Notes and Comment Blog

“These ladies have it in for men”

Jan 2nd, 2014 5:15 pm | By

Wow – libertarianism in all its glory.

alkonAmy Alkon @amyalkon

@kilianhekhuis @hypnotosov @OpheliaBenson @mistersugar Again, we have people CLUELESS about def of harassment – “severe, pervasive”

@kilianhekhuis @hypnotosov @OpheliaBenson @mistersugar Would you expect a man offended by convo to speak up or to go fetal position & tattle

@kilianhekhuis @hypnotosov @OpheliaBenson @mistersugar My suspicion: These ladies & others have it in for men & Bora was conven located.

Jesus. She accuses the women of lying, even though Bora never denied their accounts.

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

Oh but now it’s ironic

Jan 2nd, 2014 1:54 pm | By

From 2012 – how advertising today really is not all that much more “advanced” than it was in the 50s.

Man standing on a woman then? Man with a heavily shod foot on her throat now. The contemporary one is “advanced” in the usual sense that it makes her look as if violence=hawt sex.

Check them out. The Dolce & Gabbana gang rape one is especially…contemporary.

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

What is “toxic feminism”?

Jan 2nd, 2014 12:26 pm | By

Yesterday was happy new year, so it was a time for new beginnings and startings over. (But was it? Was it? Was it really? No, not really, but maybe starting a new calendar is enough to make it seem as if it is.) One starting over was that of Bora Zivkovic, who returned to Twitter for the first time since October 16. His first new beginning tweet heralded a blog post by Anton Zuiker, the co-founder (with Bora Z) of Science Online.

Bora Zivkovic @BoraZ

From @mistersugar, the best friend one can ever hope to have: Roots and bitters … Happy New Year!

Roots and bitters is a long (5500 words according to Zuiker) post about…Bora Zivkovic, mostly, with some heavily “literary” digressions.

All very friendly, and thus…rather alarming to people who were horrified by the (undenied) revelations about Bora Z in October. Back then he said he was wrong. Yesterday it was just – “Hi I’m back!”

He too did a New Year blog post. It was a year in review post. Here’s the part that covers October and after:

I went to Belgrade in October, but did not yet have time to write much about it.

Also in October I moved my blog from its spot at Scientific American back to its home here. For the three years that I was there – the best job with the best colleagues in the best magazine ever – I (as an author on several blogs there) accumulated 1,803,619 visits and 2,214,082 pageviews, which placed me at the all-time #2 spot right behind Katie Harmon (this probably still holds and will take a while for someone else to displace the two of us from the top two spots). If one looks at just my own, somewhat neglected A Blog Around The Clock, it collected 534,460 visits and 640,916 pageviews while it was on their site, if you want to do some mental calculation and add that to the Sitemeter numbers visible here on the sidebar.

After two and a half months of hiatus, I will continue blogging here. What about? I don’t know, I’ll have to play by ear and see how it develops and where it goes. I expect to write about science, about media, and more. Personal stories? Perhaps. We’ll see. I recently had plenty of time to be offline and read actual, physical books, so I may write some book reviews.

Hang in there, and let’s see in which new direction this blog goes over the next year. And thank you all for reading my stuff over the years – I promise, there will be more, and I hope it will get better.

Until then, though, make sure to read this beautiful post by Anton Zuiker, a perfect start for the new year – Roots and bitters: What to do when a friend hands you gentian.

Nothing about why he moved his blog from Scientific American. Nothing about why the hiatus. And then at the end, a link to a post in praise of himself, by the co-founder of Science Online, which he left because of the revelations of last October.

And then, there was a later tweet yesterday, after people had had time to read Zuiker’s long post.

Bora Zivkovic @BoraZ

Happy to see so many people (with just a couple of exceptions) deeply moved by this morning’s @mistersugar‘s post: …

And the cherry on the cake -

Amy Alkon @amyalkon

.@mistersugar@BoraZ What happened was said to be sex harassment (despite not meeting standards) & assumed to be true. Toxic feminism ruled

Toxic feminism. It’s “toxic feminism” for writers who are women to want it to be their writing that is getting them hired and encouraged, not the convenient slot between their legs.

The same old battle, just another round.

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

The child’s mother took her daughter to a doctor for treatment

Jan 2nd, 2014 11:39 am | By

Apparently in Australia they do prosecute FGM, or at least attempt to, or at least have made one such attempt. From the Sydney Morning Herald:

A Sydney father has been charged by police over the alleged genital mutilation of his infant daughter while they were holidaying overseas.

Police said the man and his family were on a holiday in February 2012 when the father allegedly organised for his nine-month-old daughter to undergo a procedure known as female circumcision.

About six months later, the child’s mother took her daughter to a doctor for treatment, and the NSW Police Child Abuse Squad was alerted.

That sounds like a hidden story. One imagines the mother’s reaction after the genital mutilation which she apparently had not agreed to. One imagines what condition she sought treatment for six months later. One shudders.

Police would not say in which country the family was holidaying at the time of the alleged incident.

How tactful.

H/t Ian.

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

Guest post: Brass bawls

Jan 2nd, 2014 9:39 am | By

Guest post by Reese Matthews.

Some in the US military’s chain of command are upset with the judicial system which has convicted at least one soldier of rape and harassment.

In their minds, any convictions amounts to an unfair trial system.

Dustup Over Military Appeals Judge Delaying Cases

Dozens of military criminal cases have been thrown into limbo because of a legal challenge over whether Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel improperly appointed a judge to the Air Force’s highest court, with attorneys raising questions about the judge’s independence amid increasing pressure over the military’s handling of sexual assault cases.


