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.


Dr Stella Ameyo Adadevoh

Oct 20th, 2014 11:52 am | By

Tolu Ogunlesi reports on another everyday hero.

Last month, the Nigerian government released the 2014 National Honours award list: more than 300 people, many of them serving government officials, seemingly recognised simply because of the public office they hold, not for anything particularly honourable or heroic. An outcry followed, largely due to the absence of one name: Dr Stella Ameyo Adadevoh. A government spokesman was forced to explain that the awards are never given posthumously.

The public’s indignation was understandable: Adadevoh was the Nigerian doctor who oversaw the treatment of Patrick Sawyer, the Liberian national who brought the Ebola virus to Nigeria. She died of the virus on 19 August, one of eight fatalities out of 20 cases (each linked to Sawyer) in the country. Without her dedication, it is quite possible that the World Health Organisation would not have declared Nigeria – the most populous country in Africa – Ebola-free on Monday. The significance of her actions, and those of her hospital colleagues, cannot be overstated.

It’s heartbreaking.

In a fine tribute, Nigerian journalist Simon Kolawole explained and convincingly that Adadevoh was only doing her job as a medical professional. He wrote: “There were various options in front of her when she discovered Sawyer had Ebola: one, quietly say ‘e no concern me’ and discharge him quickly to avoid contaminating the hospital; two, refer him to [Lagos University Teaching hospital], not minding the bigger consequences for the rest of Nigeria; three, act responsibly in line with the ethics of the medical profession and ‘detain’ him because of the peculiarity of the disease.”

That this needed to be pointed out at all is perhaps testimony to how unused Nigeria has become to the idea of people doing their jobs as they should. It is precisely the reason Adadevoh needs to be honoured: as a reminder that heroism can be attained as much in everyday work clothes as it can in superhero capes.

We in the US need that kind of reminder too: that heroism can be attained as much in everyday work clothes as it can in football uniforms or banker suits or movie star glamor clothes.

Her name should become famous along with Malala’s.

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



His only crime is being a free voice

Oct 20th, 2014 11:31 am | By

Raif Badawy’s wife Ensaf Haidar writes about what Saudi Arabia is doing to her husband.

In May, his sentence was reduced to 10 years in prison, a fine of $100,000 and 1,000 lashes. He is to be lashed 50 times each Friday after prayers until it reaches 1,000 lashes.

Ra’if is not a criminal. He is not a murderer or a rapist. He is a blogger. That’s it. His only crime is being a free voice in a country that has no tolerance nor understanding for freedom.

He’s a blogger. I’m a blogger. I try to imagine being lashed 50 times to punish me for that. I try to imagine spending ten years in prison for that. I can’t.

Two years have passed since Ra’if was arrested and I still face a burning emptiness and a series of insomnia-inducing questions: When is he coming back? And in what state? Am I going to hug him? Kiss him? Will I cry?

These are our allies.

I arrived in Canada after escaping Saudi Arabia via Cairo and Beirut. We will settle here and attempt to have a normal life, but always await Ra’if’s return.

I am unable to thank every person who supported me and Ra’if. Amnesty International especially spared no effort to advocate for my husband’s release. I also must thank Ra’if, who taught me how to endure the impossible, stay strong and fight tirelessly to get him back.

Perhaps he won’t return soon, but I will get him back some day. He promised me that he would come back no matter what. Ra’if should be free, filling the world with happiness, love and his fighting spirit.

The government of Saudi Arabia is evil.

 

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



What counts as plagiarism?

Oct 20th, 2014 10:20 am | By

I’m not sure what to think about this.

There’s this C J Werleman guy, who has been accused of plagiarism. I’ve been seeing mutterings about it in passing for a few days, without following them up, because he’s not someone I’ve been aware of. But PZ has a post about the subject today and I read that, so then I read his source, which is Godless Spellchecker.

PZ:

But he has done the unforgivable: serial plagiarism, and when caught out, has apologized, but simultaneously belittled the seriousness of the offense and blamed it on a campaign by our little neo-conservative atheist cabal of Harris and Boghossian.

I agree that they are wrong about so much else, but when they’re right, they’re right, galling as it is. This is a situation that requires much more reflection and far greater amends than Werleman has given it. He has also effectively written himself out of any of the debates, internal or external, about atheism.

Ok, but then when I read Godless Spellchecker’s examples, I had doubts. That’s because much journalism, in magazines and in books, does what Werleman seems to have done: draw on the work of other people without full citation.

The conventions in non-scholarly magazines and books just aren’t the same as the conventions in scholarly journals and books. It’s surprising and disconcerting, actually, to notice how loose they are, but they are in fact that loose.

The place I first recall noticing how different the conventions are is a long article by Claudia Roth Pierpont in The New Yorker, about Franz Boas. It was published in 2004 so that makes a lot of sense, because guess what I was doing in 2004: writing Why Truth Matters [with a co-author] for an academic publisher. I had naturally developed a heightened awareness of When You Need to Cite Your Source, so reading that obviously very researched article that was citation-free caused me to realize for the first time how radically different the conventions are. I puzzled over it. It felt very odd and wrong, to be using so much material without sourcing it, but at the same time I realized it was wholly conventional.

The fact that it’s conventional doesn’t make it right, and people who write books do chafe at the use sometimes made of their work without due credit. More than one person has objected to Christopher Hitchens’s habits in this area – his Mother Teresa book in particular was apparently heavily based on the work of other people, without proper citation.

But if it is conventional it probably doesn’t really qualify as plagiarism, right?

