Notes and Comment Blog

That’s a progressive sexual politics?

Apr 9th, 2014 12:00 pm | By

Comment is Free has a supremely stupid piece saying that it ought to be fine to make “a direct, unambiguous sexual advance” to a total stranger, and it’s a terrible thing that this pesky feminism shit is saying otherwise.

David Foster, the author of the supremely stupid piece, is worried that the Everyday Sexism project is making the world unfriendly for people who want to make direct sexual advances to strangers.

The campaign against everyday sexism has shown that a deeply unpleasant vein of misogyny still runs through our society. But in highlighting the antisocial, misguided behaviour of some unreconstructed individuals, it is important to be aware that such behaviour is not representative of most men’s attitudes. More worryingly, from the perspective of a progressive sexual politics there is a danger that the campaign is promulgating a view that any direct sexual advance is tantamount to harassment. If directly propositioning somebody for sex is automatically condemned as misogynist, as the campaign appears to assert, then the movement risks being highly counterproductive to the feminist cause and playing into the hands of the sexually repressive, patriarchal ideology that feminism strives to counter.

One of the ways the piece is supremely stupid is that he doesn’t spell out what he means by “directly propositioning somebody for sex” until near the end. That’s supremely stupid because it makes a difference, obviously. Who is “somebody”? Is it somebody you’ve been flirting with for an hour? Or is it somebody approaching you on the sidewalk, whom you’ve never seen before? It makes a difference. Toward the end he clarifies that he means the second. He’s speaking up for the endangered right to ask a stranger for sex.

Most of the behaviour reported to Laura Bates’s Everyday Sexism project does indeed sound reprehensible, but by lumping together sexual assaults and genuinely threatening behaviour with casual propositions, the campaign risks conflating deplorable and even criminal acts with sexually liberated expression. More to the point, there is a risk of comparing offensive and clumsy sexual remarks with respectful, courteous sexual advances.

A respectful, courteous sexual advance from a complete stranger in a public place is an oxymoron. Going up to a woman you don’t know and asking her very nicely if she wants to fuck you is not respectful and courteous.

Foster draws the line in the wrong place. It’s not sexual assault and genuinely threatening behaviour on the one hand and all courteous, respectful, direct, unambiguous sexual advances on the other. That’s not where the line goes. Yes, I understand why a lot of men would like it to, but the whole issue here is the notion that their desire to make direct sexual advances whenever they want to should not trump other people’s desire not to be the object of direct sexual advances at all times and places.

Feminists quite rightly espouse that both women and men should have the right to pursue sexual pleasure purely for its own sake, outside of a monogamous relationship, and independent of the patriarchal strictures of consumer capitalism. As such, there is nothing inherently sexist, or threatening or harassing, about making a direct, unambiguous sexual advance to another person. We are conditioned to find such propositions taboo because an expression of straightforward, unencumbered desire transgresses prevailing ideology.

Again – that’s true in the right context and circumstances. It’s not true in the context David Foster has in mind but doesn’t spell out until nearly the end of the piece. He occludes what he means by “another person” until after he’s done all this self-righteous generalizing. Cheap trick.

Then we get some Marcuse and Freud. Capitalism, restraints, civilized society, money, spending and consumption, ding ding toot toot. Therefore, hey, baby, wanna fuck?

Sexual gratification pursued for its own sake is an activity that need take little or no account of such concerns, and so behaviour that might give rise to such pleasure is thereby tabooed. This is why, despite our natural instincts towards seeking sexual pleasure, direct sexual advances remain extremely uncommon and why such an approach should not be condemned as harassment, but on the contrary should be recognised as a liberated approach to sexual etiquette and thus be welcomed by feminists, sexual progressives and anti-capitalists alike.

No, that is not why, you dolt. Think of it this way. Would you like it if strangers kept approaching you to ask you to make dinner for the two of you? Or go to a concert with them? Or fly with them to Disney World?

Maybe you would, but I doubt it. Lots of things are fun to do with friends and intimates that are nevertheless not things you want strangers asking you to do. And that’s without even getting into the intimidation and threat aspect. (I can tell you, spending time in a place where you really are subject to constant relentless direct sexual advances is massively intimidating. It’s not oh lalalala freedom joy liberation hooray, it’s a hell of unfreedom and feeling pursued and under pressure. It’s feeling like a person who has no right to be left alone – like an object, an underling, a captive, a hunted animal. It’s vile.)

The behavioural codes of contemporary society already make it extremely difficult for both men and women to approach strangers with a view towards making sexual advances. This should be a source of regret to us all. There is no shame in feeling and expressing sexual attraction, and we should be promoting conditions that give rise to as much mutual sexual pleasure as possible. After all, it’s one of the greatest pleasures life offers. And it’s free! Of course, this very freedom exemplifies why unencumbered sexual pleasure presents such a problem for those who would support the sexually repressive ideologies that still prevail today.

The supreme stupidity is just too much at this point. That’s the bit where he finally reveals that he is indeed talking about abrupt sexual advances from strangers, and where he betrays that he has all the empathy of a sofa cushion. It’s apparently never even crossed his mind that a lot of people just don’t want to be accosted by strangers at all, let alone with a request to fuck.

We can all agree that aggressive, lewd behaviour is deplorable. But what lies behind some of the crude and boorish conduct catalogued by the Everyday Sexism project is repressed sexuality. It is only by becoming more sexually liberated that those energies might come to be expressed in a respectful way. To promote the outright condemnation of any and all direct sexual propositions* would be a disastrously regressive step for the feminist movement. It is a clear indication of how much ground the left has ceded in recent decades that any of this needs restating at all. Whatever happened to the sexual revolution?

*by strangers. He left that bit out again. Nobody is promoting the outright condemnation of any and all direct sexual propositions. The issue is not direct sexual propositions as such, it’s direct sexual propositions by strangers. He’s not only supremely stupid, he’s also chickenshit. He takes this bold liberationist stance but at the same time he only once explicitly says he’s talking about advances from strangers. So, pretty much an everyday sexist then.



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

A virtue

Apr 9th, 2014 10:47 am | By

Charlie Klendjian agrees with those who think the BBC’s The Big Questions is pretty much crap, but he also says it has its virtues, or at least virtue.