“The Secretary of Defense has been making a lot of statements related to sexual assaults, and here he is appointing Judge Soybel at will,” defense attorney Philip Cave, whose client was convicted in a sexual assault case now on appeal, told The Associated Press. “That creates not just an appointment problem, but a perception problem of whether or not Judge Soybel will be fair.”

The Air Force insists Soybel, who left the court in October, was unbiased and properly appointed. No hearings have been scheduled in the dispute.

Really? So sayeth the republicans and the defenders of the status quo. A memo that Hagel wrote on August 14th, 2013 was leaked, in which Hagel explicitly directed the courts to be impartial.

And by impartial, that means capable of rendering guilty verdicts when proven, not sweeping crimes under the rug.

Hagel aims to blunt Obama remarks on military sexual assault


“There are no expected or required dispositions, outcomes or sentences in any military justice case, other than what result from the individual facts and merits of a case and the application to the case of the fundamentals of due process of law,” Hagel wrote in the Aug. 6 memo, first reported by the New York Times.

In a directive dated Aug. 14, Hagel laid out those measures which include routine, independent reviews of sexual assault investigations, improving victim legal support, notification of top military leaders immediately after cases are reported, and prohibitions on inappropriate relations between trainers and trainees.

“Preventing the crime of sexual assault remains our focus,” Hagel wrote.

“When a crime does occur, we must ensure that victims’ rights are respected, they are provided responsive and timely support, and related investigations and judicial proceedings, if appropriate, are conducted in a thorough, professional, and fair manner.”

How unsurprising it is that the people who now complain about “impartiality” after legal convictions were the same people who supported George Bush’s kangaroo courts back in 2005. Bush and his gang of four (Rice, Ashcroft, Rumsfeld, Cheney) blathered about “the worst of the worst”, creating a sham court system to guarantee convictions. Instead, of more than a thousand held captive at Guantanamo, barely a handful have been convicted despite a weighted court.

And now that barely a handful of soldiers have been tried or convicted of rape, the same people are crying foul.

Nothing ever changes. And that’s exactly what some people want.


To my surprise, Ms. Benson asked me to write this item. My thanks to her for the opportunity.

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

Remember eleven days ago?

Jan 1st, 2014 5:00 pm | By

There was a lot of news coverage of LSE’s apology to Chris and Abhishek on December 20, which I somehow missed because I was looking at something else.

The BBC for example.

Prof Paul Kelly of the LSE told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme: “The law in this case was complex and given the complaint, with the backing of solicitors, looking for judicial review, we had to take legal advice.

“This was always a grey area. So yes, I got the judgement wrong but it was a complex decision and it’s important to make that clear.”

Prof Kelly added that in the UK there was no US-style First Amendment guaranteeing freedom of speech “without qualification”.

He said the university had to weigh up the Human Rights Act, the 2010 Equality act and the 1986 Universities Extension Act.

“Each one of those laws is perhaps clear, but when they all come together we have to make judgements.

“In general our attitude is very tough on promoting free speech at public events, lectures and student societies.

“This was a complex event because it was a welcome event. It’s when students from 130 countries arrive in the UK all together.

“Yes, freedom of speech still applies there, but it wasn’t the same as us objecting to a student society event or a public lecture, or as Christian, as he did later, host an event where students wore the T-shirts. That’s fine”.

Chris saw it differently.

Mr Moos said the university had not provided any evidence of complaints from students and the comments they had themselves received on the day had all been positive.

“You are judging us on something for which there is not evidence,” he said.

He argued that in fact the decision should have been straightforward. “It was simply two students exercising their right to freedom of expression that they have as much as any other student who might wear religious symbols or T-shirts expressing their faith.

“It was extremely shocking that the LSE still tries to justify their decisions.

“If somebody is wearing a racist or violent or gory T-shirt, that would be a totally different situation.”

He said their T-shirts did not offend or harass anyone, not even by the most stringent standards.

“What I would ask Paul is, ‘Will you actually apologise for the actual harassment we have suffered?’ That’s the issue at stake. You have apologised for the decisions made but not for harassing, humiliating and intimidating us.”

Prof Kelly said he was sticking with the apologies already issued to the two students concerned.

The Washington Post reported. It’s the AP story, so nothing new, but it’s good to see that it got to the US.

Also the Telegraph.

Chris Moos and Abhishek Phadnis were threatened with being thrown out of the university’s Freshers Fair if they didn’t cover up the images, as they manned an Atheist Secularist and Humanist Society stall at the event.

Prof Kelly, pro-director at LSE, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It was a difficult judgment and I quite accept I called it wrong.”

The T-shirts featured a picture of Mohammed prohibited under Islamic law.

No they didn’t. It’s not a “picture of Mohammed”; it’s a double. Author has said so. How would Author know what Mohammed looked like anyway? How would anyone? It’s a cartoon. It’s a sketch. It’s not a genuine, literal, accurate “picture of” Mohammed. And anyway even if it were it wouldn’t be “prohibited” – Islamic law doesn’t govern the London School of Economics.

The Independent.

The Standard.

The Guardian.

ABC News in the US.

Happy New Year, Jesus and Mo.

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

No principle at stake here

Jan 1st, 2014 3:31 pm | By

Another New Statesman piece on “Islamophobia” – as usual not defined or specified, as usual functioning to conflate dislike of Islam with hatred of Muslims and thus make the former taboo along with the latter.

Last week I was asked to think of an issue on which I’ve changed my mind. I said the Iraq war, but if I’d been asked this week I might have said something else: Islamophobia. I used to think it wasn’t a problem.

