Notes and Comment Blog

March 15, 1965

Jan 3rd, 2015 11:53 am | By

And just in case you feel like watching the whole damn thing – here’s the 45 minute version.


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

And we shall overcome

Jan 3rd, 2015 11:48 am | By

I went to A Play! last night, and Tuesday night. It’s a two-part play about the presidency of LBJ, All the Way With LBJ and The Great Society. It was pretty damn good. He was an interesting guy but his interestingness was overshadowed by at one end the (much exaggerated) “charisma” of the Kennedys and at the other end the misbegotten war in Vietnam.

Accidental president. Brilliant politician. Flawed man. It’s 1963 and an assassin’s bullet catapults Lyndon Baines Johnson into the presidency. A Shakespearean figure of towering ambition and appetite, the charismatic, conflicted Texan hurls himself into Civil Rights legislation, throwing the country into turmoil. But in faraway Vietnam, a troublesome conflict looms. The Huffington Post calls Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan’s dramatization of LBJ’s first year in office “a vivid profile of one of the most complicated men to occupy the presidency.”


Here’s the last 5 minutes of Johnson’s March 1965 address to Congress urging passage of the Voting Rights Bill, also known as the We shall overcome speech.


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

The girls exhibited a Lego flood proof bridge project

Jan 2nd, 2015 5:08 pm | By

Speaking of Lego and girls…

Last May, some Girl Scouts met with Obama to talk about a bridge.

Five girl scouts from Jenks met President Barack Obama to present their plan for a flood-proof bridge at the White House Science Fair.

The girls, 6-year-old Avery Dodson and 8-year-olds Natalie Hurley, Miriam Schaffer, Claire Winton and Lucy Claire Sharp of Girl Scout Troop 2612 built a model for the bridge based on the recent damaging floods in Estes Park, Colo. The girls are the only Girl Scouts in the nation at the fair.

The flood-proof bridge model the girls designed mechanizes the bridge with motors and gears in the correct ratios.

A computer program developed by the girls would cause the bridge to retract when flood conditions set in through a motion sensor in the river bed.

The fair was in June. It was in the news last week.

Ignoring his own stern warning to not “put stuff on your head if you’re president,” Obama donned a tiara while posing for a photo with Girl Scout Troop 2612, of Tulsa, Oklahoma. White House photographer Pete Souza shared the photo for the first time on Wednesday.

“Still editing 2014 Year in Photos. I may include this one even though it’s a posed photo,” Souza said on Instagram. “This is from the annual White House Science Fair. The kids from Girl Scout Troop 2612 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, convinced the President to wear a tiara with them for their group photo. The girls had exhibited a Lego flood proof bridge project.”

The White House Science Fair took place in June, and focused on girls and women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields who are inspiring the next generation of scientists.

Emphasis mine.


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

Guest post: The moment he realized how horribly wrong he had been

Jan 2nd, 2015 4:17 pm | By

Originally part of a comment by Golgafrinchan Captain on They were essentially without any relevant experience.

When I was growing up, my parents had a friend who had been a Nazi is WW2. It wasn’t something he really talked about but, through the years, I gathered some details from him and some more from his children. They thought they were the good guys, doing what needed to be done to protect themselves and the world from an imminent threat. It scares the crap out of me that our brains can make that kind of rationalization, but they can.

He was captured quite early and kept in a Canadian POW camp. The moment he realized how horribly wrong he had been is when he got to the POW camp and was actually treated well. The enemy he thought he was fighting would never show compassion to captives. That’s what’s so horrible about things like the US torture program; it confirms the beliefs of “the enemy”.

When Bush Jr.’s Iraq war started, it really messed with my head. Many of the things I heard coming out of the States reminded me of the things that had convinced my parents’ friend that they were on the side of good in WW2. Note: this is not to say that the US’s current actions are anywhere near as horrible as some of the things done by the Nazi’s, but it’s walking the same path. Also, plenty of comments by US citizens were/are just as horrible (“nuke all the sand-n***ers”, “savages who don’t deserve to live”, etc.). To be fair, Canada also has it’s share of such assholes but I think they are tolerated much less.

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

Guest post: The toys that you build your own dreams with

Jan 2nd, 2015 12:44 pm | By

Originally a comment by Ilyris on Just children.

30 years ago Lego had a space range. I always played with my brother’s Lego, and eventually my parents started buying me Lego too. One of the changes seems to be the faces. The Lego faces of my spacemen were very neutral, just 2 dots and a gently smiling mouth. I hear that they are getting angrier, and the characters are more geared toward conflict. I don’t understand why they can’t leave them neutral and if the child wants to play cops and robbers or whatever they can use their imagination. That seems to have really disappeared, the toys that you build your own dreams with.

From the article: “Research conducted for the company found that children, especially boys, enjoyed playing out conflicts between characters.”

