedure despite its religious objections. The bad news is, it took the ACLU to get a Catholic hospital to provide a standard of care procedure despite its religious objections. All hospitals should be providing standard of care, and religion should have nothing to do with it. Hospitals are for medical treatment and care; they are not for religious observances. The function and purpose of hospitals is to provide treatment and care; it’s not to force patients to obey dogmatic harmful religious taboos. The religious beliefs or unbeliefs of the patients are none of the hospital’s business.

Under the threat of a potential lawsuit, a Catholic-affiliated hospital in California’s largest hospital network made an unexpected move. It approved a previously denied doctor’s request to perform a post-partum tubal ligation, also known as “getting your tubes tied.”

The approval from Mercy Medical Center was received yesterday, just days after we sent a letter on behalf of client Rachel Miller, charging that the hospital had unlawfully denied her reproductive health care.

They denied her the care on what grounds?

Rachel and her husband have one small child in their family and are eagerly expecting the arrival of their second baby next month. They have always known that their family would be complete with two children, so at the recommendation of her doctor, Rachel decided that she would like to get her tubes tied — a safe, standard and highly effective form of contraception — after she gives birth to their second child in late September. Her doctor fully supports this plan, as performing the procedure at the time of a C-section is the standard of care.

However, the hospital where Rachel is scheduled for delivery is part of a Catholic hospital system, and operates under binding “ethical and religious directives” issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Applying these directives, which refer to sterilization for the purpose of contraception as “intrinsically evil,” the hospital denied Rachel’s doctor’s request to perform this common procedure.

Those grounds. Those grounds are grounds that should have no purchase in any health care system. None. Bishops should have nothing whatever to do with the running of any health care system. It’s not their job, it’s none of their business, they have no relevant competence. No hospital anywhere should be bound by any “ethical and religious directives” issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. That should be right out. All hospitals should be required, with strict monitoring and enforcement if necessary (and it is very necessary), to provide standard of care no matter what the fucking Catholic bishops say.

After we sent a letter late last week threatening to file a lawsuit if the hospital didn’t allow Rachel’s doctor to perform the tubal ligation, the hospital agreed to grant an exception and Rachel’s doctor is now scheduled to perform the procedure when she gets her C-section.

While this is certainly a win for Rachel, there remains a clear conflict between the best interests of patients and the directives of the Catholic hospital system. All women should be able to make the medical decisions that are best for them, in consultation with their doctors. And religious institutions that provide services to the general public should not be allowed to claim religion as an excuse to discriminate or deny important health care.

That is correct. This needs to stop. Most people aren’t even aware of it – often the first they hear of it is when they are refused a procedure the way Rachel Miller was. This needs to be on everyone’s radar, and it needs to stop.

Catholic hospitals are increasingly ubiquitous in both California and across the United States, and they are often the only health care option for women, including in life-threatening emergencies. For instance, Rachel’s hospital is part of the Dignity Health hospital system, the fifth largest healthcare system in the country and the largest hospital provider in California, with 29 hospitals across the state. Because all of the surrounding hospitals with labor and delivery wards are also Catholic, Rachel would have needed to travel over 160 miles to get her tubal ligation covered by her insurance at the same time as her C-section.

And this isn’t some accident, either – Catholic systems are gobbling up all the hospitals so that they can force their loathsome dogma on unwilling patients.

Rachel’s story is not unique. To learn more about other women impacted by the Ethical and Religious Directives:

Tell everyone you know.

Actually quite a mild person

Aug 26th, 2015 10:49 am | By

Steven Shapin reviews the second installment of Richard Dawkins’s memoirs in the Guardian.

I get a sense that he’s not wholly admiring.

The enemies Dawkins has made are, in the main, the enemies he anticipated. As an atheist, he is a vigorous critic of the creationists, their religious fellow-travellers, the postmodernists, relativists and assorted “enemies of reason”. And as a participant in the scientific cage-fighting that is modern evolutionary theory, Dawkins has one of the sharpest tongues in modern culture.

Yes, but also as a participant in various other kinds of cage-fighting, especially the kind conducted via Twitter. In that avocation he’s made some enemies he didn’t anticipate, such as fellow atheists, scientists, humanists and the like who think he should stop bringing out the heavy artillery for every minor exchange. I also doubt that he anticipated having quite so many feminist women who think he’s a mean bully.

As has been said of the traditional English gentleman, Dawkins has never been unintentionally rude; and his snarling is unremitting. Writing in the Observer some years ago, Robin McKie described him as “the Dirty Harry of science”, and a Spectator review defined what it means to be “Dawkinised”: “Not just to be dressed down or duffed up, it is to be squelched, pulverised, annihilated, rendered into suitably primordial paste.”