Before I explain why, let’s look at one particular news story, by which I mean embarrassingly trivial non-story. Marks and Spencer is allowing its Muslim employees not to serve alcohol or pork products. A privately owned company has a policy that if its employees want to opt out of doing things to which they have a religious objection, they can.

I mean, it’s not the craziest idea I’ve ever heard.

Oh come on. If the thing the employees want to opt out of doing is just a routine part of the job, and their not doing it is a nuisance for other people, then it’s not just a slam dunk that it’s not a problem for employers to say go right ahead. If people get jobs as cashiers in supermarkets and then want to refuse to sell some of the products…it’s not just obvious that that’s fine.

We here in the US have extra opportunities to be aware of that because of pharmacists who refuse to sell the morning after pill, and some even birth control. You see what I mean? It’s making their religion an inconvenience to other people; it’s refusing to do bits of their job because god.

But of course it’s not a real issue, and neither is there any principle at stake here beyond queue management. The desire to be served quickly in a shop seems to have got tangled up with weighty concepts like “free society”. Listen, if you think you’re queuing too long at M&S, go to Sainsbury’s – that’s the beauty of a free society. Shops can sell pretty much what and how they want, and we can buy from where we want. M&S is not a school nor the Church of England nor the BBC. It’s a commercial retailer acting within the law.

On Twitter, Jenni Russell put it to me like this: “Just as Christians can’t refuse to have gays in B&Bs, so Muslims shouldn’t refuse to serve people buying legal goods.” Let’s see: one of them involves denying adults the right to love one another. The other involves denying the basic human right to buy a bottle of Merlot from the first sales assistant available.

No, it’s not that easy. There is a principle at stake here beyond “queue management” - the principle of treating everyone the same, as opposed to staging self-important little Religious Refusals. It’s the principle of secularism extended to the broader outside world, where we really just do not want strangers picking and choosing among us on religious grounds. We don’t want Catholics refusing to sell meat on Fridays, we don’t want Southern Baptists refusing to sell to women in jeans, we don’t want Mormons slipping little pamphlets into our reusable shopping bags along with the milk and marmalade, we don’t want Jews asking if our food is kosher, we don’t want Muslims refusing to sell us pork or alcohol.

…a year of stories like the M&S one has persuaded me that our national news agenda is distorted by a deep suspicion of Muslims. Islam animates our media like few other topics, and just as the left’s obsession with Israel overlaps, unprovably but unmistakably, with anti-Semitism, so there is something that just smells funny about the recurrent shock-horror headlines over vanishingly insignificant issues of conduct. Playground spite is being dressed up as “debate”.

Take the row over whether university societies should allow segregated debates: it’s a tiny story affecting about seven people, but because it involves Islam, national figures weigh in and commentators with virtually no knowledge or interest in the people concerned express passionate certainty.

Oh well, if it affects only about seven people (which it doesn’t), then never mind – just go ahead and allow gender segregation. Of course, Ian Leslie isn’t the one whose gender is seen as a source of pollution…

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

From across the community

Jan 1st, 2014 2:50 pm | By

Fortunately the pesky secularists and liberals and feminists don’t get to have it all their own way. Week before last there was a meeting of “Muslim women united against attack on gender segregation”…in other words united in favor of gender segregation. A site called 5pillarz has a carefully worded report.

Around 150 Muslim women attended a community event last Friday evening, organised after the attack by politicians and the media on the Islamic practice of gender segregation.

Not the “Islamic practice” as such, no. The “attack” was and is on attempts to impose the practice at university lectures and debates open to the general public; it was and is not on the practice in mosques and other religious and/or private spaces.

They were addressed by a panel of notable Muslim women from across the community – prominent journalist Yvonne Ridley, Islamic female scholar Fatima Barakatullah of IERA, Zara Faris of Muslim Debate Initiative (MDI), Women’s Media Representative of Hizb ut Tahrir, Britain Shohana Khan and Aisha Azri, Head of a London ISOC.

Ahhhhh that’s not “across the community” – not if “the community” is meant to be Muslims as opposed to Islamists. But that’s what Islamists do, isn’t it: they pretend that the narrower and more fundamentalist “community” is actually the larger and more varied one. It benefits them, but it harms Muslims who aren’t as reactionary and theocratic as Islamists.

All the panellists addressed an attentive female audience, on the issue which has received much media attention in recent weeks. They all discussed how this attack was part of the wider agenda against Islam, as gender segregation was nothing alien to the current society in toilets, changing rooms, hospital wards.

They all iterated the need to unite as Muslim women in order to respond to the attack as there is a concerted effort to silence their voices. The responses included first and foremost having a unified voice, and then dispelling the myths the media perpetuates about the Islam’s view of women through practices like gender segregation and niqab.

Because in fact, gender segregation and the niqab are totally egalitarian and empowering. Right.

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

Millions missing

Jan 1st, 2014 11:55 am | By

At 50 Million Missing, a post about the axing of Taslima’s tv serial.

Feminist author Taslima Nasreen’s scripted television series (in Bengali) titled ‘Dusahobas’ meaning ” Unbearable Cohabitation,” although ready for telecast has been “indefinitely postponed” for airing, because of pressure from Islamic clerics in the state of West Bengal.

Abdul Aziz of the religious group Milli Ittehad Parishad said their group had written to the producers of the show and told them to withdraw Taslima’s name and reference from the serial, even though Taslima has scripted the show! Aziz said, “We have been told that there are some scenes in the serial that might hurt our sentiments,” even though he does not specify as to what exactly in the show is hurtful to Muslim sentiments in India.

In fact this show is not about Islam but about issues that are effecting women of all religious and cultural communities in India, issues like dowry, dowry violence, sexual violence, and prevention of education. Issues that Indian society needs to contend with through mass media like television.