I’m honestly not sure. I have no stake, because as I mentioned, I’m not familiar with Werleman. I’m somewhat puzzled about the whole thing.

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



Also helped fuel the haters

Oct 19th, 2014 5:31 pm | By

Mother Jones has a big story on #GamerGate. As it goes on it tells me some things I didn’t know.

Sarkeesian noted recently that she has been “subjected to the worst harassment I’ve ever faced” as part of a convoluted conflict known as #Gamergate, which has been roiling the gaming industry since August. Playing out primarily on social media, #Gamergate centers around several women who work in the industry and have criticized its dominant macho culture and frequent sexualization of women. Their critique has met with intense harassment and bullying. The FBI is currently investigating the threats against Sarkeesian and others, according to Vice.

Note, again, how familiar that is – their critique has met with intense harassment and bullying. Our critique always is. It’s become normal and routine – greeting feminist criticism of macho culture and frequent sexualization of women with organized campaigns of intense harassment and bullying. It’s almost as if we’re just plain not allowed to say some things should change.

Most of the viciousness comes from anonymous trolls. However, a couple of particular players have helped inflame the situation:

Adam Baldwin, perhaps best known for portraying paranoid mercenary Jayne Cobb in Firefly and for voicing strident political views on social media, chimed in:

Someone else who has helped inflame the situation is, shamingly, the former academic Christina Hoff Sommers.

Milo Yiannopoulos, associate editor at Breitbart.com, also helped fuel the haters with a blog post in which he declared “an army of sociopathic feminist programmers and campaigners, abetted by achingly politically correct American tech bloggers, are terrorising the entire community.”

Sociopathic???

Though #Gamergate first caught fire on 4chan, it exploded on more mainstream social media outlets such as Reddit and Twitter, which have been criticized for providing a platform for its worst elements. On Saturday, for example, developer Brianna Wu left her home after a Twitter user sent her a string of threats including a pledge to choke her to death with her husband’s penis. Though Twitter has suspended those accounts, critics argue it could do much more by, say, actively detecting hostile behavior, limiting fake accounts, and making it easier to block users. Twitter spokesman Nu Wexler referred Mother Jones to the company’s user rules banning targeted abuse. He declined to say how many accounts have been suspended in relation to #Gamergate or if any have been referred to law enforcement.

That’s insulting. The company’s “user rules banning targeted abuse” are a joke, because the company acts as if they’re not there. Targeted abuse is what many people use Twitter for. It’s full of targeted abuse; targeted abuse is the air it breathes. Spokesman Nu Wexler showing Mother Jones the rules is just a contemptuous evasion.

On Reddit, a group devoted to #Gamergate has more than 11,000 subscribers. Many of the comments in these threads are misogynistic, and Zoe Quinn has produced logs of Reddit chatrooms that show gamers planning to hack her personal accounts. Even so, Reddit’s moderators haven’t shut down its main #Gamergate page. (In contrast, a #Gamergate forum on Github has been disabledby the site’s staff.) “We received a number of contacts related to this issue,” Reddit spokeswoman Victoria Taylor wrote in response to questions from Mother Jones. “Anything that we found or that was reported to us that broke our rules was removed and the user banned.” But it seems that the fallout from #Gamergate hasn’t prompted much concern or soul searching at Reddit: “We do not plan on changing any site policies due to the occurrence of this event.”

Of course not. It’s just bullying of women; it doesn’t matter; nobody gives a shit.

Pushback on the nastiness from the world of gaming journalism has included comments from Stephen Totilo, the editor in chief of Kotaku (and #Gamergate’sjournalistic enemy No. 1), who published a piece criticizing the movement and its tactics:

“All of us at Kotaku condemn the sort of harassment that’s being carried out against critics, developers, journalists, and other members of the gaming community. If you’re someone who harasses people online, you’re not a part of the community we want to foster at Kotaku, and you’re actively hurting people and driving important voices away from the video game scene. Enough.”

But Christina Hoff Sommers is still cheering them on.

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



Not a good idea to irritate my buddy Gamer here

Oct 19th, 2014 4:40 pm | By

There’s further mainstream media coverage of #GamerGate, while Christina Hoff Sommers continues to tweet in support of the brave rebels.

Christina H. Sommers @CHSommers · 7 hours ago
Not a good idea to irritate hundreds of thousands of gamers. @Gawker #GamerGate Ht:@lizzyf620 https://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=mk3y98Z5kuw …

Media has maligned & defamed millions of innocent gamers. Big mistake. You have awakened a sleeping giant. @Gawker #GamerGate

#Gamergate is not about misogyny.It’s a consumer rebellion against media bullies & shallow ideologies. & these r consumers who
like to win.

If you missed this Spike article, pease read it now! #Gamergate http://www.spiked-online.com/newsite/article/gamergate-an-un-pc-rebellion/16029#.VEPxAoq9KK0 …

Gamers are one of the most diverse & welcoming groups I have ever known.But in the face of unfair attacks,they react. http://www.twitlonger.com/show/n_1sd5gl1

Wrong.There are different kinds of giants.The video game community is gentle giant that uses polemics for weapons. Not howitzers. @MiahSaint

Here’s the GamerGate Manifesto (yes, there is one) and a translation of it by somewhat_brave on Reddit

Do you notice how very, very familiar it all is? How exactly it resembles what we’ve been seeing ad nauseam for the past 3.5 years?

Yeah.

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



Whimsy at the University of Sydney

Oct 19th, 2014 3:56 pm | By

Strange doings at the University of Sydney.