So they’ve pushed their range toward boys deliberately, and then decided they need something fluffy to market to girls, both perpetuating gender stereotypes and also encouraging boys to engage in conflict.

And you know, apparently tricycles do need to be gendered. We went looking for one for a 2 year old a couple of weeks ago; the choices were pink and covered in princesses, or blue and covered in trucks and masculine wording. How about a plain green one?

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

Dirty fighting

Jan 2nd, 2015 12:15 pm | By

The NY Times reports that Cosby and his team have been attacking his accusers for decades – so he not only assaulted women, he also did what he could to damage them afterwards.

That too is a familiar pattern. Bill Clinton did it, Woody Allen did it, Michael Shermer did it. It’s interesting how conscienceless you have to be to do that – to harm someone and then when she tries to report the harm, try to damage her so badly that she will stop trying to report the harm.

In 2005, when Tamara Green told the “Today” show and The Philadelphia Inquirer that Bill Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted her in the early 1970s, one of Mr. Cosby’s lawyers publicly branded the allegations “absolutely false,” while his aides approached another newspaper with “damaging information” about her, according to court documents.

Nice guy.

As accusations of sexual assault continue to mount against Mr. Cosby — more than two dozen women have gone public, the latest last Monday — the question arises as to why these stories never sparked a widespread outcry before. While many of the women say they never filed police complaints or went public because they feared damaging their reputations or careers, the aggressive legal and media strategy mounted by Mr. Cosby and his team may also have played a significant role.

Nice, nice, nice guy.

An examination of how the team has dealt with scandals over the past two decades and into this fall reveals an organized and expensive effort that involved quashing accusations as they emerged while raising questions about the accusers’ character and motives, both publicly and surreptitiously. And the team has never been shy about blasting the news media for engaging in a feeding frenzy even as the team made deals or slipped the news organizations information that would cast Mr. Cosby’s accusers in a negative light.

But there can be a downside.

But casting doubt on or aiming vitriol at the accusers can have consequences.

In 2005, when Mr. Cosby’s team denied Tamara Green’s accusations that he had drugged and sexually assaulted her in Los Angeles in the early 1970s, she did not pursue legal action. But this month she was ready to fight back. Mr. Cosby’s team had greeted her renewed claim of sexual assault by saying it was “a 10-year discredited accusation that proved to be nothing at the time, and is still nothing.” On Dec. 10, Ms. Green filed a defamation suit against Mr. Cosby, saying the denials basically branded her a liar.

“I want it put to a jury,” Ms. Green said earlier this month. “I want it ended, finally. I want my name restored.”

But but but Bill Cosby is such a nice guy.

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

Fatu Kekula

Jan 2nd, 2015 11:32 am | By

A story posted publicly by A Mighty Girl on Facebook:

The incredible story of 22-year-old Liberian nursing student Fatu Kekula, who used trash bags to protect herself from Ebola while saving the lives of her family members, inspired people around the world last fall. Fatu’s innovative “trash bag method” was widely praised and is even being taught by aid workers to other West Africans caring for sick loved ones without standard protective gear. But with most schools closed in the country due to the epidemic, Fatu was unsure how she would finish her nursing training. Now, with the help of international supporters, Fatu has the opportunity to finish her education at one of the premier nursing schools in the United States.

Fatu’s story began last summer when her family was struck with the Ebola virus. Thanks to her dedication and ingenuity, three of four family members who caught the virus survived. For weeks, Fatu, worked alone to feed, clean, and provide medical care to her family, in consultation with their family doctor, who would speak to her on the phone but refused to come to the house. She had no access to personal protection equipment other than masks and gloves, so she layered trash bags under and over her boots, as well as putting one over her hair. She wore four layers of gloves on her hands, and a raincoat to help minimize contact with her skin. Multiple times a day, she would painstakingly don her improvised protection in order to care for her desperately ill family.

“I cried many times,” she told to CNN. “I said ‘God, you want to tell me I’m going to lose my entire family?’” But thanks to her care, her patients survived until they could be transferred to beds in a nearby hospital. Sadly, her cousin did not recover, but her mother, father, and sister survived — a remarkable recovery rate for a disease with a death rate of 70%. “I’m very, very proud,” her father said. “I’m sure she’ll be a great giant of Liberia.”

After learning about Fatu’s story, I Am Projects, a non-profit founded by African immigrants in the US to support the education of young Africans, helped her apply for nursing schools outside of Liberia. With its expertise on infectious diseases, including Ebola, Emory University’s School of Nursing was a perfect fit and they gave Fatu a 50% scholarship. To help cover the rest of Fatu’s tuition expenses for her final two semesters, as well as help support her travel and living costs, I Am Projects is currently running a fundraiser — and it’s now at 70% of its goal.

