Notes and Comment Blog

Our short and pithy observations on the passing scene as it relates to the mission of Butterflies and Wheels. Woolly-headed or razor-sharp comments in the media, anti-rationalist rhetoric in books or magazines or overheard on the bus, it’s all grist to our mill. And sometimes we will hold forth on the basis of no inspiration at all beyond what happens to occur to us.

Make the choice

Dec 16th, 2014 5:29 pm | By

Karima Bennoune says what’s needed now is firm rejection of violent religious fanaticism.

As many Australians themselves have already clearly demonstrated in the wake of the attack through the wonderful anti-racist hashtag #I’llridewithyou, the correct response to such atrocious events is not blind discrimination against people on the basis of real or presumed religious identity or refugee status. However, unconditional condemnation of the extreme Islamist political ideology that may be behind this terrible attack — and at least was used to justify it — is absolutely essential, and is in no way discriminatory.

In fact, any tolerance of such intolerance does not produce tolerance, but rather has paradoxical and dangerous results — allowing illiberalism to flourish and letting violent events proliferate. No one knows this more than those who have lived on the frontlines of Islamist terror.

She was in Australia last May to talk about her book.

After my lecture about the book at the Sydney Writer’s Festival, which ended with the story of Amel Zenoune-Zouani, an Algerian law student killed by the Armed Islamic Group in 1997, I was surrounded and embraced onstage by a group of people of Muslim heritage — all women and many in tears. They were refugees from Algeria and Afghanistan who had been driven from their own countries by fundamentalist violence, like that the Sydney hostage taker Man Haron Monis appeared to be mimicking. Some of the Algerians later told me how loyal and grateful they were to Australians generally for being so welcoming to them when they were forced to flee there in the 1990s, and that they were disturbed to occasionally encounter Muslim fundamentalists in their adopted country who reminded them of the ideology that had forced them from their homes.

Rejection of that ideology does not equate to rejection of Muslims in general.

The unprecedented (for Australia) Sydney hostage-taking is yet another reminder of the urgent need to discredit Islamist ideology, and to effectively counter the narratives that promote extremist violence. One of the best ways to do this is to support people of Muslim heritage — like those I lectured about while in Australia — who are fighting back against the fundamentalists. Meanwhile, the stories of the Muslim immigrants and refugees I met down under are also a reminder of the urgent need to prevent the manipulation of this terrible event in support of an anti-refugee narrative — a development which would only harm many who have already been victims of Islamist violence and who are allies in the battle against extremism.

H/t Tehmina.


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

The ideology-spotter

Dec 16th, 2014 3:33 pm | By

I’ve been getting a barrage of hostile tweets and comments today about four fatal words in the post I did when I first learned of the Sydney siege, soon after it started. The one or ones I got that day – Sunday here – were reasonable and accepted my explanation and apology for clumsy wording. The ones today not so much.


D.J. Grothe ‏@DJGrothe 8h
Ugh. Tells you everything you need to know about the worldview there: “privileged rich coffee drinkers” … #sydneysiege

Shane Walsh ‏@mountainsRhigh 7h
@DJGrothe so bitter about everything. It must be miserable to be her.

D.J. Grothe @DJGrothe
@mountainsRhigh When I knew her she seemed pleasant enough. People change with age, I guess.

Geddit? I’m old and rotting.


K. R. Marlo ‏@KRMarlo 8h
@DJGrothe I see she backpedalled after being called out, but …. gross.

D.J. Grothe ‏@DJGrothe 8h
@KRMarlo Yeah. I imagine she feels proud of the display of compassion for the “apron wearing” proletariat victims.

That’s such an ugly thing to say. No, I don’t feel “proud” and it wasn’t a “display” – it was a feeling put into words, obviously not well enough but all the same that’s what it was.

This isn’t weird, or peculiar to me. After 9/11 I remember a lot of commentary about the “proletariat victims” who were in the towers along with the bankers and stockbrokers – that is, about the restaurant workers and maintenance staff and cleaners and security guards and all the unglamorous not very highly paid people who were doing support work that morning.

After 7/7 I was particularly upset about Gladys Wundowa. She was a cleaner on the night shift at UCL, on the bus on her way to school, the number 30 bus that blew up in Tavistock Square.