But it’s been shut down, because someone was told that there might be something that might hurt someone’s sentiments.

West Bengal which was one of the safest states for women in India, today under the leadership of a woman, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, has the highest rate of crimes against women in India.  This has largely been because of Ms. Banerjee’s encouragement of a misogynistic cultural, and patriarchal trend that keeps her politically popular at the cost of women’s rights! This is shameful for the West Bengal and for India.  We must demand more of our women leaders.

If even women won’t…


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

Kolkata: another gang-rape victim dies

Jan 1st, 2014 11:34 am | By

The Times of India reports:

A year after the Nirbhaya horror, yet another gang-rape victim lost her battle for life at the state-run R G Kar Medical College and Hospital in Kolkata on New Year’s Eve.

The 16-year-old, a resident of Madhyamgram in North 24-Parganas, was gang-raped at Badu on October 25. The next day, while on her way back home from the police station after lodging a complaint, she was allegedly sexually abused all over again.

The teenager and her family were so traumatized by the sequence of events that they chose to shift to another tenement close to Kolkata Airport. But there was no respite. The miscreants continued to hound her till she finally poured kerosene on herself on December 23 and lit a match. She was admitted to the hospital with 40% burns and finally succumbed on Tuesday afternoon.

Political parties, trade unionists and social workers converged on the hospital as soon as news of the teenager’s death spread. The girl’s parents were inconsolable. Their only child had dreamt of being a teacher. The mother claimed that her daughter didn’t commit suicide but was murdered by the two men who used to hound them.

It wasn’t enough to rape her; they had to hound her afterwards too.

The family had shifted to the single-room tenement near the airport gate about six months earlier. For obvious reasons, they hadn’t told landlord Ratan Sil of what the teenager had undergone. Unfortunately, Sil’s wife had a nephew who lived in the neighbourhood where the girl had been raped. Within days, this youth named Minta turned up at his aunt’s house and started hounding the girl and her family. He was joined in by Sil.

“I suspect that they wanted to take advantage of the situation and sexually harass my daughter again. One day while returning home, I found Minta knocking on the front door. When I asked what he wanted, he made a lame excuse. Around 9 am on December 23, he and Sil came over and started abusing us. My husband had gone to Krishnanagar with a fare. I left my daughter alone and went to the main road to see if any of his friends were around. On returning, I found the door bolted from the outside and smoke billowing from the window. I rushed in to find her in flames. She called out to me and said that I should also join her as the goons wouldn’t leave me in peace either. I called out to neighbours and they doused the blaze. I suspect that Minta and Sil set my daughter ablaze,” the mother said.

Some of that gender ideology we hear so much about.

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

A priest explains “gender ideology”

Jan 1st, 2014 10:55 am | By

Thanks to a comment by Ariel, we can read this interview with a priest, Dariusz Oko from the Papal University of John Paul II, translated from Polish and titled Gender ideology destroys a cradle of humankind – a family. This is good because I was just wondering what the Vatican thinks it means by “gender ideology.” Let’s find out.

Anna Cichobłazińska: – In media there appear more and more terms: gender, ideology of gender, totalitarianism of gender, philosophy of gender. What does this term mean and why is it so dangerous?

Fr. Dariusz Oko: We should speak not so much about ‘philosophy’ but about ‘ideology’ of gender. Philosophy is a radical search for the truth and the good, whereas the ideology is a tool of a ruthless fight about one’s interests also at the cost of the truth and the good. It is to lead to the victory of opinions and satisfying of egoistic desires of a social group at the cost of even the biggest harm done to other groups. In this sense, gender is a classic example of an ideology, is a tool in a ruthless fight for benefits for the atheistic gender and homo-lobby.

Ah yes, in sharp contrast to the Vatican, which never fights ruthlessly for benefits to itself. Cue hollow laughter.

It’s a fascinating claim though. The “normal” situation in which women are subordinate is fine, it’s when women try to be equals instead of subordinates that it’s not fine and priests say they are trying to get benefits for women alone at the expense of “other groups.” (What other groups?)

What is at the base of these assumptions?

Spiritual attitudes of creators of gender ideology. First of all, these are leftist atheists, the leftists. Atheism builds on the fundamental, false assumption of non-existence of God and, consequently, it understands the man and the world in a false way. It is as if a baby, living in the womb of a mother would state that his mother does not exist at all. Then the baby will go from absurd to absurd.

No. Suppose a baby magically developed enough to think in that way, the baby would have very good reasons to be aware of the existence of her mother. Atheists don’t say the world we live in doesn’t exist. We have very good reasons to be aware of the existence of the world; the same does not apply to “god.”

The priest cites the body count of “atheism” (meaning Nazism and Stalinism and Maoism), then explains how feminism will also have its body count. Any day now. No really.

People who are the most fierce enemies of God, they are also becoming the most fervent servants of satan. We should remember that it is just satan who becomes the basic source of their way of thinking. However, after this ocean of crimes and absurd, atheists find it difficult to gain the authority through classical Marxism, it is too discredited for it. Also their atheistic assumptions are like mental chains and shackles, which do not allow for going further towards the truth. They are somehow ‘doomed’ to move around in a small area of atheism, they cannot come out into more open areas, or understand more things. Moreover, like every man, they need a kind of worldview, a kind of sense, a kind of a special understanding the reality. When the simple Marxism cannot hold these functions any more, they invented its mutation, that is, gender ideology. They are also creating an illusion of mission and service. As they ‘used to help’ workers and peasants, seizing the whole authority for themselves in this way, and creating the worst and the bloodiest dictatorships known in the history, so now they want to ‘help’ people sexually different and by the way they want to gain the totalitarian authority. Because they are spiritual or even physical descendants of the worst and atheistic offenders, one should expect that they will be similarly wicked, hypocritical and ruthless in their actions.