If you would like to help this remarkable young woman finish her nursing degree, you can make a donation at

For two stories about African girls living through the midst of another epidemic — the HIV/AIDS pandemic, we recommend “The Heaven Shop” for ages 10 to 14

and “Chanda’s Secrets” for 13 and up
For more stories of Mighty Girls or their loved one grappling with illness, visit our “Life Challenges” section on “Illness/Disease” at…/personal-deve…/life-challenges…

For books about inspiring women doctors and scientists for children and teens, visit…/history-biography/biography…

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

Back in the day

Jan 2nd, 2015 11:03 am | By

At Gregory in Seattle’s suggestion I did a Google images search on “LEGO ad 1970s” and sure enough…compared to the present they look like a lost utopia.

Note the caution – when it’s a girl and boy together, the girl is smaller and younger than the boy. It wouldn’t do to have a dominant little girl, even though there are in fact some families in which there is a girl (or even more than one) who is older than her brother.

But all the same. Utopia, I tells ya.

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

“I am not sure why you feel the need to protect him”

Jan 2nd, 2015 10:08 am | By

I guess I should adjust my opinion of Judd Apatow. I had thought of him as one of the pillars of Bro-world, whose citizens generally seem oblivious to the existence of women as anything other than platforms for genitalia. But that doesn’t seem to cohere well with his attitude to Bill Cosby.

If you’ve followed director Judd Apatow’s Twitter musings for the last several weeks, his views on the rape allegations against Bill Cosby won’t come as a huge surprise.

But over the weekend, Apatow went on a lengthy anti-Cosby rampage. He slammed Cosby’s “cold” defenders for siding with the comedian. He compared Cosby’s lack of conviction in a court of law to Hitler dying without being convicted of murder. And he labeled Cosby “a rapist” and “a monster.”

“I wish he wasn’t a rapist too. I am not sure why you feel the need to protect him,” Apatow told one Cosby defender.

“I always wonder why some people try so hard to not believe women who have been assaulted. What is the root of that?” he tweeted at another.

The usual – the failure to understand that women are human beings just as men are.

Asked by one follower why he had an “obsession” with Cosby, Apatow quipped: “I guess it’s because guys who rape a lot aren’t cool.”

Cosby has never been convicted of any of the allegations against him, but the recent allegations threaten to permanently tarnish the reputation of one of America’s most beloved and powerful comedians.

Not all the rapey priests and bishops have been convicted, either, but the hundreds of allegations threaten to tarnish the reputation of the Catholic church forever.

Apatow’s outspokenness is rare among entertainment industry figures, who have remained largely silent on the allegations that have swirled around Cosby for years but havereached a fever pitch over the last several months.

Save for a few of Cosby’s celebrity defenders like comedian Whoopi Goldberg and singer Jill Scott, the response in show business has been non-existent. Hollywood, it appears, prefers to stay out of the fray.

“Almost nobody here will acknowledge that Bill Cosby has been accused of rape x30,” he said earlier this month.

Well, I guess I do have to adjust my opinion.

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

Have a pleasant trip, thank you for sailing with us

Jan 2nd, 2015 9:33 am | By

Here’s an exciting new way to treat people badly – offer them passage on a ship and then once the ship is well out into the sea…leave. What the hell, you have better things to do, right?

Italian authorities have taken control of a ship with 450 migrants, thought to be Syrian, that was abandoned by its crew off Italy’s coast.

The Italian coastguard said it was now being towed to an Italian port after a rescue team managed to board.

The Ezadeen, sailing under the flag of Sierra Leone, lost power in rough seas overnight off the south-east of Italy.

A total of 796 migrants were rescued from another ship found abandoned without any crew earlier in the week.

It’s the hot new trend.

The alarm was raised in a distress call from one of the migrants using the maritime radio on board, who told the Italian coastguard: “We’re without crew, we’re heading toward the Italian coast and we have no-one to steer.”

The Ezadeen was built nearly 50 years ago and is a livestock carrier. It appears to be registered to a Lebanese company and has come under the control of human traffickers.

That is, the traffickers borrowed it, and once it was in open waters, they returned it to its owners and went away to borrow another ship.

Analysis: Jonathan Josephs, BBC News

The Ezadeen is the latest uncrewed ship full of would-be migrants to be left to drift to its fate in the Mediterranean Sea.

People-traffickers appear to be behind the phenomenon and one source with close knowledge of the rescue operations is concerned that it “seems to be something of a new trend”.

Money for old rope. Borrow or rent a ship, stuff it with people, pocket the cash, nip back to shore in a speedboat.

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

Just children

Jan 1st, 2015 6:01 pm | By

A great comic on the whole “let’s make a special pink fluffy version of this toy for girls” approach to toy-making and -marketing. Maritsa Patrinos is the artist.

“Why do girls need their own Legos?”

“We wanted Legos to appeal to girls more.”

Why not just make them appeal to children? Just children?

