Notes and Comment Blog

A win for polygyny

Aug 28th, 2014 6:02 pm | By

A federal judge in Utah struck down part of the state’s ban on polygamy as unconstitutional yesterday.

US district judge Clark Waddoups ruled in December that a section of Utah law that prohibits “cohabitation” violates the Constitution’s religious freedom and privacy protections. He reaffirmed this decision in his Wednesday ruling, in which he also provided attorney’s fees to the plaintiff, Kody Brown, a star of TLC reality show Sister Wives.

A law against cohabitation does sound very intrusive. On the other hand what if it’s just a euphemism for a certain kind of exploitation?

“The decision brings closure for our family and further reaffirms the right of all families to be free from government abuse,” Brown said in a statement on his lawyer’s website. “While we know that many people do not approve of plural families, it is our family and based on our religious beliefs. Just as we respect the personal and religious choices of other families, we hope that in time all of our neighbors and fellow citizens will come to respect our own choices as part of this wonderful country of different faiths and beliefs.”

“Plural families” is an interesting euphemism. They’re not just generally plural; they’re one man with several women, never the other way around.

The Guardian talked to Marci Hamilton.

“The decision is unfortunate in that the judge did not take seriously the ramifications of polygamy, which are the the oppression of women and children – it’s just the way the system works,” said Marci Hamilton, a professor at Cardozo School of Law. “Partly, Utah is to blame because they did a lousy job of presenting the evidence of the effects of polygamy and the way that the system operates.”

Hamilton said she believes it is unlikely that Waddoups’ ruling will be upheld if it is brought to an appeals court. Utah attorney general Sean Reyes had said earlier that the state would appeal the decision.

I think polygyny is generally very bad for women and children, but I’m not sure what should be done to address that.

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

How to demonstrate that Sarkeesian is right

Aug 28th, 2014 1:53 pm | By

Anita Sarkeesian released a new video the other day, so of course Anita Sarkeesian had to go stay with a friend the other night because she got such direct graphic threats complete with her actual address attached.

Since the project launched on Kickstarter way back in 2012, the gaming community has been treated to an incessant, deeply paranoid campaign against Tropes vs. Women generally and Sarkeesian personally. This includes a flood of violent comments and emails, videos documenting ways in which she’s not a “real gamer,” a game in which you can punch her in the face, and a proposed documentary devoted to exposing the “lies” and “campaign of misinformation” from what is, again, a collection of opinions about video games. Also, now, she’s apparently spent the night with friends after contacting law enforcement about “some very scary threats” against her and her family. She’s published a page of extremely violent sexual threats from the person who apparently drove her to call the police; in it, the user mentions the location of her apartment and threatens to kill her parents, who the user names and claims to be able to find.

That shouldn’t happen.

This is an unusual low in the Anita Sarkeesian saga, but death threats in general are more or less par for the course for many women (and men) online. They can easily cross the line from bluster to menace — UK journalist Laurie Penny, for instance, contacted police in 2013 after being sent a very specific bomb threat. In this case, the vitriol might have been compounded by the support her latest video received from popular developers and media figures. Joss Whedon and William Gibson, among others, mentioned it, and Tim Schafer of Double Fine — known for Psychonauts and the Kickstarter-funded Broken Age spent several hours fielding responses after urging everyone in game development to watch it “from start to finish.”

So it becomes imperative to underline how right she is by performing the whole violent-threat dance that exemplifies the kind of thinking she’s talking about.

The threats against Sarkeesian have become a nasty backdrop to her entire project — and her life. If the trolls making them hoped for attention, they’ve gotten it. They’ve also inexorably linked criticism of her work, valid or not, with semi-delusional vigilantism, and arguably propelled Tropes vs. Women to its current level of visibility. If a major plank of your platform is that misogyny is a lie propagated by Sarkeesian and other “social justice warriors,” it might help to not constantly prove it wrong.

Wouldn’t it be nice if misogyny were just a big fairy tale?

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


Aug 28th, 2014 1:24 pm | By

Samira Ahmed notes the Talk to the (Male) Community Leaders approach to dealing with social tension and the dire consequences for non-leaders who have the bad luck to be also women.

Back in 2001, the London charity Southall Black Sisters, which has been campaigning against domestic violence since the 1970s, put me in touch with a social worker who had recently been transferred to Bradford. She told me how she had found herself the only woman at a post-riot “community relations” meeting where, she claimed, community leaders asked the police to pass any complaints of domestic violence from Pakistani women straight to them. They would “sort it” themselves. The worker said she challenged this, but felt that if she hadn’t been there the police would have agreed.

It is this attitude – a “bullying and macho” deal-making culture involving the local authority and the male, self-appointed leadership of the Pakistani Muslim community – that the Rotherham report pinpointed.

If you talk only to the men…you’re pretty likely to miss concerns peculiar to women. That’s especially true in a particularly patriarchal sort of “community,” which is also the type of “community” most likely to have only male “leaders.” Snake swallowing its tail, innit. It’s a patriarchal community so women often get bad treatment but the leaders are all men so nobody cares, neither inside the community nor outside it.

The victims weren’t only white girls, but the police and council focus on talking only to older male Muslims meant they weren’t aware of this. Women and girls living on their own were being targeted by Pakistani landlords and forced into sex with other men, afraid to report their abuse for fear of social stigma. The report found: “One of the local Pakistani women’s groups described how Pakistani-heritage girls were targeted by taxi drivers and on occasion by older men lying in wait outside school gates at dinner times and after school.”

Women and girls living on their own are seen as whores and thus fair game and thus of no concern to the police, apparently.

It’s worth also pointing out that many of those expressing righteous fury at the cover-up now were once outraged at the very idea that such things were going on in Britain. In 1997, Peter Kosminsky made the award-winning ITV drama No Child of Mine, about so-called “conveyor-belt” sexual grooming. He told me in 2012: “When we were researching No Child of Mine, the victims – those that had the guts to speak up – were viewed with scepticism, ignored or accused of making false allegations to discredit individuals against whom they had a grudge. The woman behind No Child of Mine was publicly branded a liar.”

So yes, the Rotherham scandal, as in Oxford and Rochdale, is about race. But look deeper and it’s really about wider attitudes by some men to women and girls. Or “slags”, as I notice in the search terms that people use everyday to find articles about these cases. And that might be the most uncomfortable truth.

It’s uncomfortable as all hell.

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

Guest post: No malice was necessary but it set the stage

Aug 28th, 2014 12:58 pm | By

Originally a comment by Maureen Brian on Orwellian but unofficial.

Sociopolitical sensitivities are data! QFT!

And just as I was doing this another South Yorkshire story popped up, this one about the strange habit of the cops in treating information differently depending upon whether or not they can make it conform to their pre-conceptions.

It is interesting to observe all this “it must be racism” or “it must be because it’s the Labour Party” or “it’s not fair to pick on Rotherham” or “how were we supposed to know?” nonsense.

