Notes and Comment Blog

Who needs data?

Oct 19th, 2015 4:32 pm | By

Noah Smith of Bloomberg View reports on this defunding of the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

The BLS is one of the most important economic data-gathering agencies in the U.S.

Employment numbers? Inflation statistics? Those all come from surveys run by the BLS.

Unfortunately, the Republican-controlled Congress is allowing the bureau to wither on the vine, and there are signs it will get worse. During the past five years, funding has stagnated as inflation has risen, meaning that in real terms the agency’s budget has fallen by 10 percent. Now the Senate is proposing to cut funding by about 4 percent more, in real terms, this year.

This is a dangerous game. The rewards from cutting BLS funding are minuscule. The proposed cut will save only $13 million a year, or about 0.002 percent of the federal discretionary budget. For comparison, this is about equivalent to the average household saving roughly $1 a year. It is nothing, nada. Not even a drop in the bucket.

It’s meaningless for the federal budget, but damaging to the BLS budget.

But these tiny funding cuts are already having a huge effect on the agency’s ability to tell us what’s going on with the economy. In 2014, the BLS was forced to cut back on one of its major programs, the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages. It almost had to slash another program that gathers data on imports and exports.

Cutting these and other BLS surveys would be like blinding ourselves intentionally. It is because of BLS programs that we know whether the economy is stagnant or recovering, whether the trade deficit is shrinking or growing, whether Americans are getting jobs or losing them.

How else are we supposed to know those things? Guessing? Looking out the window? Swapping stories? Going to church?

[T]he BLS reductions are part of two dismaying trends in our legislative priorities — cuts to research funding, and a disregard for the importance of social science. In the case of the BLS, it would be a mistake to further hobble an agency that does so much to aid our very understanding of the economy around us.

Don’t worry, God will provide.

Tyrants cut off information

Oct 19th, 2015 4:22 pm | By

Robert Reich on Facebook:

The first thing tyrants do is close schools. The second thing they do is burn books. The third thing is cut off information. Right-wing Republicans are on the way to doing all three: State legislatures continue to cut school budgets; local Republicans are reducing budgets for libraries. Congressional Republicans are now cutting off information — slashing the budgets of the most important sources we have for collecting data on what’s really happening to jobs, wages, and the economy: the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Because of such cuts, the BLS can no longer collect data on mass layoffs or how Americans are using their time; the cuts may also make employment data less reliable.

Republicans don’t want Americans to know the truth. That way they can hoodwink us even more. But a free society needs good information no less than it needs citizens sufficiently educated to use that information to make informed decisions – such as voting Republicans out of office.

No labor statistics for you, peasants.

The bed of roses isn’t

Oct 19th, 2015 11:30 am | By

A blogger drew up a Cis Privilege Checklist in 2007. I took a look. I was unsurprised to find that I disagreed with much of it. Some of it I don’t agree is really privilege, but that doesn’t matter much. The part that does matter, I think, is the radical simplification and absolutism about what “cis” people experience. It’s another version of that yes or no thing I made such a point of refusing last summer. It’s profoundly wrong.

Like –

6. Clothing works for me, more or less.

  1. I am a size and shape for which clothes I feel comfortable wearing are commonly made
  2. There are clothes designed with bodies like mine in mind.
  3. If I am unable to find clothing that fits me well, I will still feel safe, and recognizable as my gender
  4. If I have a restriction on what clothing I will buy (e.g. vegan, allergy, non sweatshop), I can expect that specialty stores will have them in my size/shape.

No. Not at all. That’s never been my experience of clothes. It doesn’t worry me much now but that’s because I’ve been able to arrange my life so that I don’t have to show up in a workplace every day looking normal. And people can and do feel unsafe for a million reasons that have nothing to do with clothes – and for plenty of reasons that do have to do with clothes but have nothing to do with being “cis.”

9. Perception/acceptance of my gender is generally independent of:

  1. Anything mentioned in 8.*
  2. My clothing choices, how my clothing fits
  3. My adherence to traditional roles of my gender (both “too much” and “too little”)
  4. Holding sexist, sex-negative, or rape-culture beliefs
  5. Holding feminist or sex-positive beliefs
  6. My sexual choices/desires
    1. With whom? (gender, number)
    2. Frequency
    3. Circumstance (marriage, love, one-night-stand)
    4. What (e.g. penetrating/enveloping, fetishes, dominance)
  7. Being assertive, aggressive, or passive
  8. Being in a position of power
  9. Being intellectual or not
  10. My dietary habits
  11. My weight
  12. My height
  13. My occupation
  14. My musical taste
  15. My hairstyle
  16. My hobbies
  17. Wanting gendered things/actions labeled “immature” or “childish”
  18. Whether or not I have had a specific medical procedure

No, no, no, no, no. Not at all. Perception and acceptance of everyone’s gender is far from independent of all those things except the last one. It’s true that most cis people mostly don’t have to clarify what sex they are, but it’s not true that they’re all always free of criticism for how well or badly they fulfill their duties to their gender. I get that it’s far sharper and more intrusive and often more dangerous for trans people; I don’t dispute that. But the fact that it’s worse for trans people does not mean that it’s non-existent for cis people.

16. Commonly used terminology that differentiates my gender from other genders/sexes implies that I am normal, and that I have unquestionable right to the gender/sex I identify with. The implications these terms make about my gender, my body, my sex, my biology, and my past are all acceptable to me.

No. Absolutely not.

22. My gender is acknowledged universally, immediately, and without hesitation

  1. My birth certificate, drivers’ license, social security card, etc are correct from the moment I get them.
  2. I have no need to establish that I am a different gender than someone already thinks I am.
  3. I lived my childhood in a gender that felt appropriate for me at the time, and still does. I lived my childhood in the gender that I want to have lived it in.
    1. I was trained into whatever gender was appropriate for me, and so I am prepared to live in my current gender, without having to go back and learn vital skills I was not taught when I was young.
    2. I experienced puberty, and being an immature girl/boy, at a time in my life when there were allowances for puberty and immaturity.
  4. My preferences for my gender have been honored my whole life, by my doctor, my parents, my teachers, my professors, my relatives, my classmates, my bosses, etc., except before I was able to state preferences, when I was forced to adopt the gender which I now inhabit.