Right. Atheism is tiny and closed, while Catholicism is big and wide-open and full of More Things.

Q Exactly, why are they talking about sex so much, and are concentrated on it?

A It is typical for atheism. If what is the supreme and the most spiritual in a man is negated, that is, his community with God and people, the human existence is getting poor anyway and a man is falling into what is lower and purely physiological. And sexuality belongs to the most powerful forces of our carnality, hence there is its overestimation, passive subordination to it and separation from love and responsibility leads easily to servitude, a search for one’s fulfilment and happiness, nearly only within its limits, also on the way of behaviours which are very distorted. For this reason atheists become sex-maniacs and sex-addicts and they want to impose these ill attitudes on the society.

Says the guy from the church with a long history of child-rape and being accomplices, accessories, aiders and abettors.

There’s a lot more. It’s creepy, creepy stuff.


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

The huge interrogations

Jan 1st, 2014 9:54 am | By

Sunday morning at 10 a.m. UK time, BBC1 The Big Questions will be asking the ridiculous question, ”Should Human Rights always outweigh Religious Rights?”

But the good news is that Chris Moos and Abhishek Phadnis will be taking part, so it should be interesting.

Mind you, I can ruin the suspense right now by saying yes, of course they should. Any religious practice that violates one or more human rights should not be allowed. There is no “religious right” to enslave people or cut off their genitalia or keep them out of school or deny them medical treatment or prevent them from getting birth control.

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

One in six

Dec 31st, 2013 5:06 pm | By

It has come to my attention that I don’t have anxiety, and that a lot of people do, and that I’m damn lucky not to. Or maybe I mean I don’t have Anxiety, or an anxiety disorder. It’s not as if I never get unreasonably jittery about something. I’ve told you how absurdly jittery I get whenever I travel (and how promptly I get over it once I’m at the airport). But compared to real anxiety, that’s nothing.

Scott Stossel has a long article about his in the current Atlantic.

I’ve finally settled on a pre-talk regimen that enables me to avoid the weeks of anticipatory misery that the approach of a public-speaking engagement would otherwise produce.

Let’s say you’re sitting in an audience and I’m at the lectern. Here’s what I’ve likely done to prepare. Four hours or so ago, I took my first half milligram of Xanax. (I’ve learned that if I wait too long to take it, my fight-or-flight response kicks so far into overdrive that medication is not enough to yank it back.) Then, about an hour ago, I took my second half milligram of Xanax and perhaps 20 milligrams of Inderal. (I need the whole milligram of Xanax plus the Inderal, which is a blood-pressure medication, or beta-blocker, that dampens the response of the sympathetic nervous system, to keep my physiological responses to the anxious stimulus of standing in front of you—the sweating, trembling, nausea, burping, stomach cramps, and constriction in my throat and chest—from overwhelming me.) I likely washed those pills down with a shot of scotch or, more likely, vodka, the odor of which is less detectable on my breath. Even two Xanax and an Inderal are not enough to calm my racing thoughts and to keep my chest and throat from constricting to the point where I cannot speak; I need the alcohol to slow things down and to subdue the residual physiological eruptions that the drugs are inadequate to contain. In fact, I probably drank my second shot—yes, even though I might be speaking to you at, say, 9 in the morning—between 15 and 30 minutes ago, assuming the pre-talk proceedings allowed me a moment to sneak away for a quaff.

If the usual pattern has held, as I stand up here talking to you now, I’ve got some Xanax in one pocket (in case I felt the need to pop another one before being introduced) and a minibar-size bottle or two of vodka in the other. I have been known to take a discreet last-second swig while walking onstage—because even as I’m still experiencing the anxiety that makes me want to drink more, my inhibition has been lowered, and my judgment impaired, by the liquor and benzodiazepines I’ve already consumed. If I’ve managed to hit the sweet spot—that perfect combination of timing and dosage whereby the cognitive and psychomotor sedating effect of the drugs and alcohol balances out the physiological hyperarousal of the anxiety—then I’m probably doing okay up here: nervous but not miserable; a little fuzzy but still able to speak clearly; the anxiogenic effects of the situation (me, speaking in front of people) counteracted by the anxiolytic effects of what I’ve consumed. But if I’ve overshot on the medication—too much Xanax or liquor—I may seem to be loopy or slurring or otherwise impaired. And if I didn’t self-medicate enough? Well, then, either I’m sweating profusely, with my voice quavering weakly and my attention folding in upon itself, or, more likely, I ran offstage before I got this far. I mean that literally: I’ve frozen, mortifyingly, onstage at public lectures and presentations before, and on several occasions I have been compelled to bolt from the stage.

Yikes. I don’t have that, or anything close to it. It sounds nightmarish. I feel as if I should do something to make it up to all the people who do have it. As I mentioned, that’s a lot of people. Stossel says so.

Anxiety and its associated disorders represent the most common form of officially classified mental illness in the United States today, more common even than depression and other mood disorders. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, some 40 million American adults, about one in six, are suffering from some kind of anxiety disorder at any given time; based on the most recent data from the Department of Health and Human Services, their treatment accounts for more than a quarter of all spending on mental-health care. Recent epidemiological data suggest that one in four of us can expect to be stricken by debilitating anxiety at some point in our lifetime. And it is debilitating: studies have compared the psychic and physical impairment tied to living with an anxiety disorder with the impairment tied to living with diabetes—both conditions are usually manageable, sometimes fatal, and always a pain to deal with. In 2012, Americans filled nearly 50 million prescriptions for just one antianxiety drug: alprazolam, the generic name for Xanax.