Mrs Wundowa, 51, finished her early morning shift at 9am on Thursday before heading for a college course at Shoreditch, east London.

I don’t apologize for being particularly upset about her. That doesn’t mean I think everyone else deserved to be blown up, it just means I find it particularly poignant when underlings get it. I’m not “proud” of it; it’s not particularly rational; it’s just a feeling. I get that sometimes.

And it’s not “ideology,” either.


D.J. Grothe ‏@DJGrothe 6h
@OpheliaBenson Nah, something far less sensational. How about just blinded by messy ideology? Or is it just being anti-coffee.

Ophelia Benson ‏@OpheliaBenson 6h
.@DJGrothe Well, as I explained, it was a combination of sarcasm abt likely motives of the perp and gut-level pang for the guy in the apron.

.@DJGrothe Not really “ideology” at all, just an emo reaction.

D.J. Grothe ‏@DJGrothe 6h
@OpheliaBenson Right. For the wage earning apron wearer but not for the “privileged coffee sippers.” I think that’s an ideological bias.

I’d seen the photo of the “apron wearer” in the window. The photo got to me. I hadn’t seen photos of the other people. Those photos got to me too when I saw them yesterday, after the siege had ended. I’m human; I react to pictures.

So that’s been today. I did apologize for wording it badly, and I still do. But for having a not completely rational reaction to that picture? No.

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

You can tell what brand and style the shoes are

Dec 16th, 2014 2:47 pm | By

Drone footage maps the damage done to the Nazca site by Greenpeace, io9 reports.

As PBS Newshour reports:

The Nazca figures were drawn between 500 BC and 500 AD by removing a thin patina of dark rocks covering light sand. This is one of the driest regions of the world, and the lack of water and wind has helped preserve the lines for centuries.

But they’re still quite fragile. “When you step on it, you simply break the patina and expose the bottom surface,” said Peru’s Deputy Culture Minister Luis Jaime Castillo . “How long does it take for nature….to again create a patina? Hundreds of years? Thousands of years? We really don’t know.”

Watch the video and pause it at 1:15 to take a good look at the Greenpeace footprints – you can see the sole-patterns very clearly. Lots of them.

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

Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson

Dec 16th, 2014 12:58 pm | By

CBS and the AP have more about the two people who were murdered at the Lindt Cafe yesterday.

Dawson was the mother of three young children, Chloe, Sasha and Oliver, and a highly respected commercial lawyer. She was remembered as “one of our best and brightest” by New South Wales Bar Association president Jane Needham.

Andrew Powell, head of the Ascham School, which Dawson attended in her youth, said she was a well-respected and giving woman who excelled at her studies. Dawson’s daughter Chloe is a student at the school and Sasha will be attending next year.

Dawson was the school’s debating captain and played hockey and basketball. After she became a lawyer, she helped teach senior students at her former school how to prepare for mock trials.

Johnson was remembered as a selfless man who put others first.

“By nature he was a perfectionist and he had a genuine passion for the hospitality industry and people,” Lindt Australia CEO Steve Loane said in a statement. “His loss is absolutely tragic.”

Johnson’s parents issued a brief statement, thanking the public for its support.

“We are so proud of our beautiful boy Tori, gone from this earth but forever in our memories as the most amazing life partner, son and brother we could ever wish for,” they said.

Those are the people that Man Haron Monis took away.


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

Watery Greenland

Dec 16th, 2014 12:30 pm | By

Another piece of global warming underestimated, the Guardian reports.

Melting ice from the coast of Greenland could make a much bigger contribution to rising sea levels than has previously been thought, a new study suggests.

Scientists believe a previously overlooked side-effect of global warming could greatly increase the rate of melting of the vast Greenland ice sheet.

That sounds bad.

The ice covers 1.7m sq km (656,000 sq m), an area three times the size of Texas. If all the ice melted and flowed into the sea, oceans around the world would rise by as much as six metres (20ft), causing extensive damage to coastal communities.

While such a disaster is not expected to happen, ice losses from Greenland are predicted to contribute 22 cm (8in) to global sea levels by 2100.