Oh, no, no, no, no. 1 is ok, 2 is ok-ish, but after that, it’s complete nonsense. No, my gender did not “feel appropriate for me at the time” and no it doesn’t still. Every time I turn the damn tv on I’m made aware that I’m not “a woman” as the world of tv-makers understands women. That idea of what “a woman” is has never, ever, ever “felt appropriate” to me. Aha! says the alert privilege-spotter – so you’re trans then, you just won’t admit it. No, I’m not – I’m not “a man” either. Ok then you’re non-binary.

But in that sense maybe everybody is non-binary. Or the vast majority of people. Or well over half. Or half, or a substantial fraction. We don’t know. But it’s complete bullshit to claim that everyone who isn’t trans is described by that list under 22. It’s a mistake to think that everyone who doesn’t have your particular complication or difficulty or disadvantage is therefore wallowing in bliss and perfection. Life isn’t like that, and most people aren’t like that.

An engineering project

Oct 19th, 2015 10:10 am | By

The Indian “spiritual” site Speaking Tree warns of bad Vastu.

India has the Himalayas in its North, which – Vastu experts say – goes against Vastu. It is the reason that poverty remains an unending issue in our country.

Huh. So, could they move them to the south?

Facebook readers are not convinced.

But she still got drenched

Oct 18th, 2015 6:02 pm | By

Now here’s a story of cis privilege. Girls in Nepal are banished when they are menstruating; they have to sleep outside in skimpy sheds without walls. What about during monsoon season? Well they get wet, of course.

Where do these ideas come from?

Ancient Hindu scriptures say women are highly infectious during their periods, that “all her body is so weak that viruses come out of her mouth and her limbs,” says Mukunda Aryal, who has studied Hindu culture for 40 years.

In Hinduism, there was once a king of the gods, who reigned above others. This god, called Indra, committed a horrible sin. And to atone for it, he created menstruation.

You what? He committed a sin, and to atone for it, he created menstruation? What the hell is the logic of that? Let alone the fairness? He created a sin, so girls and women have to have obnoxious cramping in their lower abdomens every month, and have a lot of gross clumpy blood (that is, endometrial tissue) to deal with? In what sense is it atonement to create an unpleasant inconvenient uncomfortable situation for other people?

The NPR reporters, Jane Greenhalgh and Michaeleen Doucleff, visit one menstrual shed.

It’s about a ten minute walk. It’s starting to get dark, and she doesn’t have a flashlight. “I’m scared mostly of snakes and of men,” she says through translator, Pragya Lamsal of WaterAid. Kamala has heard stories of girls being sexually assaulted when they’re alone in their sheds.

Her shed is shocking. It looks more like a cage — with wooden bars crisscrossed over the top and sides. It’s monsoon season and the rain is torrential. Kamala has a piece of plastic to drape across the top of her shed but she still got drenched.

Kamala was 11 when she first started her period and she remembers being terrified when she first slept outside. The shed is small, barely big enough for her to lie down and sometimes she shares it with 2 or 3 or more girls and so for most of the night they squat.

“I don’t feel good about practicing this,” Kamala says.

The Supreme Court of Nepal outlawed the practice in 2005 so it’s illegal to force women into these sheds, but many villagers in the remote west continue to do it.

Oh well, it’s only girls and women.


Oct 18th, 2015 5:36 pm | By

In case anyone thought things weren’t so bad in Nigeria lately…

Suicide bombers blow up a mosque in Maiduguri.

At least 39 people have died after multiple explosions in the Nigerian city of Maiduguri, an emergency official says.

Three female suicide bombers, thought to be aged between 11 and 15, struck on Friday morning, an official with the National Emergency Management Agency told BBC Hausa.

Aged between 11 and 15! Girls! Murderous men sending little girls out to explode themselves and others while the murderous men stay safe.

It follows bomb attacks on a mosque on Thursday, which killed at least 32.

Maiduguri is often targeted by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram.

Boko Haram hasn’t yet bragged about doing it.

More than 100 people were killed in three explosions last month in the city, which is considered the birthplace of Boko Haram.

In Thursday’s attack, officials say the first suicide bomber blew himself up inside the mosque, with a second bomber detonating explosives as people rushed to help those injured in the initial blast.

The explosions caused parts of the mosque to collapse, leading to further injuries.

Blew herself up, that apparently should be. And notice the familiar cruelty of timing the second bombing to get the people who rush to help.

Anyway – no, things are still shit in Nigeria.

Three questions

Oct 18th, 2015 5:09 pm | By

Watch Peter Tatchell ask panelists at an iERA debate to say whether or not they condemn the death penalty for blasphemy, amputation, and stoning for adultery, and the panelists refuse to reply.

That’s one time when a yes or no question is not out of place.

It all depends on when you start the clock

Oct 18th, 2015 10:11 am | By

Katy Murphy and Thomas Peele at Inside Bay Area ask if the “swift” departure of Geoff Marcy signals “a profound shift in how society reacts and responds to sexual harassment and abuse on campus and in corporate boardrooms?”

No, it doesn’t, because it wasn’t “swift” at all. It took years. See astrokatey on Twitter:

Katey the Astronomer ‏@astrokatey Oct 16
@dalcantonjd 3 years to compile stories. 3 to find ppl willing to come forward. Hours of phone convos about strategy. It succeeded.

Three stinkin’ years, and all that hard work. This is no swift departure.

Back to Murphy and Peele:

But in a flash last week, the white-hot glare of social media revealed the darker side of the UC Berkeley professor, a titan in the field who sexually harassed aspiring female scientists. And just as notably, it exposed how many of his colleagues and institutions appeared to know about his behavior — but were either too intimidated or indifferent to stop him.

After years of inaction, it took just five days for an international firestorm to force Marcy to resign from his prestigious posts at UC Berkeley and the $100 million Breakthrough Listen project to study extraterrestrial intelligence.

But that’s just it – there were years of inaction. It took years plus five days.

The question many are asking now is: Is Marcy’s undoing simply a rare example of the stars aligning? Or does his swift departure signal a profound shift in how society reacts and responds to sexual harassment and abuse on campus and in corporate boardrooms?