Life is harder than it ought to be.

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

In a missionary situation

Dec 31st, 2013 3:47 pm | By

The Vatican wants to let everyone know that it is against secular education and would prefer that everyone went to a Catholic school, although it will settle for some other kind of religious school, since it doesn’t like to be too pushy about these things.

The Catholic News Agency reports on this exciting new idea:

A recently released Vatican document is calling for a fresh commitment to Catholic identity within what it calls an increasingly secularized educational system.

At a press conference held Dec. 19, Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, said, “the Catholic identity of the school is fundamental.”

Not within a secular (or “secularized”) educational system it’s not.

Noting the many challenges facing Catholic schools, the Cardinal added, “today one of the greatest problems is when large organizations want to impose gender ideology.”

Gender ideology? Meaning what? Treating girls as equal to boys, including in math and science and sport? And as for imposing gender ideology…what does the Vatican think it does? Or does the Vatican think it’s fine for a large organization to impose gender ideology as long as it’s the Vatican imposing the Vatican’s gender ideology?

(Stupid question. Of course he does.)

“Today, due to the advanced process of secularization, Catholic schools find themselves in a missionary situation, even in countries with an ancient Christian tradition,” reads the congregation’s “Educating To Intercultural Dialogue in Catholic Schools.”

“Catholic schools’ primary responsibility is one of witness. In the various situations created by different cultures, the Christian presence must be shown and made clear, that is, it must be visible, tangible and conscious,” the document continues.

Huh. Catholic schools’ primary responsibility is one of witness. Not education, but “witness.” They’re in a missionary situation, due to the shock-horror process of secularization. So the whole “education” and “school” thing is just a Trojan horse; what they’re really doing is trying to secure more dues-paying members.

Catholic schools have in Jesus Christ the basis of their anthropological and pedagogical paradigm…

That’s not education. It’s nothing to do with education. It’s the enemy of education, because it says there is just One True Thing.

The goal of Catholic schools should be to find balance between the two cultural extremes found in the world today, advises the document.

On the one hand, “one needs the ability to witness and dialogue, without falling into the trap of that facile relativism which holds that all religions are the same and are merely manifestations of an Absolute that no-one can truly know.”

On the other, “what is important is to give answers to the many young people ‘without a religious home,’ the result of an ever more secularized society.”

No thank you. Seriously, just piss off and mind your own business. Stay in your churches. Leave schools and hospitals alone.

(I would have liked to quote from the Vatican document itself but it must not be translated yet, because it doesn’t turn up. Maybe later.)

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

In light of the controversial nature of these images

Dec 31st, 2013 11:47 am | By

Catching up on a slight backlog which I will blame on…let’s see…the paucity of daylight hours at this time of year. Yeah, that’s it.

Cast your mind back to December 19, when LSE apologized to Chris and Abhishek. Chris and Abhishek issued a statement in response.

The LSESU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society welcomes the half-apology from the LSE for the misconduct of LSE and LSE Students’ Union staff during the Freshers’ Fair of 3 and 4 October, 2013.

Professor Craig Calhoun, the Director of the LSE, issued the apology today in response to our Appeal under the LSE’s Free Speech Code, adding that “the wearing of the t-shirts on this occasion did not amount to harassment or contravene the law or LSE policies”, and that School staff and Students’ Union Officers had “unfortunately misjudged the situation”.

Even as we welcome Professor Calhoun’s apology, we are disappointed that it took the threat of legal action to elicit an acknowledgement of our grievances, and that no apology has been forthcoming from the LSESU, whose grave misconduct began this chain of harassment. We also believe that several other lingering concerns must be put on record.

We are disappointed by Professor Calhoun’s admission that there was no “audit trail of the number and substance of complaints received”. We believe that such flippancy does not behove the LSE’s commitment to freedom of expression, and hope that the LSE will reform its procedures to better reflect this commitment. In light of the LSE’s inability to produce any evidence of complaints, we continue to believe that it is possible that there were, in fact, none, and to suspect that our real crime was to offend the politics of the officials concerned, not the sensibilities of our fellow students.

We are also disappointed that Professor Calhoun has failed to apologise for, or even acknowledge, our harassment at the hands of LSE Security and LSESU officers. We disagree with Professor Calhoun’s contention that they acted ‘in good faith’ in dealing with a ‘difficult situation’, and aver that the decisions in question were uncomplicated and taken unhurriedly, over two days. We would like to know of the punitive action taken against the LSE and LSESU staff concerned, particularly against the named senior officials of the School administration, who are guilty of more than an ordinary miscalculation.

We are also dismayed by an aside in Professor Calhoun’s decision, in which he claims he doubts that the behaviour of the LSESU officers was “a complete shock to you, particularly in light of the controversial nature of these images”. We reject this attempt to excuse the behaviour of the LSESU officers by apportioning blame to us.

We insist that the t-shirts were entirely innocuous, and that we did not wear them with the intention of causing offence, but we also maintain that genuine freedom of expression in a civilised society must protect the provocative, the offensive and the blasphemous.

That is indeed a very dubious thing to say. No, let me put that more precisely – it’s a bizarrely unprincipled thing to say. There is after all a principle involved: the principle is that, barring a really compelling reason, the default situation at a university gathering should be that expression is free. Saying “well these images are controversial so obviously you knew the the LSESU officers would shut you down for showing them” is the opposite of that. It’s not usually the default view of universities that controversial material is and should be subject to suppression by the Student Union.