Which, after awhile, loses its charm.

Commentators disagree about whether there is a mismatch between the public rage and what Dawkins is like when he is not, so to speak, “miked up”. But he tells us a bit about himself here and elsewhere, and what he sees when he looks in the mirror is the face of a man who is considerate, pleasant and even tolerant: “I’ve never been the sort of firebrand that I’ve been made out to be. I’m actually quite a mild person.”

Pause to laugh. Pause to laugh some more. That’s truly funny. He does seem to believe it, but he’s just wrong. A guy who is constantly calling people idiots is not actually quite a mild person.

Maybe he’s confused by his own voice. His voice seems mild…but the content does not. Maybe he thinks that if you’re not screaming and purple in the face, then you’re actually quite a mild person – but if he does, he’s very naïve.  Verbal aggression in a mild voice is nothing new.

He thinks of himself as driven not by fulminating hostility to religion – that’s actually incidental, he insists – but by enchantment with scientific rationality and the beauty of knowledge. He wants us all to share in the certainty that scientific reason offers. Why would anyone choose religious hocus-pocus over that? Of course, spades ought to be called spades, and opponents of evolution must be either “ignorant, stupid, insane or wicked”. But there has never been anything personal in his opposition to religion or to scientific error. It’s no crime to be stupid; you’re just in need of Dawkinsian correction: read the books; see the light.

That might have worked if he had never discovered Twitter. But he did discover Twitter, and on Twitter his rudeness is very personal, and it’s there for all the world to see.

It’s to Dawkins’s credit here that he gives a little space to a fellow science populariser, the American physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, making an impromptu suggestion that Dawkins might be more effective in selling his scientific wares if he did some market research. “You are professor of the public understanding of science,” Tyson said, “not professor of delivering truth to the public, and these are two different exercises. Persuasion isn’t always ‘Here’s the facts, you are either an idiot or you’re not.’ It’s ‘Here’s the facts, and here is a sensitivity to your state of mind.’ And I worry that your methods, and how articulately barbed you can be, end up simply being ineffective.” Dawkins reports that he “gratefully accepted the rebuke”, but there’s no evidence here that he recognised its wisdom.

And there’s a great deal of evidence elsewhere that he did not recognize its wisdom at all.

For all artists who have suffered at the hands of ignorance, violence and gagging

Aug 26th, 2015 9:54 am | By

At PEN South Africa, ZP Dala has written a gut-wrenching account of her persecution for the horrific crime of saying she admires the work of Salman Rushdie.

The week beginning 15 March 2015 was supposed to have been the highlight of my literary career. I was due to launch my debut novel What About Meera in a prestigious function on Saturday, 21 March and preceding this I was the featured author at one of South Africa’s most sought after literary festivals, The Time of the Writer. The theme of the 2015 Festival was “Writing For Our Lives” and in the wake of the atrocious Charlie Hebdo tragedy as well as the gagging of Bangladeshi writer, Tasleema Nasreen who was forced into exile after being attacked, the group of African writers that assembled for the festival felt a deep sense of poignancy to speak out for freedom of expression.

That was before the new wave of machete-attacks on atheist writers in Bangladesh started. What an appalling year it’s been.

I was invited to speak at a literary event on Tuesday, 17 March and in the spirit of openness my co-panelists and I spoke openly about a writer’s right to express. I was asked which writers I admired and I mentioned, amongst others, Sir Salman Rushdie, whose brilliant works far superseded the archaic fatwa that had been declared on him in the early eighties after writing The Satanic Verses.

Immediately, as I mentioned Rushdie’s name, a large contingent of the audience stood up and walked out. I graciously ignored the walk-out and continued with my speech. I didn’t know then what sinister repercussions awaited me.

What awaited her? The next morning, being forced off the road by a car with three men in it.

…as I had no choice but to pull over, one man got out of the car and advanced towards my car. Within seconds, he viciously reached into my car (my window was open, it was sunny Durban after all) and hit me with brute force on my face with a brick, and holding a knife to my throat he growled “Rushdie bitch”. Had another car not pulled up nearby, I know he would have stabbed me.

I suffered a severe concussion and a fractured cheekbone, and was hospitalised, but the injuries that were not so visible were the most malicious. In one day, my life changed. I was subjected to severe harassment by militant Islamists who were cowardly enough to never come out in the open, but began slandering my name and personal reputation in rampant anonymous emails to the media, and on social media.

Because she said she admired Salman Rushdie.

I experienced social media bullying, my email was hacked into, many friends “jumped ship” and the bookstores that were carrying my novel were threatened by militant groups to pull the books off the shelves. All in a day, I was ostracised and ridiculed by many in the Islamic community, although there were those who supported me and helped my frightened young children.