No. No, it doesn’t. Not at all, any more than Mark Oppenheimer’s reporting on Michael Shermer or the string of accusations against Bill Cosby did. All this tells us is that eventually, if enough people are willing to put in a lot of work and take a lot of risk, maybe one harasser will feel compelled to resign…at age 61, when most of his harassing days are in his past.

What’s so extraordinary about Marcy’s case is that once it made headlines “so many people across the board were able to publicly say, ‘I know this guy is in the running to be a Nobel laureate, and I don’t think he should be in our field,’ ” said Robin Nelson, an assistant professor of anthropology at New York’s Skidmore College and who published a study last year on sexual harassment in academia.

I don’t see anything extraordinary in that at all. Once it made headlines, it was dead easy to say that. Once it made headlines it was safe to say that. Once it made headlines it was even popular to say that.

Nelson said she senses a groundswell of changing attitudes over sexual harassment behind the digital expressions of moral outrage over #GeoffMarcy. Ever-greater numbers of women in the workforce, growing activism against campus sexual assault and high-profile exposés of rape and harassment in the military have shined a bright light on similar issues, Nelson said.

Meh. It’s not as if this is a new issue.

Two women said in interviews last week with this newspaper they tried to report Marcy for similar behavior when he taught at San Francisco State University in the mid-1990s. Both were sickened to see that he was found to have harmed other students at Berkeley — yet allowed to keep his position.

Preet Dalziel, who now lives in Walnut Creek and teaches at a Bay Area high school, said she worked for Marcy as a graduate student; he was also her master’s thesis adviser. At first, Dalziel said, she tried to ignore off-color comments and back rubs he would give to other students. But one day, as they were looking at code on his office computer, she said, he touched her breast.

So she tried to report him – and was shut down. A classmate made the same attempt and got the same response. Dalziel had wanted to work at NASA, but after that experience she felt discouraged, and pessimistic about getting a reference from Marcy, so she left the field. Geoff Marcy stomped out her dream because he wanted to grab her tit. Nice guy.

She said she hopes the outcry over UC Berkeley’s response forces universities to take their students’ complaints more seriously.

“It just kind of hurts me because it’s not right,” she said. “I don’t want professors to feel that they can get away with this stuff because they have tenure or they did something great.”

Yes but you see that’s exactly it – the stars can get away with it because nobody wants to lose the stars. Nobody wants to alienate the Bill Cosby, the Michael Shermer, the Geoff Marcy.

At the UC Santa Cruz Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics’ “Evening with the Stars,” celebrating the university’s 50th anniversary in August, Marcy was “the star,” lecturing on behalf of his alma mater at the Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton. As for the brilliant professor’s darker side?

“We didn’t know,” said Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz, chair of UC Santa Cruz’s Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics.

Yet others, like Harvard astronomy professor John Asher Johnson, who was one of Marcy’s key assistants at Berkeley, revealed on a blog post last week that his “inappropriate actions toward and around women in astronomy is one of the biggest ‘open secrets’ in astrophysics.”

So, is it plausible that no one at UC Santa Cruz’s Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics had a clue? No, it’s not.

Maybe the department chair is relying on a lawyerly meaning of “know” – they didn’t know for sure; they knew of allegations but they didn’t know for sure they were true. That of course is entirely plausible…but since the lawyerly meaning is not the only one in play, it’s not altogether honest.

Marcy enjoyed “considerable power” in the field, Johnson wrote. “Underground networks of women pass information about Geoff to junior scientists in an attempt to keep them safe. Sometimes it works. Other times it hasn’t, and cognizant members of the community receive additional emails, phone calls and Facebook messages from new victims.”

Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, a postdoctoral fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said when she attended UC Santa Cruz in 2005 she was told as she pursued her career to “stay away” from Marcy. She’s passed the same advice to others.

So people at UC Santa Cruz warned her in 2005, but the chair in 2015 said they didn’t know. Didn’t know what? That Marcy was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt? Or that women were warned to stay away from Marcy if they didn’t want to be groped?

Deniability can be so helpful to department chairs and studio executives.

The “current academic hierarchical structure ensures that predators like him have significant safety once they enter the higher ranks,” said Prescod-Weinstein, the MIT postdoctoral fellow. “It is very easy for professors to get away with racist and sexist behavior — and they do — because junior researchers don’t have the power to push back.”

Alex Zalkin, a San Diego lawyer representing three former Berkeley students suing the university over the way it handled sexual assault allegations they filed, said the light punishment Marcy received is indicative of campus culture that gives predators a pass.

“There is an institutional problem,” he said, that is similar to what his clients faced in trying to force investigations. The women, he said, “aren’t surprised” about how Marcy was treated. “I am not optimistic anything will change.”

I’m not either. I’d like to be, but I’m not. Universities aren’t going to become eager to get rid of their stars overnight.

But Nelson, the Skidmore College professor, said Marcy’s remarkable downfall could send a bigger message to powerful men everywhere.

“What this story kind of tells us,” she said, “is if you get caught and this catches up with you, your career will end in a week.”

But only if you get caught, and the catching takes literally years – so your career will end “in a week” plus 30-odd years.

We are conditioned to put the needs of others before ourselves

Oct 17th, 2015 5:39 pm | By

This from rubyfruitz at Sisterhood is Powerful a year ago is of interest:

It doesn’t matter what kind of politics a feminist has, unless she is fully accommodating to men (in the shape of anti-feminist, queer gobbledygook and other woman-haters) she will be attacked. Attempts will be made to silence her through a systematic campaign of hatred and intimidation.

There has been a recent bout of attempts to stop individual feminists from speaking at events. The chosen method is to call someone ‘phobic’. You can put any word you want in front of it. It doesn’t have to be a real word, you can just make it up. In circulation, we currently have: biphobic, transphobic, whorephobic, lesbians who are somehow ‘homophobic’ (will leave you to work that one out, I can’t) etc.

Deborah Cameron does a thorough, good, job of explaining that the constant use of something-phobia is meaningless because it implies oppression is driven by a psychological problem; a condition which gives rise to hatred. Although sometimes oppression is about hatred, it is always about power. A radical feminist analysis always involves where the power lies and why it is being used.

The trouble with libertarian feminist analysis is that it’s clueless about power and coercion.