I have no academic study to quote figures from, so don’t ask, and what I say is based upon living in either West Yorkshire or inner city London for almost all of the time since the autumn of 1960. It is based on observation, close and direct observation.

Let us take two recently arrived populations – those from Pakistan and Kashmir compared with those from the former British colonies of the Caribbean. In both cases the men arrived first and did a certain amount of classic male bonding for reassurance and protection. After a time women and children of both communities began to arrive. And there the similarity ends.

The Afro-Caribbean population continued the ways of a post-slave society where the mother and grandmother provided the strong, stable centre – protecting property, making decisions, the natural point of reference for community and getting together to organise – while the men went off and found work and other women as and when the chance was there.

The Pakistanis came from a tribal form of social organisation – male dominated, hierarchical, sometimes punitive. Even those of Pakistani descent who came via a couple of generations in Africa and were far more liberal could relate to this way of being organised. Any community outreach directed to this community would be met with “leaders” chosen traditionally and not a woman in sight!

So what has this got to do with Rotherham? Well, the police in places like Lambeth in the ’60s and ’70s kept wanting to talk to the men about “important things” and were unwilling to be told that those men were long gone or worse than useless – more colourfully expressed than that, though – so they should talk to the women who were both present and competent. Some found this difficult.

But where the largest incoming group was from, say, the Mirpur District of Kashmir from which a high proportion of UK Pakistanis come then they found a male dominated, pyramid-shaped, authoritarian set-up to which they could relate because in those days the police were just like that, too. No malice was necessary but it set the stage for later difficulty in dealing with the problems of women and children.

None of this detracts from the ability of the beat copper to give the youth of either community a hard time, though we do tend not to shoot them.

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

How to argue about how to argue about how to argue

Aug 28th, 2014 12:10 pm | By

Today’s installment of Dawkins setting the world straight on everything.

(Have you noticed that he’s tweeting in this way more now that so many people have made it so clear to him that they think setting the world straight via Twitter is not part of his skill set? I’ve noticed that.)

Chastity deprives people of existence. It doesn’t kill people. Early abortion resembles abstinence not murder. Not everyone understands this

The reason is simple. An unconceived potential person is not a person. An undifferentiated embryo is not a person. Acorns are not oak trees.

“We get it”. Yes i know YOU get it, but you aren’t everybody. There are millions who don’t get it & think all abortion is absolutely wrong.

Yes, there are, but do you really think you’re going to convince many of them otherwise with these tweets? There may be a few who have never thought of it that way before and see those tweets and are jolted into thinking of it that way for the first time. But there will also be many who see those tweets and just think they demonstrate how simplistic atheists are, and that’s not a good outcome. That’s why Twitter is the wrong medium for the project of reaching the millions who don’t get it & think all abortion is absolutely wrong.

The Daily Beast has an article by Elizabeth Picciuto saying Dawkins would fail Philosophy 101. That’s harsh. I don’t think he would; but I do think these tweets would.

Lately, Richard Dawkins seems to scan the world for sore spots, take a good poke, and revel in the ensuing outcry. A few weeks ago, he proclaimed thatstranger rape is worse than date rape. Last Wednesday, he tweeted that if a fetus was diagnosed with Down syndrome, the mother should “abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.” Predictably, he was deluged with angry responses; as of this writing, he is still responding to critics.

During this latest battle, his most vocal opponents have been pro-life, but you don’t have to be pro-life to take issue with what he’s been saying. If you believe, as Dawkins purports to, that your moral opinions should be informed by empirical evidence and logic, then that alone is excellent reason to object to the totality of what he’s been saying.

No wait; there’s more to it than that. Your moral opinions need to be informed by more than empirical evidence and logic; that’s what I’ve been saying all along. They need to be informed by empathy, too. You need a working Theory of Mind and a functioning sense of how other people with other minds may feel about things, in order to have moral opinions that are worth anything.

Each academic I interviewed for this story—all of whom were critical of Dawkins’ recent Twitter comments about abortion—emphasized their admiration for Dawkins’ scientific and popular writings. There’s no question Dawkins is intelligent, so it’s not clear why, despite lacking a background in bioethics, he thought himself qualified to dispense advice on a nuanced bioethical issue.

Well in a way we all have to think ourselves qualified to – at least – have opinions on such subjects, because we may have to act on them. But she didn’t say “to have opinions,” she said “to dispense advice” – and that is indeed another level. And when it’s “to dispense advice on Twitter”…yes you know what just don’t.

Ari Kohen, associate professor of political science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, maintains a highly entertaining blog devoted, in part, to terrible apologies—Dawkins’ non-apology apology among them. As Kohen points out to The Daily Beast, Dawkins never actually apologizes for what he said. He only apologizes for the Twitter-storm that followed.

Blaming the Twitter-storm is the new Blaming the victim.

“He shifts from an emphasis on maximizing happiness to focusing on the well-being of a single, non-existent individual,” Paul Raymont, an instructor of philosophy at the University of Toronto, writes in an email to The Daily Beast. “It’s as if he realized, as he was expressing this idea, that it didn’t sound very nice, so he hastily threw in the claim that the Down syndrome child is better off not existing.”

In more recent tweets, Dawkins has been suggesting that with every action, we change the future children who are born. Since anything we do changes our future children, why shouldn’t we maximize the happiness experienced by future children? seems to be what he’s asking. Raymont points out that random occurrences that change the future are entirely different from a decision to terminate a pregnancy due to a Down syndrome diagnosis. The latter involves deciding what kind of child to have. Raymont adds, “For Dawkins to publicly recommend doing this and to say that the alternative is immoral is for him to send a very clear message about existing people who have Down syndrome—he’s saying that they’re morally inferior to the rest of us and that future generations would be much better off without their kind. He may not have intended to send that message, but he has done so (whether he knows it or not). He has also, whether he knows it or not, expressed moral disapproval of parents who had prenatal tests but decided to go ahead and have the Down syndrome baby.”

As many people pointed out.

Julian Suvalescu, professor of practical ethics at Oxford, has advocated a position he calls “procreative beneficence.” He argues that given a choice, a parent should choose a child most likely to live the life with the greatest wellbeing—but knowing only that a fetus has Down syndrome is not enough to determine its wellbeing. “[Suvalescu’s] procreative beneficence does not in any simple way imply anything about fetuses with three copies of chromosome 21,” says Munthe. “It is perfectly consistent to argue that, had I some information that a future child of mine would grow up to be a splendid popularizer of evolutionary biology and effective critic of institutionalized religious bigotry, but also an inconsiderate and arrogant philosophical dilettante, and had the choice to have another child possessing the first two but lacking the latter traits, procreative beneficence may very well recommend that I chose this other child.”

Oh, zing.