First the crap part.

I must be frank. When the email invite appeared in my inbox I hesitated before accepting it. Not only would I have to overcome a discomfort of public speaking (I’m the quiet shy type), but I would also have to swallow a good degree of pride because I’ve always thought the programme is a bit – how can I put this politely – rubbish. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve screamed at my telly whilst watching the programme, or thrown the remote control on the sofa and stormed into the kitchen to pour some more aviation-fuel strength black coffee to make my heart beat even faster. When I told friends and family about my forthcoming breakthrough media appearance a number of them asked when I was planning to do a DNA test on the Jeremy Kyle Show (some of my friends and family are hilarious).

Of course, awfulness can sometimes be all the more reason for accepting the invitation (I’m looking at you, Bill O’Reilly).

I can’t lie. There is indeed much to grumble about. The programme reduces complex moral and legal ingredients to a concentrated jus of pithy little soundbites, a point Foxton makes in his piece. It also asks misleading questions of its audience. For example, the tagline for the episode I appeared on was, “Should human rights always outweigh religious rights?”. This overlooks the fact that religious belief and manifestation of religious belief are themselves human rights. And as a secularist I am constantly enraged by the assumption, which is helpfully perpetuated by this programme and by the media and our political class more generally, that any discussion of moral issues, or human rights, must by definition involve religious figures (or “leaders” as they’re often generously called). Of course, religious figures are perfectly entitled to contribute to the pressing moral concerns of our age but they must compete on a flat playing field on the strengths of their actual arguments, just like everyone else, and not on the basis of an assumed, highly elevated, privileged and often very undeserved platform.

That’s all the more true given that religion tends to be bad on moral issues, not better than the average citizen but sharply worse.

But my intention here is not to twist a knife. No, I want to focus instead on one outstanding contribution the Big Questions has made to our public discourse. It is an achievement that must not go unrecognised by secularists or indeed by anyone who places a high value on free speech.

To put it mildly the episode I appeared on created something of a stir. The Big Questions became the first programme to depict Mohammed on British television and in doing so it successfully challenged a de facto blasphemy code in this country which has a sorry evolutionary trail leading directly back to the Salman Rushdie affair.

And, he goes on to point out, Newsnight and Channel4 News did not. Newsnight and Channel4 News conspicuously declined to show the putative depiction of Mohammed (actually, as we all know, a body double), thus lending respectability to the threats against Maajid Nawaz and making his stance even more difficult and dangerous.

When it comes to secularism the stakes don’t get much higher than restrictions on free speech which are enforced by the implicit or explicit threat of violence. So go ahead. Make your snobby, witty remarks about the Big Questions. Take your cheap shots. But when you’ve finished be gracious enough to give them credit for standing up to the pitchfork crew. They deserve a gold medal.

A couple of weeks ago Newsnight ran a special on Maajid Nawaz and this time – mercifully – they did show the image of Mohammed. So they can now polish their silver medal with pride. And they can thank the Big Questions for organising the race.

Don’t ever forget this: the Big Questions, that embarrassing little boy of television programmes, showed the big boys how to do their job – and how to behave like grown-ups.

With lots of help from outsiders, Charlie Klendjian and Maajid Nawaz and Author of Jesus and Mo among them.


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

And going for a pint won’t end global warming, either

Apr 8th, 2014 5:56 pm | By

Sigh. Nick Cohen’s a friend, and normally I like his stuff, but a piece in the Spectator saying words don’t matter so don’t be so politically correct…no, I can’t like that. I can’t and won’t.

Worry about whether you, or more pertinently anyone you wish to boss about, should say ‘person with special needs’ instead of ‘disabled’ or ‘challenged’ instead of ‘mentally handicapped’ and you will enjoy a righteous glow. You will not do anything, however, to provide health care and support to the mentally and physically handicapped, the old or the sick.

Sigh. No kidding. Nobody thinks it will; that doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. You know what else will not do anything to provide health care and support to the mentally and physically handicapped, the old or the sick? This column in the Spectator, or any other column Nick has written, or the books Nick has written. So what? We’re allowed to do things other than or in addition to providing health care and support to the mentally and physically handicapped, the old or the sick.

That kind of observation is worthy of a purple-faced Colonel Blimp cursing the working classes from the snooker room at his club. Don’t be that guy, Nick.

Indeed, your insistence that you can change the world by changing language, and deal with racism or homophobia merely by not offending the feelings of interest groups, is likely to allow real racism and homophobia to flourish unchallenged, and the sick and disadvantaged to continue to suffer from polite neglect.

Nobody does insist that. Don’ This dreck is unworthy of you.



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

A fair share of the blame

Apr 8th, 2014 5:43 pm | By

A guy called Freddy Gray takes to the Spectator to say if you don’t like revenge porn then don’t let anyone take pictures of you porning.

,,,surely the answer is not more laws, which would be hard to define and possibly quite limiting of free speech, but for women (and men) to realise that if you let somebody film you in flagrante then you may be setting yourself up for a future disgrace. In the digital age, especially, you are dicing with danger.

I know I know, I’m being a prude. Filming yourselves having sex is just a really bloody normal and sexy thing for consenting adults to do now, like using dildos or wearing bondage gear. Get real man. The bad thing is not the act, but the publication of the material without consent — the breach of trust and so on.

Yet does anyone stop to think about why DIY porn is so popular? Might it not be precisely because it is dangerous? You are recording — committing to film, laying down as reviewable evidence — one of the most private things you can do with a human being. It’s seedy because it is risky. That’s why people feel an urge to do it.

More and more, we expect some official agency to restore our dignity by punishing those who humiliate us. But if you have allowed some creepy bloke (or girl) to turn you into an unwilling porn star, you probably deserve a fair share of the blame.

Actually no, you don’t. Having consensual sex is not blameworthy; taking consensual pictures of that sex is not blameworthy; making such pictures public without consent is blameworthy. Let’s have a little clarity around here. The person who is to blame for revenge porn is the person who unilaterally posts the video or photo to the internet, and no one else.