But the new findings related to lakes formed from melted ice and snow indicate that this figure may be significantly too low.

The study shows that as Arctic temperatures rise, Greenland will develop a rash of these “supraglacial” lakes which are expected to spread much further inland.

And what will that do?

One key effect the lakes have, once they reach a critical size, is to drain through fractures in the ice to reach the ice sheet base. Like a lubricant, the lake water causes the melting ice to slide more rapidly into the ocean.

The lakes also have a direct impact on ice sheet melting because, being darker than ice, they absorb more of the sun’s heat.

Lead researcher Dr Amber Leeson, from the University of Leeds’ School of Earth and Environment, said: “Supraglacial lakes can increase the speed at which the ice sheet melts and flows, and our research shows that by 2060 the area of Greenland covered by them will double.”

It will make everything a lot worse, that’s what it will do.

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

Keeping watch over their flocks by night

Dec 16th, 2014 10:52 am | By

It’s a rough day. I think we need a baby Jesus cat.

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

The gunmen shouted “Allahu akbar”

Dec 16th, 2014 10:38 am | By

A survivor of the Taliban massacre in Peshawar describes his experience.

Speaking from his bed in the trauma ward of the city’s Lady Reading Hospital, Shahrukh Khan, 16, said he and his classmates were in a careers guidance session in the school auditorium when four gunmen wearing paramilitary uniforms burst in.

“Someone screamed at us to get down and hide below the desks,” he said, adding that the gunmen shouted “Allahu akbar” (God is greatest) before opening fire.

“Then one of them shouted: ‘There are so many children beneath the benches, go and get them’,” Khan told AFP.

“I saw a pair of big black boots coming towards me, this guy was probably hunting for students hiding beneath the benches.”

Khan said he felt searing pain as he was shot in both his legs just below the knee.

He decided to play dead, adding: “I folded my tie and pushed it into my mouth so that I wouldn’t scream.

“The man with big boots kept on looking for students and pumping bullets into their bodies. I lay as still as I could and closed my eyes, waiting to get shot again.

“My body was shivering. I saw death so close and I will never forget the black boots approaching me — I felt as though it was death that was approaching me.”

It was.

Warning: this next bit is even more gruesome.

As his father, a shopkeeper, comforted him in his blood-soaked bed, Khan recalled: “The men left after some time and I stayed there for a few minutes. Then I tried to get up but fell to the ground because of my wounds.

“When I crawled to the next room, it was horrible. I saw the dead body of our office assistant on fire,” he said.

“She was sitting on the chair with blood dripping from her body as she burned.”

If Allahu akbar, what is this? What is in any way “great” about this? Or is “greatest” just a euphemism for “most powerful”? It’s true that men with big boots and guns are more powerful than schoolchildren and school teachers and office assistants. They are more powerful but in this case they are certainly not greater.


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

Guest post: If you know anything about the Amish

Dec 16th, 2014 10:22 am | By

Originally a comment by Misty Griffin on What Amish life is really like, by an eyewitness.

This seems a little akward but I left the Amish 9 years ago. Reading some of these comments makes my blood absolutly boil. I beleive that people who are constantly saying that they have such nice Amish neighbors, they never see anything out of place, they are so well mannered and so on are just plain ignorant!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

If you know anything about the Amish you will know that they are a closed society and they will not let you see anything they don’t want you to see.

The things I have seen and heard would leave you truamatized for the rest of your life. Mainly the Amish practice of silenceing thier sex abuse victims, while many may say that this happens in every cultutre it is not true, not like in the Amish. In the Amish if you are raped by your Father you are not taken out of the home, you are made to forgive him and must live in the same house with him till you marry and more than likely he will continue to rape you your whole life.

This practice and many like it make me want to vomit and that is why I ran to a police station a little over 9 years ago. I am sorry but I have no love for the Amish and while some may say that I am biased I will tell you I saw to many victims to care what anyone would retort to me becuase I would tell you in return” If you were never Amish you dont have a clue what you are talking about, end of story!”

To learn more about my story you can see it on Amazon (Tears of the Silenced).

