Notes and Comment Blog

A pattern of impunity

Dec 5th, 2014 10:36 am | By

The BBC reports that some UN boffins have expressed worries about this pattern we seem to be developing in the US of failing to indict cops who kill unarmed people.

“I am concerned by the grand juries’ decisions and the apparent conflicting evidence that exists relating to both incidents,” UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Rita Izsak, said in a statement.

A trial process would ensure the evidence is considered in detail, she said.

“The decisions leave many with legitimate concerns relating to a pattern of impunity when the victims of excessive use of force come from African-American or other minority communities.”

They do, yes. The Eric Garner case, especially, is horrifying. He wasn’t rushing at anyone, he was suspected of the pettiest sort of “crime” one can imagine short of maybe a parking ticket, and he was tackled and choked as if he’d just murdered someone in front of the cops.

Elsewhere in the US several other racially sensitive cases appeared this week:

  • in Phoenix, Arizona, protesters demonstrated after a white police officer shot dead a black suspected drug-trafficker, after apparently mistaking a pill bottle in his pocket for a gun on Tuesday
  • in South Carolina, white ex-police chief Richards Combs was charged with murder over the 2011 shooting of an unarmed black man, Bernard Bailey
  • The justice department and the city of Cleveland, Ohio, agreed to overhaul city police after federal investigators found frequent use of excessive force caused deep mistrust, especially among black people.

But hey – there’s even worse racism in, say, Saudi Arabia, so maybe we should all focus on that instead?

I don’t think so. That too, but not that instead.

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

The men who had been sent just before her were caught and executed

Dec 5th, 2014 9:49 am | By

From A Mighty Girl:

At age 23, British secret agent Phyllis Latour Doyle parachuted into occupied Normandy in May 1944 to gather intelligence on Nazi positions in preparation for D-Day. As an agent for the British Special Operations Executive (SOE), Doyle secretly relayed 135 coded messages to the British military before France’s liberation in August. For seventy years, her contributions to the war effort have been largely unheralded but, last week, the 93-year-old was finally given her due when she was awarded France’s highest honor, the Chevalier of the Legion of Honour.

Doyle first joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force at age 20 in 1941 to work as a flight mechanic but SOE recruiters spotted her potential and offered her a job as a spy. A close family friend, her godmother’s father who she viewed as her grandfather, had been shot by the Nazis and she was eager to support the war effort however she could. Doyle immediately accepted the SOE’s offer and began an intensive training program. In addition to learning about encryption and surveillance, trainees also had to pass grueling physical tests. Doyle described how they were taught by a cat burglar who had been released from jail on “how to get in a high window, and down drain pipes, how to climb over roofs without being caught.”

She first deployed to Aquitaine in Vichy France where she worked for a year as a spy using the codename Genevieve. Her most dangerous mission, however, began on May 1, 1944 when she jumped out of a US Air Force bomber and landed behind enemy lines in Nazi-occupied Normandy. Using the codename Paulette, she posed as a poor teenage French girl. Doyle used a bicycle to tour the region, often under the guise of selling soap, and passed information to the British on Nazi positions using coded messages. In an interview with the New Zealand Army News magazine, she described how risky the mission, noting that “The men who had been sent just before me were caught and executed. I was told I was chosen for that area (of France) because I would arouse less suspicion.”

She also explained how she concealed her codes: “I always carried knitting because my codes were on a piece of silk — I had about 2000 I could use. When I used a code I would just pinprick it to indicate it had gone. I wrapped the piece of silk around a knitting needle and put it in a flat shoe lace which I used to tie my hair up.” Coded messages took a half an hour to send and the Germans could identify where a signal was sent from in an hour and a half so Doyle moved constantly to avoid detection. At times, she stayed with Allied sympathizers but often she had to sleep in forests and forage for food.

During her months in Normandy, Doyle sent 135 secret messages — invaluable information on Nazi troop positions that was used to help Allied forces prepare for the Normandy landing on D-Day and during the subsequent military campaign. Doyle continued her mission until France’s liberation in August 1944.

