Notes and Comment Blog

If the environment is sufficiently regular

Feb 10th, 2013 3:25 pm | By

Lyanna pointed out that I was unclear about the boundaries of when expert judgment is better or worse than an algorithm. Kahneman gets into that in the next chapter. He collaborated with his main opponent to try to figure that out. The takeaway -

At the end of our journey, Gary Klein and I agreed on a general answer to our initial question: When can you trust an experienced professional who claims to have an intuition? Our conclusion was that for the most part it is possible to distinguish intuitions that are likely to be valid from those that are likely to be bogus…If the environment is sufficiently regular and if the judge has had a chance to learn its regularities, the associative machinery will recognize situations and generate quick and accurate predictions and decisions. You can trust someone’s intuitions if these conditions are met. [p 243]

There, that’s more tidy than the way I said it.

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

Experts try to be clever

Feb 10th, 2013 12:36 pm | By

One terrific chapter in Thinking Fast and Slow is 21, Intuitions vs Formulas. There Kahneman tells us a brutal unsettling truth, which is that for certain purposes in certain situations, algorithms do better than expert judgement. Thick detailed rich experiential knowledge does worse than a boring quick little formula. A psychologist called Paul Meehl made this claim more than 50 years ago and the research he inspired is still pouring out. Clinical psychologists don’t like the claim! (You can see the insurance people licking their chops, although Kahneman hasn’t mentioned that as far as I’ve read.)

This is about prediction, and for a moment I consoled myself with “oh well just for prediction…” but really, that won’t do. Prediction is the whole point of having a theory of mind, isn’t it.

It’s what people mean when they complain about “scientism,” I think – they’re resisting the horrible idea that a few questions could get a better handle on them than years of experience and conversation and deep thinking. We all want to be Isabel Archer, not a handful of ticked boxes.

Why are experts inferior to algorithms? One reason, which Meehl suspected, is that experts try to be clever, think outside the box, and consider complex combinations of features in making their predictions. Complexity may work in the odd case, but more often than not it reduces validity. Simple combinations of features are better. [p 224]

Isn’t that awful? That’s awful! All our beautiful complicatedness, tossed out the window because simple combinations of features are better. We’re not so complicated! The final scene in the movie, when the cops have shot us down, is no longer “I ain’t so tough,” it’s “I ain’t so complicated.”

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

A lingering belief that intuition is magic

Feb 10th, 2013 11:42 am | By

I’m just going to keep quoting from Thinking Fast and Slow a lot, because it’s that good. So expect it as a regular thing.

It is wrong to blame anyone for failing to forecast accurately in an unpredictable world. However, it seems fair to blame professionals for believing they can succeed in an impossible task. Claims for correct intuitions in an unpredictable situation are self-delusional at best, sometimes worse. In the absence of valid cues, intuitive “hits” are due either to luck or to lies. If you find this conclusion surprising, you still have a lingering belief that intuition is magic. Remember this rule: intuitions cannot be trusted in the absence of stable regularities in the environment. [p 241]

Good, eh?

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

Communication and collaboration to expand the movement.

Feb 10th, 2013 10:10 am | By

Update: They’re choosing another date.

Brilliant. Someone has scheduled a “Secular Leaders Summit” in Los Angeles for…May 17th.

The secular movement made tremendous advances in 2012 as atheists, agnostics, humanists, freethinkers and skeptics came “Out” and identified against the traditional religious majority.  With the influx of prospective members, secular communities need to communicate and collaborate to manage the new opportunities and growing challenges.

We need to make 2013 the year of “Organize.” Together we can establish linkages, share best practices and expand the universe of available opportunities. The focus is on communication and collaboration to expand the movement.

Due to available space we ask you limit your representatives to two per group.

Please save the date, bring your best practices and ideas for the future.

Lunch will be provided.

I like that “please save the date.” Dude (it is a dude), I did save the date. A long time ago. I did save the date, for a conference that’s already scheduled. Save the date yourself, bro. (Hint: there are some secular leaders attending that already-scheduled conference. Quite a few of them.)

This was in a mass emailing from someone I don’t know; I don’t see anything about it online yet. I wonder if they’ll figure it out and change the date. Or perhaps it was deliberate.

The focus is on communication and collaboration to expand the movement. Right. Good start.

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

Enormous splash damage

Feb 9th, 2013 5:34 pm | By

On the rest of Christian Munthe’s post on internet harassment in Sweden and in general.