Structural oppression, as it relates to sexuality, is about the way compulsory heterosexuality is imposed on women, from birth. The purpose is to enforce male domination. It’s nothing to do with someone’s feelings, about bisexual jokes or assumptions made about bisexual people. Any other analysis is bullshit individualism and has a libertarian agenda. That has no part to play in feminism – feminism is about the liberation of women, as a caste. It’s not humanism, it’s not about all other oppressions. It’s an unrelenting fight for women’s freedom.

That’s not to say that, as feminist activists, we should not take into account other oppressions; we may share other oppressions and we may be fighting other injustices alongside our feminism. However, losing focus on the liberation of women within feminism leads to humanist murkiness where women’s concerns, as always, is everyone else but our own caste.

That. It amazes me more every day the way women who consider themselves feminists are falling all over themselves to attack feminism, along with everyone else who is attacking feminism. It amazes me more every day the way women who consider themselves feminists are buying into claims that feminist women are “talking over” trans people, and that feminist women have all the privilege relative to trans people. The masochism and self-silencing of it is stunning to watch.

We are conditioned to put the needs of others before ourselves. Queer ‘phobic’ smoke-screens play right into that. Women, especially ‘feminists’ who have liberal notions of ‘equality’ and ‘fairness’ for everyone, end up fighting for the wrong team and against their own liberation. The reason liberal feminists lose focus is because they don’t recognise the importance of power in a political context. Power is more than the power of one individual. Power is about which group of people (men as a caste) control what social, financial and other resources and why. I really don’t know why we have to keep repeating this to brainwashed women on the left. But we do.

Maybe it’s the threats.

Never has this been more obvious than the recent spat of ‘feminist’ university societies targeting individual feminists. They have worked with male supremacists (whether visibly and consciously so or not) to silence both long-standing and newly emerging feminists. Having a critique, or, even better, a political analysis about why women’s liberation leads to gender abolition, is enough to get labelled one phobia or another. The mere use of the word ‘phobia’ gets ‘feminists’, and their anti-feminist allies, worked up into a frenzy and demand no-platforming of women who have something to say about male violence. It doesn’t even make logical sense half the time.

It’s surely the witch hunts of centuries past, all over again. The lack of analysis is very telling. Julie Bindel was simply called ‘vile’ by the NUS. Very mature. Over and over students admitted they had not read her work but something-something-‘phobia’. Caroline Criado-Perez has recently received the vague accusation of being a ‘damaging and exclusionary figure’ followed by an unsubstantiated but emotive ‘we urge you to distance yourself’.

And if you don’t? We will try very hard to destroy you.

Am I right to see a hint of a threat there? – ‘distance yourself, single-out and ostracise this individual or we will cause trouble’. It’s a threat feminists are beginning to get used to. It comes from MPAs (Male Privileged Agitators) and queer folk alike.

And from people who consider themselves feminists – don’t forget that part.

The mission to train feminists into being submissive, obedient, silent women goes like this: Don’t ever allow yourself to be called ‘phobic’ or else bad things will happen to you. Not to women. To you, personally. You will suffer and be punished if you express radical politics. When you’re challenging, for example, the billion dollar sex industry, you may be called ‘whorephobic’ (sic) and accused of hating prostituted women. And, if that happens, it’s not just a word with ‘phobia’ at the end, it has the power to set a stream of hatred and no-platforming your way.

And what does that do? Why, it silences feminists. Own goal!

Our ‘choices’ are limited. We keep quiet, we go anonymous and hope we’re not doxxed (by anti-feminists or ‘feminists’ who knows?) or we speak our mind under our real name knowing that years of intimidation and harassment lie ahead. The pattern of thinking for the Obedient Woman goes something like this: ‘We avoid any kind of ‘phobia’ (sic) at any costs – but see those women over there? They’re bigots and should be silenced. I am, of course, a good ally of yours, how could you think I am not? Hey you over there! BIGOT! TRANSPHOBE!”.


Market day

Oct 17th, 2015 4:48 pm | By

This probably belongs in the Withdrawing Room, but I feel like giving it some space. (I think soon I’ll make a page for Patreon patrons that will be about frivolities and other random things.)

There’s this conversation on Facebook about farmers’ markets, and we were told about the St Jacobs Farmers’ Market, which looks killer. It has a soup vendor! Who creates wonderful new soup recipes (and the soup itself).

And there are Mennonites.

woman cooking breakfast sandwich

And crafts, and all the good things.

colourful Tupperware on shelves

It put me in mind of the Oxford Covered Market, which has been around for centuries. So I found it – and of course it has a Facebook page too.

It’s a lovely place, the Covered Market.


She neither chooses nor identifies with this status

Oct 17th, 2015 11:33 am | By

Glosswitch talked about the “pregnant people” issue back in February.

Last week I wrote an article on the discrimination suffered by pregnant women and new mothers. In doing so I wished to stress that such discrimination is rooted not in the nature of pregnancy itself, but in the low status accorded to women as a class. If the rules changed overnight and people of higher status – men – got pregnant, we would treat the whole process very differently. Instead, we live in a world where 800 women die every single day from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. This isn’t because pregnancy happens; it’s because it only happens to people who don’t matter. These people we call “women.”

Exactly. The fact that it’s women it happens to is crucial, so dropping the word “women” from the discussion is a truly terrible idea.

I am not prepared to compromise on what gender is and how it relates to the exploitation of female bodies if what I’m writing about is pregnancy discrimination (if what I was writing about was favourite sandwich fillings I might take a different approach). I’m well aware that it’s considered polite (at least if you’re a woman) to add some little qualification that undermines one’s whole argument by prioritising gender as brainsex over gender as a murderous hierarchy, but if we’re talking about actual death tolls, I’m not doing it. So that’s it. Much as I’d love to join in [with] the superficial halo polishing I’m out.

Once the murderous hierarchy no longer exists – then it will be another story. But that won’t be on the watch of “third wave” feminism, or “hundredth wave” either.

“Pregnant woman” is not an identity. It is a social reality. A pregnant woman’s ever-contracting rights – whether she can choose to end this pregnancy, whether she will risk imprisonment for drinking too much, whether she will lose her job, whether she will be murdered by her partner – can only be seen through the filter of her inferior social status: that of woman. She neither chooses nor identifies with this status and it matters that the restrictions it places on her and others be fully acknowledged. Hundreds of women died today because of the way in which pregnancy intersects with their political and social status as women. The term “pregnant people” denies them the specificity of their deaths and masks the cause.