Following the war, Doyle eventually settled in New Zealand where she raised four children. It was only in the past 15 years that she told them about her career as a spy.


She kept that secret for 54 years??

If I’d done a tenth of that I’d have bragged about it so hard...


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

How do we decide?

Dec 4th, 2014 5:44 pm | By

My November column for The Freethinker is out.

It asks a question.

What do we do with the thought that some things are more important than others? Specifically, how do we deal with the awareness that some human problems are more urgent and pressing than others? How do we sort them, how do we rank them, how do we decide which ones we should pay most attention to?

I talk about the variety of things I discuss on my blog (hey that’s right here) and say that I don’t really know how to rank them, and don’t particularly want to.

I understand the thinking behind good-faith efforts to rank degrees of misery. There is such a thing as being spoiled, and failing to realize the magnitude of one’s good fortune and prosperity. There’s such a thing as shouting the house down about a tiny wrong done to oneself while ignoring massive injustices done to other people. There’s the fact that some of us prosper off the exploitation of others, and that we don’t do enough to find out about it and try to do something about it. There’s all of that and more. And yet – broadly speaking, I don’t think people should be chivvied or scolded for talking about, say, sexual harassment in the workplace when they could be talking about child marriage in Bangladesh.

Or vice versa.

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

Denial is not the same as skepticism

Dec 4th, 2014 5:26 pm | By

A long long list of Fellows of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry are urging the news media to stop referring to climate deniers as “skeptics.” Pass it on.

Public discussion of scientific topics such as global warming is confused by misuse of the term “skeptic.” The Nov 10, 2014, New York Times article “Republicans Vow to Fight EPA and Approve Keystone Pipeline” referred to Sen. James Inhofe as “a prominent skeptic of climate change.” Two days later Scott Horsley of NPR’s Morning Edition called him “one of the leading climate change deniers in Congress.” These are not equivalent statements.

As Fellows of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, we are concerned that the words “skeptic” and “denier” have been conflated by the popular media.

Proper skepticism promotes scientific inquiry, critical investigation, and the use of reason in examining controversial and extraordinary claims. It is foundational to the scientific method. Denial, on the other hand, is the a priori rejection of ideas without objective consideration.

Real skepticism is summed up by a quote popularized by Carl Sagan, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Inhofe’s belief that global warming is “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people” is an extraordinary claim indeed. He has never been able to provide evidence for this vast alleged conspiracy. That alone should disqualify him from using the title “skeptic.”

As scientific skeptics, we are well aware of political efforts to undermine climate science by those who deny reality but do not engage in scientific research or consider evidence that their deeply held opinions are wrong. The most appropriate word to describe the behavior of those individuals is “denial.” Not all individuals who call themselves climate change skeptics are deniers. But virtually all deniers have falsely branded themselves as skeptics. By perpetrating this misnomer, journalists have granted undeserved credibility to those who reject science and scientific inquiry.

We are skeptics who have devoted much of our careers to practicing and promoting scientific skepticism. We ask that journalists use more care when reporting on those who reject climate science, and hold to the principles of truth in labeling. Please stop using the word “skeptic” to describe deniers.

Tell everyone you know.


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

No girls allowed

Dec 4th, 2014 4:57 pm | By

So a kid age 7 reads a book about insects with much enjoyment, then when she gets to the back cover she sees that it says the book is for boys.

Publishers? Don’t do that.

You don’t say “books for white people” do you? Don’t say “books for boys” either.

Parker Dains, seven, from Milpitas in California, wrote to Abdo Publishing after she discovered that the Biggest, Baddest Book of Bugs that she was reading was part of a series called the Biggest, Baddest Books for Boys. She told her local paperthe Milpitas Post: “It made me very unhappy. I was like, ‘What the?’ I said, ‘Dad we have to do something quickly.’”

So she wrote to Abdo, telling the publisher that “I really enjoyed the section on Glow in the Dark bugs and the quizzes at the end”, but that “when I saw the back cover title, it said ‘Biggest Baddest Books for Boys’ and it made me very unhappy. It made me very sad because there’s no such thing as a boy book. You should change from ‘Biggest, Baddest Books for Boys’ into ‘Biggest, Baddest Books for Boys and Girls’ because some girls would like to be entomologists too.”