There’s no need to sell tricycle for girls and tricycles for boys. There’s no need to sell baseball bats or wagons or toy cars or stuffed animals or train sets or dolls or in fact anything for girls or for boys. There’s no need for all this shepherding and herding and nudging. Leave us alone. Let us play with whatever we want to play with, and keep your ideas about what’s “gender appropriate” to yourself.

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

Dossiers on trolls

Jan 1st, 2015 5:04 pm | By

Sweden has a tv journalist who confronts internet trolls, Robert Aschberg.

The goal of Troll Hunter is not to rid the Internet of every troll. “The agenda is to raise hell about all the hate on the Net,” he says. “To start a discussion.” Back at the Troll Hunter office, a whiteboard organized Aschberg’s agenda. Dossiers on other trolls were tacked up in two rows: a pair of teens who anonymously slander their high school classmates on Instagram, a politician who runs a racist website, a male law student who stole the identity of a young woman to entice another man into an online relationship. In a sign of the issue’s resonance in Sweden, a pithy neologism has been coined to encompass all these forms of online nastiness: näthat (“Net hate”). Troll Hunter, which has become a minor hit for its brash tackling of näthat, is currently filming its second season.

It is generally no longer acceptable in public life to hurl slurs at women or minorities, to rally around the idea that some humans are inherently worth less than others, or to terrorize vulnerable people. But old-school hate is having a sort of renaissance online, and in the countries thought to be furthest beyond it.

The anonymity provided by the Internet fosters communities where people can feed on each other’s hate without consequence. They can easily form into mobs and terrify victims. Individual trolls can hide behind dozens of screen names to multiply their effect. And attempts to curb online hate must always contend with the long-standing ideals that imagine the Internet’s main purpose as offering unfettered space for free speech and marginalized ideas. The struggle against hate online is so urgent and difficult that the law professor Danielle Citron, in her new book Hate Crimes in Cyberspace, calls the Internet “the next battleground for civil rights.”

And Sweden is not immune.

Sweden’s Internet also has a disturbing underbelly. It burst into view with the so-called “Instagram riot” of 2012, when hundreds of angry teenagers descended on a Gothenburg high school, calling for the head of a girl who spread sexual slander about fellow students on Instagram. The more banal everyday harassment faced by women on the Internet was documented in a much-discussed 2013 TV special called Men Who Net Hate Women, a play on the Swedish title of the first book of Stieg Larsson’s blockbuster Millennium trilogy.

Internet hatred is a problem anywhere a significant part of life is lived online. But the problem is sharpened by Sweden’s cultural and legal commitment to free expression, according to Mårten Schultz, a law professor at Stockholm University and a regular guest on Troll Hunter, where he discusses the legal issues surrounding each case. Swedes tend to approach näthat as the unpleasant but unavoidable side effect of having the liberty to say what you wish. Proposed legislation to combat online harassment is met with strong resistance from free speech and Internet rights activists.

What’s Freeze Peach in Swedish?

Some researchers collected a ton of data from the comments section of the right-wing online publication Avpixlat.

Starting with this data, members meticulously identified many of Avpixlat’s most prolific commenters and then turned the names over to Expressen, one of Sweden’s two major tabloids. In December 2013, Expressen revealed in a series of front-page stories that dozens of prominent Swedes had posted racist, sexist, and otherwise hateful comments under pseudonyms on Avpixlat, including a number of politicians and officials from the ascendant far-right Sweden Democrats. It was one of the biggest scoops of the year. The Sweden Democrats, which have their roots in Sweden’s neo-Nazi movement, have long attempted to distance themselves from their racist past, adopting a more respectable rhetoric of protecting “Swedish culture.” But here were their members and supporters casting doubt on the Holocaust and calling Muslim immigrants “locusts.” A number of politicians and officials were forced to resign. Expressen released a short documentary of its reporters acting as troll hunters, knocking on doors and confronting Avpixlat commenters with their own words.

People should own their own words.

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

The literacy rate for 15-24 year-old women is 32%

Jan 1st, 2015 4:04 pm | By

A woman member of parliament in Afghanistan, Shukria Barakzai, escaped death in a suicide bombing last November.

Barakzai, who rose to prominence when she ran underground schools for girls when the Taliban ruled the country, says both the previous Afghan government and its Western benefactors have failed to defend the hard-won rights of women.

“For me, what they do to support women’s rights is just lip service, nothing more than that,” says Barakzai, interviewed in hospital where she was recovering from burns to the left side of her face and her left hand from the attack.

And Afghanistan needs support for women’s rights more than most countries.