What gender-neutral pregnancy campaigning has achieved is wholly negative, making it impossible to articulate why there exists a class of people who are not granted full sovereignty over what lies beneath their own skin.  It has located the abortion debate (which should not be a debate at all) back where conservatives want it: on the status of the foetus, not that of the gravida. It has allowed the misogynist left to consolidate their definition of woman as “passive fantasy girl with tits” as opposed to “person with independent physical functions, emotions and needs.” Above all, it has created the illusion of an opt-out to being placed in the inferior sex class. Well, there isn’t, at least not until you can be bothered to challenge the fundamental idea that half the human race is inferior (oh, but that’s so much harder than messing about with words!).

It’s a lot less fun, too.

A London street in 2015

Oct 17th, 2015 11:05 am | By

A tweet:

Giles Dilnot @reporterboy
Amazed. That’s quite a sign for a London street in 2015.

Embedded image permalink

Description: a demonstration, with one person in the foreground holding a sign that reads:


People everywhere need to hear about Jesus

Oct 17th, 2015 10:38 am | By

It sounds like a sweet idea for schools – have children fill a box with toys and essential items and the Christmas Box charity will send it to a child who is living in poverty. But. There’s more to it.

Emma Williams at Humanist Life reports:

Operation Christmas Child is run by Samaritan’s Purse, a huge and zealous organisation led by Franklin Graham, son of the famous evangelist Billy Graham. Not only is the organisation openly homophobic, it seeks to proselytise in a manner that most people, including liberal Christians, find unacceptable. As a humanist, I am naturally disquieted by the idea of people performing evangelical work with the intended purpose of conversion; but I am positively offended when this work is performed at the expense of vulnerable children in desperate situations across the globe.

It’s a bit like prostitution that way. “Choices” made in circumstances of dire poverty are not really choices at all.

Many UK representatives hotly defend Operation Christmas Child and claim to have seen no evidence of evangelism or of the accusation that the boxes are distributed with ‘strings attached’. These people are either disingenuous or incredibly naïve. A cursory glance at the charity’s own website provides a wealth of evidence that the explicit, stated purpose of Operation Christmas Child is to convert the child who receives the gift and to encourage them to convert their families. The mission statement says that ‘every gift-filled shoe box is a powerful tool for evangelism and discipleship – transforming the lives of children around the world through the Good News of Jesus Christ’. As one of the representatives in India puts it in this promotional film, ‘children become the harvesters’ for Jesus.  Religious literature is distributed, often in the children’s own language, and this is the charity’s own description of how it is used:

‘Through The Greatest Journey discipleship programme, boys and girls can become faithful followers of Jesus Christ. Samaritan’s Purse developed The Greatest Journey as a dynamic, interactive Bible study for use in countries around the world where Operation Christmas Child distributes gift-filled shoeboxes. Wherever possible, children receiving shoeboxes are invited to enrol on The Greatest Journey; 2.8 million children have enrolled on this programme since the curriculum was first developed in 2008.’

Some of the evangelical literature sent with shoeboxes to impoverished children

The evangelism is carefully hidden in the UK version of this project.

One of the reasons why so many people in the UK are completely oblivious to the extreme agenda of Samaritan’s Purse is that it is deliberately not promoted here, to the extent that many earnest and well-meaning volunteers remain blissfully unaware of its sinister nature. This is an excerpt from one of the organisation’s own statements about their UK-based operation, and it implies that there may well be practices that even those who work for the charity in the UK are completely unaware of:

‘Please be assured that the commitment of Samaritan’s Purse to evangelism is as strong as ever. … However, there is a difference in the way the boxes are processed in the UK for overseas shipment. The UK program removes all religious items … and forwards any Christian literature to our National Leadership Teams working in countries where shoebox gifts are distributed, so the Christian literature can be used with children. … The Gospel is also presented locally as part of the distribution of the gifts, and wherever possible, children are offered a Gospel storybook written in their own language called The Greatest Gift of All. Many children are also invited to enrol in a 10-lesson follow-up Bible study program, and upon completion receive a New Testament as a graduation gift.’

In the USA, where evangelism is broadly accepted and commonplace in many parts of the country, the evangelical message is better understood both by donors and by volunteers. In this country, most volunteers and participants in the scheme cling to the notion that if they haven’t seen it then it doesn’t go on. Do not be fooled – it does.

Tell all your friends.

Pretend humanism

Oct 17th, 2015 10:01 am | By

Merrill Miller at The Humanist:

Recently, certain individuals have appropriated the term “humanism” in an attempt to legitimize their anti-women, anti-feminist message. Masquerading as “activists” for men’s rights, these people do not concern themselves with serious problems faced by men in the United States today such as the disproportionately high incarceration rates for Black men or the shocking percentage of workplace injuries that lead to fatalities for male workers. Instead, they spout regressive, sexist views on the Internet that blame feminism and women for society’s ills while promoting a version of masculinity that applauds men who can coerce women into dating and having sex with them.

It’s a popular catch-phrase for anti-feminists – “I’m not a feminist, I’m a humanist.” (It was depressing to see that Meryl Streep said it the other day.) It’s another “All Lives Matter.” Rights for all; yes indeed, good plan; the fact remains that women are a subordinate class in relation to men, and that has not been fully overturned yet, to put it mildly.

One Facebook group, Humanists United Against Feminism, claims that the majority of women who reported being raped are making false accusations to gain attention, even though research shows that only 2 to 8 percent of reported rapes are false accusations—comparable with the rates of false reporting for other crimes. Another Facebook group, Exposing Feminism, dismisses feminism as “female superiority nonsense,” contrary to the definition of feminism, which is “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities” and “the theory of political, economic and social equality of the sexes.” Yet another, A Voice for Men: Humanist Counter-Theory, blames women for rape and for the gender wage gap, a pay discrepancy shown by research from many reputable organizations to be the result of societal perceptions of women workers and not the result of individual women’s choices.

It’s not real humanism, it’s fake humanism, mask humanism, gotcha humanism.