The University of Sydney has suspended Prof Barry Spurr over emails in which he called the prime minister, Tony Abbott, an “Abo lover”, Indigenous Australians “human rubbish tips” and Nelson Mandela as a “darky”.

Don’t tell me let me guess – he was using those insults “ironically” – right? He didn’t mean them literally, it was just a performance, a many-layered meta-joke. Right?

Spurr, a poetry expert, was a specialist consultant to the federal government’s national curriculum review looking at English from foundation to year 12.

The emails, first obtained by website New Matilda, have seriously damaged the review’s findings, with Labor calling them “tainted” and the Australian Education Union saying the review had been exposed as “an ideological waste of time from the start”.

In a series of emails over two years sent to senior academics and officials within the university, Spurr wrote that Abbott would have to be surgically separated from his “Siamese twin”, Australian of the Year and AFL star Adam Goodes, who is Aboriginal.

He said the university’s chancellor, Belinda Hutchinson, was an “appalling minx”,’ while other women were described as “whores”. He used terms such as “mussies” and “chinky-poos”.

Ironically. Obviously he’s far too sophisticated to use them non-ironically. Right?

The national curriculum review, released this month, largely accepted Spurr’s recommendations regarding the teaching of English. He had asserted in his report to the review that “the impact of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on literature in English in Australia has been minimal” and advised a greater emphasis on the western literary canon.

Spurr had not responded on Friday, but has said previously the emails were part of a “whimsical” game with another person to outdo each other in extreme statements and were not meant to be taken seriously.

Aha! – there it is. Toldja.

Spurr was a well-known conservative critic of the national curriculum before his appointment to review English. In 2010 he contributed to a critique published by the the libertarian think tank the Institute of Public Affairs.

In his chapter, Spurr was scathing about the curriculum proposed by the former Labor government. “An empty generosity is proposed, bloated with ramifying detail and long on windy rhetoric, an obesity of the mind: short on nourishing, intellectually-bracing substance. It is the educational equivalent of fast food.”

Spurr’s expert advice to the national curriculum was influential, with most of his recommendations accepted in the final report. He criticised the emphasis on Aboriginal texts, saying the “the impact of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on literature in English in Australia has been minimal and is vastly outweighed by the impact of global literature in English, and especially that from Britain, on our literary culture”.

Could that be partly because people have always said global literature in English is more important so let’s just ignore Aboriginal literature? It’s a bit circular you know. “We can’t have more women involved because look around you, there are no women here, so obviously women don’t participate, so we can’t ask them.” Repeat repeat repeat, and apply to all other kinds of people you also don’t want to invite.

H/t Omar.

 

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



One hour and six minutes

Oct 19th, 2014 11:19 am | By

Pacific Standard reports on an exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum called Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe.

I think high heels are one of the weirdest and most perverse customs we have over here in the putatively developed world. They’re temporary foot-binding, and if they’re worn long enough the damage becomes permanent. They don’t damage the feet as much as foot-binding did, but that’s not much of a distinction.

Now, they’re also “a choice,” and feminism is all about choice, and yadda yadda. But for one thing, they’re not a completely free choice, given all the contexts in which they’re more or less obligatory, and for another thing, I flatly reject the idea that all choices made by a woman are feminist simply because they’re choices.

“Fashion is a form of material culture that can reveal quite a bit about the personal, social, and cultural concerns of the era it comes from,” Lisa Small, the museum’s curator of exhibitions, told Forbes.

While all this may be true, heels also imply pain. In a sense, it’s kind of amazing that an item that exemplifies the fashion-over-function ethos so fully has lasted for so long. Indeed, research suggests that long-term high heel use can both “compromise muscle efficiency” and “increase the risk of strain injuries.” A recent survey conducted by the U.K.’s College of Podiatry found that, when in stilettos, most women’s feet tend to start hurting after just one hour and six minutes. Furthermore, one in three women admit to walking home shoeless due to the relentless throbbing.

Yes, fashion can reveal quite a bit about the personal, social, and cultural concerns of the era it comes from, and the fashion for grotesquely high heels reveal that for some reason we still think it’s ok and sexy and cool for women to be – temporarily or permanently – crippled by shoes. We cringe in horror at foot-binding but we take heels for granted. It’s bizarre – and revolting.

Despite all the suffering and creative lengths some entrepreneurs go to relieve it, the Wall Street Journal reports that in 2011 women spent $38.5 billion on shoes in the U.S., with more than half of those sales going toward stilettos over three inches high.

“You could just as easily ask men why they wear neckties, which aren’t particularly comfortable,” Small told the Daily Beast when discussing the complicated act of willfully wearing something that brings about infliction.

No. Ties are uncomfortable, and they are unsuitable for vigorous physical activity, but they don’t actually deform and lame their wearers.

“The necktie has a universal currency of power whereas the high heel doesn’t. It’s too bound up in sexualization and objectification. Yet many women enjoy wearing them because they want to look conventionally sexy or because they like the confidence that comes with extra height.”

And they live in a culture where shoes like that are coded as sexy and beautiful, and where being sexy and beautiful is at the top of the list of things women are expected to be.

So when and why did women start donning the accessory? Elizabeth Semmelhack, author of Heights of Fashion: A History of the Elevated Shoe and senior curator at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, believes the answer lies in mid-19th-century pornography, which used the recent invention of photography to disseminate images of naked women in heels. While this convergence of events infused the shoe with its erotic aura and modern feminine identity, these women didn’t have to stand in a pair of stilettos for very long or move around that much.

Which is apparently how we still like our women.

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



Freedom of thought, conscience and religion

Oct 19th, 2014 11:00 am | By

The European Humanist Federation points out that the 2014 EU report on countries that are candidates for membership does a lousy job of monitoring abuses of the rights of non-believers in those countries.