H/t Christopher Moyer

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

Guest post by Leo Igwe: Kpatinga: Another ‘Witch’ Village in Ghana

Apr 8th, 2014 5:01 pm | By
I just returned from Kpatinga, another village in northern Ghana where alleged witches take refuge. One unique thing about witchcraft belief in Northern Ghana is that there are safe spaces for ‘witches’. A ‘witch’ must not be suffered to die as the scripture says. There are villages that welcome and rehabilitate victims of witchcraft accusations. Kpatinga is one of them. It is around 75 miles from the regional capital, Tamale. The major challenge to anyone visiting the ‘witch’ camp is access. Kpatinga is remotely located. To visit the village from Tamale one must stop over at Gushegu town. The journey from Tamale to Gushegu town is about 3 hours. Apart from the Metro Mass Buses, other commercial buses ply this route three times a day- in the morning, afternoon and evening especially on Gushegu market days. I arrived the bus station shortly before noon. I was told there were no more tickets. I stood there for some time contemplating cancelling the trip. I did not want to arrive Gushegu in the night.
A few minutes later the young man who told me that the tickets had finished came around. He brought out a rough piece of paper from his pocket. The white paper had turned brown because of dust and dirt. Number 68 was written at the back of the ‘ticket’. He gave it to me and stretched out his hand asking for the bus fare. I stared at the ticket for a while. But a female student from Karga Senior High who was waiting to board the same bus told me it was a bus ticket.
I paid for it though I was thinking it might be one of those bus tickets with no seats. I was not ready to stand from Tamale to Gushegu. From my experiences traveling in Nigeria and Ghana, one does not ask for a refund of such ticket fares, that is if they are genuine tickets. As I suspected, there was no bus seat for number 68 . The last seat number was 48 or 51, I cannot recall exactly. I went back to the man who issued me the ticket. He told me to exercise patience and allow the ‘main’ passengers to board. Yes I was in for a journey of patience. My seat number was for the improvised seats on the aisle. He got me a place to sit down and wait for other passengers to board. As we were about to depart, I took my seat but lo and behold it was meant for two people. The other passenger was a woman. She was very fat. She tried squeezing herself to sit down without success. There were already two fat women sitting on my left and on my right. The ‘seat space’ was tight and could not take another fat person. One slim guy sitting in front of us volunteered to exchange his seat space with hers. We were now six passengers sitting in a row meant for four.
Before we left Tamale two hawkers came into the bus. They sold ‘medicine’ to the passengers. The first person was a man. He sold some herbal medicine manufactured in Accra! And later came a woman. She was over 70 but still agile. The woman had a loud voice. As soon as she entered the bus, she shouted Asaalam aleikum to gain the attention of passengers who were struggling to squeeze in themselves or their luggage. She was selling some ‘Islamic’ medicine from Mecca. I bought one of the Mecca medicines for spiritual attacks, bad dreams, evil spirits for inclusion in my ‘witchcraft artefacts’.
The bus was scheduled to depart by noon but we left a few minutes before 2.00pm. That was after every available space in the bus had been occupied by passengers and their luggage including some spaces around the driver’s seat. Those who could not find a place to sit stood throughout the journey.
The tarred section of the road ended a few kilometres after Tamale, and the rest was filled with potholes. There were patches of tarred road at the district headquarters along the way – at Savelugu/Nanton, Karga etc. It had rained a few days earlier, so the road was not dusty. At some points during the trip, there were so many potholes. The bus was shaking and quaking as if the vehicle would scatter and disassemble into parts at any moment. But it didn’t.
I was not surprised at all when a few kilometers to Gushegu our bus developed some fault. The driver tried to fix it. The vehicle needed more mechanical attention. But the driver managed it till we got to Gushegu around 6pm. I checked into the Guest House of the District Assembly after making arrangements for a moto bike that would convey me to Kpatinga the next day.
I arrived Kpatinga by 8.00 in the morning after a 40 minute ride. Sampa, the Tindana as the local earth priest is called in Dagbani, was waiting at the camp. Sampa dropped out at Primary 4 and has been working as the Tindana for over two decades. He understood some English but could not communicate effectively. We spoke through an interpreter, a teacher from a nearby school. Sampa could not say exactly when he started working as the Tindana. According to him, it was before the 1994 conflict between the Dagombas and the Konkombas. There are 42 alleged witches in the camp at Kpatinga. Nine children are staying at the camp with their mothers or grand mothers. Sampa explained that the ‘witch’ camp started ‘since Kwame Nkrumah regime’. The aim was ‘to save people suspected of witchcraft’. People accused of witchcraft are banished from their communities. Some of the accused flee on their own to avoid being killed. To be admitted into the camp, an alleged witch must be accompanied by family members or relatives. Sampa said emphatically that any alleged witch that arrived there without a family member or relative would not be allowed to stay.
An alleged witch gives a goat, a guinea fowl and a local chicken and 100 Gh Cedis to the Tindana. The goat and fowls are used to perform sacrifice to the gods. The sacrifice is used to ask the gods for spiritual protection of the alleged witch. The alleged witch is made to drink Nyuhima - a mixture of shrine water and the blood of the goat or fowl used for sacrifice – to cleanse or disable witchcraft powers the accused might have.
There is no ritual test to confirm the witchcraft powers as is the case in Kukuo camp.
Sampa made it clear that without presenting the goat and fowls, no alleged witch is admitted into the camp. The fee is not mandatory. Some of the alleged witches who could not afford it paid less, 40 Gh Cedi or whatever they could afford. This process applies when people come to take their family member away. Sampa refused to tell me how he conducts the sacrifice at the shrine.
The alleged witches in Kpatinga camp face so many challenges. They lack money, food, clothing, toilet facilities and electricity. But some NGOs have been helping address their needs. A faith-based NGO, World Vision, built small rooms for them. Many of the alleged witches occupy these rooms while others still live in huts. World Vision also installed a grinding machine for the women. Action Aid and Songtaba supply them clothes and cooking pots. Simon Ngotha’s Witch hunt Victims Empowerment Project provides them health insurance and hired a teacher who gives English lessons to the women.
Some of the alleged witches who are strong enough engage in farm work. Some help people who have big farms in farming and harvesting. They get some farm produce in return which they sell to gain some income. Some of the women I interviewed were unhappy with their situation at the witch camp. They want to go home. They want to go back to their families and communities but they cannot due to witchcraft allegations. Superstitions and various misconceptions about death and diseases are at the root of these allegations.
The allegations range from being responsible for deaths in their family, to inflicting people with sickness and appearing in people’s dreams. Some of the women were beaten before they were driven out of the community. Before coming to the ‘witch camp’, some fled to stay with family members who refused to accommodate them because of witchcraft related fears and stigma. Others came down to settle at the camp as soon as they were accused. Their family or community members are very angry and do not want to set their eyes on them again. These women have been forced to adopt Kpatinga as their home and community, as the only safe place to be and to live for now, if not forever.
Leo Igwe April 4, 2014

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

We want formula

Apr 8th, 2014 4:24 pm | By

Speaking of privilege and white middle-class feminism and all that – remember the women of the miners’ strike.