The behaviour of the “net haters”, as the established term has come to be, is often equivalent or very close to criminal harassment, libel or threat. However, existing laws are obviously not constructed for a situation where these sort of patterns are the rule and occur in a systematic and coordinated (albeit perhaps not always in a specifically planned) way.

That’s an interesting point. So a one-off is criminal but a systematic campaign is free speech?

At the same time, as had it been pre-ordered, we have another sort of reaction – the idea of the haters themselves as either victims or, at least, guiltless due to structural forces that direct their actions. The former type of reasoning is, of course, a well known spineless tactic from the new racist movement – it’s your own fault that you’re being attacked, you should count on it when saying such things as you do. Not so little resembling the rapist’s or molester’s so-called defense that “her dress/smile/dance/intoxication made me do it” (surprisingly similar to the orthodox islamist motivation for obligatory veils for women, by the way).

Well that certainly is their official view. I won’t let them post mildew here, therefore I deserve whatever they choose to dish out. They think I should stfu, so they try to make that happen.

In conclusion:

It is of extra importance to note that the institutions of free speech, opinion and expression in liberal democratic societies in fact rest on the presumption that people keep within the sort of moral limits just set out. It may of course, be debated exactly how harmful a behaviour needs to be for the limits to the just mentioned freedoms to be approached. But what in any other circumstance would be considered as unlawful threat, libel or harassment is clearly residing in this territory.

It’s very important to note that, because in fact threats and libel and harassment do inhibit free speech, opinion and expression.

In comments on a post of PZ’s about “the peace process” for instance, Cyranothe2d talked about that.

I am really fucking tired of people who have harrassed, stalked and threatened women I look up to and love being treated (by people like you) like they have some rational points, and we are just having a jolly chummy academic argument. Ask Jen if she thinks being harassed off the internet was just a “difference of opinion about the roles of women”. Ask Ophelia. Ask Rebecca. Fucking ask any woman in this thread.

Because this “fight” has been about and remains about my fucking dignity as a human being. My right to inhabit atheist spaces without fear of reprisal or attack because of my gender. My right to be represented by other women.

I saw that comment late in the day yesterday, and it was helpful to me. I was feeling very over-harassed yesterday, and Cyrano’s second paragraph there reminded me that shit that’s done to me is also done to all the women who are aware of it. (Mind you, a few of the women who are aware of it are fine with it, I suppose because they think it will never happen to them, and perhaps it won’t.) Today Cyrano said, replying to me, how it does inhibit her free speech, opinion and expression.

I really think that the reason you’re targeted is because you’re public. That’s it. Its nothing that you’ve done to bring it on. It could be any one of us. That’s why I say, “When they do it to you, they do it to us.” Because I’ve no doubt that they would harass, stalk and attempt to run ANY OF WE WOMEN off the internet if we dared to talk about sexual harassment or feminism on a popular blog. And the harassment, while targeted at you, has enormous splash damage. *I* am offended and angry and feel hated, trapped and afraid because of these people. *I* have decided not to go to conferences because of them. *I* have curtailed my net presence because of them.

I can’t even imagine what it must be like to have it directed at myself, day after day.

That shouldn’t be happening. It shouldn’t.

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

Maybe one day

Feb 9th, 2013 4:47 pm | By

Seen #INeedMasculismBecause? I saw it on Twitter an hour or two ago and clicked on the hashtag and laughed and laughed, because it’s all full of hilarious jokes by Elyse Anders and Sarah Moglia and Jamie Kilstein and other funny people.

David Futrelle fills us in.

 a bunch of Men’s Rights Redditors and other MRAs, inspired by a post on 4Chan, decided to swarm Twitter with #INeedMasculismBecause tweets in response to the #INeedFeminismBecause hashtag. Feminists responded by outswarming the MRAs, flooding their new hashtag with often quite hilarious parodies of MRAspeak, as well as some just plain ridiculousness.

Here are a few I collected from the top ones.


 There are a lot more.

Update: Well I need to add a few more.


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

Anne of Titty Gables

Feb 9th, 2013 2:42 pm | By

Ok seriously now, I’ve been seeing outraged tweets about Anne of Green Gables with blonde?!!%* hair for a couple of days so I finally decided wtf and looked into it. I mean wtf, people – blonde hair? Hello? Her first conversation with Matthew, with her dreamy hope that her hair can be considered “auburn”? Her explosion of fury at Mrs Rachel Lynde for calling her homely and saying her hair was red as carrots? Her war with Gilbert after he called her Carrots? It’s half the damn book!

I waggishly suggested that it had also been retitled Anne of Coney Island, but now that I’ve looked into it, the time for waggishness is over.