The book launch was cancelled and my book sales suffered terribly. It seemed that the freedom of a writer still was under threat. Nothing much had changed. It was through the amazing support of PEN, the entire literary and journalistic community both in Africa and abroad, that I managed to keep my strength and fight to keep my books on the shelves. Rushdie, other fellow authors and PEN were my pillars of strength and encouraged me to forge forward and to heal my body and mind instead of retaliating with bitterness.

I did what I could to be one of those people. I’m proud to consider ZP Dala a friend.

Men turned up at her house to tell her husband to “silence his woman.”

I was told by religious leaders to repent and recant my admiration of Rushdie’s writing and to publicly state my “Islamic leanings”. Being questioned about my religious beliefs was an infringement of my basic human right. But I held firm to my words and drew on the strengths of all the writers who reached out to me from all over the world.

Being questioned about our religious beliefs is indeed an infringement of our basic human rights. Theocracy is an infringement of our basic human rights, and people who try to force others – yes, including their children – to submit to a religion and its laws are theocrats and rights-infringers. ZP Dala gets to choose her own beliefs, as we all do.

Then there was the terrible hospitalization and captivity. PEN called for her immediate release and she was tossed out in the middle of the night. It took her a long time to recover.

I suffered strong ostracisation within my own people, my novel was criticised even before it was read, my credibility as a writer was severely compromised and even my very sanity was questioned. I was invited to events only to be made the butt of jokes. I attended the book launch of a stalwart of the Muslim community, and I was ridiculed in a public speech as well as the grand old lady inscribing in my purchased copy of her travelogue “I can sell books without a brick”.

I withdrew into seclusion, afraid of what people were saying, and even worse…what people could do. Again, PEN members, Rushdie and many other fellow writers reached out to me when I desperately emailed them, asking for guidance.

I was one. I told her I’d be happy to publish anything she wanted to write on the subject, or to share anything she wrote for PEN or any other outlet. This is that. I’m glad she decided to write it for PEN – my place would have been a safer choice, and PEN is a more public choice. Now we all have to stand by her.

It is now about five months since this awful experience. I have physical scars on my face, but the emotional upheaval caused me to question my place as a writer. I was offered asylum via various international embassies but I refused to run away, uproot my young family and to accept defeat.

I am still fighting many demons. Now, I finally have found the courage to come out in public and have begun to speak widely and openly about my experience and the writer’s right to freedom of expression. I am not afraid of the bullies, the militants, the hooligans hiding behind skull caps, the doctors and their drugs or the people that point at me in the supermarket line. I also remain fighting for a debut novel that did not deserve the birth it was given.

I will never forget what Rushdie said to me when he reached out to me after he heard of the assault and harassment. He told me my life as I know it will never be the same again. And he was right. Yes, I continue to write creatively and it sustains my soul. But now my passion lies in speaking out for all artists who have suffered at the hands of ignorance, violence and gagging. Perhaps that little spark that was born on the greens of Trinity College has ignited a worthy fire.

Strength to you, ZP.



Aug 25th, 2015 5:21 pm | By

A teenager gets space in the Washington Post to explain why he refused to read Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home because it has drawings of naked laydeez.

Brian Grasso is a freshman.

As a Christian, I knew that my beliefs and identity would be challenged at a progressive university like Duke.

My first challenge came well before I arrived on campus, when I learned that all first years were assigned “Fun Home,” a graphic novel by Alison Bechdel. The book includes cartoon drawings of a woman masturbating and multiple women engaging in oral sex.

After researching the book’s content and reading a portion of it, I chose to opt out of the assignment. My choice had nothing to do with the ideas presented. I’m not opposed to reading memoirs written by LGBTQ individuals or stories containing suicide. I’m not even opposed to reading Freud, Marx or Darwin. I know that I’ll have to grapple with ideas I don’t agree with, even ideas that I find immoral.

But in the Bible, Jesus forbids his followers from exposing themselves to anything pornographic. “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart,” he says in Matthew 5:28-29.

So? It’s a sentence in a book. There are many sentences in many books. Just pointing to a sentence doesn’t tell us much. Maybe Jesus was wrong.

If the book explored the same themes without sexual images or erotic language, I would have read it. But viewing pictures of sexual acts, regardless of the genders of the people involved, conflict with the inherent sacredness of sex. My beliefs extend to pop culture and even Renaissance art depicting sex.

Sacred shmacred.

He’s so proud of his dull little “beliefs.” They’ve been making people narrow and censorious for 20 centuries, but he’s bursting with pride in them. He’s eighteen and he doesn’t know much yet, but he has his important serious beliefs. And the Washington Post thinks it’s worth publishing them.