I was not born Amish but was taken to them after being held captive by my crazy mother and stepfather. I was held prisoner on a mountain until I was eighteen and after nearly being killed by my step-father I was dropped off at an Amish community. My sister and I had been raised by Amish tradition so the transition was not very difficult. My sister is still Amish and the sting of being shunned is immense. Anyone who says we should learn from the Amish must be not thinking clearly, if we all lived like the Amish we would still be living in the 1600s, people would be dying of the plague, there would be no vaccines no freedom of religion, no freedom at all pretty much. People would be dying in their mid thirties and so on. Sometimes people just do not know what they are talkinng about I guess.

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

The daily horror

Dec 16th, 2014 8:27 am | By

The Taliban killing as many children as it can at an army-run school in Peshawar.

Scores of survivors are being treated in hospitals as frantic parents search for news of their children.

The attack is the deadliest ever by the Taliban in Pakistan.

There has been chaos outside hospital units to which casualties were taken, the BBC’s Shaimaa Khalil reports from Peshawar.

The BBC’s live update page says 132 children and 9 staff members were killed.

Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid tells the BBC the Taliban raid was “a revenge attack, as many children in the school are sons and daughters of army officers”. Mr Rashid adds it was also “an attempt to unify the Taliban, who are currently divided”.

Both BBC stories have pictures of crowds outside the hospital, and they’re weirdly almost all male (I could see two women in one photo and that’s all). Maybe that’s because it’s a military hospital – but lordy you would think the anguished mothers would be there along with the anguished fathers. (The Beeb says the school teaches girls and boys.)

The militants made no demands; they started killing children as soon as they entered the school, the Pakistani army is quoted as saying by Reuters.

No kidding. That’s what they do.

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

The guy who killed them

Dec 15th, 2014 5:08 pm | By

The Sydney Morning Herald tells us a little about Man Haron Monis.

Self-described cleric, Man Haron Monis, 50, first came to attention of police when he penned poisonous letters to the family of dead Australian soldiers seven years ago.

Last year he was charged with being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife and mother of two.

Most recently, he was charged with more than 50 allegations of indecent and sexual assault relating to time allegedly spent as a self-proclaimed “spiritual healer” who dealt with black magic at a premises in western Sydney more than a decade ago.

He was out on bail on those last two cases.

He was charged in November 2013 with being an accessory before and after the fact to the murder of his ex-wife Noleen Hayson Pal.

Ms Pal was stabbed and set alight in a Werrington apartment block.

Droudis has been charged with the murder.

And then in April this year, Monis was charged by sex crimes squad detectives with the indecent and sexual assault of a woman in western Sydney in 2002.

Police allege that Monis was a self-proclaimed “spiritual healer” who operated out of premises on Station Street at Wentworthville.

News of his arrest prompted more victims to come forward and Monis was hit with an additional 40 charges in October.

It is alleged that Monis placed ads in local newspapers offering “spiritual consultation”.

He claimed to be an expert in astrology, numerology, meditation and black magic.

Monis has posted online that the police charges are part of a witch hunt against him.

Right, it was all trumped up. Obviously.

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

The victims at the Lindt Café

Dec 15th, 2014 5:06 pm | By

The manager of the café and a barrister are the two hostages who were killed, The Australian reports.

The manager of the Lindt Café, Tori Johnson, 34, was one of the two hostages killed during the 16-hour siege, along with 38-year-old barrister Katrina Dawson.

Reports suggest Mr Johnson died after trying to knock the gun from the hand of Man Haron Monis shortly after 2am this morning.

That is, Monis murdered him.

Mr Johnson had been manager of the Lindt Chocolate Cafe for more than two years, and worked previously in hotel and restaurant jobs around Sydney.

He was a porter and assistant concierge at the five-star Observatory Hotel at The Rocks, before working for hotels overseas in the US and the Maldives.

Mr Johnson returned to Sydney as the food and beverage manager at the Rydges Jamison hotel in the city, and moved to the Adria Rybar and Grill at Darling Harbour before taking on the manager role at the flagship Lindt Cafe in October 2012.

NSW Bar Association president Jane Needham SC announced Ms Dawson’s passing this morning to the NSW Bar.

“Katrina was one of our best and brightest barristers who will be greatly missed by her colleagues and friends at the NSW Bar,” she said.