…the 2014 reports have clearly failed to address the situation for non-believers in these countries, with not one single mention of their situation being present within the section on ‘Freedom of thought, conscience and religion’ in this year’s reports.

They do a good job on reporting violations of the rights of adherents of minority religions, but they leave out the rights of adherents of no religion. It’s as if rights came with religion but not with no religion.

Negating [neglecting?] to report on the situation for non-believers is one thing, but choosing to ignore outright attacks on the rights of non-believers is another thing altogether. Of all of the candidate countries, Turkey possesses the most repressive political climate for non-believers, with past progress reports declaring that “citizens professing a faith other than that of the majority, or with no faith, continued to experience discrimination[12]. However the 2014 report fails to report adequately on the situation for non-believers in Turkey, ignoring entirely instances such as in February of this year, when President Erdoğan equated Atheists with terrorists[13]. Moreover, there was a lack of criticism of the continuing existence of Article 216 of the Turkish Criminal Code[14] which has been used by authorities to curb the freedom of expression of Atheists, who are harassed and arrested for writing critical statements about religion either in books or online[15].

The rights of non-believers should form just as an important cornerstone of the progress reports as the rights of ethnic, sexual and religious minorities, and the Commission has failed to report on the challenges which non-believers face on a daily basis within potential and confirmed candidate countries. This is why the EHF calls on the Commission to include explicit references to the situation for non-believers in candidate countries in future reports. After all, if the EU truly believes that the right to freedom of expression for non-believers is a fundamental right, then the ability to exercise this right within candidate countries must be scrutinised, to better assess the commitment on behalf of these states to the advancement of fundamental human rights for all citizens, religious or otherwise.

Second that.

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



Look in another place

Oct 19th, 2014 9:39 am | By

If we get depressed about the tattered “heroes” of atheism and skepticism we can turn our attention away from them in favor of people like William Pooley, a nurse who caught Ebola while volunteering in West Africa. He was flown home to the UK and treated, and he recovered, so now he’s taking a well-deserved breather returning to Sierra Leone.

Mr Pooley will work at the isolation unit at Connaught Hospital in Freetown, Sierra Leone, where he will train staff and set up new isolation units.

He will work with a team from King’s Health Partners – a collaboration between King’s College London and three NHS trusts – which is operating in the country.

Dr Oliver Johnson, programme director for the King’s Sierra Leone Partnership, said: “It is fantastic that Will has chosen to join our small team here at Connaught Hospital.

“The situation here in Freetown is getting worse by the day and so Will’s experience and commitment will be vital as we do everything we can to stem the flow of cases.

“The best way of stopping Ebola spreading even further is to fight it at its source and I look forward to working with Will to do just that.”

Hats off to you William Pooley and Oliver Johnson and your team and all the health workers in West Africa.

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



Gender activists and hipsters with degrees in cultural studies

Oct 18th, 2014 5:51 pm | By

A month ago Christina Hoff Sommers did a 6 and a half minute video for the American Enterprise Institute in which she took a sarcastically skeptical look at the criticisms of gamer culture. There’s a partial transcript on the page and I transcribed some of the rest for myself.

//www.youtube.com/watch?v=9MxqSwzFy5w

She started by saying that hard-core gamers, those who play more than 20 hours a week, are 7 to 1 male to female.

But are video games rife with sexism? Do they promote a culture of misogyny and violence that must be dismantled? My answer is no. As I looked into the literature on gaming, I discovered that gamers make a lot of people nervous. Not only are most of them male—but the games they like tend to be action-packed, competitive, and often violent.

But obviously that’s not in any way a problem, as we can tell by noticing how very peaceful and free of violence the US is*. Everything is already perfect exactly as it is, so there’s no need for anyone to think about possible problems with gaming, or anything else. The only people who ought to be doing that kind of thing, in fact, are people who do it at the behest of and on the payroll of the American Enterprise Institute.

But now, gamers are dealing with a new army of critics: gender activists and hipsters with degrees in cultural studies. These critics are concerned that gaming is a largely hetero-patriachal capitalist pursuit. Why isn’t gaming more inclusive? Why must there always be male heroes? Why are the few females always portrayed as either Damsels in distress or sex objects? These critics have made some useful points about “sexist tropes and narratives.” But they ignore the fact that the world of gaming has become more inclusive. There are games that fit a vast array of preferences, and games with responsibly proportioned and appropriately garbed female protagonists. Yet the video game gender police have become so harsh and intolerant – relentless – many of them want more than women on both sides of the video screen – they want the male video game culture to die.[little laugh]

I wonder if that’s an attempt to deflect attention from the people who threaten the critics, by pretending that the critics too want someone or something to die. Not very nice if so.

Male gamers, as a group, do evince a strong a preference for games with male heroes and sexy women. Could that be because they are – uh [quick eye roll] male? There is no evidence that these games are making males racist, misogynist, or homophobic. In fact, all the data we have suggests that millennial males—born and raised in video game nation—are far less prone to these prejudices than previous generations.

All the data? I doubt that. Misogyny is too prevalent and hip and fashionable for that. It’s coming from somewhere.