Behold the new Anne.

Anne of Green Gables

Uh…different book, folks. I don’t know what book, but sure as hell not Anne of Green Gables.


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

Ireland: lost relatives

Feb 9th, 2013 12:47 pm | By

A comment that was just posted on a 2005 post about Irish industrial schools. The commenter is looking for infomation, so I want her comment to get more eyes.

Catherine Mitrenas writes:

My Mother was incarcerated in this establishment from two years old until sixteen years old. Her brother went to a separate orphanage and they did not see each other again until they were sixteen years old. He was only one when they separated. Their Father was a sailor and their Mother died when they were infants. From what I have read recently I now wonder if my Mother’s mother did die as they do not know where her grave is, how she died or even a photograph. I would like anyone that knew my Mum or her family to get in touch with any information that would help me find some of her long lost family. I did not realise that this orphanage was so cruel. I now understand why my Mother has been the way she has. It has brought tears to my eyes for not understanding her pain. The Farrell family: Thomas Farrell. Two children Mary Bridgett and Thomas. Do not know the exact dates but must have been around 1936 onwards approx. This would be greatly appreciated.

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

And in Sweden

Feb 9th, 2013 12:28 pm | By

Udo Schuklenk alerted me to a post by a philosopher at the University of Gothenburg on online hate harassment.

In my country, there have been repeated public debates about the completely unacceptable and many times obviously criminal behaviour of some people when they use the anonymity of online resources to react to other people’s open and publicly expressed opinions. In particular against women, especially those who express some sort of view on gender, family or sexuality related policy issues.

Yours too, huh? How about that. It’s the same here.

Recently, these debates have received a renewed momentum, as a large group of Swedish female public figures, journalists, debaters, bloggers, etc. – but also ordinary women engaging themselves in public discussions online – have gone public with what sort of awful filth they are exposed to from a presumably minor but apparently very active group of people. Even our prime minister has publicly identified the problem as serious and said that steps need to be taken.

That’s not so much the same here. I’ve never heard of Obama saying anything about online hate harassment of women.

Most of his links are to Swedish sites, naturally, but he also includes a few in English. Like ‘I dream that my son has been butchered’ by journalist Åsa Linderborg.

”Can’t that disgusting whore Linderborg just lie down and die?”

“She is such a whore, that bitch seems to be completely deranged. Lock the hooker in an mental asylum and throw away the key.”

“Swedes hate you, you feminist communist asshole.”

Then came the threats.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if this whore ends up with a price on her head soon.”

“Åsa Linderborg should be taken out of action. Permanently.”

”It’s happened before that a propagandizing cockroach or a pig who’s hostile to Swedes has been recognized on the street or in a department store”.

(Editor’s note: Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme was gunned down and killed in the street in 1986. Foreign Minister Anna Lindh was stabbed in a Stockholm department store in 2003 and died from her wounds.)

Ulrika pointed out both places to me when we were walking to places in central Stockholm.

Yet another person writes that it’s not difficult to find me, before posting my address: ”This is where she lives.”

It is November 30th, 2012. The culture pages of the tabloid Aftonbladet, which I edit, have just begun publishing a series of investigative reports into far-right websites in Sweden.

The threats start coming.

My bosses tell me to go home and pack my bags. I tell my son we can’t live at home for a while. We take one bag each and head off. I leave my son with his father, I continue to a friend’s house.

That night, I dream that my son has been butchered. He is sitting in an armchair and I’m picking up his severed limbs and putting them back together, hoping they will melt back into place.

It is not the dream that wakes me, it’s an SMS from an untraceable pay-as-you-go mobile phone: ”Seriously sweetheart, when was the last time you got yourself off?”

I go check out the sites we at Aftonbladet have been investigating. There are hundreds upon hundreds of comments: “I hope a Congo negro rapes and murders you, you little cunt. You’re worth less than a silverfish on the bathroom floor.”

Free speech.

That night I receive another SMS: ”I hope you’ve shaved down there because I really want to come over and fuck you hard in your fat ass and wrinkly cunt.”

There are days when I cannot bring myself to talk about the threat, because I feel a bit silly and I don’t want to make myself out to be a martyr.

Then there are days when I need to rant and dissect my anxiety over the fact that I’m still separated from my child, who has stayed on with his father. My anxiety over people wanting to hurt us. Over people maybe hurting us.

To calm me down, and maybe to quell their own fears, my friends say there is no need to be scared of those kinds of people, because they’re not very smart.