“She was a devoted mother of three children, and a valued member of her floor and of our bar community. Our thoughts are with her family at this time, including her brother, Sandy Dawson of Banco Chambers.

Three children.

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

Guest post: Upset people don’t process information well

Dec 15th, 2014 4:24 pm | By

Originally a comment by Brisvegan on Even when you are emotionally invested.

I am a law lecturer. Many of my students will go on to practice law. However, legal practice is enormously variable. Some will work in criminal law, dealing with the worst of offenders, some in family law, with distressing family breakdowns and some will work in areas like leasing or commercial transactions, which don’t require them to deal with the more traumatic sides of human experience. Each student must still study core curriculum that includes cases with very nasty facts. However, some very able students and lawyers will create a professional life that lets them avoid areas of practice that they personally can’t cope with.

I teach in an area where a bunch of cases on evidence law include details of sexual assaults. However, do I put sexual assault facts on exams? No. I can test the same knowledge without triggering sexual assault survivors by detailing assaults.

I don’t see why this question would be on an exam. It clearly signals to some students that their concerns over Michael Brown’s human rights and their compassion for his family are merely matter for intellectual games, not serious life altering, frightening events that signal a lack of safety for people of colour. It also depicts his supporters as violent, in a way which would reinforce the prejudices of those who argue that black lives matter less.

I would not set this question, because it could distress a bunch of my students, unnecessarily. Upset people don’t process information as well as calm people. The group most likely to be upset are people of colour. Thus, this question rigs the exam against people of colour. The same knowledge could easily be tested using a completely different question. So, I would use a less racially charged, distressing question.

As to lawyers having to confront distressing issues in court: Many do. Many don’t. Those who do often don’t have only limited exam pressured time to come up with an answer. Even if they have limited time, the situation and outcome would be very different. They would often have time, professional experience and professional support to help process and deal with difficult issues before during or after distressing events. They would be able to make a direct difference via their acts and client representation. The difference is like that between having vile taunts flung at you and working to expose or reduce vile taunts. The words and person might be the same, but the sense of power and ability to cope are different. A great student might be knocked off balance by suddenly being confronted with this question in an exam, but might still go on to be an amazing human rights lawyer.

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

A one-way ticket to London please

Dec 15th, 2014 3:50 pm | By

Kunwar Khuldune Shahid tells us about a reactionary cleric who finds himself hoist by his own petard fatwa.

Pakistani pop singer turned religious cleric Junaid Jamshed has been accused of blasphemy recently. Jamshed has now taken refuge in London, rightly fearing for his life in Pakistan.

The allegation occurred after Jamshed re-enacted a hadith which suggests that the Prophet Muhammad’s youngest wife Ayesha occasionally faked illness to seek her husband’s attention. The re-enactment was entitled ‘even the prophet’s company cannot tame a woman’.

Jamshed is notorious – or renowned, depending on who you talk to – for his misogynistic views. He is on record as saying:

“If you want a happy life, do not teach your wives how to drive a car. Do not let her go outside. She might leave you.”

He has also said that “A husband only involves himself in an extra marital affair because his wife isn’t doing enough. She is to be blamed.” 

He has also advocated a ban on women driving, drawn connections between respect and how much a woman covers herself, and generally espoused the view that women are men’s possessions.

Hmm. Is it very wrong of me to feel glad that he feared for his life in Pakistan and had to run away to horrible kuffar London? It probably is, but I do all the same.

Jamshed, who is on record as saying that ‘secularism is a curse’, is now taking refuge in a society that has secular laws, vying to dodge the ramifications of the jurisprudence that he has endorsed for 17 years.

Despite Britain’s increasing number of Sharia courts – 85 at time of writing – which are limited to financial and familial matters, Jamshed knows he is perfectly safe in Britain, a country that epitomises everything that’s ‘wrong’ with the ‘evil West’.

He was wise enough to not go into exile in Saudi Arabia, the country that is the epitome of Jamshed’s version of Islam, which is intolerant, fundamentalist and extremist.