“We all know that Dawkins is very smart and can write great, wonderfully clear books about science. So, when his statements become so sloppy and confused, I can only conclude that he hasn’t invested much effort in formulating his ideas. He hasn’t put in the effort because he thinks ethics is pretty easy,” says Raymont. “He’s well known for insisting on the importance of gathering the relevant empirical data before settling one’s mind about something. But on the question of abortion and Down syndrome children, he seems not to have seen any need to consult the evidence.”

Dawkins’ impressive academic background, and his implications that any who disagree with him are simply not smart or logical enough, may intimidate some who would dissent. They may lead some of his supporters to think that those who disagree are so emotionally overwrought that they are incapable of thought. However, in this case, it is Dawkins who needs to consider the logical implications of what he’s saying.

And those two potential (and, as we’ve seen, actual) consequences are what I most object to. I think the “go away and learn to think” trope is terrible coming from a big name academic, and I think the re-enforcement of emotion-blind opinions among his fans is a terrible effect of that trope. I think it’s all a big mess.


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

Guest post: Or we can learn to understand sociopolitical sensitivities

Aug 28th, 2014 11:26 am | By

Originally a comment by Brony on Orwellian but unofficial.

As a pejorative, “Politically Correct” has lost its bite.

Good. Awareness of sociopolitical sensitivities is a good thing because it adds precision. It should be a neutral.

What we have is an Orwellian (but unofficial) “Thought Police”

Wait, what?

So the back and forth that society uses to come to decisions of current issues of importance is now the same as a government controlling expressions that implicitly support opponents or oppose the status quo? Maybe I’m missing some subtlety but this seems the literal opposite of the actual situation. Dawkins is receiving criticism, losing some supporters, and maybe even gaining some as a result of his actions (I would be very interested in correlations in that last group). You can’t frame the whole thing in terms of criticism and losing support as “Thought Police”.

That’s some serious conservative level whining at a changing culture right there.

Rotherham Police & Council were fearful of the Thought Police:
Let’s learn to lose our fear of the Thought Police.

Or we can learn to understand sociopolitical sensitivities so we can deal with them appropriately and contextually. Some matter, some don’t. Just ignoring them is how groups of little boys preferred to operate back in school.

Academics fly kites, try ideas on colleagues & students, often rejecting them after discussion. “What if . ..?” “Could it be that . . .?”

What is being asked is for the casualness and thoughtlessness to be avoided. Who tries ideas and ignores whole categories of responses? Sociopolitical sensitivities are data! Is beating on lived experience really part of the equation? I find it hard to believe this guy is a scientist but I know better.

I’ve made the same damn mistake as Dawkins around here a couple of times (maybe more than a couple), but I asked people to tell me why what I said was a problem because I wanted to know what happened to give them a painful reaction so I could accommodate that phenomena because I don’t want to hurt people. That Dawkins can’t do this (maybe won’t, I’m unsure about the filters that being an authority puts on your mind) is very concerning.

But also many responded with vitriol as if offended by the very idea of asking academic questions.

Did Dawkins link any of these? Because I am at the point where whenever anyone gives an opinion that is essentially a averaged stereotype of what they perceive I want links.

Maybe Twitter is not the place for fully worked out exposition. Maybe it is a good place for thinking aloud & seeing how ideas will fly.

Yes and if you started looking like you had the capacity to listen to people besides those you already agree with and who support you it would probably work out better. While we all try to avoid it we get to make mistakes, we get to accidentally piss people off, we get to accidentally hurt people. What matters is what you take from the experience and how you let it change you. Figuring out that part involves listening and showing that you comprehend independent of any agreement or disagreement.

This is what many of my tweets try to do: think aloud & see what others think. It works for some readers. If you don’t like it, don’t follow.

I fail to see the usefulness of thought experiments that categorically rule out some responses, or fail to anticipate or accommodate them. It suggests that you have “proper solutions” to the experiment already in mind.

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

“I notice you don’t pray with us in the morning.”

Aug 28th, 2014 10:46 am | By

A wonderful guest post at Pearl Osibu’s blog about no longer sharing your family’s religion and how painful it can be to try to negotiate that, by T I Ajibade.

Tears continued to stream down my mum’s face as she asked god why this had to happen to her.

I had to recant. My mum is hypertensive. I was afraid for her health. I had an ugly vision of waking up the next morning to find she’d died of a heart attack.

So I took my words back.

And burned with a thrumming sadness.

Burned that she thought I might be up to some suspicious activity simply because I wanted to leave religion; that she wouldn’t listen when I asked her to consider that there was just as much chance I’d have been born Moslem as I was born Christian; that she pegged my unbelief down to exposure to dangerous books; that she said she was glad I made known my stand now, so she would know how to give me some space henceforth; that whatever good name I had as a person faded for her and Aunt Jola simply because I did not have religion; that she wept as if I had done something that brought shame on her – Don’t let your father hear this.

And then another aunt…

In January this year, while I was dressing up for work, Aunt Lydia said there was something she’d been meaning to ask me about.

“I notice you don’t pray with us in the morning.” She was respectful, careful.

Tendrils of irritation curled up my stomach to my throat. Again? This prayer thing again? Is it so unimaginable to live under the same roof with an irreligious person, albeit a closeted one? Did it matter this much?

I gave her my usual excuse: Work preparations coinciding with morning prayers.

“What kind of preparations?” she scoffed. “Are you a woman?”

It was meant to be a mild rebuke, a reminder that what I thought was so important wasn’t quite so if I would open my eyes. Although I wasn’t going to lash out, I was officially angry. That she would dismiss my own priorities just to set her own religious agenda; that she would stereotype my gender on top of it all; that she would arbitrarily declare to me that “it is good to pray” without telling me why or how so. It seemed all that mattered was that I conform, regardless of my feelings and personal choices. What good am I at morning devotion if the entire exercise is lost on me? What use is it dragging myself to church on Sundays to avoid incident when all it does is bore me and make me feel imprisoned? In times like this, do Aunts Lydia and Jola and my mother remember that at the core of belief or unbelief is conviction? (Strangely, Aunt Jola uses that word a lot when talking faith.) If I am not convinced, how am I supposed to believe?

That’s a good question. I think the idea is that you’re supposed to obey first of all, and that conviction is a necessary result of obedience. It’s a very peculiar idea.

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

Orwellian but unofficial

Aug 27th, 2014 6:22 pm | By

Dawkins offers another installment of The Philosophy of Twitter today.

Today I posted a series of tweets, relevant to this discussion and designed to be read in order:-

As a pejorative, “Politically Correct” has lost its bite. It’s now a cliché. What we have is an Orwellian (but unofficial) “Thought Police”.

Rotherham Police & Council were fearful of the Thought Police:
Let’s learn to lose our fear of the Thought Police.

Academics fly kites, try ideas on colleagues & students, often rejecting them after discussion. “What if . ..?” “Could it be that . . .?”