I look forward to the columns by Ben Radford and Christina Hoff Sommers saying Parker Dains has been brainwashed by “gender feminists” or some such horseshit.

Fortunately the publisher wasn’t that hateful.

According to the local paper, the publisher responded and told her she had made “a very good point”. “After all, girls can like ‘boy’ things too,” wrote Abdo, adding that it had “decided to take your advice”.

Dains has since received an early delivery of the series, which is now called simply Biggest, Baddest Books. “You can see that we dropped the ‘For Boys’ from the series name and we all agree here at Abdo that it was a very smart idea on your part. No other school, library or kid will be able to buy these books for another couple of months, so you are the first to read them,” it wrote.

Good, but honestly, why did they need to be told? Why do so many people keep having to learn anew that girls and women are people?


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

Contemtus puellae

Dec 4th, 2014 1:37 pm | By

So so so so so so funny.


[Description: two photos: one, a bunch of US-football players captioned “how America sees the 49ers”; two, the same bunch of US-football players wearing pink skirts over their uniforms captioned “How Seattle sees the 49ers”]

Contempt for the female just never gets old, does it.

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

Blame the dead guy

Dec 4th, 2014 12:26 pm | By

Oh puhleeeeeeeeeeeeeze.

I know the New York Post is a Murdoch paper but come on. NY Post columnist Bob McManus says it was Eric Garner’s fault that the cops choked him to death.

Eric Garner and Michael Brown had much in common, not the least of which was this: On the last day of their lives, they made bad decisions. Epically bad decisions.

Each broke the law — petty offenses, to be sure, but sufficient to attract the attention of the police.

And then — tragically, stupidly, fatally, inexplicably — each fought the law.

The law won, of course, as it almost always does.

What was the law that Garner was supposed to have broken? The law against selling single cigarettes from packs without tax stamps. Is it rash and terroristic of me to suggest that that’s not worth choking a suspect for? By a very wide margin not enough? Even if the suspect is trying to refuse to be arrested?

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

Equality before the law

Dec 4th, 2014 11:37 am | By

Oh look, what a coincidence. Last April, a cop choked a guy while a bystander took pictures…and the cop was immediately fired.

Guess what the choked person isn’t. Besides dead.

Frank Phillips, a Knox County Sheriff’s officer, was fired Sunday night after a series of pictures taken by photographer John Messner were published in the Daily Mail in Britain. They showed an officer identified by the Sheriff’s Office as Phillips grabbing 21-year-old college student Jarod Dotson around the neck and squeezing him until he fell to his knees.

An officer identified by the Sheriff’s office as Frank Phillips is seen choking college student Jarod Dotson while he was being arrested for public intoxication and resisting arrest. (John Messner)

You can see what the choked person isn’t.

The cops were called to a huge party (around 800 people) that had spilled into the street and gotten rowdy.

According to a police report, Dotson ignored repeated instructions to go inside, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported. Deputy Brandon Gilliam wrote in the official report that Dotson “began to physically resist officers’ instructions to place his hands behind his back, and at one point grabbed on to an officer’s leg.”

Messner, a freelance photographer who documented the incident, told The Washington Post that Dotson showed no signs of resisting arrest.

Messner’s pictures show two officers cuffing Dotson’s hands behind his back when Phillips came over and choked Dotson until he collapsed to his knees. See the Post’s GIF of the sequence.

Dotson was charged with public intoxication and resisting arrest, and Phillips was fired.

How about that.

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

The white rabbit

Dec 4th, 2014 11:09 am | By

A Missouri man drove his van through a crowd of protesters in St Louis last night, and then waved a gun at them.

According to the St. Louis Dispatch, activists were preparing for a “die-in” demonstration, which includes lying in the street, in Maryland Plaza at around 8 p.m. to protest the decision not to charge the officer whose illegal use of a chokehold resulted in the death of Eric Garner.

“As they did, a man driving a Town and Country minivan drove through the intersection and accelerated through the crowd,” the paper reported.