The Saudi legal system is based on Sharia law and does not have a penal code. Therefore, in Saudi Arabia, where Jamshed’s endorsed law prevails, the punishment for his comments about Ayesha would be left at the mercy of a judge’s interpretation of the Sharia law, which more often than not leads to decapitated heads.

It’s interesting, isn’t it, that harsh laws and punishments seem so desirable until they are applied to oneself?

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

They have faces

Dec 15th, 2014 3:03 pm | By

Lejla Kurić points out that Mughal art has plenty of faces.

Oh so it does. I have a big ol’ stack of postcards of Mughal art, from the V&A and the British Library and the Fitzwilliam and wherever else I found them. Faces. There are faces.

Faces faces everywhere.

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

Now that’s a face

Dec 15th, 2014 11:32 am | By

Last August Slate ran a piece debunking the mythmaking in the documentary Dinosaur 13, about the federal prosecution of a fossil-collector who found a 90% complete T Rex skeleton in 1990.

Dinosaur 13’s embattled hero is Peter Larson, introduced as a “brilliant paleontologist” by no less an authority on earth science than a former National Geographic photographer. In truth, Larson is a commercial collector and vendor of fossils. Paleontologists have formal training in graduate school, where they learn to excavate and document fossil finds to preserve invaluable information. Along the way, one hopes, they learn that fossils are part of the public trust, not to be hawked or pirated.

CNN has been showing Dinosaur 13 so I watched it; it’s pretty gripping, although the loud and repetitive music is way overdone. But I did keep thinking throughout that a dinosaur fossil shouldn’t “belong to” anyone, it should be the property of everyone and no one. I’d read about Larson and Sue at some point, so I knew to be suspicious of his take all along. It’s all a bit Greenpeace-like – he should have told museum paleontologists or academic ones or all of them about the T Rex, not treated it as a treasure belonging to him because he found it.

Larson and his Black Hills Institute are subjected to the ravages of the FBI and National Guard, who confiscate first the dinosaur and then all of the business’s files. The first federal foray aimed, rightly, to remove “Sue” from it’s legally challenged custody. But in Dinosaur 13, the fossil’s relocation is a jack-booted raid by that eternal enemy of the lawless West, the gummint.

The files were seized as part of an investigation into widespread allegations of international fossil theft and misrepresentation against Larson. Laborious research resulted in convictions of Larson and others at Black Hills for customs fraud, money laundering, and other offenses. But, in Dinosaur 13’s curious reimagination of the legal process, several convictions and a two-year prison sentence for Larson—which was, admittedly, overly harsh—are somehow proof of Larson’s fundamental innocence.

And there’s a lot of nonsense about how the T Rex should have stayed in Hill City, South Dakota. Where did it go instead? The Field Museum in Chicago. Well which is better? Obviously the latter: more people will be able to see it, more scientists will be able to study it, more professionals will take care of it. It’s treated as a tragedy but there’s nothing tragic about it.

Lost in Dinosaur 13’s re-invention of history—which is subtitled “a true tale”—is the actual import of the Larson affair. Dinosaur 13 should have celebrated the government. Its servants sought to protect our prehistory from commercial abuse by targeting one of its most prominent dealers. And they got their man.

Even the US, the Vatican of the church of the free market, doesn’t think fossils should be sold like so much gravel.

The Field Museum

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


Dec 15th, 2014 10:45 am | By

It’s true, what several commenters said in response to the nightmare Deeni-doll – the Amish do have nightmare faceless dolls.

You can shop for them.

Blue John & Miriam Faceless Doll Couple

They’re rag dolls, soft and squashy for small children who like to squash things. They’re like Raggedy Anne and Andy, except…Anne and Andy have faces.

Having a taboo on human faces seems to me a wretched idea. Aversion to eye contact is a disability, not something to instill in people on purpose.

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

Leaving a footprint at Nazca is like leaving a footprint on the moon

Dec 15th, 2014 9:52 am | By

Greg Laden is also outraged by Greenpeace’s vandalism of the Nazca site.

Greenpeace activists entered a restricted area in Peru, where the Nazca lines are located. They drove into the area, and walked around there, and laid out banners. The banners were then photographed from the air (from a drone, as I understand it) to produce a message supporting renewable something. I’m guessing energy. The message was not clear. Nor was the link between their big yellow banners and the sacred and ancient Nazca lines.