But recently two feminist critics received and publicized death threats. Now, no one knows who sent them, there are millions of gamers, and I’m sure they include a few sociopaths, if it was indeed gamers who sent the threats. But many of the new culture critics have seized on the emails as a [sarcasm] sure sign of patriarchal pathology at the heart of gamer culture. According to one academic pontificator [sarcastic shaking of head], “what we are seeing is the end of gamers, and the viciousness that accompanies the death of an identity.” [sarcastic little laugh] Well I have spent the last few weeks looking into the gamer culture, talking to gamers, looking at the data – I don’t see pathology, or imminent death. What I see is a lively, smart, creative subculture…”

That’s a pretty callous dismissal of the death threats. She could have used the opportunity to speak out forcefully against them, but instead she chose to hint that maybe they were fake.

Her shtick these days seems to be just to pounce on anything feminists do in order to make fun of it. There are some feminist projects that I too think need opposing, like the ones that claim logic and science are more of a guy thing. But jeering at pretty much everything is a questionable kind of scholarship.

*I’m assuming that she’s talking about US gamers here, given that she’s doing this for the American Enterprise Institute, which doesn’t mean Mexico and Canada, much less Brazil and Peru.)

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



Another level

Oct 18th, 2014 4:01 pm | By

Here’s another branch of the Harassing Women on Twitter industry – people threatening a woman with rape because blah blah blah blah.

TV presenter Richard Madeley has said people who sent “sick rape threats” to his daughter are in “deep trouble”.

Chloe Madeley received threats on Twitter after defending her mother, Judy Finnigan, who caused controversy when she described a rape committed by footballer Ched Evans as “non-violent”.

Well that’s ironic. I wish people wouldn’t declare the rapes of other people “non-violent” – I wish people would just get out of the business of minimizing the rapes of other people altogether – but I don’t think the right response is to threaten such people’s daughters with rape.

Mr Madeley tweeted “prosecution awaits” for the culprits but refused to comment on whether he had contacted police.

The Met Police said they were not aware of any complaint about the matter.

However, a spokesman added it could have been reported to any police force.

In an email to BBC Radio 1’s Newsbeat Miss Madeley said she wanted to stand up to “vicious attention seekers.”

She added: “I always ignore the disgusting troll tweets I get because I honestly do not want to give them any attention, but the tweet in question took it to another level.”

Aw, it’s just people having a little harmless fun. There’s no need to politicize it. </irony>

Now the Tory Justice Secretary Chris Grayling is saying sentences for internet harassment should be longer.

He told the Mail on Sunday quadrupling the current maximum six-month term showed his determination to “take a stand against a baying cyber-mob”.

The plan has been announced days after TV presenter Chloe Madeley suffered online abuse, which Mr Grayling described as “crude and degrading”.

Magistrates could pass serious cases on to crown courts under the new measures.

But, free speech.

Yes, free speech, but the state isn’t the only force that can suppress free speech. Harassers on social media can do that very effectively.

Miss Madeley told the Mail on Sunday she agreed with the new proposals to update the 10-year-old law.

“It needs to be accepted that physical threats should not fall under the ‘freedom of speech’ umbrella,” she said.

“It should be seen as online terrorism and it should be illegal.”

Those who subject others to sexually offensive, verbally abusive or threatening material online are currently prosecuted in magistrates’ courts under the Malicious Communications Act, with a maximum prison sentence of six months.

More serious cases could go to crown court under the proposals, where the maximum sentence would be extended.

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



Guest post: Horrified to listen in to some sexist chat

Oct 18th, 2014 2:50 pm | By

Originally a comment by Lee Brimmicombe-Wood on A rebellion against moral crusaders.

So far as I can see, the authoritarian gaming press has, to varying degrees, come down on the side of virtue. If the gamers are winning, as Summers suggests, I’m not seeing it.

Of course, as an industry insider it’s always possible there’s something I’m not seeing.

I wade into the open sewer of message boards only so far. However, I very much doubt that my corporate masters will ever be moved to send out a memo suggesting we ditch diversity or in any way rein it back in.

That said, when it comes to questionable content I’ve pointed the finger before at Marketing. Devs are, of course, responsible for most of the content, but Marketing departments are a hinge point in this discussion.

I recall an incident on a famous AAA franchise I worked on. The four-player co-op mode was to have four characters, and we pitched an equal gender balance and diverse racial makeup. We even addressed age, making one of the women an older, Helen Mirren type. Marketing nixed this. They hated the scheme with a passion and, so far as I could see, plotted to squash it.

How they did so was very interesting. They set up focus groups in the American midwest primarily made up of young males. And they structured the presentation to give them the answers they desired. The dudebros delivered, and some of our women designers, watching from behind one-way glass, were horrified to listen in to some sexist chat by the participants, commenting on the fuckability of the characters.

So, Marketing got what they wanted: of the four characters there were three white guys, their one concession to diversity being the black woman. There was no arguing with Marketing. They had the metrics from Left 4 Dead to prove whatever the hell they wanted with regards to player selection of women characters to play.

It’s not just dev culture that needs a sea change, but Marketing also. They have input into greenlight decisions. They have powerpoints with data that can push products one way or the other.

I’m hopeful that change is coming. But that change will, in part, be metrics-led, it will be founded on the facts about the growing presence of women in gaming, and the realisation that tapping that audience will lead to $$$$$. So part of the solution, crass though this may sound, is more and more women playing games.

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



A rebellion against moral crusaders

Oct 18th, 2014 12:55 pm | By

Christina Hoff Sommers is promoting an article at Spiked about #GamerGate as fantastic and honest. Let’s see.

Video games aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. They can be enormously time-consuming and often require a considerable level of dedication to master. However, there are good reasons for non-gamers to be paying attention to the video-games industry right now – it has become the site of a rebellion against moral crusaders and their relentless push to politicise every aspect of culture and society.