Well maybe he was late for dinner and the pesky protesters were in his way. Look at it from his point of view.

After a short chase, protesters were able to stop the driver. In photos taken by the Post-Dispatch‘s David Carson, a male white driver in his 50s can be seen brandishing a semiautomatic handgun. Reports said that protesters broke the man’s window at one point.

A protest organizer said that four activists had been hit. Police spokesperson Leah Freeman noted that no one had been seriously hurt.

The driver was taken into custody by police. Freeman said that it was not clear if he hit the protesters after swerving to go around them or if they had jumped in front of his minivan.

So he was even later for dinner. It’s so unfair.

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

Out of the mouths of Southern Baptists

Dec 4th, 2014 10:50 am | By

Surprisingly (to me at least), a high-up in the Southern Baptist Convention has gone off on racism, Sarah Posner reports.

After the failure yesterday of a grand jury to indict the New York police officer who was videotaped choking Eric Garner to death, Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, launched into a denunciation of racism in the church on the ERLC’s program “Questions and Ethics.”

Saying he was “shocked and grieved” by the news, Moore added:

Romans 13 says that the sword of justice is to be wielded against evildoers.

Now, what we too often see still is a situation where our African-American brothers and sisters, especially brothers, are more likely to be arrested, more likely to be executed, more likely to be killed. And this is a situation in which we have to say, I wonder what the defenders of this would possibly say. I just don’t know. But I think we have to acknowledge that something is wrong with the system at this point and that something has to be done.

Moore added that in the wake of Ferguson, he has called for “churches that come together and know one another and are knitted together across these racial lines.” In response, though, he said, “I have gotten responses and seen responses that are right out of the White Citizen’s Council material from 1964. In my home state of Mississippi, seeing people saying there is no gospel issue involved in racial reconciliation.”

“Are you kidding me?” Moore exclaimed incredulously.

If even the Southern Baptist Convention can see it…

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

Sunrise sunset

Dec 4th, 2014 10:23 am | By

The earliest sunset of the year (in the northern hemisphere) is almost on us. I didn’t know, until Leonard Tramiel told me last summer around the time of the solstice, that the earliest and latest sunrise and sunset don’t occur on the solstice. Bruce McClure at EarthSky explains.

The next solstice in 2014 comes on December 21 and marks an unofficial beginning for winter in the Northern Hemisphere. For this hemisphere, this upcoming solstice brings the shortest day and longest night of the year. And yet the earliest sunsets for middle latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere happen around December 7.

It seems paradoxical. At middle latitudes in the U.S. – and throughout the Northern Hemisphere – the earliest sunsets of the year come about two weeks before the solstice and the shortest day of the year.

Why isn’t the earliest sunset on the year’s shortest day? It’s because of the discrepancy between the clock and the sun. A clock ticks off exactly 24 hours from one noon to the next. But an actual day – as measured by the spin of the Earth, from what is called one “solar noon” to the next – rarely equals 24 hours exactly.

Solar noon is also called simply “midday.” It refers to that instant when the sun reaches its highest point for the day. In the month of December, the time period from one solar noon to the next is actually half a minute longer than 24 hours. On December 7, the sun reaches its noontime position at 11:52 a.m. local standard time. Two weeks later – on the winter solstice – the sun will reach its noontime position around 11:59 a.m. That’s 7 minutes later than on December 7.

The later clock time for solar noon also means a later clock time for sunrise and sunset.

Good to know, eh?

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

“There’s not a hint there that anyone used any racial epithet”

Dec 4th, 2014 9:57 am | By


America’s favorite Irish-terrorism-supporter-elected-to-Congress took to Twitter on Wednesday afternoon to thank the Staten Island grand jury for its decision not to indict NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo for the July death of Eric Garner after being placed in a chokehold while under arrest.

“Thanks to SI grand jury for doing justice & not yielding to outside pressure,” King (or a social media intern) pecked out Wednesday afternoon. “Decision must be respected.”

The congressman — who once reaffirmed his support for Irish terrorists after their attack on Royal forces in Ireland, and who thinks journalists should be arrested for practicing free speech — added: “Compassion for the Garner family.”