Because it takes brains to get violent? Please. I suppose that’s a variant of the just world fallacy, and perhaps also the kind of thinking that Hannah Arendt was addressing with Eichmann in Jerusalem – the idea that only significant people can do significant harm.

“In Russia we also had a journalist like this,” one of them writes. “Her name was Politkovskaya. Now she is dead. Killed by patriots.”

I am yet again awoken by an SMS: ”I assume it’s been a while since you got a bit of cock as you’re so old, but let me know if you want me to come over and fuck you properly.”

Punitive pity sex. How alluring.

I have several colleagues who live with these threats, but we don’t talk about it much. We carry it silently with us, as we don’t want to stick out. None of us is Salman Rushdie or Roberto Saviano.

Or Anna Politkovskaya.

Maybe we also keep quiet because we don’t want to appear weak.

Do you have any colleagues who call you Professional Victims? Any who go on and on about how fabulous they are to have done what they’ve done without all this whining and drama and professional victiming? Any who post tweets about someone who has cancer and how it puts all this whining by journalists into perspective?

I bet she doesn’t.

We think the hatred and the threats are part and parcel of the job. But they don’t affect only us – the threats made against journalists and against politicians are a threat to democracy.

And even against bloggers. Not as much so, but still some.

I move home for a trial period. Yet again, an SMS wakes me up in the middle of the night. Yet again, the message is sexual.

I get up and go to the bathroom to pee. I am plagued by a feeling that my private parts no longer belong to me, that they’ve been hijacked and turned into a stage where violent nationalist fantasies are played out.

Ugh! I know that feeling. I feel as if everything about me has been hijacked to use as fodder for obsessed haters.

The site Avpixlat starts a counter-campaign to Aftonbladet’s 30-day review of the nationalist sites. They say they are going to set up a register of every last one of what they call “politically correct journalists.”

With their us-versus-them rhetoric, they write about us as though we are a cohesive group, yet I miss a strong counter-movement to the right-wing activists whom humanists and democrats should not take lightly.

Yes to that too. It’s bizarre how familiar all this is.

This is getting unwieldy, so part 2 will follow.




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

The Racist Sexist Homophobic Dipshit pledge drive

Feb 9th, 2013 11:21 am | By

John Scalzi has been studying our friend Bjarte Foshaug – he’s adopted Bjarte’s excellent wheeze of donating to rights groups by way of reply to haters.

John Scalzi is the author of several books, including the Old Man’s War series and Redshirts, published in the States by Tor and the UK by Gollancz. He’s also the president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Fed up of being constantly targeted on his website by one particular individual and his followers, Scalzi decided to take action, pledging US$5 every time “the Racist Sexist Homophobic Dipshit in question posts an entry on his site in which he uses my name (or one of his adorable nicknames for me)”.

Scalzi put a ceiling on his “troll tip jar” of US$1,000, figuring that gave his bête noir 200 opportunities to abuse him over the coming year, and said he’d give the cash to four charities: RAINN, America’s largest anti-sexual violence organization; Emily’s List, dedicated to electing pro-choice Democratic women to office; the Human Rights Campaign, which works for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Equal Rights; and NAACP: America’s oldest and largest civil rights organization.

That’s the ticket!

A novel enough way to tackle the trolls, for sure, but what happened next was somewhat astonishing: Scalzi’s friends, Twitter followers and readers asked if they could jump in with pledges too. Many of his friends are high-profile authors and industry types – Will Wheaton, the actor who played Wesley Crusher in TV’s Star Trek: The Next Generation, and a writer in his own right, was one of many who promised to match Scalzi’s US$1,000 pledge.

By the early hours of this morning, UK time,  the pledges for Scalzi’s chosen charities had grown to US$50,000.

Very good. Just one thing though – let’s not be thinking of this as a great way to raise money for rights organizations. I don’t volunteer to be a target for the purpose. Sorry, but no.


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

So banal as to be parodic

Feb 8th, 2013 3:12 pm | By

I’m reading a wicked review of Alain de Botton’s new book in The New Republic, by Victoria Beale. She explains about “The School of Life”…

The self-declared mission of the School is to provide an enterprise that will “direct you toward a variety of useful ideas … guaranteed to stimulate, provoke, nourish and console.” The School’s shop has a few lightly stocked book-shelves (Oliver James, Paul Theroux, Italo Calvino, and, of course, the complete de Botton bibliography), while in its downstairs classroom, the School hosts talks that are a mixture of book-promos (“Steven Pinker on Violence and Humanity” to sell copies of The Better Angels of Our Nature), schedule fillers (an eight-week course on “Mindfulness,”), and champagne tastings…