That’s not a good start. It’s never a good start to claim that it’s only analysis or criticism or interrogation of X that is political, while mere X itself just is, politics-free.

That’s not right. Video games aren’t some natural phenomenon that simply happened, with no human interference. They’re a human, social creation, and as such they are political.

That doesn’t mean that what’s political about them was necessarily planned or coordinated, it just means that consumer preferences and demographics are not apolitical.

Games have been subject to right-wing moral panics in the past, Allum Bokhari continues, but now the panic is on the left.

Similar to the old right, the new cultural warriors argue that games promote violence and reinforce so-called rape culture. Arguments that games perpetuate sexism and racism are also fairly common. Instead of being seen as mere escapism, the tastes of modern gamers are portrayed as dangerous and subversive, a threat to right-on values. Gamers ought to be feared and shunned.

Really? Critics of gaming are saying gamers ought to be feared and shunned? I haven’t seen that.

In any case, this idea that “mere escapism” is – because it is mere – completely non-political and unable to shape or influence attitudes and behaviors is…fatuous. Why would that be the case? Why would the content of “escapism” simply slide off people like rain? Why wouldn’t the content do what content does, and help to shape our thinking? Especially if we consume it apolitically, without thinking or questioning?

The growing contempt of the games-industry elite for the preferences of gamers has accelerated in recent months.

Now that’s classic Spiked, pretending that any kind of criticism of Things As They Are is an “elitist” war against preferences.

Following a major confrontation between gamers and activists last August over allegations of journalistic favouritism, article after article has been published decrying the gaming community for its alleged bigotry, sexism and narrow-mindedness. The worst examples of ‘social-media harassment’ were used as an excuse to present gamers as a mass of hateful savages. To those familiar with the regular and sometimes absurd panics over football fans, this language will sound familiar.

However familiar the language is, that doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

If people are saying that the social media harassment is representative of all gamers, then they’re making a gross error, if only because that can’t be known. But if they’re saying, for instance, that the culture of gaming seems to be compatible with social media harassment, then they’re saying something at least defensible.

But gamers have started to fight back. They have taken to social media in huge numbers to defend their hobby against the new onslaught of cultural warriors.

Wait. Isn’t that just confirming the claim that a lot of gamers seem to go in for social media harassment? When “to defend their hobby” so often means “to call Anita Sarkeesian a lying cunt who should be killed”?

With most gaming journalists taking the side of the activists, gamers know they can only rely on their own voices. Gathering around YouTube personalities (who now have several million hits on their videos) and a small number of friendly journalists and academics, the movement known as GamerGate has taken the entire industry by storm. It has dragged prominent figures like Jimmy Wales and huge companies like Stardock, Electronic Arts and Intel into the fray. And it simply refuses to go away.

The movement has no specific list of demands, but it is quite clear what its general attitude is. It wants the cultural warriors out. It wants the cosy clique of activists and journalists to lose their influence. It wants the demonisation of gamers to end. It wants diversity, not conformism.

To put it another way, it wants the cosy clique of activists and journalists silenced so that the cosy clique of gamers can proceed unchanged.

The backlash has achieved considerable results already. A major gaming site bucked the industry trend and decided to allow open discussion on its forums. The processing giant Intel decided to pull advertising support from one of the centres of anti-gamer misanthropy. Gamers have taken on the ideologically disciplined, well-connected forces of the authoritarian left – and they’re winning.

Hmm. Have the ideologically disciplined, well-connected forces of the authoritarian left been issuing a lot of death threats? Have they been issuing any? Have they created any games that involve punching one of their perceived enemies in the face repeatedly?

To me, it suggests that there is a crisis brewing for the cultural warriors. In their attempts to police language and culture, they are alienating the very demographics they used to rely on for support. This isn’t a right-vs-left battle, it’s an authoritarian-vs-libertarian one – and the authoritarian side is hemorrhaging support (if, indeed, it had any to begin with).

If we are at the point where women, minorities, and left-wing sympathisers prefer to support right-wing libertarians over the authoritarian gaming press, it suggests something interesting is taking place in this surprisingly large arena of cultural politics. The full results have yet to be seen, but I suspect it won’t end happily for the new class of moral crusaders.

The game is on.

Complete with death threats and sexist slurs. Congratulations.

 

 

 

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



Science causes the spread

Oct 18th, 2014 11:30 am | By

Andy Borowitz at the Borowitz Report at the New Yorker.

There is a deep-seated fear among some Americans that an Ebola outbreak could make the country turn to science.

In interviews conducted across the nation, leading anti-science activists expressed their concern that the American people, wracked with anxiety over the possible spread of the virus, might desperately look to science to save the day.

“It’s a very human reaction,” said Harland Dorrinson, a prominent anti-science activist from Springfield, Missouri. “If you put them under enough stress, perfectly rational people will panic and start believing in science.”

But that’s tragic because it’s science that got us here. If it weren’t for science there wouldn’t be all these pesky airplanes flying back and forth between Africa and Whiteland, and then Ebola would have stayed in Africa where it belongs, leaving the people in Whiteland to play their computer games in peace.

 

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



But you’re not a real ___

Oct 18th, 2014 10:30 am | By

Kenana Malik told a poignant little anecdote in his talk on multiculturalism at the Secular Conference last weekend.

The Danish MP Naser Khader tells of a conversation with Toger Seidenfaden, editor of Politiken, a left-wing Danish newspaper that was highly critical of the Danish cartoons. Seidenfaden claimed that ‘the cartoons insulted all Muslims’. Khader responded that ‘I am not insulted’. ‘But you’re not a real Muslim’, was Seidenfaden’s response.