Within weeks, the national Women Against Pit Closures campaign was launched. It propelled miners’ wives, sisters and daughters into the heart of the epic struggle against the Thatcher government, challenged miners’ and other trade unionists’ assumptions about gender roles, and galvanised a feminist movement that had been dominated by middle-class, educated women. The ideals of feminism – political, economic and social equality and independence – channelled back into the mining communities. The profound impact on the daily lives of women is still being felt 30 years later.

In May 1984, 5,000 women from pit villages across the country attended a rally in Barnsley, and a few months later 23,000 miners’ wives marched through London. Women from the coalfields were arrested on picket lines, addressed rallies across the UK and Europe, and chained themselves to colliery gates. A partnership between miners’ wives and the feminist anti-nuclear camp at Greenham Common raised money and consciousness.

Ever seen Salt of the Earth? It’s like that – a strike that’s also full of feminist politics. A classic.

Looking back after 30 years, Liz says that: “In some ways, the strike was the best time of our lives. These men worked underground, had never been anywhere – and for some of them it was a real eye-opener. They weren’t fighting to go back underground, they were fighting to save communities. The women – we struggled, but we all ate our dinner together, with the kids. So there were nice times.

“Now it’s awful round here. I couldn’t even tell you who lives on my road now, and I used to know everyone. The welfare club used to be packed every night. Now it’s all strangers. I miss the community.”

Where’s my copy of The Making of the English Working Class

H/t Maureen

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

The charging of toddlers is relatively rare

Apr 8th, 2014 3:54 pm | By

News from Pakistan’s shambolic legal system – the police charged a nine-month-old baby with attempted murder.

Musa was among five people identified in a police document known as a first information report (FIR) following disturbances in February in a slum area of Lahore when workers for a gas company came to try to disconnect houses that had not paid their bills.

According to the FIR, written by a now suspended assistant sub-inspector, Musa and his co-accused tried to kill the gas company workers and the policemen accompanying them by throwing stones.

The people living in the area maintain there was only ever a peaceful protest. “There were only women in the houses at daytime and they resisted this discontinuing of supply,” Yasin said. “Later we blocked the road and raised slogans against police.”

Lawyers say it is all too common for police to resort to collective punishment of entire families, often at the instigation of the complainant. “Most of the time people don’t really want justice at the hands of the courts,” said Sundas Hoorain, a lawyer who specialises in murder cases. “It is really all about taking revenge, and that means making the other party suffer as much as possible by putting whole families through hell.”

Kind of makes you appreciate the rule of law, don’t it.

The charging of toddlers is relatively rare, although there are examples of young children being ensnared in the country’s blasphemy laws, which have been much criticised by human rights groups.

That’s a sentence for the ages – “The charging of toddlers is relatively rare.” Well good, glad to hear it.

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


Apr 8th, 2014 3:35 pm | By

Ahhhhhhh sweet.

Via Facebook.

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


Apr 8th, 2014 3:22 pm | By

Baby’s got a new pair of shoooooes I mean socks. Or rather two.

Snapshot_20140408_1Snapshot_20140408They’re a present from Jen Phillips.

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

Geocentric dalliance

Apr 8th, 2014 12:22 pm | By

Phil Plait watches a silly documentary so that you don’t have to. All right not the documentary itself but the trailer for it. This one is about geocentrism, the idea that the earth is the center of the universe. (That really is silly. I’m the center of the universe.)

The trailer does seem to be making a case for Geocentrism (it’s mentioned specifically), but given the title, I would guess they’re going to try to make a broader point that the Universe itself was made—created, if you will—purposely for us. This idea (broadly speaking) is called the strong anthropic principle (hence the doco title), and as a philosophy it’s not terribly informative. It’s fun to think about in a limited sense, but in the end it always boils down to “God did it,” which is slamming a door in the face of exploration and inquiry. 

That’s what I mean about theism having a built-in obstacle to wanting to understand how the world works. Of course not all theists believe in the strong anthropic principle, but the temptation is always there.

I’ll note that the guy who made this documentary, Robert Sungenis, has been promoting this flavor of nonsense for a while now. I wrote about a Geocentrism conference he ran a few years back (called, seriously, “Galileo Was Wrong, the Church Was Right”). To give you an idea of the guy we’re talking about here, he has a history of saying anti-Semitic things and also of making Holocaust denial claims (and you can find more lovely things about him here). That would fit with the conspiratorial tone of some of the movie trailer, too.

So I expect this movie/documentary will be more of this same flavor of nonsense. We’ll see. As I’ve said before, the path of reality is narrow, and once you step off it, all manners of silliness seem equally plausible.

I like that: the path of reality is narrow. That’s very good. Narrow is the way and strait is the gate. The steep and thorny way versus the primrose path. Beware the primrose path of silliness.


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

More circuses

Apr 8th, 2014 11:39 am | By

The Tories want to introduce interest-free loans for students!

Oh no wait, it’s not for all students.

A new system of “Sharia-compliant” student loans is to be launched to allow more Muslim students to go to university, it has been announced.

David Willetts, the Universities Minister, said an alternative financial model was being created to satisfy Islamic law that forbids Muslims taking out loans that make interest.

Under the system, students would apply for taxpayer-backed loans but repay them into a mutual-style fund that would be ring-fenced to provide future finance to other students with the same religious beliefs.