World Bank data show Afghanistan still lags far behind even its impoverished neighbours in South Asia.
Only 16 per cent of Afghan females above the age of 15 were active in the labour force compared with 57 per cent in Bangladesh and 27 per cent in India. The fertility rate in Afghanistan is 7.2 births per woman versus 3.1 for all of South Asia. Only 14 per cent of births in Afghanistan are attended by a skilled health worker compared with 36 per cent in South Asia. The literacy rate for 15-24 year-old women was 32 per cent compared with 63 per cent in neighbouring Pakistan.

That’s a gruesome set of stats. 7 children. No medical help in childbirth. Illiteracy. You might as well be born a cow or a goat.

Barakzai, a parliamentarian the past decade, has campaigned against the practice of Afghan men marrying multiple wives; her husband, who runs an oil company, took a second wife without consulting her. She stresses the need for long-term investment in education to compete seriously for jobs instead of aid programmes for “workshops or seminars”.
“If you see their projects, they are always the same. Empowering women by a seminar or workshop. Or embroidery, tailoring,” she laughs. “I am tired of these things.”

Live long and prosper, Shukria Barakzai.


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

She had looked through the door

Jan 1st, 2015 3:07 pm | By

My first awareness of Mark Danner, I think, was reading his long article in the New Yorker The Truth of El Mozote, about a massacre by the army of El Salvador. The full article is on his website. That was December 1993. I kept the magazine sitting around for months because of the cover.


I’ll share a little, because it’s all connected. This wasn’t about Osama bin Laden, it was about the Cold War and the military versus the guerillas, but it was the US behaving badly again. We backed the military despite knowing it was up to its armpits in atrocities.

This is about a massacre, so, be warned.

This is after the men have been killed, after the young girls have been dragged away and raped and then killed.

Around this time, the soldiers returned to the house of Alfredo Márquez. “I was still sitting on the bench with my kids,” Rufina says. “When they came back, they began separating the women from their kids. They pulled the mothers away, leaving the children there crying. They took one group of women and then in a while they came back and took another. That was the saddest thing — little by little, the mothers disappeared, and the house became filled mostly with crying children.”

Rufina found herself in one of the last groups. “It must have been five o’clock. There were maybe twenty of us. I was crying and struggling with the soldiers, because I had my baby on my chest. It took two soldiers to pull the baby from me. So when I came outside into the street, I was the last in the group. I was crying and miserable, and begging God to help me.”

The soldiers marched the women down the main street. They passed the house of Marcos Dí­az on the right and, on the left, that of Ambrosiano Claros, where Rufina and her family had spent the previous night. Ambrosiano Claros’s house was in flames. “I saw other houses burning, and I saw blood on the ground. We turned the corner and walked toward the house of Israel Márquez. Then the woman at the head of the line — we were in single file — began to scream. She had looked through the door and seen the people in the house.”

What the woman had seen was thick pools of blood covering the floor and, farther inside, piles of bloody corpses — the bodies of the women who only minutes before had been sitting in the house with them, waiting.

“The first woman screamed, ‘There are dead people! They’re killing people!’ and everyone began screaming. All down the line, the women began resisting, hugging one another, begging the soldiers not to kill them. The soldiers were struggling with them, trying to push the first women into the house. One soldier said, ‘Don’t cry, women. Here comes the Devil to take you.’ ”

Rufina, still at the end of the line, fell to her knees. “I was crying and begging God to forgive my sins,” she says. “Though I was almost at the feet of the soldiers, I wasn’t begging them — I was begging God. Where I was kneeling, I was between a crab-apple and a pine tree. Maybe that was what saved me. In all the yelling and commotion, they didn’t see me there. The soldier behind me had gone up front to help with the first women. They didn’t see me when I crawled between the trees.”

She was one of the only survivors from El Mozote.

Some soldiers sat down for a break right next to her, so she couldn’t move lest they hear her.

The soldiers watched the fire and talked, and Rufina, frozen in her terror a few feet away, listened. “Well, we’ve killed all the old men and women,” one said. “But there’s still a lot of kids down there. You know, a lot of those kids are really good-looking, really cute. I wouldn’t want to kill all of them. Maybe we can keep some of them, you know — take them with us.”

“What are you talking about?” another soldier answered roughly. “We have to finish everyone, you know that. That’s the colonel’s order. This is an operativo de tierra arrasada here” — a scorched-earth operation — “and we have to kill the kids as well, or we’ll get it ourselves.”

“Listen, I don’t want to kill kids,” the first soldier said.

“Look,” another said. “We have orders to finish everyone and we have to complete our orders. That’s it.”

They went to get some sodas at the town store a few yards away.

After a time, when the soldiers seemed to have finished drinking their sodas, Rufina heard crying and screaming begin from the house of Alfredo Márquez: the screaming of the children. “They were crying, ‘Mommy! Mommy! They’re hurting us! Help us! They’re cutting us! They’re choking us! Help us!’