Ah yes “outside pressure” – otherwise known as citizens objecting to a death in police custody.

Apparently CNN was sufficiently charmed or appalled by King’s tweet to invite him to chat yesterday evening.

Despite the video evidence of Garner repeatedly saying “I can’t breathe” as officers tackled him the ground and choked him until he ultimately died, King would not allow that excessive force had been used.

“First of all, the death was tragic, and our hearts have to go out to the Garner family,” King began. Getting that obligatory statement out of the way, the congressman reiterated that he does not believe the officer should have been indicted and proceeded to defend the police actions.

“If he had not had asthma and a heart condition and was so obese, almost definitely he would not have died for this,” King said of Garner. “The police had no reason to know he was in serious condition.” On Garner repeating “I can’t breathe,” King said, “the fact of the matter is, if you can’t breathe, you can’t talk.” He even suggested that Garner may have been faking those symptoms so the police would go easier on him.

If you can’t breathe, you can for a short interval gasp out a few words.

Then you die.

“People are saying very casually that this was done out of racial motives or violation of civil rights,” he continued. “There’s not a hint there that anyone used any racial epithet.”

You have got to be kidding.

What next? They talk to Daniel Pantaleo and he tells them, “I don’t see color”?



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

No apparent threat to the half-dozen officers

Dec 3rd, 2014 4:59 pm | By

So, we’re just going to keep doing this now?

A grand jury in Staten Island has decided not indict New York City Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo in relation to the death of Eric Garner.

That’s even though Pantaleo was seen on video putting Eric Garner in an apparent choke hold in July, according to city officials and lawyers for Garner’s family. An apparent choke hold that actually choked him to death. His last words were, “I can’t breathe.”


There is a federal investigation.

An official with the U.S. Department of Justice confirms there is a federal investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Eric Garner.

Garner family attorney Jonathan Moored told the Associated Press that the family was “astonished” by the grand jury’s decision.

Garner, an unarmed black man, died July 17 after being placed in an apparent chokehold by a white New York City police officer. The incident was caught on tape, and shows that Garner was unarmed and posing no apparent threat to the half-dozen officers who surrounded him. After he was taken down in the chokehold by Officer David Pantaleo, other officers held him down. You can hear Garner on tape saying, “I can’t breathe.”

Bill Bramhall/New York Daily News


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

The board majority decided to expunge references to “justice”

Dec 3rd, 2014 4:39 pm | By

Reading Katherine Stewart’s The Good News Club. In chapter 7 she goes to Austin to sit in on Texas Board of Education hearings in March 2010. Many astonishing things were said there.

The conservatives on the board want to make clear that the free enterprise system that makes America great has nothing to do with a universal concern for public policy and the common good – a concern they believe carries the dreaded taint of socialism. On a list of characteristics of good citizenship for grades 1 through 3, the board majority decided to expunge references to “justice” and “responsibility for the common good.”

That one makes me feel something very like nausea of the brain.

Another part of making America great involves eliminating all forms of the word “democratic,” which in the majority’s view might suggest a link between American history and the political party where all of America’s haters end up, namely, the Democratic Party. Thus, at [Cynthia] Dunbar’s insistence, the board replaces “democratic” and “representative democracy” with “constitutional republic,”  and “democratic societies” with “societies with representative government.” [p 166-7]

And then there’s that word “slavery”…

At the behest of board conservatives, the word “slavery” is removed from the standards, replace by the awkwardly euphemistic term, “Atlantic triangular trade.” [p 167]

Not so much euphemistic as completely opaque.

This shit is terrible.


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

Guest post: Foul-weather Feminism

Dec 3rd, 2014 3:27 pm | By

Originally a comment by Hj Hornbeck on Guest post: Sexism squanders human resources.

Historically, families have always had at least two “incomes.” Even people who buy into a strict division of labour between the sexes concede that all sexes brought food to the table, from picking berries to doing farm chores. This is quite stable against adversity; if one person cannot provide for the family, they can try to subsist on another person’s contribution. Arbitrary restrictions on what each sex can do artificially limit that capacity, and endanger survival.