The move will raise concerns over a two-tier system in which Muslim students pay less than other undergraduates.

But the Government insisted it would be set up in a way that ensured repayments were made at the same rate as students who take out traditional student loans.

How? How can that work? If the loans are “sharia-compliant” and thus don’t make interest, then how can they not be cheaper than non-sharia-compliant loans that do make interest? If you take interest out of the equation, then loans become free, which is obviously cheaper than not free. Interest is the cost of borrowing; no interest, no cost.

Is the idea to rig it in such a way that the students with sharia-compliant loans do pay for the loans but in a way that’s not called “interest”? That seems…childish.

The plans have been set out in a consultation document published by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

It says the Student Loans Company will create a completely new fund based on the “Takaful” structure used in Islamic finance – allowing groups of people to cooperate to provide mutual finance assistance to other members of a group.

Students will borrow up to £9,000 a year to cover tuition fees and start to repay when they earn more than £21,000 – the same as the traditional model.

The document says: “The principles of Sharia law recognise the value of money over time. Given the long period over which most students would make repayments into the fund, the total contribution they would be obligated to make would be based on a benchmark.

“This benchmark would be set relative to the traditional loan system and would ensure that students who made use of either the alternative finance product or traditional loans would be treated the same.”

So it’s basically just repackaging. “Based on a benchmark” is a roundabout way of saying “interest.”

Let’s start thinking up some atheism-compliant stuff we need.

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

You don’t like it? Go back to Atheostan

Apr 7th, 2014 4:32 pm | By

More of the comedy of “politically correct persecution of Christians” from the UK:

Militant atheists should “get over it” and accept that Britain is a Christian country, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has said.

That’s what a “Communities Secretary” is for is it? I wouldn’t know, because we don’t have one in the US, not at the federal level at least. We don’t have one for sport, either, or one for faith. How impoverished we are. Anyway so the job of the Communities Secretary is to piss on people who are part of the wrong kind of “communities”?

“I’ve stopped an attempt by militant atheists to ban councils having prayers at the start of meetings if they wish,” said Mr Pickles.

“Heaven forbid. We’re a Christian nation. We have an Established Church.

“Get over it. And don’t impose your politically correct intolerance on others.”

Get over what? Wanting to keep politics out of religion and religion out of politics?

Funny that he’s accusing other people of intolerance.

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

What kind of man actually takes parental leave?

Apr 7th, 2014 3:59 pm | By

The earth shakes as the dinosaurs come trudging into view. Wham, wham, wham.

Dave Zirin at The Nation peers at the enormous footprints.

This is not another shooting-fish-in-a-barrel commentary about the antediluvian swinishness of Boomer Esiason and Mike Francesa. This is not another swipe at their comments criticizing the efforts of Mets second basemen Daniel Murphy for missing opening day to be with his wife for the birth of their child. For those who missed it, Esiason opined, “I would have said, ‘C-section before the season starts. I need to be at Opening Day. I’m sorry, this is what makes our money. This is how we’re going to live our life. This is going to give my child every opportunity to be a success in life. I’ll be able to afford any college I want to send my kid to, because I’m a baseball player.’”

Fellow troglodytic troll of the NYC sports radio airwaves Mike Francesa commented, “You’re a major league baseball player. You can hire a nurse.” Francesa also called the paternity leave at his own company “a scam-and-a-half.”

That’s great, isn’t it? So perceptive, so sensitive. Hey, the guy has money, so what the hell would he take parental leave for? That’s for poor people who can’t pay someone else to have children for them.

I spoke to my friend Martha, who is a midwife—and a Mets fan—about their comments. She said simply, “I would ask if they knew how it sounded, talking about this woman like she is a human incubator to be cut open in a dangerous, often unnecessary surgical procedure so Murphy can make it to Citi Field on time. I would ask that, but honestly, if you can’t see why the asshole-levels on these comments are off the charts, then I can’t help you.”

I also spoke with Joe Ehrmann, a former NFL player and someone who has devoted his life to challenging the ways in which sports have the capacity to communicate a toxic, destructive brand of masculinity. Ehrmann said, “I think these comments are pretty shortsighted and reflect old school thinking about masculinity and fatherhood. Paternity leave is critical in helping dads create life long bonding and sharing in the responsibilities of raising emotionally healthy children. To miss the life altering experience of ‘co-laboring’ in a delivery room due to nonessential work-related responsibilities is to create false values.”

Why would anyone even want to be a man like that? After the age of about 15, I mean.

Ehrmann also pointed out the ways in which these statements create a culture that normalizes the alienation between fathers and children. He said, “Comments like these put every man in a position to think about career and co workers opinions ahead of father/husband/partner roles. So even in companies with paternity leave, many new dads won’t or feel like they can’t take advantage of leave without a stigma being attached to them…. This is one more arena where sports/athletes could be a metaphor for social change and elevate the birth/nurture/fatherhood role and responsibilities over work.”

He then said to me that this kind of sexist mentality not only harms families, not only harms men, but also quite specifically harms athletes. “I’m convinced the number-one common denominator in locker rooms is father-child dysfunction,” he said. “It’s what pathologically elevates many performances. ‘I will prove to [the coach/father figure] I am worthy of my dad’s love and acceptance,’ at the expense of self and others. If any group should understand need for dads in delivery rooms it should be athletes and the athletic world.”

Well, also the tech world, and the STEM world, and the skeptic world, and the Twitter world – quite a lot of worlds really.


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

Guest post on why Scalia really should recuse himself

Apr 7th, 2014 3:25 pm | By

Originally a comment by Pteryxx on Why Justice Scalia should recuse himself from abortion cases.

A spouse’s political views, even views they actively promote and work on, don’t rise to the level of conflict-of-interest that Supreme Court justices have traditionally employed in deciding on recusal.

That’s only because the Supreme Court, specifically, has given itself narrower standards for recusal than federal law applies. That’s all the more reason to challenge them to defend their decisions not to recuse themselves – and recusal motions do get filed.