“Then I heard one of my children crying. My son, Cristino, was crying, ‘Mama Rufina, help me! They’re killing me! They killed my sister! They’re killing me! Help me!’ I didn’t know what to do. They were killing my children. I knew that if I went back there to help my children I would be cut to pieces. But I couldn’t stand to hear it, I couldn’t bear it. I was afraid that I would cry out, that I would scream, that I would go crazy. I couldn’t stand it, and I prayed to God to help me. I promised God that if He helped me I would tell the world what happened here.

“Then I tied my hair up and tied my skirt between my legs and I crawled on my belly out from behind the tree. There were animals there, cows and a dog, and they saw me, and I was afraid they would make a noise, but God made them stay quiet as I crawled among them. I crawled across the road and under the barbed wire and into the maguey on the other side. I crawled a little farther through the thorns, and I dug a little hole with my hands and put my face in the hole so I could cry without anyone hearing. I could hear the children screaming still, and I lay there with my face against the earth and cried.”

Rufina could not see the children; she could only hear their cries as the soldiers waded into them, slashing some with their machetes, crushing the skulls of others with the butts of their rifles. Many others — the youngest children, most below the age of twelve — the soldiers herded from the house of Alfredo Márquez across the street to the sacristy, pushing them, crying and screaming, into the dark tiny room. There the soldiers raised their M16s and emptied their magazines into the roomful of children.

The US government at the time denied the massacre, saying it was a battle between government troops and guerrillas.

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

A burden for many families

Jan 1st, 2015 11:49 am | By

Tahmima Anam on early marriage in Bangladesh.

A recent study by the development organization Plan Bangladesh and the nonprofit International Center for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh, showed that 64 percent of women aged 20-24 were married before the age of 18. Early marriage and early motherhood are the cause of a host of social and health problems, from a greater incidence of domestic violence to an increased risk of child and maternal mortality. Young brides stop going to school (according to Unicef, 5.6 million Bangladeshi children have dropped out of education early because of marriage) and thus have fewer opportunities for employment, and, crucially, little knowledge of their rights within marriage.

To the dismay of Bangladeshi NGOs, health workers and activists, the government’s response to this study has been a proposal to lower the legal age of marriage to 16. The minister for women and children’s affairs, Meher Afroz Chumki, commented: “In our country, girls become matured by the age of 14. This may become a burden for many families. If the country allows the parents to marry their daughters off at young age, many social problems may cease to exist as well.”

Oy. No, in Bangladesh and any other country girls don’t “become matured” by the age of 14. Some reach puberty by that age, or earlier, but puberty≠maturity. Maturity is alas completely different from puberty and comes much later (and gradually as opposed to all at once). The prefrontal cortex doesn’t finish developing until age 25, to cite just one index.

The putative “burden” of course is that the daughter might start fucking, and thus destroy the family’s “honor.” That’s why early marriage is considered a fix. It’s all about the fucking, and nothing else.

The minister for health and family affairs, Zahid Maleque, confused matters further by insisting that the problem was elopement, claiming that “rural adolescent girls run away from home to get married.” What united the two officials was the idea of an adolescent girl whose sexual maturity is a danger to her family, and of marriage as a way to control female sexual behavior. This, rather than a system that limits choices for young women, was the problem in their view.

Girls are seen as a contaminant to get rid of, which is depressing in itself, even before we get to the consequences.

The responsibility of our elected officials should be to protect young women from regressive customs that limit their potential, not change the rules to massage government statistics. Despite the politicians’ inadequate response, the future looks promising: Studies show that the rate of early marriage is declining. But we have a long way to go to reverse the age-old assumption that an adolescent girl is a problem to which the solution is marriage.

It’s time for a Year of the Girl, I think.

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

They were essentially without any relevant experience

Jan 1st, 2015 10:30 am | By

Mark Danner talks to Hugh Eaken at the New York Review blog about the CIA torture program.

Danner notes that the Senate’s report on the program contains a lot that was already known, but tells it “in appalling detail that we hadn’t seen before.”

The relentlessness, day in day out, of these techniques; the totality of their effect when taken together—walling, close-confinement, water-dousing, waterboarding, the newly revealed “rectal rehydration,” and various other disgusting and depraved things—is recounted in numbing, revolting detail. The effect can only be conveyed by a full reading, through page after awful page of this five-hundred-page document, which is after all less than 10 percent of the report itself.

What is new, he says, is how amateurish the program was.

It was really amateur hour, beginning with the techniques themselves, which were devised and run by a couple of retired Air Force psychologists who were hired by the CIA and put in charge though they had never conducted an interrogation before. They had no expertise in terrorism or counterterrorism, had never interrogated al-Qaeda members or anyone else for that matter. When it came to actually working with detained terrorists and suspected terrorists they were essentially without any relevant experience. Eventually, the CIA paid them more than $80 million.