While these groups may at first seem ridiculous, humanists should not dismiss them completely, largely because they are attempting to claim the term “humanism” to promote their anti-women agendas. Humanists should also be concerned because, even though there are individuals in the Men’s Rights Movement who identify as religious, many also identify as atheists, agnostics or nonreligious. While atheists and humanists are often quick to rightly criticize the sexism of the religious right, the vitriol spewed towards women by nonreligious men’s rights activists (MRAs) should also be a wake-up call to combat sexism within the secular community.

That’s been obvious for at least the past more-than-four years, but whatever.

Humanists—real humanists who actively promote human rights for all and equality for women—must be vigilant in defining what the humanist philosophy really is—as well as what it is not. Humanism is most certainly inclusive of feminism, and the American Humanist Association’s Feminist Caucus is an example of individuals of all genders and gender identities who identify as both humanists and feminists working toward women’s equality. The American Humanist Association will continue to defend women’s rights, especially from frequent attacks by the religious right to prevent access to necessary reproductive healthcare such as sexual education, contraception, and abortion. But threats to women’s rights are now also coming from people who claim to be humanists, though the views they hold run contrary to the humanist philosophy. Humanists must not let MRAs dictate the conversations surrounding humanism and feminism. Instead, we must continue our longstanding tradition of working toward women’s equality and affirming solidarity with the feminist movement.

Sounds good to me.

Don’t read the comments.

Strings attached

Oct 17th, 2015 9:26 am | By

This is something I didn’t know was happening. Colleen Flaherty at Inside Higher Ed reports that colleges and universities are taking money from a corporation to teach Ayn Rand. She cites

a forthcoming paper in the Journal of Academic Ethics, called, “BB&T, Atlas Shrugged and the Ethics of Corporation Influence on College Curricula.” It says it is the first study to track a particular set of donations by the financial services holding company BB&T to colleges and universities stipulating that they teach the works of free-market capitalist Ayn Rand and address the “Moral Foundations of Capitalism.”

The paper says these agreements, which have largely ceased, happen under a veil of secrecy, often without the knowledge of faculty members, and that BB&T’s foundation is set on correcting what it sees as an overly liberal curriculum.

“This has been reported on ad hoc, mostly by individual universities and their campus newspapers,” said Douglas Beets, the article’s author and a professor of business at Wake Forest University, which has its own BB&T-funded program. “But otherwise you can’t find information on [BB&T’s] website, and that’s one of the major problems — this is not transparent.” And Beets says that, given current discussions over allegations of corporate influence over university research agendas, the Ayn Rand grants need more attention.

It sounds eerily like the Templeton Foundation, but in aid of teaching Ayn Randism instead of religion.

By scouring local news stories and university press releases, along with other means, Beets determined that at least 63 colleges and universities received Moral Foundations grants, averaging about $1 million each.

The grants typically stipulate that the institution will offer a course featuring Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged — a famously pro-free market novel — and provide even unenrolled students in the relevant department a free copy of the book; in some cases, Atlas Shrugged is the only book on the course syllabus.

Why Ayn Rand ffs? Why not at least an economist or a moral philosopher, or both? Ayn Rand was a screenwriter and novelist. Why just one person? There are thousands of pro-capitalism books out there, why single out a crap novel by a hack writer as The One Book?

Beets quotes a BB&T spokesperson telling Bloomberg in 2008, “These gifts are really about the study of capitalism from a moral perspective and all we want is to make Rand part of the dialogue.”

By inserting her into the curriculum at colleges and universities, instead of other, better books.

Beets says these grants can have outsize influence, as some states have programs that match corporate donations with public funding. Beets also points to a major funding overlap with Charles and David Koch, billionaires who have poured millions into conservative causes; some 42 institutions with Moral Foundations programs also had received donations from the Koch brothers’ charities. Both BB&T and the Kochs also have been major contributors to the Ayn Rand Institute.

One campus that’s accepted both BB&T and Koch grants is Florida State University, the latter of which caused much tumulton that campus. The institution accepted a $3 million BB&T Moral Foundations grant in 2008, in exchange for creating a course on market ethics, among other requirements.

There’s a profound irony embedded in that sentence.

An element of wanting to be liked

Oct 16th, 2015 5:57 pm | By

The actor Jennifer Lawrence talks about realizing she was paid a lot less than her male colleagues, and getting annoyed at herself.

When the Sony hack happened and I found out how much less I was being paid than the lucky people with dicks, I didn’t get mad at Sony. I got mad at myself. I failed as a negotiator because I gave up early. I didn’t want to keep fighting over millions of dollars that, frankly, due to two franchises, I don’t need. (I told you it wasn’t relatable, don’t hate me).

But if I’m honest with myself, I would be lying if I didn’t say there was an element of wanting to be liked that influenced my decision to close the deal without a real fight. I didn’t want to seem “difficult” or “spoiled.” At the time, that seemed like a fine idea, until I saw the payroll on the Internet and realized every man I was working with definitely didn’t worry about being “difficult” or “spoiled.”

Because men don’t, because that’s not how it comes across when they look after their own interests.

Could there still be a lingering habit of trying to express our opinions in a certain way that doesn’t “offend” or “scare” men?

A few weeks ago at work, I spoke my mind and gave my opinion in a clear and no-bullshit way; no aggression, just blunt. The man I was working with (actually, he was working for me) said, “Whoa! We’re all on the same team here!” As if I was yelling at him. I was so shocked because nothing that I said was personal, offensive, or, to be honest, wrong. All I hear and see all day are men speaking their opinions, and I give mine in the same exact manner, and you would have thought I had said something offensive.

Because we say it in our little squeaky voices, with our narrow shoulders and puny biceps. It just doesn’t look right.

I’m over trying to find the “adorable” way to state my opinion and still be likable! Fuck that. I don’t think I’ve ever worked for a man in charge who spent time contemplating what angle he should use to have his voice heard. It’s just heard. Jeremy Renner, Christian Bale, and Bradley Cooper all fought and succeeded in negotiating powerful deals for themselves. If anything, I’m sure they were commended for being fierce and tactical, while I was busy worrying about coming across as a brat and not getting my fair share. Again, this might have NOTHING to do with my vagina, but I wasn’t completely wrong when another leaked Sony email revealed a producer referring to a fellow lead actress in a negotiation as a “spoiled brat.” For some reason, I just can’t picture someone saying that about a man.