Ahhh, not real. So to be “real Muslim” you have to be offended by the Danish cartoons. So a real Muslim = someone who is offended by the cartoons. So the core of being a Muslim becomes [the state of being offended by the cartoons]. It’s no longer an incidental, or a possible outcome of being a particularly devout or ardent Muslim – no, it’s the thing itself. A real Muslim just is someone who is offended by the cartoons.

It’s a strange move, taking something so obviously constructed and contingent, something so worked up, as definitional of something as large and sweeping as being a real Muslim. It’s not as if [being offended by a particular set of Danish cartoons about Mohammed] is one of the five pillars.

It’s a strange move for an outsider, a non-Muslim, who seems to be thinking of himself as a champion and defender of real Muslims, to define real Muslims as willing to be nudged into being offended that easily.

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



Where loyalty extends only in one direction

Oct 17th, 2014 6:37 pm | By

I knew it. Except it’s worse than I thought. Or it’s as bad as I thought but was only surmising.

The NFL, and women who are beaten up by their football player husbands.

Whenever Dewan Smith-Williams sees Janay Rice on television, she feels like she’s looking into a mirror. Smith-Williams, 44, remembers the denial, the secrecy, the sense of isolation, the shame.

But most of all, she remembers the fear of ruining her husband’s career as a National Football League player — the feeling that coming forth, or seeking justice, would destroy her four children’s financial security. She understands that struggle not only because she, too, was a domestic-violence victim, but because she watched so many other NFL wives, many of them her friends, go through the same nightmare. For each of them, it began with their husbands’ attacks and worsened with a culture that, they felt, compelled silence.

They would tell NFL people about it and the NFL people would be super sympathetic, but then they would go away and that would be the end of that.

She and another former NFL wife describe an insular and intensely secretive organization, where loyalty extends only in one direction – everyone protects the NFL brand, but the NFL protects its own interests over everything else. The culture is passed down more by example than diktat. Wives new to the league watch older ones suffer from abuse in silence, and they mimic the behavior. Often, wives and girlfriends confide in each other, but when they do, their advice is to stay quiet, say the two women, one of whom declined to let her name be printed because her ex-husband is still associated with the league.

Well, you see, it’s the NFL – it’s football. Football is kind of like god, except you can kick it.

…the NFL is a unique universe with an overwhelmingly male workforce whose members are lionized in the press and in their communities; a we’re-all-in-this-together ethos; and incentives for the managers, coaches, and union reps to keep negative stories under wraps. Going to authorities, whether police or hospitals, means social exclusion and, more importantly, negative media attention that could end your husband’s career. Justice imperils their belonging and their livelihood.

And apparently they can’t even manage to deal with it internally, which would be inadequate but better than nothing.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, just one-quarter of the 1.3 million American women assaulted by an intimate partner each year report the attacks to the police. But the two wives interviewed for this article claimed the rate of reporting among NFL wives and girlfriends is much lower. They say the league has built a tight-knit culture, similar to a fraternity, with entrenched hierarchies and a fierce sense of loyalty among members. “You get brainwashed. It’s so ingrained that you protect the player, you just stay quiet. You learn your role is to be the supportive NFL wife,” says one of them, the onetime wife of a Saints player who asked to speak anonymously because her now ex-husband is still associated with the league. Otherwise, she says, “You’d cost him his job.”

Tight-knit all-male cultures similar to fraternities with entrenched hierarchies and a fierce sense of loyalty among members are dangerous things. Very dangerous.

 

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



Trafficked into slavery in a cellar

Oct 17th, 2014 6:07 pm | By

A millionaire Salford couple kept a girl in their cellar as a slave for nine years. The BBC reports.

A deaf girl from Pakistan kept as a slave for nine years by a millionaire couple from Salford is to receive £100,000 in compensation.

Ilyas and Tallat Ashar were jailed last October after the girl was found in their cellar in 2009.

The victim was repeatedly raped and forced to work as a servant at the family’s properties as a child.

Manchester Crown Court ruled the couple must also repay £42,000 of benefits falsely claimed in her name.

Oh she was raped, too. That’s nice – that’s a nice touch.

She was ten when she was trafficked into the UK. Ten.

The victim had to learn a form of sign language to give evidence at the trial last year, when her progress was compared to “a butterfly coming out of a chrysalis”.

She is now living independently and has improved her sign language skills, said police.

And she has some back wages coming.

The court had to calculate the value of the work carried out by the girl when she was being exploited and also the sum of benefits claimed fraudulently in her name.

The judge based it on the minimum wage, assuming she worked for 12 hours a day, seven days a week.

Lawyers for the couple argued a deduction should be made for board and lodging accrued by the girl when she was with them.

ARE YOU JOKING??

Also, minimum wage, don’t forget. Around here cleaners get about $15 an hour, and they don’t throw in being raped or being held prisoner in a cellar.

Ch Supt Mary Doyle, from Greater Manchester Police (GMP), said: “Today’s result is a landmark case for both GMP and for victims of trafficking everywhere.

“The crimes of the Ashars are well-documented and, quite rightly, people continue to share a sense of disbelief at the prolonged cruelty they inflicted on their young victim.”

She added: “The money will in no way make up for what she went through over a number of years, but it will help her move on with her life and continue her inspiring recovery from these awful events.”

£100,000 seems low, actually. It’s minimal wages, but she should be getting compensation. Half a million would be more like it – and if they’re really millionaires, more than that. They held her in a fucking basement for nine years, and raped her.

 

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



Good news, if it can be believed

Oct 17th, 2014 4:07 pm | By

News from Nigeria, which the BBC indicates should be received with caution.