So…that’s bizarre. Why would they do that? The people in charge, I mean – the administration, the CIA, whoever it was who was running the show. It’s not as if there’s no such thing as expertise in interrogation, because there very much is – so why didn’t they seek it out? Why be slapdash about something so crucial? They wanted results, surely, so why not do their best to find people who know how to get results?

The second great revelation is the degree to which the CIA claimed great results, and did so mendaciously. Sometimes the attacks they said they had prevented were not serious in the first place. Sometimes the information that actually might have led to averting attacks came not from the enhanced interrogation techniques but from other traditional forms of interrogation or other information entirely. But what the report methodically demonstrates is that the claims about having obtained essential, life-saving intelligence thanks to these techniques that had been repeated for years and years and years are simply not true. And the case is devastating.

And the thing is – they were making those claims before they even started interrogating. The claims weren’t even Save Our Asses after the torture, they were Cover Our Asses in advance.

Those claims have been made by many people and it is another revelation of the report that we see CIA people, notably the lawyers, raising these claims before the program even existed. The lawyers seemed to be thinking, “This is the only way we’re going to get away with this.” There is a quote in the report that people would look more kindly on torture—that is the word used—if it was used to stop imminent attacks. This was the so-called “necessity defense,” which, as the CIA lawyers put it, could be invoked to protect from prosecution “US officials who tortured to obtain information that saved many lives.” This idea was there right from the inception of the program.

So that’s pretty damning. It’s kind of Milosevician, in fact.

But apparently they never really properly discussed all this.

You expect that government officials who make the momentous decision to introduce an officially sanctioned torture program in the United States would have a series of serious meetings in which they would analyze the history of interrogation as it has been used by different government agencies, they would consult with allies who have a history of using these and other techniques, about what works and what doesn’t. They would make a general study of what is necessary and what is not. They would consult with legal experts. They would do a number of things.

In this case, as far as we can tell, most of these things were not done. We find a bare minimum of policy discussion. We know the CIA did very little if any research about what would work and wouldn’t. We see no decision tree springing from the felt actual need to do torture in specific cases, beginning with prisoners in hand who are unwilling to talk. Talk of torture itself—the wisps of the discussion, the ghostly mentions of the word—start very early after September 11, when “high value” detainees are generally not available, let alone refusing to talk.

So that’s all pretty disturbing. It sounds rather as if they were telling each other “well obviously we’re going to have to torture these people” right away, and that sounds as if the ideas about torture sprang straight from rage and vindictiveness rather than any kind of pragmatic need.

But unfortunately there’s no report on the decision-making process in the executive branch.

We have an essential report from the Office of Professional Responsibility in the Department of Justice about how torture was approved. We have a big and immensely valuable Armed Services Committee report from 2008 about the military’s use of torture. And now we have this report, or rather this executive summary of a report, about the CIA. There are a dozen or so reports about different aspects of Abu Ghraib. But we still have no report on how decisions were made in the executive branch, which is obviously critical.

The White House, including the offices of the president and the vice-president, and the National Security Council—these three vital areas of decision-making—still have not been examined. And there’s a reason for that. The Republicans refused to sign on to the Senate investigation unless these areas were put beyond the committee’s ken.

Democratic government is supposed to be accountable. That’s supposed to be one of its great advantages.

I’m just saying.

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

Not to be his type

Dec 31st, 2014 4:46 pm | By

From Deep Dark Fears on Facebook

More Deep Dark Fears.

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

They didn’t have the proper protective equipment

Dec 31st, 2014 3:58 pm | By

NPR’s Goats and Soda blog reports that more than 360 African health workers died of Ebola this year. It has photos of 36 of them, a poignant collection.

More than 360 African health workers died of Ebola this year. Some of them made headlines around the world, such as Dr. Umar Sheik Khan, the Sierra Leonean physician who treated more than 100 Ebola patients before contracting the disease himself.

But most of the fallen health workers didn’t get that degree of attention. They were doctors, nurses, midwives, lab technicians. They didn’t have the proper protective equipment. As they tried to save the lives of others, they sacrificed their own.

Liberia and Sierra Leone can’t afford to lose all those health workers.

In some West African clinics and medical facilities, the faces of the lost health workers stare out from tribute walls: Photos of the deceased are posted in hallways outside offices and examination rooms. A person’s name and job may be scrawled in ink underneath the photo, along with a personal note.