It’s a pity if we have to look over shoulder for fear of PC Thought Police, Verbal Vigilantes, Feeding Frenzy of Political Piranhas.

Yesterday I raised an academic, philosophical question on vulnerability of all our existences to apparently unconnected causes such as WW1.

And many responded in interesting ways. But also many responded with vitriol as if offended by the very idea of asking academic questions.

Maybe Twitter is not the place for fully worked out exposition. Maybe it is a good place for thinking aloud & seeing how ideas will fly.

This is what many of my tweets try to do: think aloud & see what others think. It works for some readers. If you don’t like it, don’t follow.

Okay let’s see how one of these ideas will fly – the idea that “Politically Correct” is vieux chapeau so now let’s talk about the Thought Police instead.

That doesn’t fly very well, as far as I’m concerned. The problems with “politically correct” are not just that it’s stale. One problem with it is that it tends to be right-wing and ill-natured. Yes, concerns about nomenclature can sometimes come across as meddlesome point-scoring or tiresome literalness or any number of other annoying things, but then again contempt for concerns about nomenclature can come across as immovable smugness, too, so where does that leave us?

One place it leaves us is saying that “Thought Police” is hardly an improvement. It implies that we should never ever correct our own thinking. Well is that true? No. Of course it’s not true. We all used to think all kinds of things that we know recognize as both wrong and shitty. How do we learn better? For one thing, by being told. Complaining about the “Thought Police” just sounds like saying you’re already perfect as you are so shut up.

Katy Cordeth put it neatly on the RDF thread.

I dunno. PC Thought Police, Verbal Vigilantes, Feeding Frenzy of Political Piranhas.

These terms are politer than Cunt, Twat, Nazi, I’ll give you that.

They hardly seem designed to encourage rational, civil debate.

As I might have said before, I don’t twitter myself. Is it all just name calling on that network?


And she expanded on the point.

I’m actually a fan of political correctness. I think for the most part it’s awesome. We have this phenomenon to thank for the drop in racism, homophobia, sexism. Even if you just happen to be ginger and are picked on for it, your employer or headmaster will summon the guilty party to his office and read this bully the riot act. You might object to this but, like pork products being draped on the outside furniture of a religious establishment, no one other than the pig itself has cause to complain.

Seriously, how can any decent person not love PC? It’s only right wingers, Daily Mail/Express readers, Fox News viewers and other haters who rail against political correctness.

Yup, pretty much.


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

With her arms full of volumes

Aug 27th, 2014 5:30 pm | By

I like Mary Beard. I bookmarked her Times blog years ago, long before the Twitter rows. Rebecca Mead in the New Yorker has a profile of her.

Beard’s academic concerns have kept her busy for decades: she can be seen scouring the classics library at Cambridge with her arms full of volumes, like an eager undergraduate. But in recent years, and somewhat to her surprise, Beard has found herself cast in the very public role of a feminist heroine. Through her television appearances, she has become an avatar for middle-aged and older women, who appreciate her unwillingness to fend off the visible advancement of age. Beard does not wear makeup and she doesn’t color her abundant gray hair. She dresses casually, with minor eccentricities: purple-rimmed spectacles, gold sneakers. She looks comfortable both in her skin and in her shoes—much more preoccupied with what she is saying than with how she looks as she is saying it.

Identify! That’s me, except that I don’t have any gold sneakers. I have fancy socks, instead.

Beard, in her unapologetic braininess, is a role model for women of all ages who want an intellectually satisfying life. She estimates that she works thirteen hours a day, six days a week. On more than one occasion, I have e-mailed her at 8 p.m. or later from New York, expecting to hear from her by morning, only to discover an immediate and exhaustive reply in my inbox. Among those in the audience for “Oh Do Shut Up Dear!” was Megan Beech, a student at King’s College, whose spoken-word ode “When I Grow Up I Want to Be Mary Beard” was posted on YouTube last summer. (“She should be able to analyze Augustus’s dictums, or early A.D. epithets / Without having to scroll through death, bomb, and rape threats.”) Peter Stothard, the editor of the Times Literary Supplement, where Beard is the classics editor, sometimes appears with her at literary festivals; together they conduct a seminar on how to read a Latin poem. “Afterwards, a few people will come and talk to me,” he told me. “And there will be a line of schoolgirls and middle-aged women lining up to have their photo taken with Mary.”

Beard’s output is prodigious. She has written a dozen books, produces scholarly papers and book reviews by the pound, and appears not only on her own television programs but on shows such as “Question Time.” She is a frequent contributor to Radio 4, the British equivalent of NPR, offering audio essays on subjects as varied as dementia, the four-minute mile, and academic testing.

Hang on one second. Radio 4 is not exactly the British equivalent of NPR for one simple but crucial reason: it is about a billion times better. And that’s just Radio 4; there’s also Radio 3, which is the highbrow branch. Radio 4 (let alone Radio 3) isn’t as terrified of intelligence as NPR is, or as determined to sound warm and cuddly and non-threatening. NPR would never have a Mary Beard on.

Mead claims she’s even inspired an uptick in the popularity of classics among university students, which is brilliant if true.

Readers of Prospect, a political magazine, recently voted Beard the seventh-most-significant world thinker—behind Amartya Sen and Pope Francis, but above Peter Higgs, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist. In 2013, The Oldie, a magazine devoted to counteracting the unearned deference paid to youth in popular culture, named her its pinup of the year. And the Queen recently appointed her to the Order of the British Empire, for services to classical scholarship. Beard, who is generally a republican in the British sense, dithered about accepting it, and decided that she could refuse it only if she refrained from ever mentioning it. “So, I thought, would I really not tell anyone?” she wrote on her blog. “Answer, no, of course I’d blab . . . at some evening or other after half a bottle more of pinot grigio than I should have consumed.”

All right to accept it I think. Good for women, good for dons, good for classics.

Appearing on television made Beard famous in the U.K., but what has made her even more famous has been the suggestion, put forward by certain male observers, that she is too old or unprepossessing to be on television at all. A. A. Gill, the television critic for the Sunday Times, greeted her Pompeii series by remarking, “Beard coos over corpses’ teeth without apparently noticing she is wearing them. . . . From behind she is 16; from the front, 60. The hair is a disaster, the outfit an embarrassment.” Gill dismissed “Meet the Romans” by declaring that Beard “should be kept away from cameras altogether.”

Her response?

Beard responded to Gill’s snark, meanwhile, by contributing a piece to the Daily Mail in which she observed, “Throughout Western history there have always been men like Gill who are frightened of smart women who speak their minds, and I guess, as a professor of Classics at Cambridge University, I’m one of them.” She suggested that Gill, who had not enjoyed a university education, had been obliged to resort to insult as a substitute for well-reasoned argument.

Like so many. “Hur hur you ugly hur hur.”