I decided to post about my decision on the Duke Class of 2019 Facebook page to comfort those with similar beliefs. I knew that my decision wouldn’t be well-received. How could it in a country where, according to one study, more than three-quarters of American men between 18 and 24 years old have viewed pornography within the past month.

But though many students denounced my decision publicly, almost 20 people privately messaged me, thanking me for my post. I received many messages from Christians, but a message from a Muslim man stood out. The man, currently a sophomore at Duke, wrote, “I’ve seen a lot of people who just throw away their identity in college in the name of secularism, open-mindedness, or liberalism.” Is this really what Duke wants?

Ah there it is again, the ever-present worship of “identity.” If your “identity” is being closed-minded and incurious and and narrow, then yes, that is what any good university wants – it wants you to expand and enrich that small pinched identity. It’s doing you a favor.

Granted, you can do that without watching people fuck in class, but you can’t very well do it while treating your “beliefs” as off-limits.

Bit of a mix-up

Aug 25th, 2015 2:45 pm | By

The Guardian, August 16:

Camila Batmanghelidjh, founder of the recently closed Kids Company charity, reportedly has plans to open a food bank for up to 3,000 children and young people.

Less than two weeks after the charity’s collapse, its former chief executive is set to open Kids Dining Room beneath a railway arch in Lambeth, south London, this week, the Sunday Times reported.

Why did it collapse? Well…

Kids Company shut down at the start of August after the government pulled an annual grant of £3m following allegations of financial mismanagement at the charity, which had no funding reserves. The government has had to find alternative support for 6,000 vulnerable children as a result of its closure.

Batmanghelidjh agreed to stand aside from her position in order to secure a £3m emergency restructuring grant, part of which was spent on overdue staff wages. Immediately after the charity’s closure she blamed “rumour-mongering civil servants”, ministers and the media for having “put the nail” in its coffin.

The BBC, 45 minutes ago:

As central government, local authorities and charities pick up the pieces of Kids Company, the charity which collapsed insolvent in early August, new details are emerging of the discussions that preceded the Cabinet Office paying a controversial £3m grant to the charity in late July – just days before it closed its doors.

BBC Newsnight and BuzzFeed News have learned of a document, emailed to civil servants in the name of Alan Yentob, chair of the charity’s trustees, on 2 June. It warned that a sudden closure of the charity would mean a “high risk of arson attacks on government buildings”.

The document also warned of a high risk of “looting” and “rioting”, and cautioned that the “communities” served by Kids Company could “descend into savagery”. The document was written in language that civil servants across government described as “absurd”, “hysterical” and “extraordinary”.

Erm…Alan Yentob…that name is familiar.

Oh yes.

Today, Mr Yentob, also the BBC’s creative director, said: “It’s widely acknowledged that Kids Company has done vital work with vulnerable children and young adults. The document… was an appendix written by the Safeguarding Team, who set out all the potential risks to be taken into account in the event of closure.”

Such as arson attacks on government buildings. Is that setting out potential risks…or is it a threat?

After explaining the potential trauma for clients, the document then went on to list “risks posed to the public”, saying there was a “high risk” of looting, rioting and arson attacks on government buildings. The same section also listed “increases” in knife and gun crime, neglect, starvation and modern-day slavery as possible dangers.

The document also says: “We are… concerned that these children and families will be left without services in situations of sexual, psychological or emotional abuse, neglect and malnutrition and facing homelessness and further destitution.”

“Without a functioning space for hope, positivity and genuine care, these communities will descend into savagery due to sheer desperation for basic needs to be met.”

Local authority officials and councillors have expressed anger and bemusement at this claim, in particular.

I can see why.

But the charity helped a lot of people, yes?

Officials in central and local government have also told BBC Newsnight and BuzzFeed News that they have been taken aback by the difficulty in establishing how much work the charity actually did. The organisation had claimed to “intensively” help 18,000 young people and to “reach” 36,000.

The charity also said that its records showed that it supported 15,933 young people. Speaking to Radio 4’s The Report on August 5, Ms Batmanghelidjh had said that the figure of 15,933 represented “the most high-risk group of kids, that’s what’s sucking up all our money”. All of these clients, she said, had “keyworkers” allocated to them.

However, the charity has handed over records to local government relating to just 1,692 clients in London, of which the charity had designated 331 as “high-risk”. Officials in Bristol have been given details of a further 175 clients. Ms Batmanghelidjh has told The Sunday Times that she has kept back some records of clients who are at risk of deportation.


Massive, I tells ya

Aug 25th, 2015 12:43 pm | By

Editing to add: It appears this is an Onion-type joke. Never mind.

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