Looking forward to a better year for LSESU ASH as the days grow longer again.

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

A huge growth in angel awareness

Dec 31st, 2013 10:36 am | By

The Irish Independent has a story on…angels. Not a story on the oddity of belief in angels in 2013, but rather the contrary. More like a story on angels finally getting the recognition they deserve.

Time was when you wouldn’t hear about angels from one end of the year to the next — except at this time of year, of course, when they did their duty in the Christmas story, bringing messages to shepherds watching their flocks by night.

It is in this capacity, however, as messengers and guides, that these ‘spiritual beings’ have come into the greater, everyday consciousness.

On the one hand, scare quotes on “spiritual beings,” and on the other hand, they have at last emerged into the Great Public Mind.

Angelology has always been a legitimate part of divinity studies, but like much else that organised religion has sought to keep from the masses, it has edged its way out into the larger world.

The past 10 to 15 years have seen a huge growth in angel awareness, thanks in large part to Doreen Virtue and Diana Cooper whose books, blogs and decks of angel cards have paved the way for the acceptance of others whose talents, and life path, have led them to chiming in with the ever-growing chorus of angel communicators.

What? What? What? There’s a “what?” for every clause of that. Legitimate? According to whose criteria, exactly? Organized religion has sought to keep angels from the masses?

That suggests a strange picture, in which priests and bishops hang out with angels behind closed doors in the back rooms of churches, while the masses outside sadly live their lives with no idea that there are such things as angels. Movies, greeting cards, songs, Milton, Fra Angelico, woo meisters – none of those have made a dent on the blindly secular public who’ve never so much as heard of angels.

And then the growth in “angel awareness,” as if there’s actually something to be aware of, other than the movies and greeting cards and the rest. And, “angel communicators” – which is apparently both a special talent, and one that is susceptible of growth. And yet notice that there’s no such field for ordinary secular communication. With real people you just get talking and Twitter and the like. It’s only with these Special entities that you need “communicators” – ghosts, gods, angels, witches, prophets, ancestors.

Maybe we should combine the pet industry and the unseen agents industry. Ghosts, gods, angels, witches, prophets, and ancestors should all be assumed to be living in dogs and cats. That way we can have something to touch.

In many ways, the current crop of angel practitioners suffered so that we don’t have to.

Each of the four we spoke to has gone through dark nights of the soul before they got to where they are today, living fully in the faith that they, and we, are watched over every moment of our lives.

This dreck is in an actual newspaper. Jeez, Ireland.


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

In praise of the mundane

Dec 30th, 2013 5:53 pm | By

Tom Flynn at the CFI blog is not in favor of talk about “transcendence.”

In a Guardian blog, New Humanist commentator Suzanne Moore has — if inadvertently — defined the key difference between religious humanists and secular humanists in a very few words.

Bewailing the poverty of atheist (particularly, New Atheist) argot when it comes to offering a supporting matrix for meaningful secular ceremonies, Moore writes: “We may find the fuzziness of new age thinking with its emphasis on ‘nature’ and ‘spirit’ impure, but to dismiss the human need to express transcendence and connection with others as stupid is itself stupid.”

There’s the difference between religious and secular humanism in its essence — in a nutshell, if you will. Religious humanists yearn to “express transcendence and connection with others.” Secular humanists are fine with expressing connection with others, but inasmuch as they are secular, they attach great importance to the recognition that … hang on now … there is no such thing as “transcendence” or “the transcendent.”

Essential to the secular view is the insight, rooted in science, that reality is mundane. It’s the domain of matter, energy, and their interactions — and nothing else.

And further, I would add, that that is where our business is. Our business is not with “the transcendent” because it’s here, instead. We need to pay attention to this world, the real world, the mundane world, the world that has such creatures in it…because it’s where we are. We’re no good to each other if we’re concentrating on imaginary Beyonds. We can’t understand this world properly if we think it’s underneath a better, brighter, more special one Out There Somewhere.


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

Pay it forward

Dec 30th, 2013 4:42 pm | By

There’s a nice segment on On the Media about plagiarism as a new art form. A poet called Kenneth Goldsmith teaches his students to give up all ideas about creativity and focus on recycling material.

The choices that we make are as expressive of ourselves as any kind of personal narrative we might do about our family or growing up. We’ve just never been taught to value those choices.

Until now, that is. Until recently; until the internet and aggregator sites and blogs.

Or, not so much until recently, perhaps, but it’s actually not completely new. There used to be things called commonplace books, where people collected passages from their reading. I’ve always loved both the idea of them and the things themselves. I’ve also always kept them myself, starting in childhood.

That’s one reason I like Montaigne so much – his essays are among other things giant extended commonplace books, and that’s interesting. Keats talks about his reading in his letters, and that’s one reason they’re so brilliant.

One of the haters’ tropes about me is that a lot of my blogging involves pointing to other people’s writing. Yes, that’s right, it does. And?

That’s not a bug, it’s a feature. I like being pointed to other people’s writing, and I like returning the favor. I like a good salmagundi, and I like making one. It’s all good.


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

More solidarity needed

Dec 30th, 2013 12:01 pm | By

Iram Ramzan gets abuse on Twitter for being a liberal Muslim.

I am the latest in a bunch of women, specifically Muslim women, who have come under attack from a group of misogynist men. Their aim is supposedly to combat Islamophobia yet ironically their appalling behaviour is unIslamic and actually fuels anti-Muslim sentiment.

It’s rather funny how our ‘Muslimness’ is questioned to destroy our credibility. Accuse a Muslim person of drinking alcohol or eating pork and you have instantly ruined their reputation. And if you’re a woman, well, that’s ten times worse. The combination of being an ex-Muslim (which I am not by the way) and a ‘whore’ is lethal.