“Spoiled brat” is something you call a child. Men are adults. Women? Not so much.

Erased from the dialogue

Oct 16th, 2015 12:00 pm | By

At Feminist Current, Susan Cox interviews Mary Lou Singleton.

Who gives birth? The answer used to be: females. Today, it’s considered politically incorrect to say that it is women, specifically, who get pregnant and become mothers. Thus, in the name of inclusivity, a number of women’s reproductive health groups are changing their terminology in order to degender the language of birth. Several organizations now refer to “pregnant people,” “pregnant individuals,” and “birthing parents” instead. Feministing writer Jos Truitt recently demanded we “Stop saying and stop thinking that abortion is a women’s issue.”

Well, okay then! Degendering women’s issues — I mean, “people’s issues” — is way progressive. But what are the costs of doing that? What are we losing in erasing women from the language of such a fundamental aspect of female bodily reality?

Mary Lou Singleton, midwife, feminist, and reproductive sovereignty activist recently addressed this question, along with many others, in an open letter to the Midwives Alliance of North America (MANA). The letter asks MANA to reconsider the revision of their core competencies to remove all references to women and mothers. I recently spoke with her about these events and her upcoming actions at MANA’s annual conference.

It’s ironic, or something…The problem used to be that all women were assumed to be mommies or wannabe mommies, now the problem is that women are tactfully concealed from the whole child-bearing thing.

Susan: Is there a history of women and women’s anatomy being erased from language and the conceptualization of sexual reproduction?

Mary Lou: Absolutely. I mean we can look at the anti-abortion movement since the 70s — possibly even longer, since the women’s liberation uprising in the late 60s/early 70s that clamored for abortion rights, then with Roe v. Wade saying that abortion was legal and between a woman and her doctor — whenever women won abortion rights, the right wing began a huge campaign to erase women from language and focus on the fetus. They focused, instead, on the fertilized egg, the embryo, and the fetus, which they called the “baby,” when obviously it’s not actually scientifically a baby until it’s born. There’s a great Stop Patriarchy chant: “A baby’s not a baby till it comes out. That’s what birthdays are all about.”

But to the anti-choice crowd a fertilized egg is a baby, an embryo is a baby, a fetus is a baby. All of their literature is about these pictures of fetuses, these pictures of embryos saying, “I have a heartbeat at this many weeks.” “I have fingerprints at this many weeks.” And the woman is completely erased from the dialog. The only time the woman might be mentioned is when they use infantilizing terms like “mommy” — “Mommy don’t kill me!” Or sometimes they will call the pregnant woman a mother, when she’s not yet a mother. She’s a gestating female and she’s in the process of deciding whether or not to stay pregnant and she’s deciding whether or not to become a mother. Yet she’s put into this societal gender role of “mother” and this fetus is a “baby,” and never ever ever is the word “woman” mentioned. So there is an absolute erasure of women in the abortion debate on the right.

It was very much a calculated move on their part to erase women from the language of pregnancy and put their focus on “saving babies”… “Saving babies” by treating women like incubators, that is. “Saving babies” by forcing women to go through all the full physical and emotional risks of term pregnancies against their wills. “Saving babies” by enslaving women is the part of the conversation that’s never mentioned. And even in the liberal press, nobody calls them on that. The question isn’t: When does a fertilized egg become a human being? The question is: When does a woman stop being a human being and become a state-regulated incubator? So even on the left there isn’t a whole lot of advocacy for women as full human beings — full citizens with the right to bodily autonomy.

The whole thing is a tight unbreakable circle. Women are enslaved because they’re the ones who have the babies, and they can be enslaved this way because they are women – second class, subordinate, inferior – lesser, lower, slavish, thing-like, property. That’s why I think it’s a bad mistake to erase women from the politics of abortion and contraception rights: it’s because it’s political, and it’s political as the class of men subordinating the class of women.

Susan: This more current erasure of the role of women in reproduction reminds me of the way it’s been done throughout history, all the way back to antiquity. For example, Aristotle said that men provide the seed for reproduction and women are merely the soil. The idea being that the man’s sperm does everything to create the baby and the woman is merely the space in which it occurs — an incubator.

MaryLou: And isn’t that just what we’re still saying? By saying that life begins at fertilization, we are essentially saying that life begins at ejaculation. That a baby is something a man ejaculates into a woman.

Oh zing – so it is. I hadn’t made that connection before. I knew the Aristotle claim, and have cited it, but I didn’t connect it with the “life begins at conception” mantra.

MaryLou: Yes, they’re saying that it’s not something a woman creates with close to 10 months of physical labour — that’s what a baby is. A baby is a new human being that a woman creates over the course of 10 months of physical work. Life-begins-at-fertilization is saying that a baby is something that a man ejaculates into a woman and that woman is then obligated to bring that baby to term, because it’s a full human being at ejaculation. So… we haven’t progressed since Aristotle! [Laughs]

Susan: It’s as if men want to take credit for birth.

But Singleton goes on to say things I don’t agree with.

MaryLou: Yes, and women’s labour is made invisible all over the world. I mean, the world runs on the uncompensated labour of women. And that’s part of sex-based oppression. We have to be able to discuss that. In midwifery this is so important because midwifery is a place where women have authentic power. This is a woman’s tradition. It’s women’s work to give birth. You can’t think of a more woman-centered profession and reality than the place where we focus on gestation, birth, and early mothering.”

No, I don’t buy that. It’s too “essentialist” for my taste – too close to agreeing with the old idea I just mentioned, that all women are mommies or wannabe mommies, and that if they’re not there’s something wrong with them. It also excludes men, when the healthier approach is surely to involve fathers as much as possible. I think it makes sense to involve men in the birth process, but I think it does not make sense to delete the word “women” from the politics of abortion.

The heart of the matter in four frames

Oct 16th, 2015 10:57 am | By

Kenan Malik wrote the introduction to a new Danish collection of Jesus and Mo cartoons and he has posted it on his blog.