Gill’s review of “Meet the Romans” had been a turning point, Beard explained. “That is when it became kind of a personal calling, because I spoke out and said, ‘Sorry, sunshine, this is just not on,’ ” she said. “The people who read the Mail are middle-aged women, and they look like me. They know what he’s saying. For all the very right-wing, slightly unpleasant populism that the Mail trades in, its readership is actually people who know an unacceptable insult when they see it. They’ve got gray hair. He’s talking about them.”

And Mary Beard has a way to reply, so it’s good that she did and does.


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


Aug 27th, 2014 4:53 pm | By

I was just looking at Peter Boghossian’s website. On the About page there’s a collection of comments about his book A Manual for Atheists. I’ll just help him plug the book.

Commentary and Reviews

“Peter Boghossian’s techniques of friendly persuasion are not mine, and maybe I’d be more effective if they were. They are undoubtedly very persuasive–and very much needed.”
–Richard Dawkins

“If I started reading A Manual for Creating Atheists as a Christian I would have been an atheist by the time I finished it. Peter Boghossian’s book is the perfect companion to Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. They should be bundled like an atheist software package to reprogram minds into employing reason instead of faith, science instead of superstition.”
–Michael Shermer

“Dr. Peter Boghossian’s ‘A Manual for Creating Atheists’ is a precise, passionate, compassionate and brilliantly reasoned work that will illuminate any and all minds capable of openness and curiosity. This is not a bedtime story to help you fall asleep, but a wakeup call that has the best chance of bringing your rational mind back to life.”
–Stefan Molyneux, host of Freedomain Radio, the largest and most popular philosophy show on the web

“A ‘how to’ book for the ages. Boghossian manages to take a library’s worth of information and mold it into a concise and practical tome to guide through the murky waters of magical thinking, docking the reader safely on the shores of reason, logic and understanding. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, and highly recommend it.”
–Al Stefanelli, author of A Voice of Reason In An Unreasonable Word-The Rise of Atheism On Planet Earth and Free Thoughts-A Collection Of Essays By An American Atheist

“This is a manual that we can use in our everyday interaction with those infected by the faith virus. The skills and concepts are both practical and learnable. As the founder and Chairman of the Board of, I recommend that all of our facilitators and leaders not only read and share this book, but actually learn how to use the questioning and dialogue techniques Dr. Boghossian illustrates. It will help you avoid common mistakes and give greater value to the conversations you have with the religious.”
–Darrel Ray, Ed.D., author of The God Virus, & Sex and God

“There is nothing else on the market like this book that helps atheists talk believers out of their faith. Every atheist interested in doing so, or who talks to believers about faith at all, should read it. It’s both needed and brilliant!”
–John W. Loftus, author of Why I Became an Atheist and The Outsider Test for Faith

“Boghossian has provided an indispensable chart book for all of us who must navigate the rising sea of magical thinking that is inundating America today.”
–Victor Stenger, Ph.D., author of God: The Failed Hypothesis and God and the Atom

“If we want to live in world that is safer and more rational for all, then this is the guidebook we have been waiting for. Relying on extensive experience and a deep concern for humanity, Peter Boghossian has produced a game changer. This is not a book to read while relaxing in a hammock on a sunny afternoon. This is the how-to manual to take into the trenches of everyday life where minds are won and lost in the struggle between reason and madness.”
–Guy P. Harrison, author of 50 Simple Questions for Every Christian and Race and Reality

“After the Four Horsemen comes the infantry—the army of evangelical rationalists making the world safe from faith. Boghossian’s book is both clarion call and roadmap for these heroic new battalions. Onward atheist soldiers!”
–Tim van Gelder, Ph.D., Principal, Austhink Consulting, Principal Fellow, University of Melbourne, Eureka Prizewinner for Critical Thinking

“Since atheism is truly Good News, it should not be hidden under a bushel. Peter Boghossian shows us how to take it to the highways and the byways. I love it!”
–Dan Barker, Co-President of the Freedom From Religion Foundation

“I predict that within one week of the publication of this book it will be banned in at least 20 countries.”
–Kevin Boileau, Ph.D., author of Essays on Phenomenology and the Self

“A book so great you can skip it and just read the footnotes. Pure genius.”
–Christopher Johnson, co-founder, The Onion

“I was so impressed by your book, and have been using the techniques every time I go out against the street preachers on a Friday or Saturday night with my atheist group. The fact is, it’s perfect. It’s simple, and (most importantly) accessible. The same techniques you outline can be used in all walks of life, also, for social justice issues, to boardroom negotiations. Your book does what no other atheist/skeptic book has done in the past, it gives you somewhere to go to after you’ve read everything and said, “well, that was fascinating, where the hell do I go to now?” It works. It really does.”
—Jake Farr-Wharton, author of Letters to Christian Leaders: Hollow Be Thy Claims, and host of The Imaginary Friends Show

“A brave, clear book, crammed with useful insights. Boghossian’s call for honest, evidence-based thinking has implications far beyond its focus on debates about God and religious faith. A Manual for Creating Atheists is a strong challenge to ideology and propaganda, wherever we find them.”
—Russell Blackford, Ph.D, author Freedom of Religion and the Secular State; co-author 50 Great Myths About Atheism

“Up to now, most atheists have simply criticized religion in various ways, but the point is to dispel it. In A Manual For Creating Atheists, Peter Boghossian fills that gap, telling the reader how to become a “street epistemologist” with the skills to attack religion at its weakest point: its reliance on faith rather than evidence. This book is essential for nonbelievers who want to do more than just carp about religion, but want to weaken its odious grasp on the world.”
—Jerry Coyne, Ph.D, author of Why Evolution is True

“Excellent application of science, philosophy, and strategy for breaking through ideological and psychological barriers to freethought, all in terms anyone can understand and apply. Delightfully novel and controversial, this is the kind of thing I’ve long wanted and we need more of: bringing practical philosophy to the common man and woman.”
—Richard Carrier, Ph.D., author of Sense and Goodness without God

“This book is a feisty, tough-minded attempt to undo what the author sees as the profound damage done to society by faith. There is something here that lots of people are likely to get angry about: Liberals, academics, feminists, psychologists, politicians, progressives, and libertarians—and everybody in between. The book is a Molotov cocktail of ideas, arguments, policy proposals, thought experiments, encouragements, and denunciations.”
—Steven Brutus, Ph.D., author of Religion, Culture, and History: A Philosophical Study of Religion

That’s 17 endorsements! Not too shabby, is it.

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

Guest post: Not as comfortable for the media to talk about as “political correctness”

Aug 27th, 2014 4:20 pm | By

Originally a comment by Dan on In Rotherham.

Rotherham is my home town. I was there today and watched the Sky News helicopter hover overhead. What we’ve learned from this is horrifying.

But the media are running with the race angle (or, the wrong race angle), thereby smothering other important issues.