When Lejla Kuric, a Manchester-based artist, wrote an article on her meeting with Tommy Robinson, she was accused of being ‘Islamophobic‘, despite the fact that she is a Muslim. My theory is because she does not ‘look Muslim’ i.e. she is white and does not wear a headscarf she is an easy target.

Sara Khan, of Inspire, is regularly called a ‘government stooge’ and all the usual stupidity,  including people spreading rumours that she drinks alcohol – she doesn’t, but why should it matter?

Because the kind of people it matters to are the ones the rumor is aimed at.

She says:

“I’ve been called an ex-Muslim, that I work with or get into bed with zionists and Islamophobes, that I’m creating Islamophobia for addressing gender injustice within Muslim communities etc. None of this surprises me in one sense because I’ve spent 20 years working within Muslim communities and I know the score. I know that if you speak out as a Muslim woman you need a thick skin and you need to be prepared for a big backlash.”

Of course, men, too, come under attack. Maajid Nawaz of the Quilliam Foundation is constantly hounded, even by moderate Muslims. But when you are a woman, it is easier to be attacked. Men are not labelled as whores who sleep around. That delightful label is reserved for us females alone.

More worrying is if you look through their tweets, they are followed and re-tweeted by even moderate Muslims – they seem to unite against anyone who is ostensibly liberal, even if it means to side with a troll online.

Being a liberal Muslim is a thankless task. That’s very unfortunate.

And here’s a key point:

Try and get some support or solidarity from prominent Muslim commentators or writers – forget about it. The only solidarity we seem to receive is from those on the right who ‘hijack’ issues such as the university gender segregation, yet if there was solidarity from those on the left, the right wouldn’t need to ‘hijack’ the debate.

That’s a slight exaggeration, since there is a “we” to receive solidarity, so it can’t be true that the only solidarity is from the right. But it’s clear what she means, and it’s true. There’s not nearly enough solidarity from the left, and there’s way too much of the opposite of solidarity in the form of automatic shouts of “Islamophobia,” so the hijacking by the right is far more conspicuous than it should be, and  than it would be if only the left would pay the fuck attention.

Lejla certainly believes that there is a problem with misogyny directed against women online, and it is something that has been highlighted in the media more recently.

She said:

“Muslim women who speak for women rights and against gender inequality within their own community or express political or theological dissent are ‘slut-shamed’ by some Muslim man who do not approve of their opinions. Our sexual morality is questioned and we are deemed ‘sluts’ and ‘whores’ as a way of silencing us.”

Like me, she is labelled a “Quilliam whore”, ugly, and other vile insults, especially after she writes an article. Does she receive any assistance or help from anyone or other Muslims? “Sometimes from Muslim women, never from Muslim men, not once,” she says.

Sound familiar?

So look them up on Twitter, give them solidarity and support. Iram Ramzan. Lejla Kurić. Sara Khan.

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

Dancing like infomercial hosts

Dec 30th, 2013 11:19 am | By

It’s good to popularize; it’s good to convey specialized knowledge to a non-specialist public (which of course means a public full of people who specialize in other things) in a way that’s accessible without being predigested to the point that it’s just thin gruel that even Scrooge or Mr Wodehouse would have rejected.

It’s tricky. Benjamin Bratton says how it’s tricky.

To be clear, I think that having smart people who do very smart things explain what they doing in a way that everyone can understand is a good thing. But TED goes way beyond that.

Let me tell you a story. I was at a presentation that a friend, an astrophysicist, gave to a potential donor. I thought the presentation was lucid and compelling (and I’m a professor of visual arts here at UC San Diego so at the end of the day, I know really nothing about astrophysics). After the talk the sponsor said to him, “you know what, I’m gonna pass because I just don’t feel inspired …you should be more like Malcolm Gladwell.”

At this point I kind of lost it. Can you imagine?

Think about it: an actual scientist who produces actual knowledge should be more like a journalist who recycles fake insights! This is beyond popularisation. This is taking something with value and substance and coring it out so that it can be swallowed without chewing. This is not the solution to our most frightening problems – rather this is one of our most frightening problems.

That. (My version of it is Alain de Botton, who makes people feel clever for reading him by dropping a lot of names, while avoiding substance as if it had the worst breath on five continents.)

For fans of the meta, it’s worth noting that this is itself a TED talk. Bratton is saying what’s wrong with TED in a TED talk.

So I ask the question: does TED epitomize a situation where a scientist’s work (or an artist’s or philosopher’s or activist’s or whoever) is told that their work is not worthy of support, because the public doesn’t feel good listening to them?

I submit that astrophysics run on the model of American Idol is a recipe for civilizational disaster.

And lousy astrophysics, I would guess.

TED of course stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, and I’ll talk a bit about all three. I Think TED actually stands for: middlebrow megachurch infotainment.

The key rhetorical device for TED talks is a combination of epiphany and personal testimony (an “epiphimony” if you like ) through which the speaker shares a personal journey of insight and realisation, its triumphs and tribulations.

What is it that the TED audience hopes to get from this? A vicarious insight, a fleeting moment of wonder, an inkling that maybe it’s all going to work out after all? A spiritual buzz?

I’m sorry but this fails to meet the challenges that we are supposedly here to confront. These are complicated and difficult and are not given to tidy just-so solutions. They don’t care about anyone’s experience of optimism. Given the stakes, making our best and brightest waste their time – and the audience’s time – dancing like infomercial hosts is too high a price. It is cynical.

Are you sure you wouldn’t like a basin of nice thin gruel?



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