They had names:

Top Row: Sando Sirleaf Jr.; Sharon Shamoyan; Laurene W. Togba, RN [registered nurse]; Kortoe M. Berry, RN; Gloria Tonia Banks; David Korpu, RN; Jamaimah Harlebah, RN; Youngor Suakollie, RN

Second row: Alice M. Paasewe, CM [certified midwife]; James J. Kemokai, RN; James T. Daah, RN; Enid D. Dalieh, RN; Mercy W. Dahn, RN; Layson Zuu, RN; Josephine K. Gibson, RN; Tamba Eric Fallah, RN

Third row: Kebeh Bernice Zawu; Roseline K Moliwulo, CM; Kebbeh Marzou Akoi; Mohammed Sheriff, RN; Otino J. Garpue, RN; Joseph Sulon, RN; Esther D. Kezelee, RN; Zion S. Nuah, RN

Fourth row: Martha Y. Tom; Isatu Isatu Boyah Salifu; Enoch W.W. Saywon; Nornor Friencelai Kollie; Christian Tulah Harris; Joseph M. Khakie; Nathaniel S. Kollie, RN; Anita Leela Sackie

All died in the line of duty, along with more than 300 others.

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

Mancave, manflu, Manbook

Dec 31st, 2014 3:14 pm | By

The trouble with Facebook is that it lets just anyone use it. It should be just for men. It should be…Manbook!

But that’s ok, he’s way ahead of me, whatever his name is (he has several).

The founder of a  men’s only social media site modeled on Facebook issued a warning this week threatening the lives of women who attempt to sign up.

The creator of ‘Manbook,’ identified as Joschua Boehm — but who also uses the names Peter Nolan, Peter-Andrew: Nolan, and Joschua-Brandon: Boehm — wrote on his newly-launched site, “We would ask you women to respect our rights as you wish your rights to be respected. If you are unwilling to respect our right to freedom of association do not expect men to respect your right to life. Ok?”

“Ok”? Ok men can kill women who try to sign up to “Manbook”? No, not ok. Strange question.

Boehm, under the Peter Nolan name, also maintains a YouTube channel dedicated to videos of his own speeches urging lawmakers to change laws he feels are unfair to men, as well as uploaded videos of men ranting about women they believe have done them wrong.

Imagine my astonishment.

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

Rupert Murdoch would make a lovely gardener

Dec 31st, 2014 12:35 pm | By

New Internationalist has a terrific interview with Kate Smurthwaite. I’ll just give you a couple of highlights to make you want to read the whole thing.

If you could banish one person from the earth, who would it be and why?

No-one, that’s too cruel a punishment. Really that’s the death penalty, in a way. I don’t think harsh punishments achieve anything. We should be rehabilitating people. Rupert Murdoch would make a lovely gardener. Jeremy Clarkson could drive a Meals On Wheels van. Katie Hopkins could teach spin classes. [Prime Minister David] Cameron and [Chancellor of the Exchequer George] Osbourne could pick up litter. Although that might lead to a massive rise in people dropping bags of their own faeces as litter.

Rehabilitation; good plan. George Bush could work in a chicken-processing plant. Dick Cheney could pick cotton.

Which is most nerve-wracking: stand-up comedy or appearing on ‘Question Time’?

Neither. I love my job. I’ve been doing stand-up far too long to remember what pre-show nerves feel like and I was buzzing to be on ‘Question Time’. I’ve wanted to do it forever, and even more so when I found out who the other guests would be. I did specially ask to be on with someone from the current cabinet because I don’t want to waste my time with a bigot with no real power like over-exposed [leader of the UK Independence Party Nigel] Farage; I want to be talking to the people who can actually change things. And they turned up [Conservative politician] Ken Clarke for me, which was perfect. Well, I obviously got to him cos now he’s stepped down from the cabinet! Also Lord Oakeshott, who was on with me, has since left the Liberal Democrats. I might be the Buffy of ‘Question Time’!

She loves her job and she’s brilliant at it.

Tell me a bit about your work with Abortion Rights (ARUK

I’m the media spokesperson for AR, or as some of my dear friends like to call me ‘the face of abortion’. There are a lot of women’s rights organizations I’m involved with. The other two big ones would be Eaves Housing – which helps trafficking victims – and Women For Refugee Women – which helps asylum-seeking women, but they’re usually given more sympathetic media coverage. The AR role puts me right in the firing line for cups of coffee and being called a murderer.

Reproductive rights are very basic human rights, if you don’t have control over your own body, your other rights are pretty meaningless. The anti-choice campaigners never face up to the fact of what taking away a woman’s right to choose means. It means forced pregnancy. That’s unbearably cruel. I’m very proud to be part of an organization that refuses to stand for that.

That. They never do call it forced pregnancy. I do though; I call it that often.

What is your biggest fear?

That we’re going backwards. One of the most dangerous ideas ever is this notion that things inevitably get better. The march of progress. They do not. Brave and wonderful individuals have been fighting for your rights for centuries. Not just to get them, but to keep them, too. We should be more grateful and more aware of the need to keep fighting. I went to state schools and then to Oxford University for free; when I’m ill I walk straight in to my local NHS clinic or hospital and I get great treatment. In a generation’s time quality healthcare and education could have become a luxury only the rich can afford.

Uhhhhhh…that’s the US right now. God this country is an embarrassment.

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