The report finds no evidence that the lack of action was down to fear of being thought of as racist, though it notes this perception. Nor does the report provide any support for the racist/xenophobic narrative that white girls were targeted by Asian/Muslim men because of some inherent hatred or contempt of the latter by the former in a kind of deliberate campaign or religious/cultural war.

There was a downplaying of the ethnicity of the perpetrators, which contributed to the invisibility and denial of abuse within the “Asian” communities (already underreported – but it’s clear that Asian girls were also victims, as you would expect) and the perception that abuse was a whites-only problem. Pakistani-background and other women’s groups in the town complained about that, and the tendency for the authorities to communicate via male-dominated religious/community structures. That’s serious in itself, but it’s not the ethnicity angle the media are presenting. “Political correctness” did not prevent the offenders being brought to justice; nobody said, “better not pursue this in case someone thinks I’m racist” or “Asian men are off-limits”. The report is clear that the inquiry found no individual cases which were affected by such considerations. But the policy of downplaying ethnicity in order to avoid inflaming community tensions (misjudged because, well, we’re there anyway now) had the effect of maintaining the conspiracy of silence about the abuse of Asian girls (abuse victims usually know their victims, so if you’ve got “Asian gangs” “targeting” “vulnerable white girls”, you better also look closer to home). That’s the real race angle, but it’s not the headline the media want, which is “anti-racism let child abusers go free”.

What we’re not hearing so much about, because it’s not as comfortable for the media to talk about as “political correctness” is the fact that the (mainly white, of course) police often regarded the victims as willing participants – as effectively prostitutes (and of course we know how misogynists regard prostitutes). That they were underage appears not to have been significant. The police often refused to take action, or indeed the report records occasions when it was the victims (or those trying to help them) who were punished. Of course, the worst of the British media have been complicit in this stereotyping of young girls (let alone actual prostitutes) too: look at the coverage of any attacks on prostitutes or other “undeserving” women or girls – they “asked for it” is still a common trope. We shouldn’t let them get away with that while whipping up a race war.

The report is also clear that some agencies/professionals did a lot to draw attention to the seriousness of the problem. But they were not believed, or dismissed as troublemakers, or the seriousness was diminished and held not to be a priority. In addition to underresourcing, there were lots of other managerial and leadership problems. The extent of sexual exploitation of young girls was regarded as an exaggeration or as just a question of the girls being “out of control”.

What Rotherham needs is for the right heads to roll and proper strategies being put in place. What it doesn’t need is the pseudo-narrative about “political correctness” to bolster a racist strategy of tension, while leaving unremarked the remarkable consilience of perceptions about the girls in question between offenders and police and other authorities.


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

Girls are told to change

Aug 27th, 2014 3:54 pm | By

Soraya Chemaly doesn’t want to have to stick her fingers in her drink to avoid being raped.

Every few months, a new product to help women avoid rape hits the market. This week’s is an innovative new nail polish that can identify the presence of drugs when dipped in a drink.

But the commonest rape drug is alcohol, so that’s a very limited fix. Besides, hygiene.

I don’t want to dip my nails into a drink. Or stop wearing my hair in a ponytail. Or start wearing hairy tights. Before I die, I’d like to not have toask a man to walk me home at night. Cool new nail polish is just the latest in way for us to adapt to rape.

From the moment we are born, girls are told to change: change our clothes, our hair, our belt buckles, our underwearour walks, our commutes, our friends, even our vaginas.

Instead we should be changing the world.

Every time we focus on making girls and women individually responsible for avoiding rape, we lose the opportunity to address the systemic root problem that our mainstream culture grows rapists like weeds. Despite my snark, I do understand the need to balance safety with change. I don’t doubt the good intentions of the inventors of these products, but their true value resides less in their questionable efficacy than in the fact that young men like the creators of this one are engaged in confronting rape culture. However, each and every instance of “how to avoid rape” that media takes up is one less instance of explaining rape and reducing its pervasive threat.

Systemic problems need systemic solutions.

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

The buck stops somewhere

Aug 27th, 2014 3:35 pm | By

So maybe there are people in Rotherham who should be held accountable for what happened? Like Shaun Wright for instance?

The Labour party has called for the resignation of South Yorkshire’s police and crime commissioner, Shaun Wright, in the wake of the child sex abuse scandal in Rotherham.

Wright was a Labour cabinet member for children and young people’s services at Rotherham council from 2005 to 2010 when he received three reports about widespread abuse but failed to act, according toProf Alexis Jay’s damning report on the sexual exploitation of 1,400 children over 16 years in the South Yorkshire town.

Speaking publicly for the first time since the report was published, Wright insisted on Wednesday that he had acted properly, and rejected calls for him to go.

Hmm. If it were true that he acted properly, then what happened wouldn’t have happened.

Wright told the BBC: “The scale of the problem has come as a surprise to me.” He said he was not aware of the “industrial scale” of the abuse.

As he defended his position, a Labour party spokesman told reporters asking for Ed Miliband’s view on the matter that Wright should quit. “The report into child abuse in Rotherham was devastating in its findings. Vulnerable children were repeatedly abused and then let down. In the light of this report, it is appropriate that South Yorkshire police and crime commissioner Shaun Wright should step down,” he said. The call has been echoed by David Blunkett, the former Labourhome secretary and Sheffield MP.

Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, told BBC radio’s The World at One that Wright should stand down because “of the failures of leadership”. He said: “It’s important that people in positions of responsibility take responsibility.”

That’s the usual approach, I believe. Even if the people at the top think they “acted properly” they’re still supposed to take responsibility if all the wheels come off. That’s one of the downsides of being at the top.

Rotherham’s Labour council leader, Roger Stone, resigned within hours of the publication of Jay’s report.

There have been repeated calls for Wright to do the same. Education minister Nick Gibb said those responsible for policy decisions which contributed to the scandal “should be held to account”.

He told ITV News: “It is quite appalling that the more vulnerable the children, the more horrific their stories, the less they are believed by the statutory authorities. And those that took those policy decisions I think should be held to account.”

People are taking a hard look at his record now.

As calls intensified on Wednesday for Shaun Wright to step down as police commissioner, his record as Rotherham council’s cabinet member for children and young people’s services came under uncomfortable scrutiny.

Wright took up the post in April 2005, staying in the job until 2010, and served 12 years in total as a Labour councillor in Rotherham. Shortly after he took over responsibility for children and young people, an Ofsted inspection in 2006 declared Rotherham’s children’s services department to be “good”.

Three years into his tenure, following an unannounced inspection in August 2009, Ofsted downgraded the department to “performs poorly” – its lowest rating – saying there was “sufficient concern that the safety of children cannot be assured”.

Then a year later it was declared back to ok again.

Wright told BBC’s Look North programme on Wednesday that he was “surprised” by the scale of sexual exploitation suffered by children in Rotherham since 1997. Yet according to Professor Alexis Jay’s investigation, he commissioned a series of reports directly addressing the problem of child sexual exploitation (CSE) in the town while in office. All made abundantly clear that large numbers of children were being groomed for sex by gangs of mainly Asian males.