This is an abuse of the cultural patrimony of Peru and the native people’s who have lived there.

In this fragile environment, footprints constitute irreparable damage.

One of the Nazca lines was apparently damaged directly, the area around the lines trodden.

As an advocate of renewable energy and supporter of taking action to move in that direction, and an archaeologist, I deeply resent Greenpeace using the Nazca lines as a propaganda tool, and I condemn Greenpeace for thoughtless[ly] damaging this important archaeological site.

I don’t think “thoughtlessly” is the right adverb (and given what he goes on to say, neither does Greg, really). It’s not as if they did it on the spur of the moment, because it’s not a thing you can do quickly and without thinking. They have to have thought about it, so they thought about it and decided to do it. That’s part of what’s so infuriating about it.

With this act in Peru, Greenpeace has made a clear statement. It is a clear statement because this was an act that required organization, funding, decision making, meetings, an OK from various levels up and down the line, etc. at least within the unit of Greenpeace involved. They’ve made a clear statement that Greenpeace as an organization is willing to break the law in an entirely new area. They are willing to violate laws that protect heritage sites. That is a new thing as far as I know for them (though I’ve heard otherwise, see links below). And it is deeply disturbing. It can’t be just a few people involved in this and incidentally using the Greenpeace name.

And it isn’t just breaking the law. Any operation involving Nazca would involve research and knowing something about what they are up against. You can’t plan a project using Nazca and not be aware of the delicacy of the environment, of the fact that numerous people and one or more vehicles on the ground will unavoidably ruin parts of the site. Leaving a footprint at Nazca is like leaving a footprint on the moon (almost). It is nearly as permanent as the lines themselves. Everyone who knows anything about Nazca knows this. These Greenpeace activists must have known this.

So, Greenpeace has made a SECOND statement with this act. Greenpeace has clearly shown that it is willing not only to break Heritage laws in some trivial and non destructive way, but Greenpeace as an organization is willing to physically and permanently damage heritage sites.

On purpose, with malice aforethought.

Greenpeace has also made a THIRD statement with this act. Greenpeace has indicated that it is willing to break heritage law, AND damage a heritage site, for the purpose of making a picture. No whales were saved during the partial eternal destruction of a heritage site. No gyre of garbage was cleaned up while the regional indigenous culture was unceremoniously thrown under the bus. If there was a heritage site who’s preservation was actually doing the equivalent of killing whales (there are such conflicts though mostly involving plants) this might make sense. But this was a heritage site utterly unrelated to anything in the way of conservation or environment being exploited because it is famous to make a vague and not especially effective message.

Being exploited and damaged. A fragile heritage site being exploited and damaged to make a stupid empty advert.

So, the final point is this: Greenpeace is known as an organization willing to break laws, in a big way, to make a larger point. Now, Greenpeace tell us that it is willing to include Heritage laws in that activism. Apologies, consternations, statements of conciliation are not of any interest to me at this point. The individuals and communities that support indigenous rights and heritage can’t afford to extend trust in this sort of situation.

There may be a point where Greenpeace’s response to their own atrocity is sufficient. But I’m 99% sure Greenpeace will never be able to pull off that response.

The first comment said “This is probably the first time I have ever agreed with you 100%.” Same here!

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

Staying within the line

Dec 14th, 2014 5:53 pm | By

Frank Foley,a Lecturer in the War Studies Department at King’s College London, explains some things about torture for the BBC.

As they came to terms with the shock of 9/11, people at the highest levels of the US government wanted to mete out a ferocious response to al-Qaeda suspects.

But let it not be said that they wanted to torture – of course not. We’re the good guys, so we don’t torture. We do something else, that’s unpleasant, but it’s not what fits under the word “torture.” Hell no.

“Everyone was focused on trying to avoid torture, staying within the line, while doing everything possible to save American lives,” Bush administration lawyer Timothy Flanigan has been quoted as saying.

What happened was that “the line” bent.

To rise to the level of torture, one legal memo argued, the interrogator would need to intend to cause suffering “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death”.

If the organs don’t fail – hey presto, it’s not torture.