This article quotes the text of 28 U.S. Code § 455 – Disqualification of justice, judge, or magistrate judge (Link to code)

“Any justice, judge, or magistrate judge of the United States shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” This includes when he “knows that he, individually or as a fiduciary, or his spouse or minor child residing in his household, has a financial interest in the subject matter in controversy or in a party to the proceeding, or any other interest that could be substantially affected by the outcome of the proceeding.”

The statute goes on to define “financial interest” as “ownership of a legal or equitable interest, however small, or a relationship as director, adviser, or other active participant in the affairs of a party.”

Surprisingly, Supreme Court Justices are not bound by the ethical rules all other federal judges are. As a bipartisan group of law professors proposing new rules for Supreme Court recusals recently explained, “While all other federal judges are required to abide by the Code of Conduct, and are subject to investigation and sanctions for failure to do so, Supreme Court justices look to the Code for mere ‘guidance,’ and are not obligated to follow the Code’s rules.”


Further discussion: Health care case again raises recusal controversy

An existing federal statute applies to Supreme Court justices and appears to cover a wide range of conflicts, but the court historically has interpreted the statute tightly. The justices say it applies only in situations where lawyer-relatives have active cases before the court, or when justices stand to benefit financially. The current statute already expressly identifies justices and requires recusal from “any proceeding in which the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned.”

The broad provision was supposed to make it easier for judges to withdraw rather than fall back on an overly restrictive duty to sit. Jurists typically have interpreted it as forcing them to continue on a case rather than succumb to compelling ethical conflicts that should disqualify them.

and Should Scalia step aside in gay marriage cases

But unlike all other federal judges, whose recusal decisions are subject to review, Supreme Court justices have the final word on their own recusal determinations. The court leaves it up to individual justices to decide whether to step down, and those decisions are not reviewed by the Supreme Court as a whole. Perhaps, as a result, it’s very rare for justices to recuse themselves simply because of the appearance of partiality. I can think of only one example in recent years: when Scalia stepped aside in the court’s consideration of the constitutionality of the Pledge of Allegiance’s phrase, “one nation, under God.” (As Linda Greenhouse explained in a New York Times piece, Scalia had made public remarks about the case before it reached the Supreme Court.)

That NY Times article

More specifically, Scalia has been making statements like “They say they want to talk quietly to the women who are going into these facilities. Now how does that make them protesters?” and “This is not a protest case,” Justice Antonin Scalia said. “These people don’t want to protest abortion. They want to talk to the women who are about to get abortions and try to talk them out of it.” That tells me, and it should be obvious, that he has an unrealistic view of anti-abortion “counseling” that just happens to match how his spouse’s work is described. Even if her specific CPC, part of a supposedly apolitical organization where “saving” one woman and child takes 100 volunteers a year’s work, really lives up to its own promises and has never had its own volunteers go a few blocks down the road to “counsel” the clients of that Planned Parenthood clinic, I don’t think it coincidental that Scalia describes ALL clinic protesters as equivalents to his own family member. And the behavior of “sidewalk counselors” is absolutely key to the clinic buffer zone case under consideration.

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


Apr 7th, 2014 2:49 pm | By

We need more of it. The whole Caesar/God division – we need to apply that more broadly.

It’s not difficult. We already know the basic principle – we won’t come into your churches and mosques and tell you how to do the god thing, and you won’t take over hospitals and government and engineering. Ok?

Here’s why. The god thing isn’t relevant to anything except itself. It’s often harmful to things that aren’t itself. Bridges aren’t designed according to faith. Bridges have to be designed according to this world properties of steel and concrete, not according to other world notions of miracles and faith. There has to be a strict division between the two. Otherwise you get a mess.

Geology, that’s another one. Land management. Resource management. Drainage. Soil types. Slopes. Historical patterns. All this world items. It’s no good looking at the hill and thinking “God will make sure the hill doesn’t fall on the town even if we cut down all the trees.” That’s no good at all.

It’s the same with pharmacies, and clinics, and hospitals. Medicine is science-based, knowledge-based; it’s secular. Ideas about gods and their wishes just get in the way.

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

Another archbishop heard from

Apr 7th, 2014 11:09 am | By

The archbishop of Canterbury claims Christians in Africa are being massacred because of growing acceptance of gay unions in the West.

From Barry Duke at the Freethinker:

Justin Welby said he had stood by a mass grave in Nigeria of 330 Christians who had been massacred by neighbours who had justified the atrocity by saying:

If we leave a Christian community here we will all be made to become homosexual and so we will kill all the Christians.

Who are these “neighbours”? Welby didn’t elaborate, simply saying:

I have stood by gravesides in Africa of a group of Christians who had been attacked because of something that had happened in America. We have to listen to that. We have to be aware of the fact.

And so “we” have to ditch other people’s human rights, because there are theocratic terrorists who will kill people because of them.

Yemisi responds to this idea with admirable ferocity.

Did the Archbishop not read the news stories of the bombings that led to the death of these people before he visited the mass grave? Many of Boko Haram victims were school children who were murdered in their dormitories and not all of these victims were Christians. Boko Haram means ‘No to western Education”, it does not mean ‘No to Gay Marriage’.

Suggesting that a segment of the society be deprived of their inalienable human rights because of the ridiculous and sometimes violent beliefs of another is not justifiable. It is the same silly excuse I hear people spew when they blame the growing legalisation of homophobia in many African countries on the acceptance of LGBT Rights in some western countries. If some African leaders are so stupid as to criminalize a segment of their society because of the actions of some foreign governments, they should be called out on their stupidity, not try to justify it for them. Blaming the government that is respecting the equality of their citizens for the atrocities other governments are committing in reaction to this equality, is indeed ridiculous.

Think harder about this, Mr Welby. You really don’t want to take moral instruction from Boko Haram.



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

Firmly prohibited in Catholic hospitals

Apr 7th, 2014 10:33 am | By

This again. The Savita Halappanavar scenario, in the US, in a Catholic hospital. It happens a lot but it seldom gets reported on. This one got reported on because the woman is a nurse. Most women this happens to aren’t nurses or doctors.

Jennifer had been experiencing heavy vaginal bleeding for over a week when she went to her physician’s office. He told her she was miscarrying and discussed her need for a dilation and curettage (D&C) to stop the bleeding and protect her health. A D&C is a procedure to empty the uterus; the same technique is used for both miscarriage management and abortion.