So how could he be surprised? Did he just forget the whole thing?

Jay said that by 2005, when Wright took over responsibility for the protection of vulnerable young people, neither councillors nor senior officers in the council could say “we didn’t know” about CSE. Seminars for elected members and senior officers in 2004-05 presented the abuse “in the most explicit terms”, said Jay.

In her report, Jay notes that executives within Rotherham children’s social care services formally recognised the problem of child sexual exploitation back in 2001, though there were many known cases of CSE in the years before then.

She said the council and police ignored “stark evidence” from reports in 2002, 2003 and 2006, which “could not have been clearer in their description of the situation in Rotherham. The first of these reports was effectively suppressed because some senior officers disbelieved the data it contained. This had led to suggestions of cover-up. The other two reports set out the links between child sexual exploitation and drugs, guns and criminality in the borough. These reports were ignored and no action was taken to deal with the issues that were identified in them.”

Apparently Labour is telling him if he doesn’t want to be pushed he’d better hurry up and jump.




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

On Frontline

Aug 27th, 2014 12:12 pm | By

I watched the first hour of a re-run of Frontline’s Secrets of the Vatican last night. It’s very powerful.

There’s one part where a middle-aged woman describes in detail her rape by her priest when she was 8 years old, and it broke my heart. The detail isn’t physical, but behavioral – what he said, how he looked at her, his tone of voice, what he threatened her with, how he walked away and how he closed the door behind him. And then what she did after that, and how she felt.

And there are men who break your heart too. Several of them.

Milwaukee, we learn (not that it’s new…), was a standout for cold callous self-interested bullying and ass-covering. Who was in charge of that? Timothy motherfucking Dolan. Is that how he got to be a cardinal and live in that nice house in Manhattan? By doing such a good job of shutting up the victims in Milwaukee?

The Vatican is a “sovereign nation” (thanks to Mussolini, which Frontline doesn’t mention, and should have) so it doesn’t have to hand over its archives to anyone. Cases have to be dealt with locally, one by one. Excellent wheeze if you’re in charge of a bunch of rapey priests.

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

Inhibitions from confronting social attitudes

Aug 27th, 2014 11:54 am | By

Al Razi, an Ex-Muslim and member of the CEMB forum, has a piece about the Rotherham mess at Left Foot Forward.

…we must ask if ideological multiculturalism as a political, social policy leads to a situation in which a cover up of uncomfortable issues becomes inevitable. When this happens, suffering and abuse occurs, and rather than dealing boldly with it, what results is a pattern of denial, obfuscation and continuance.

Multiculturalism concerned exclusively with communal religious identity politics, pursued as a social policy, is deeply reactionary and leads to the oppression of women who feel its effect most acutely. It dehumanises us all, because it asserts that we are not individuals, but members of religious or ethnic groups who must be dealt with according to the mediated authority of ‘community leaders’. It creates inhibitions from confronting social attitudes that must be addressed urgently, and in doing so, it allows social problems to flourish.

It’s an issue with the Catholic church, too, especially in the US, where many Catholics are recent immigrants or the children of less-recent immigrants, and subject to the usual outgroup-ostracism and attendant disadvantages. That can make some people leery of being critical of the church…and you know the rest.

The taboos that this form of communalist identity politics engender lead to the perpetuation of reactionary attitudes and effects. The damage it can do to our social fabric, trust, and individual freedoms is an attack on everything that the Left should be defending.

The time has come for the British Left to actively defend the secular space and oppose the assumptions and practise of reactionary communalist identity politics as a social policy, and truly cosmopolitan values that reject cultural and moral relativism must be central to our movement.

It can be difficult, and tricky, but it’s the only way to go.

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

A strong correlation

Aug 27th, 2014 11:02 am | By

Merrill Miller at The Humanist asks why poor people are more religious. She starts with two New York Times blog posts, one about areas of the US where poverty is concentrated and the other about the apparent tendency of those areas to favor religious fundamentalism more than others.

These findings from The Upshot are reinforced by previous research into the connections between religion and poverty. According to a 2010 Gallup poll, there is a strong, positive correlation between strict adherence to religion and privation. But while the Gallup poll reports a link between religious devotion and poverty, it doesn’t provide any insight into why it exists.

A study by independent research Dr. Tom Rees, published in the Journal of Religion and Society, suggests that in places without strong social safety nets to provide people with opportunities for upward mobility, people are more likely to rely on religion for comfort.

People who get a shitty deal in the real world like to think about an unreal world to console themselves. So which is better? A good enough life that other-world consolation isn’t needed? Or a shitty life that can be endured only via fantasy?

Although religion can provide real assistance and a sense of security to disadvantaged individuals, that doesn’t mean it actually solves the problems associated with poverty. In fact, in an analysis of the aforementioned study, the British Humanist Association warned that government promotion of religion as a positive social influence could mask larger social problems that contribute to poverty, such as a lack of access to education.

It could also weaken the motivation to do something about the larger social problems that contribute to poverty. It could stunt the ability to be political about those larger social problems that contribute to poverty, and to fight hard to fix them. It could trick people into thinking it’s all part of God’s Plan and it’s ok because actually God loves poor people the best.

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

A mephitic hole in Yorkshire

Aug 26th, 2014 6:22 pm | By

Randeep Ramesh is sickened by the Rotherham report.

The putrid mess that oozes from the 160 pages of Alexis Jay’s report into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham is so thick that one gags rather than read the words.

Children in the town were systematically identified by gangs as vulnerable, seduced with drugs and drink, brainwashed into believing they were in a relationship with an adult and then used for sex, often raped before sometimes being trafficked to nearby cities to work as prostitutes.

The brutal violence that surrounded this depraved process was shocking. Children who refused to acquiesce to ever more macabre demands were doused in petrol, threatened with guns, made to witness brutally violent rapes and told they would be next if they told anyone.

We get numbed to it; we have to fight that. The violence in northern Nigeria…in Iraq…in the villages of India where dalit women are forced to clean up human shit every day of their lives…in Rotherham…We have to keep getting un-numbed to it.

What allowed these crimes to continue was not just that abused children were cowed into silence or mentally enslaved by older men, but that even when they spoke out they were met by a culture of disbelief from the authorities.

Time and time again, police and social workers appear to talk of mothers being unable to deal with children “growing up”.

In one instance, a girl of 12 was groomed, raped and then trafficked. The authorities “blamed the child … for placing herself at risk”.

In another case an 11-year-old girl had been sexually assaulted, then a year later found drunk in a car with a suspected abuser who had taken indecent pictures of her on his phone. She was declared to be at “no risk of sexual exploitation”.

If that’s no risk, what would at risk look like?

What made South Yorkshire perhaps more politically charged is that in many cases the victims were underage white girls and the perpetrators were Asian men.