On rare occasions, though, a single provider has been enough to feed an entire family. Artificial restrictions aren’t a factor anymore, and don’t face the opposition they would in a two+ income society. But of course, no culture has ever fit on that extreme, so you wind up with a mixture of both. Nor has any culture been free of economic swings down to the individual level.

This suggests a theory: during economic downswings, societies are pushed towards feminist attitudes, as sexist attitudes squander human resources. During upswings, there is no strong draw either way, but as it’s tougher to correct justice than perpetuate it societies tend to gradually drift towards anti-feminist attitudes. I dub this “Foul-Weather Feminism.”

Early drafts of that paper included two anecdotes to support this. Iceland, for instance, has been sympathetic to feminism for some time. In 1975, a radical woman’s movement called the Red Stockings suggested all women should go on strike. This came to pass on October 24th, when 90% of Iceland’s women refused to work or look after the children.[1] Yet by 2009, Iceland had a greater gender pay gap than all of Europe, one that persists to this day.[2] Why? Well, Iceland was profiting greatly from the housing bubble in the USA, thanks to deregulation and aggressive investment in foreign countries, which led to a huge economic boom in a small country.[3] As banking was predominantly a male profession there, this inflated the gender pay gap.

Iceland suffered a significant economic crash in 2009, a 10% loss in GDP between 2008 and 2010. In response, during the 2009 election they voted in Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir as Prime Minister, the first woman to hold that position in Iceland and the first world leader to be openly lesbian. Her government implemented a vast number of reforms, most notably the criminalization of the purchase of sex and the shutdown of all strip bars in 2009; gender quotas were implemented in 2010, as well as a bill allowing single women to receive donor sperm.[4]

Japan saw an incredible economic boom after WWII, thanks in part to shrewd investment in infrastructure and foreign economies, plus a practice of tight industry-government and industry-industry relations that reduced bureaucracy and waste due to competition. [5] With only one income necessary to sustain a family, and every person promised a job for life, their culture drifted towards heavy sexism. So what happened after that bubble burst?

Japan has suffered from a decade-long recession, and seen sluggish growth in comparison to other developed nations. In 2006, Maki Fukasawa wrote an article on what she dubbed “soushoku danshi” or “grass-eating boys,” who rejected the strict gender roles that their fathers had embraced and were exploring behaviors previously held to be feminine. Roughly 60% of men under 23 now fall into this category, and 42% of those between 23 and 34.[6] The last decade has also seen the rise of “nikushoku onna,” or “carnivorous women,” who also reject traditional roles by taking the initiative in relationships and pursuing men more aggressively.

Digging up supportive anecdotes is pretty easy, though. In my paper, I look at two decades worth of global economic data in search of a similar effect. Child care is almost universally undervalued, but in a contradictory way: parents looking after their children receive no income and few benefits for it, yet third parties looking after children do earn an income.

This means that during an economic downturn, the shift from single to multiple income would cause a “boost” in overall GDP and smooth out small economic bumps. It isn’t an actual boost, mind, it’s just that an undervalued task is being assigned more value. A 100% feminist society would see no cushion, because child care would not be undervalued, and a 100% sexist society would see no cushion, because gender norms would prevent the necessary economic mobility. Interestingly, this also provides a secondary way to measure the gender gap: if women are truly undervalued compared to men, then an influx of women would have less of a “boost” than an influx of men. By comparing the size of each effect, we can measure the gender income gap on a global level.

And I found… pretty much what you’d expect. The cushion effect exists, and it’s greater for an influx of men than it is for an influx of women. Again, here’s the gory details.

[1] Rudolfsdottir, Annadis. “The day the women went on strike.” The Guardian, October 15th, 2005.
[2] Eurostat, “Gender pay gap statistics.”
[4] J.E. Johnson, “The Most Feminist Place in the World.” The Nation, February 21st 2011.
[5] Jesse Colombo, “Japan’s Bubble Economy of the 1980s“. June 4th, 2012.
[6] A. Harney, “The Herbivore’s Dilemma.” Slate, June 15th, 2009.