Abortion, unsurprisingly, is firmly prohibited in Catholic hospitals (along with contraception, sterilization, most fertility treatments and related services). Care must comply with the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services written by the U.S. Bishops.

That “must” is interesting. “Must” according to whom? The bishops, the Vatican, the hospital administration, the hospital staff, the patients, the law?

And how is a hospital that “firmly prohibits” normal legal medical procedures a real hospital? Don’t people generally expect the full range of medical treatment at an institution that calls itself a hospital? Very small and/or underfunded and/or struggling ones may not provide all possible medical treatments, but then it’s a matter of “we can’t,” not “we forbid.” What business does a hospital have forbidding normal legal medical procedures? None, in my view.

Due to her heavy bleeding, Jennifer’s pregnancy wasn’t viable, but there was a chance that the fetus still had cardiac activity. Preferring not to plead with the Ethics Board about the necessity of the doing a D&C, her doctor ordered a transfusion to address her extremely low iron levels from all the bleeding, and advised expectant management, which involved waiting for Jennifer’s body to expel the pregnancy on its own. The transfusion raised her iron levels, but she still wound up in the hospital 12 hours later, as the bleeding continued. She knew she needed a D&C. Unfortunately for her, things did not move quickly in the emergency room.

There you go – Savita Halappanavar all over again. A D&C is standard of care, but instead Jennifer got something much more risky. Why? Because bishops. Not a good reason. A very bad reason.

It might not be completely clear to the lay reader — or the typical patient — where Catholic doctrine slowed down her treatment. But it was clear to Jennifer, since she worked in obstetrics. She knew they were trying to make sure the fetus had died before doing the D&C, so the miscarriage treatment would not be perceived by the Catholic hospital’s Ethics Board as an abortion. Jennifer recalled,

They did so many ultrasounds. They ended up doing, I think, three, although I may have missed one. And I remember telling them over and over again, “This is not a viable pregnancy. I’ve been bleeding enough to need a transfusion for a week. This is not viable.” And they’re like, “Well, we just need to make sure.” And I’m like, “Have you found any cardiac motion?” “No. But we need to check again because maybe we missed it. It’s very early in your pregnancy.”

They “need” to put the woman in danger because they “need” to check for a pulse in a very early pregnancy. That’s where fanaticism gets you.

Then there were more problems later in Jennifer’s life because of the transfusions.

Transfusions present risks. C-sections present risks. Both are necessary and life-saving at times. But Jennifer would have preferred not to endure those risks purely because of the hospital’s religious commitments, especially since those commitments were not her own. Had Jennifer not had so much obstetric knowledge, she would not have necessarily known that in a non-Catholic hospital she would have been offered a D&C at the outset (before the transfusions, before the seven hours of unnecessary ultrasounds). What are the chances that the average patient could understand how Catholic doctrine hindered standard treatment for miscarriage management in this case and caused unnecessary suffering?

They are slim, and of course the hospitals and their staff don’t tell the average patient that Catholic dogma is fucking up their treatment.

The burning question from a variety of outside observers of the controversial problem of Catholic hospital expansion in the U.S., including those on both sides of the debate is: If there is really a problem, why don’t we hear it from patients? Why don’t they sue? Where are their voices in this matter? Everyone wants to know including those who defend the U.S. Bishops’ right to restrict care and those who are concerned about patient autonomy and welfare.

I hope my research collecting patient experiences will shed light on these questions. For now, based on my previous research and Jennifer’s story, I can think of three possible answers: 1) patients who don’t work in obstetric care don’t fully understand how their care was affected by doctrine (i.e. might have differed in a non-Catholic hospital); 2) when patients do understand they don’t want to cast blame on health professionals who were doing their best to care for them given the institutional religious constraints; and/or 3) patients don’t want to be known in their communities for complaining about personal health care experiences that can be highly emotional and potentially stigmatizing.

Don’t forget 4) the hospitals and the bishops don’t tell anyone.


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

The crowd guffawed

Apr 6th, 2014 4:30 pm | By

The New York Times has a long piece about the tech industry and women.

Elissa Shevinsky can pinpoint the moment when she felt that she no longer belonged.

She was at a friend’s house last Sept. 8, watching the live stream of the TechCrunch Disrupt hackathon on her laptop and iPhone. Entrepreneurs were showing off their products, and two young Australian men, David Boulton and Jethro Batts, stood behind the podium to give their presentation. “Titstare is an app where you take photos of yourself staring at tits,” Mr. Boulton began, as photographs of women’s chests on a cellphone flashed on the screen behind him.

After some banter, Mr. Batts concluded, “This is the breast hack ever.”

The crowd — overwhelmingly young, white, hoodie-wearing men — guffawed. Something in Ms. Shevinsky’s mind clicked. If ever there was proof that the tech industry needed more women, she thought, this was it.

Ms. Shevinsky, 35, wasn’t the only one who was disgusted by the presentation. Twitter lit up with outrage. She joined in, writing a blog-post manifesto: “I thought that we didn’t need more women in tech. I was wrong.”

Hunnnnnh. Honestly. Is it too much to ask that men not talk about women the way a ravenous bear would talk about a freshly killed goat if bears could talk?

Tech executives often fault schools, parents or society in general for failing to encourage girls to pursue computer science. But something else is at play in the industry: Among the women who join the field, 56 percent leave by midcareer, a startling attrition rate that is double that for men, according to research from the Harvard Business School.

A culprit, many people in the field say, is a sexist, alpha-male culture that can make women and other people who don’t fit the mold feel unwelcome, demeaned or even endangered.

“It’s a thousand tiny paper cuts,” is how Ashe Dryden, a programmer who now consults on increasing diversity in technology, described working in tech. “I’ve been a programmer for 13 years, and I’ve always been one of the only women and queer people in the room. I’ve been harassed, I’ve had people make suggestive comments to me, I’ve had people basically dismiss my expertise. I’ve gotten rape and death threats just for speaking out about this stuff.”

And that’s a problem?

Yes. It is.