There were other abuse cases – in Oxford and Telford – with the same mix of ethnicities.

The far right had a field day with slogans which cast Muslim men as dangerous paedophiles. The tabloids leapt on remarks made in 2012 by the judge in a widely reported Rochdale case, Gerald Clifton, who in sentencing nine Asian men for 77 years for abusing and raping up to 47 girls said: “I believe one of the factors which led to that is that they [the victims] were not of your community or religion.”

Discomfiting, isn’t it.

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

In the upright position

Aug 26th, 2014 6:04 pm | By

On a flight from Newark to Denver

A plane in the US had to be diverted and two passengers removed after one of them started a fight by using a banned device to stop the seat in front reclining.

The spat began on United Airlines flight 1462 because one passenger was using the Knee Defender, a $21.95 lock that attaches to a tray table and jams the reclining mechanism of the seat in front.

The male passenger, seated in a middle seat of row 12, used the device to stop the woman in front of him reclining while he was on his laptop, according to a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Ok can I just say something here?

Those seats should not recline. If the person in front of you reclines the seat you can’t use the tray table at all, and you have the top of that person’s head pretty much in your face. Reclining was ok when there was some room between the seats, but now that you can barely squeeze yourself into them, they just should not recline, period. Reclining the seat unless you’re on the edge of death or something is just abominably rude. I never recline the seat, any more than I throw my garbage over the top of my seat into the lap of the person behind me.

So, I’m sorry, my sympathies are with the guy with the device.

A flight attendant asked him to remove the device and he refused. The woman then stood up, turned around and threw a cup of water at him, the official said.

Nope, not reasonable. The airlines shouldn’t be letting people recline those seats.

The Federal Aviation Administration leaves it up to individual airlines to set rules about the device. United Airlines says it prohibits its use, like all major US airlines. Spirit Airlines and Allegiant Air take the reclining mechanisms out of their seats, leaving them permanently upright.

All the airlines should disable them. Period. We don’t get to lie down on the people next to us in the plane, so why should we be able to dump the back of our seat into the lap of the person behind us? It’s ridiculous.

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

Free markets and coercive religions: the best of both worlds

Aug 26th, 2014 5:40 pm | By

The Koch brothers are spending money to get libertarian ideas taught in schools, according to Slate.

The Edvantage, a project of the libertarian Institute for Humane Studies, bills itself as an online “curriculum hub for pioneering educators.” The website offers high school teachers and college professors educational videos, articles, and podcasts on topics including economics, history, and philosophy. But as people might expect from a think tank whose board is chaired by billionaire libertarian Charles Koch, most of the project’s economics content features two common themes: vilify government, promote the free market.

For example, teachers using Edvantage can find economics videos explaining how the Environmental Protection Agency is bad for the environment, how sweatshops are good for third-world workers, and how the minimum wage costs workers jobs. Content featuring opposing viewpoints, however, is sparse.

The curriculum according to Ayn Rand; what could possibly go wrong?

According to its website, Edvantage is funded by the John Templeton Foundation, whose core funding areas include “individual freedom and free markets.” Program director Daniel Green said through a foundation spokeswoman that the two-year, $739,000 grant is meant “to further Sir John Templeton’s objective of supporting education about the enhancement of individual freedom and free markets.” In addition to funding free-market initiatives, the foundation—founded by the billionaire global investor and mutual fund pioneer—supports a variety of other causes, including ones related to science and religion.  

That is to say, related to propaganda claiming that religion and science are totally compatible and that it’s just a big poopy myth that there is any conflict between them.

teachers who use Edvantage won’t find much ideological balance while researching content on the website’s economics pages. The educational materials selected by Edvantage for economics lessons are overwhelmingly anti-government and pro–free market. For example, a page of videos and articles on economic regulations includes videos that lament occupational licensing laws, explain how regulations are burdening food truck owners, and argue that free markets regulate product safety better than the government

Because what possible incentive could unregulated markets have to skimp on product safety?

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

In Rotherham

Aug 26th, 2014 4:10 pm | By

I’m reading the BBC live summary of the Rotherham report. It’s horrifying.

14:01: Evidence of the “appalling” abuse of at least 1,400 children in Rotherham, South Yorkshire over 16 years has been laid bare in a new report.
14:01: The inquiry was carried out by Professor Alexis Jay, a former chief inspector of social work in Scotland.
14:02: Her independent inquiry into how social services in Rotherham dealt with allegations of child sex abuse between 1997 and 2013 found girls as young as 11 were raped multiple times, trafficked to other towns and cities, beaten and doused in petrol.
14:04: The report, which has been published in the last few minutes, says: “The police and the council both failed in their duties to protect some of the most vulnerable children in the borough.”

And yet, they don’t work for the Vatican.

14:08: In the report, Prof Jay highlights a “collective failure” by the authorities to stop the abuse.
14:08: It also notes a “clear evidence of child sexual exploitation being disbelieved, suppressed or ignored”.
14:10: The report was commissioned by Rotherham Council in 2013. It followed the jailing of five men from Rotherham for sexual offences against girls in 2010.
14:11: Rotherham Council is expected to respond to the report later. Last year, the council’s chief executive, Martin Kimber, apologised to victims who had been “let down” by its “systemic failure”.
14:12: The inquiry found that a report highlighting the abuse was submitted to the police and the council in 2002, but “was effectively suppressed”.

Suppressed. So the Rotherham police and council acted like the Vatican even though they don’t work for the Vatican.

14:16: Councillors and council officials were told about the abuse in 2004 and 2005 “in the most explicit terms”, the report found. But it highlighted evidence of a “macho, sexist and bullying culture” within the council, which stopped it providing an effective response.
14:17: The report found that no priority was given by South Yorkshire Police to the issue of child sexual exploitation.
14:18: The 1,400 victims identified in the report include both girls and a small number of boys, Prof Jay clarifies in response to one question.
14:21: Prof Jay says there was evidence that senior people in the council and police wanted to “play down” the “ethnic dimensions” of the sexual exploitation for fear of being regarded as racist.

Macho, sexist, bullying, and anti-racist – or not anti-racist but unwilling to be regarded as racist. Impressive.

From the report:

Executive Summary:

No one knows the true scale of child sexual exploitation (CSE) in Rotherham over the years. Our conservative estimate is that approximately 1400 children were sexually exploited over the full Inquiry period, from 1997 to 2013.

In just over a third of cases, children affected by sexual exploitation were previously known to services because of child protection and neglect. It is hard to describe the appalling nature of the abuse that child victims suffered. They were raped by multiple perpetrators, trafficked to other towns and cities in the north of England, abducted, beaten, and intimidated. There were examples of children who had been doused in petrol and threatened with being set alight, threatened with guns, made to witness brutally violent rapes and threatened they would be next if they told anyone.
Girls as young as 11 were raped by large numbers of male perpetrators.

And it was all just buried.

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