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

Garden dreams

Dec 3rd, 2014 2:42 pm | By

Because it’s winter in the northern hemisphere.

Sociedad Argentina de Horticultura posts amazing photos on Facebook, and Bernard Hurley frequently shares them and makes my eyes bug out.

Like this one:

And this one:

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

You’ll take it and like it

Dec 3rd, 2014 11:11 am | By

Human Rights Watch had things to say about Iran’s proposed penal code in August 2012.

The new provisions also expand upon broad or vaguely defined national security crimes that punish people for exercising their right to freedom of expression, association, or assembly. One troubling amendment concerns article 287, which defines the crime of efsad-e fel arz, or “sowing corruption on earth.”

Legislators have expanded the definition of efsad-e fel arz, a previously ill-defined hadd crime closely related to moharebeh (enmity against God) that had been used to sentence to death political dissidents who allegedly engaged in armed activities or affiliated with “terrorist organizations.” The new definition also includes clearly nonviolent activities such as “publish[ing] lies,” “operat[ing] or manag[ing] centers of corruption or prostitution,” or “damage[ing] the economy of the country” if these actions “seriously disturb the public order and security of the nation.”

Under the current penal code, authorities have executed at least 30 people since January 2010 on the charge of “enmity against God” or “sowing corruption on earth” for their alleged ties to armed or terrorist groups. At least 28 Kurdish prisoners are known to be awaiting execution on national security charges, including “enmity against God.” Human Rights Watch has documented that in a number of these cases, the evidence suggests that Iran’s judicial authorities convicted, sentenced, and executed people simply because they were political dissidents, and not because they had committed terrorist acts.

The criminalization of “enmity against God” is grotesque on so many levels. Maybe the most striking one is that it amounts to treating it as a crime to object to any aspect of reality. God is omnipotent, therefore, if you complain of anything (except kaffirs and enemies of God) you are an enemy of God, or at least vulnerable to the accusation. It’s a reactionary’s charter.

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

Who shouts loudest wins

Dec 3rd, 2014 10:53 am | By

A small but I think telling item. Dave Silverman said in a public Facebook post an hour ago that Bill O’Reilly “talked shit about us, but did not invite us on.” Dave is sarcastically pleased that BillO is afraid of him.

He has a real point though. I think it’s pretty reasonable to think that O’Reilly is indeed reluctant to have Dave on his show again, for reasons that have to do with what a bully O’Reilly is.

O’Reilly is a big man, a burly man. He has a loud voice. He uses his size and his loud voice (and his control of the show) to intimidate people he invites on his show to talk.

Dave says he’s been on the show twice, and I think I’ve seen both. I think I know very well why BillO doesn’t want Dave on the show – it’s because Dave is a pretty good physical match and just as good as O’Reilly at shouting.

So what does that say about O’Reilly? That he’s both a bully and a coward.

What does it say about the US that people like O’Reilly and Limbaugh are so popular?

Nothing good.

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

Sowing corruption on the earth

Dec 3rd, 2014 10:18 am | By

More news from Iran:

On November 24, 2014, Iran’s Supreme Court upheld a criminal court ruling sentencing Soheil Arabi to hang. The court transferred his file to the judiciary’s implementation unit, opening the way for his execution.

For what? Did he murder someone?

A Tehran criminal court had convicted him in August of sabb al-nabbi, or “insulting the prophet,” referring to the Prophet Muhammad, which carries the death penalty. Arabi’s legal team has asked the judiciary to suspend the death sentence and review the case.

Insulted “the prophet” how? Facebook posts.

Nastaran Naimi, Arabi’s wife, told Human Rights Watch that intelligence agents linked with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards arrested her and her husband at their home in Tehran in November 2013. They soon released her but transferred her husband to a special section of Evin prison that the Revolutionary Guards control, where they kept him in solitary confinement for two months, subjected him to long interrogation sessions, and prevented him from meeting his lawyer, she said. They later transferred Arabi to Ward 350 of Evin prison.

All because of the bruised dignity of “the prophet.”