One of my favourite cartoons shows Jesus and Mo explaining to the barmaid the Aristotelian idea, later picked up by both Islamic and Christian theologians, that ‘Everything that has a beginning must have a cause’ and ‘the universe has a beginning, therefore it must have a cause’. ‘Therefore?’, asks the barmaid. ‘Therefore no bacon’, replies Mo. ‘Or gay sex’, chips in Jesus. It is a typical dig at the illogicalities of religious faith. It also, in Jesus and Mo’s inimitable way, taps into one of the most difficult theological conundrums for believers, the tension between the idea of God as ‘first cause’, or as a ‘condition of being’, and the God of scriptures that does all the other things that religion requires of Him: perform miracles, answer our prayers, wrestle with the devil, set down moral law, punish sinners. And tell us to keep off the bacon sarnies and gay sex. I give an hour-long lecture on this topic. Jesus and Mo get to the heart of the matter in four frames.

I did a post about that years ago, in which I called it the theist four-step. The four get compressed into one by the interested parties: it’s just assumed that if you accept this idea that there’s a deity, then you also accept the idea that it’s good, and it gets to tell you what to do, and that you reliably know all three. That’s silly: the four are quite separate. I accept that it’s a fact that there’s a pope. The end. I don’t accept the claim that the pope is good, I don’t accept the claim that the pope gets to tell me what to do, I don’t know of any duty I have to the pope. Same for god (if I accepted that it’s a fact that god exists, which of course I don’t).

Nor is it just religion that Jesus and Mo cartoons dissect. They unpick many of the idiocies of liberal culture too. Another of my favourite cartoons shows Jesus and Mo sitting at the bar having ‘pledged not to say anything that might cause one of them to feel offended.’ They sit in silence. And still more silence. Until finally Mo says, ‘This is nice, isn’t it’. In one cartoon strip, getting to the fundamental problem with the liberal fear of giving offence.

Always relevant, alas.


Oct 15th, 2015 5:48 pm | By

The Guardian on Saba and Gulalai Ismail of Aware Girls:

Aware Girls was founded in 2002 and operates in the face of severe violence, not just in Peshawar but also in Pakistan’s tribal areas and other troubled parts of the country. It trains young women on their rights – and, through its Youth Peace Network, makes efforts to encourage more women into politics – who then try to stop their peers being radicalised, leaving Peshawar for villages and towns where they try to dissuade others from joining extremist groups.

In Peshawar, this is highly dangerous work – not least because Aware Girls is run mainly by women. One of its attendees in 2011 was Malala Yousafzai, whose own efforts on behalf of women’s education earned her a bullet to the head from the Taliban at the age of 15. She survived and went on to win the Nobel peace prize. Gulalai says her friend is now a symbol of honour for the organisation. “Violent attacks are happening to many women in Pakistan, so I was happy Malala was able to highlight the issue.”

That’s how I first heard of Gulalai and Aware Girls – the day Malala was shot, I was glued to Twitter, and Gulalai was there.

The group believes the best way to combat terrorism is with education. Gulalai and her sister, Saba, founded it in 2002 when they were still teenagers, their initial goal to advance women’s rights in a city where many females suffer appalling discrimination. The sisters began campaigning against domestic violence, acid attacks, honour killings and exploitative labour.

Since 2010, Aware Girls has also focused on its growing peace network, which stretches out from its Peshawar base to rural Taliban strongholds. Last year, 223 activists reached almost 4,000 “at risk” young people. At the last national elections, in 2013, Aware Girls led all-female teams of polling station monitors, to ensure women were allowed to vote freely and without intimidation.

They’re so amazing.

Labelled ‘native informant’ or ‘house arab’ by the illiberal liberals

Oct 15th, 2015 5:18 pm | By

Eiynah at Nice Mangos is feeling more than annoyed at the way ex-Muslims are ignored by nearly all political directions.

As the Canadian federal election date draws closer, I can’t get my mind off the niqab debate. I can’t stop thinking about the fact that this one issue demonstrates how voices like mine – fromwithin the Muslim community are routinely ignored, cast aside, betrayed by the illiberal ‘liberal’ West …simply for the crime of not fitting the simplistic tribalist narratives.

Zunera Ishaq – a Pakistani immigrant to Canada just like myself ….took on the government regarding the issue of niqabs during the citizenship oath and won the right to wear a mask in court when no one else is allowed to. She won the privilege to flaunt her alliance with an inflexible, misogynistic, hardline, right-wing, extremist interpretation of Islam in the face of already marginalized, threatened, liberal minorities from within the Muslim community.

Widespread liberal support for her is as distasteful as support for ‘White nationalism’ or ‘Straight Pride’. Except not many liberals can see past the ‘minority’ aspect. Well, the KKK would be a minority in Pakistan, but it wouldn’t mean that we start treating them as liberal heroes if they challenged ‘the majority’.

What if the KKK in Pakistan were prevented from wearing their hoods in court (and elsewhere)? Would that make them liberal heroes? Nope, it would not.

This issue showcases how utterly alone people in my position are. We don’t align with the position of the western ‘right’ on so many things, we are orphaned liberals – abandoned by the left which usually champions ‘equality’ and free speech, stands against the religious right….unless….’Islam’, we are thus pushed into a corner where the only people willing to listen to us are associated with the right…which is not necessarily a compromise everyone is willing to make. But if they do, you can’t fully blame them for wanting to be heard.

But not the whole of the left. I’m on the left, and I haven’t abandoned, and there are many who can say the same. Not enough, but many.

But again, regarding Islam even in the ‘human-rights championing West’, our voices are silenced, left out of the conversation, misrepresented. We continue to be marginalized, targeted with unbelievable bigotry from the left and the right. If we speak out against our own oppression, we are labelled ‘native informant’ or ‘house arab’ by the illiberal liberals.

We are seen as being from the same stock of foreign ‘savages’ by the far-right, and the conversation is hijacked by these two extremes; the xenophobes who wish to cast suspicion and doubt on all Muslims, or the ‘liberals’ who ally with our bigoted Muslim far-right, our oppressors.

I am left with an ache in my gut, and a sinking feeling when I see the hypocritical left, fight against victim blaming, slut-shaming but celebrate it in the form of niqab simply because it is not ‘their culture’, it is not their fight. Their fight is with fox news, Stephen Harper, and that’s it. Their fight for equality ends there. Misogyny is acceptable if packaged as part of a foreign culture.

Read the whole thing.