Nigeria’s military says it has agreed a ceasefire with Islamist militants Boko Haram – and that the schoolgirls the group has abducted will be released.

Nigeria’s chief of defence staff, Alex Badeh, announced the truce. Boko Haram has not made a public statement.

A cease-fire? It’s hard to see how Nigeria can agree such a thing without simply letting Boko Haram go ahead and kill hundreds of people whenever the mood takes it.

But if the schoolgirls are released, that would be a very good thing.

The group has been fighting an insurgency since 2009, with some 2,000 civilians reportedly killed this year.

Oh shut up, BBC – that’s not an insurgency, it’s repeated massacres of civilians who have nothing to do with the government. You don’t “fight an insurgency” by murdering hundreds of random people every weekend.

Nigerian presidential aide Hassan Tukur told BBC Focus on Africa that the agreement was sealed after a month of negotiations, mediated by Chad.

As part of the talks, a government delegation twice met representatives of the Islamist group.

Mr Tukur said Boko Haram had announced a unilateral ceasefire on Thursday and the government had responded.

“They’ve assured us they have the girls and they will release them,” he said. “I am cautiously optimistic.”

He said arrangements for their release would be finalised at another meeting next week in Chad’s capital, Ndjamena.

The negotiations are said to have the blessing of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, reports the BBC’s Chris Ewokor in Abuja.

Well good: Boko Haram says it will stop shooting, and it will release the schoolgirls. No complaints there.

Will Ross, the BBC’s reporter in Lagos, explains why the news should be treated with caution.

If this turns out to be true it will be some of the best news Nigerians have heard for decades.

Many Nigerians are extremely sceptical about the announcement, especially as there has been no definitive word from the jihadists.

Some question whether the announcement was in any way timed to coincide with the imminent announcement that President Goodluck Jonathan is going to run for re-election.

The military has in the past released statements about the conflict in north-east Nigeria that have turned out to be completely at odds with the situation on the ground.

So many here will only celebrate when the violence stops and the hostages are free.

So, we shall see.

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



The gilded life

Oct 17th, 2014 3:44 pm | By

It can be so enlightening checking in on Taslima’s tweets. She appears to be in New York at the moment, and is reporting on her adventures. She didn’t much like the 9/11 memorial and especially not the gift shop.

See 9/11 business! Selling tear-jerking 9/11 cards, books, mugs, shirts, ties, toys, bags, boxers etc.

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I would have found this part too painful to look at for long.

So many ppl had to die for fucking belief in a fucking god which doesn’t exist.

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But her best discovery was several hours before the visit to the memorial.

OMG Saudi king Abdullah gifted a gold toilet to his daughter on her marriage. But the poor girl was married to a man who has 11 wives & 16 kids.

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She got a golden bidet, too.

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



Community nonconsensual fondling

Oct 17th, 2014 1:14 pm | By

Josephine Woolington at the Oregon newspaper the Register-Guard writes about a research finding that students at fraternities and sororities report a higher incidence of nonconsensual contact.

Nearly 40 percent of women in UO sororities said in a survey that they have experienced an attempted or completed rape and 48 percent said they experienced some kind of non­consensual sexual contact, according to the survey conducted by UO professor and sexual violence expert Jennifer Freyd, along with graduate students Marina Rosenthal and Carly Smith.

Men in fraternities also were more likely to have experienced some form of non­consensual sexual contact compared with other students, but were not more likely to have experienced an attempted or completed rape. About 26 percent of fraternity men said they experienced nonconsensual activity — in most cases, fondling — the data show.

Freyd and her graduate students will analyze the data to try to discern why Greek life members — those who belong to a sorority or fraternity — are more at risk of becoming a victim than are other students.

It’s puzzling, isn’t it. In a way you would expect the membership thing to make uninvited groping and rape less likely rather than more, because of the sociality of the arrangement. Groping and rape should, from that pov, be more for outsiders. But I have no clue, really – I never went near them when I was at university.

She said some factors that they’re considering is alcohol use and whether Greek life students are more likely to believe that victims are to blame for some rapes, such as if a woman is wearing revealing clothing or is intoxicated.

Freyd earlier this month presented her preliminary data to a University Senate task force that is evaluating the UO’s sexual violence policies and will make a series of recommendations next week to administrators on how to improve those policies and implement new ones.

The 19-member Task Force to Address Sexual Violence and Survivor Support — made up of UO faculty, students and a U.S. attorney — was formed earlier this year, shortly after three UO basketball players were accused of raping an 18-year-old student.

But remember: sport is good for the character.

UO Dean of Students Paul Shang said he hadn’t looked at Freyd’s data in much detail, but emphasized that the research should not overshadow the community service that fraternity and sorority members provide to the university and to local charities. He said many students are interested in coming to the UO because of its Greek life culture.

The…what? Is that what fraternities and sororities are known for?

Shang said the UO plans to expand Greek life to where 20 percent of undergraduate students are members of a fraternity or sorority, compared with the current 15 percent.

Why? What’s good about them? What are they besides a way for a minority of students to consider themselves Special?

Carol Stabile, the University Senate task force’s co-­chairwoman and a professor of journalism and women’s and gender studies, said the task force’s recommendations are likely to include mandating sexual violence prevention training for at-risk groups, including Greek life students.

Stabile said research like Freyd’s shows that “fraternities are dangerous places for women.”

“It’s really dangerous to be advocating for expansion without addressing problems that we know already exist,” Stabile said.

But community service – like barfing all over town every Saturday night.

 

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