Ms. Shevinsky’s epiphany, however, wasn’t just about Mr. Dickinson or a couple of engineers. It was about computer-engineering culture and her relationship with it. She had enjoyed being “one of the bros” — throwing back whiskey and rubbing shoulders with M.I.T. graduates. And if that sometimes meant fake-laughing as her colleagues cracked jokes about porn, so be it.

“For years, all I wanted to do was work and code and make software,” she said in an interview. “That’s why I didn’t care about feminism. I just wanted to build stuff.”

“But Titstare showed me that was no longer a viable option,” she said. “We had to address our culture, because something was really not working.”

Or, feminism ate her brain. You decide.

“We see these stories, ‘Why aren’t there more women in computer science and engineering?’ and there’s all these complicated answers like, ‘School advisers don’t have them take math and physics,’ and it’s probably true,” said Lauren Weinstein, a man who has spent his four-decade career in tech working mostly with other men, and is currently a consultant for Google.

“But I think there’s probably a simpler reason,” he said, “which is these guys are just jerks, and women know it.”

The choice for people who are uncomfortable with the “bro” culture is to try to change it or to leave — and even women who are fed up don’t always agree on how to go about making a change. But leaving can be hard too.

Obviously it can. If you’re leaving the very thing you want to do – yes, that’s difficult.

After the Titstare presentation, a commenter calling himself White_N_Nerdy wrote on Reddit, “I’m honestly trying to understand why anyone says that females are ‘needed’ in the tech industry.” He continued: “The tech community works fine without females, just like any other mostly male industry. Feminists probably just want women making more money.”

Online gathering spots for engineers, like Reddit, Hacker News and 4chan, where people often post anonymously, can feel like hostile territory for women.

“Many women have come to me and said they basically have had to hide on the Net now,” said Mr. Weinstein, who works on issues of identity and anonymity online. “They use male names, they don’t put their real photos up, because they are immediately targeted and harassed.”

That sense of being targeted as a minority happens at the office, too. That is part of the reason nearly a third of the women who leave technology jobs move to nontechnical ones, according to the Harvard study.

“It’s a boys’ club, and you have to try to get into it, and they’re trying as hard as they can to prove you can’t,” said Ephrat Bitton, the director of algorithms at FutureAdvisor, an online investment start-up that she says has a better culture because almost half the engineers are women.

It all seems so high school. Wouldn’t you think adults could do better?



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

Lobbying for specialness

Apr 6th, 2014 3:34 pm | By

Religions teaming up to demand special status for religion, again.

Churches and faith groups are calling for the role of religion to be recognised in any written constitution for Scotland.

They plan to hold an interfaith conference on the subject in Coatbridge, North Lanarkshire, in July.

The call follows an interfaith meeting convened by the Church of Scotland.

Why? Why are they doing that? Why can’t they just do what they do without trying to make it mandatory and part of the government and official and something that everyone has to defer to?

And what role is it that they want to be recognised in any written constitution for Scotland? Religion’s role in making stupid arbitrary rules that stunt people’s lives? Religion’s role in sowing guilt and fear? Religion’s role in distracting people from the real world? Religion’s role in interfering with education? Religion’s role in keeping women down? Religion’s role in marginalizing people who are sexually non-conformist?

The Church of Scotland and the Catholic Church have joined forces with other major religious and faith groups to “stake a claim” for recognition in a written constitution.

A joint statement released by those who attended the interfaith meeting said: “At a meeting, chaired by the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Right Reverend Lorna Hood, representatives of Scotland’s diverse faith traditions were united in the view that the contribution of faith to Scottish society should be properly recognised whatever the future holds.

“All the churches and faith communities present agreed Scotland’s diversity of religious belief is an important reflection of Scotland’s wider society.”

How nauseating. A constitution isn’t a prize ceremony. It’s not the job of a constitution to single out special groups for “recognition.” Religions shouldn’t be “staking a claim” to anything. Religions should do their own jobs and leave other people’s alone.

A Scottish government spokesman said: “We propose no change to the legal status of any religion or Scotland’s churches.

“The interim constitution will, however, give full legal force to the ECHR (European Convention on Human Rights) which guarantees freedom of conscience and religion.

And that’s all that’s required. Freedom, yes; recognition, get out of here.

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

Born with a vagina and pattern matching

Apr 6th, 2014 12:46 pm | By

Lea Verou is (via the New York Times) an incoming Ph.D. candidate in electrical engineering and computer science at M.I.T. She wrote a much-read essay on Women in Technology initiatives, which she thinks mostly do more harm than good. Near the beginning she says this:

I want to be invited for my skills as a developer and a speaker, not because I happened to be born with a vagina.

On female role models

I’m tired of being told I will be a good “role model” for other female web developers at a conference. If somebody is a good role model, they’re a good role model for everyone, regardless of gender. I never cared if my role models had dark eyes like I do, why should I care if they are the same gender? It’s equally meaningless. The whole notion that women need female role models springs from the notion that gender is this incredibly important characteristic that defines who you are. I call shenanigans on that.

Then later she says this:

I can’t say that I’ve experienced more sexism in tech than outside the industry. Quite the contrary. Engineers (yes, including male ones) are some of the most open-minded people I’ve met. It’s not our industry that has a sexism problem, our society has a sexism problem. In many cases, a lot of what we consider sexism is just pattern matching gone wrong: If you don’t meet many technical women, your brain tends to pick up the pattern. It even happens to women and I know a few who were brave enough to admit it. Instead of shaming people, it would be much more efficient to change the pattern in the first place.

The second passage is a rebuke to the first.

Yes, of course it’s not ideal to have all this god damn affirmative action and reaching out and making sure to remember to invite some women and all the rest of it. Of course it’s not. Of course it trails with it some unpleasant implications, including the whole being invited because of having the Other kind of genitalia instead of because of having the appropriate talents issue (or canard, which it usually is). Of course it does. But as she points out herself: If you don’t meet many technical women, your brain tends to pick up the pattern. Yeah, it does, and then you think and say it’s more of a guy thing, and the pattern gets that little bit more entrenched, and everybody gets even more convinced that it’s more of a guy thing, and we spiral on and on forever.

So there it is. We need to deal with that pattern matching gone wrong problem. Doing that entails weariness with being asked to be a role model and all the rest of it, but you know what? Too bad.

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