Vahid Moshkhani, Arabi’s lawyer, told Human Rights Watch that instead of upholding or overruling the lower court verdict, the Supreme Court unlawfully added the charge of efsad-e fel arz, or “sowing corruption of earth,” to Arabi’s case. In addition to carrying a possible death sentence, the charge also forecloses the possibility of amnesty, he said.

What the fuck even is “sowing corruption of earth”?

The circumstances surrounding the recent execution of another man, Mohsen Amir Aslani, have increased concerns for Arabi. On September 24, prison officials at Rajai Shahr prison in the city of Karaj executed Amir Aslani, whom the judiciary had convicted of “sowing corruption on earth” for allegedly advancing heretical interpretations of Islam and insulting the prophet Jonah. After the execution, a judiciary spokesman, Gholamhossein Esmaeili, denied that authorities had executed Amir Aslani for his religious beliefs, and said his hanging was related to “illicit” forcible sexual relations with several women. In fact, the Supreme Court had overturned Amir Aslani’s death sentence on three separate occasions, and ruled that the rape charges were invalid due to lack of evidence.

Perfect – insert fake rape charges to make it all look less horrendous. That’s helpful.

Human Rights Watch previously expressed concern regarding the broad definition of “sowing corruption on earth” in the revised penal code, under which authorities can prosecute, convict, and sentence political dissidents and others exercising their basic rights to freedom of speech, assembly, association, and religion.

I have a feeling I “sow corruption on earth” every time I tap on the keyboard.


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

Symptomatic of the patterns of incredulity

Dec 3rd, 2014 9:46 am | By

The outrage of the moment in Sommers-land is the journalistic failings of a Rolling Stone article reporting on an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia. Rebecca Traister at The New Republic discusses this meta-story (so note we’re at level 4 here).

Over the past few days, several publications have reported journalistic lapses in Rolling Stone‘s blockbuster story about an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia. The reporter, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, never contacted the men that her subject, a student she calls “Jackie,” alleges raped her. Erdely also did not acknowledge in the body of the piece that she did not contact them.

These are serious charges: Journalists are supposed to seek multiple perspectives on the stories they report to try to present the fullest and fairest assessment of events; this is especially true when one source is alleging that a criminal act took place. It’s ironic and telling, though, that Erdely’s doubters have blown up their suspicions well beyond the available evidence, calling her story a “hoax” and comparing it to the fabricated pieces published by Stephen Glass in The New Republic and other magazines.

Imagine my lack of surprise.

It’s a massive leap in logic to move from a reasonable journalistic critique of Erdely’s reporting and disclosure practices to writing, as former George journalist Richard Bradley does in his blog post, “I’m not convinced that this gang rape actually happened.” It is symptomatic of exactly the patterns of incredulity and easy dismissal of rape accusations that keep many assaulted women and men from ever bringing their stories to authorities or to the public.

The reporting can be badly flawed and the story still be true, after all.

Consider that the weaknesses of the criminal system prompted Jackie not to tell her rape story first to police, but rather to friendsmany of whom, she claims, blamed her and urged her not to go to authoritiesand then to the university’s private system, which she says treated her poorly. It’s not so hard to imagine that by the time she got to Erdely with her story, she might reasonably have been fearful of retaliation. It was Jackie’s discomfort with identifying her victims, and her fear of the consequences, Erdely told The Washington Post, that led her to tread too delicately in her investigations.

Well let’s face it – people who report being raped always face horrible consequences. Always.

Erdely, in her role as journalist, should have done things differently, should have tried to speak with the figures accused or made explicitly clear that she had not spoken to them. Those handling cases in which more official systems have broken down do everyone, including themselves, a terrible disservice in not behaving with obsessive care.

Remember when PZ published Alison Smith’s account? He made it explicitly clear that he was doing just that.

But do not forget, as we go about what is sure to be the unpleasant business of turning our suspicions on Erdelyand in turn, on Jackiethat the swift shift of focus is central to what’s so jacked about systemic inequalities (and our impulse to pretend they don’t exist) to begin with.

It’s no coincidence that this is what Sommers and her allies are focusing on.


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