The Americans were about to learn a lesson that the British had already learned decades earlier in the Northern Ireland conflict.

In the second half of the 20th Century, Britain’s security forces developed what they called the “five techniques”: hooding, white noise, a diet of bread and water, sleep deprivation, and being forced to stand in a stress position against a wall for long periods.

We now know that British agents trained officers of Brazil’s military dictatorship in these techniques.

And then word got out, and people elsewhere didn’t think British security forces were the good guys, and it was all terribly wounding to the feelings.

Regardless of the label, the brutality of these techniques was widely condemned when details were revealed. The UK’s international reputation was tarnished and it lost a good deal of moral authority in its fight against terrorism.

Because, sadly, reputations don’t depend just on one’s own firm conviction that one is not a torturer.

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

Just what every child wants: a faceless doll

Dec 14th, 2014 5:10 pm | By

I saw this horror via Tehmina Kazi on Facebook. A faceless “Deeni doll” is now on the shelves.

A new faceless doll, produced in accordance with Islamic law, has been launched in Britain.

The ‘Deeni Doll’, which is adorned with a traditional hijab headdress, has no nose, mouth, or eyes, in order to comply with Islamic rulings regarding the depictions of facial features.

A doll with no face – it’s hard to imagine anything more creepy. The picture is certainly a nightmare.

View image on Twitter

The toy, which took four years to create, is the brainchild of Ridhwana B, a former teacher at a Muslim school.

She told the Lancashire Telegraph: ‘I came up with the idea from scratch after speaking to some parents who were a little concerned about dolls with facial features.’

She continued: ‘Some parents won’t leave the doll with their children at night because you are not allowed to have any eyes in the room.’

‘There is an Islamic ruling which forbids the depiction of facial features of any kind and that includes pictures, sculptures and, in this case, dolls.’

That’s sick. Children love dolls, animal dolls as well as miniature-human dolls; children talk to their dolls, and they don’t talk to the feet or the bum but to the face. Infants pay attention to faces very earl in life. Faces matter, and there’s nothing wrong with our interest in them and in depictions of them. That’s a sick ruling and it should be ignored. That “doll” is a crime against children.

Although the doll, which retails at £25, is currently limited to the ‘Romeisa’ design – named after a companion of the Prophet Muhammad – Ridhwana hopes to extend the range.

‘The Islamic range in kid’s toys is quite limited at the moment with few choices. Although this project took a while, I am looking at researching other ideas in the future.’

‘I am looking at compiling a book for the Islamic upbringing of children in the future too.’

She’s a fanatic. This is fanaticism of the worst, most life-hating kind. Erasing faces is sick, sick, sick.

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

Insiders don’t criticize other insiders

Dec 14th, 2014 4:44 pm | By

Zachary Goldfarb at the Washington Post reports on how the insiders told Warren to act like an insider. She had dinner with Larry Summers back in 2009, when she was the chair of that panel panel investigating the government’s response to the financial trainwreck.

Larry leaned back in his chair and offered me some advice. … He teed it up this way: I had a choice. I could be an insider or I could be an outsider. Outsiders can say whatever they want. But people on the inside don’t listen to them. Insiders, however, get lots of access and a chance to push their ideas. People — powerful people — listen to what they have to say. But insiders also understand one unbreakable rule. They don’t criticize other insiders.

I had been warned.

You know what that sounds like?

Everything, that’s what. All the institutions and rackets and industries. Show biz, universities, corporations, the circus – everything. If you’re an outsider you’re free to criticize the insiders, to an attentive audience of all your teddy bears. If you’re an insider it’s omertà, baby.

Only not necessarily, any more, because of the internet. With blogs and social media, your audience might be a little broader than the stuffed animal collection.

But still the basic polarity applies. Outsiderdom=freedom but little power. Insiderdom=power but less freedom.

Warren ignored the warning.

And if the past few weeks are any indication, she can operate as an insider without giving her up outsider credentials. She’s remained outspoken, but has become even more influential. She hasn’t stopped throwing bombs at the rich and powerful — and causing trouble for the White House — but she’s won a spot in Senate leadership [and] changed the shape of congressional debates over financial regulation…

Good. Long may she continue.

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