At a more moderate cost, the publications from The School of Life imprint further the same basic project: bring brisk, philosophically inflected practicality to universal dilemmas. There have been six books published in the series so far, one written by de Botton, the rest adopting his authorial technique. How to Stay Sane by Philippa Perry, epitomizes the worst tendencies of this formula: it amounts to little more than philosopher name-dropping with poorly written exegesis. “Socrates stated that ‘The unexamined life is not worth living,’” she writes. “This is an extreme stance, but I do believe that the continuing development of a non-judgemental, self-observing part of ourselves is crucial for our wisdom and sanity.” The whole book is composed of this kind of grinding obviousness, bizarrely sprinkled with a King Lear line, a Martin Buber quote, or a Wagner reference.

Perry’s sentences are often so banal as to be parodic: “A group of people I find I always learn from are children, as they can offer us fresh eyes on the world and a new perspective”; “When I go away on holiday to a new place I feel refreshed by having been stimulated by new sights, smells, environments and culture”; “Each of us comes from a mother and a father, or from a sperm bank, and each of us was brought up by our parents or by people standing in for them.” The clunking truisms seem intended to give the book a straightforward tone, but instead leave the prose sounding lobotomized.

I found that too funny not to share.


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

Tiny little princess

Feb 8th, 2013 2:10 pm | By

I didn’t know that South Korea has the highest per capita rate of plastic surgery in the world. Somebody has to have that, naturally, but I’m slightly surprised that’s who does. I might have guessed the US does, if anyone had asked – I suppose because of lots of rich people and lots of advertising, lots of emulation and envy of movie stars and fashion models, lots of consumerism and the values that go with it, lots of reactionary bullshit about women floating around – reasons like that. But no, it’s South Korea.

One in five women in Seoul have undergone some kind of procedure. Most popular: Eyelid surgery, to make the eyes “more Western,” and getting your jawbone shaved or chiseled down for a less-square and more V-shaped look.

Sroll up and down that Jezebel post and look at the before and after photos.

Notice something?

The women all look much more delicate and fragile.

Think about that.

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

Arithmetic via shopping

Feb 8th, 2013 11:28 am | By

Chris Chambers and Kate Clancy point out at the Guardian that pseudoscience and stereotyping won’t solve gender inequality in science, via what they call a “stereotype-enforcing guide to addressing the gender imbalance in science” also published by the Guardian.

Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, a developmental neuroscientist at University College London, points out that finding reliable gender differences in the brain is complicated by individual differences: “There are a lot of girls who are better than boys at maths, for example, and a lot of boys who are better than girls at cooking. Therefore, these generalisations based on gender are unhelpful.”

Two recent books – Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender and Rebecca Jordan-Young’s Brain Storm – rigorously test many assumed sex differences, and find all of them lacking.

Even in cases where gender differences in behaviour or brain function can be shown, where is the evidence that such distinctions can be applied usefully to tailor learning? How do we know, for example, that advice such as making “domestic scenario[s] more mathematic and scientific” wouldn’t apply equally to boys? As Blakemore puts it, “Making mathematics relevant to everyday life problems (e.g. cooking, supermarket shopping) is a good idea when teaching all children, not just girls.”

Wait wait boys don’t relate to cooking and supermarket shopping because it’s only girls who grow up to be women and it’s only women who do cooking and supermarket shopping. Blakemore is so so so wrong to say that. Isn’t she?

Yet where the article touches on such evidence, it remains not only gender-specific, but gender-conformist: “Research shows that as girls get older they retain their mathematical and scientific abilities when applied to domestic scenarios.”

Right! That’s what I said! Oh, wait…is that gender-conformist? Sounds like radical feminism, that kind of talk. Radical gender feminism. Radical scary gender creepy castrating dyke feminism that’s only for ugly women.

Finding ways for girls to integrate interests in science and shopping doesn’t work if girls think this is the only way to engage with it. Girls are not a monolithic, pink princess-loving entity that responds uniformly to the same siren calls of colour, shopping and cooking. None of these was present when we were evolving; none of this is universal, hard-wired, or intuitive.

And if so many of these gender-conforming expectations are so harmful to boys’ and girls’ identities, why would we rely on them as a means through which to teach science?

Becaaaaaaaaaaause, we like things the way they are and we don’t want people to shake free of gender-conformity. That’s why.

We suggest an alternative to pseudoscientific list-making, and that is to identify and address structural inequality in our societies. There are two broad factors that drive our behaviours: our own individual agency, and the institutions around us. While it is useful to think about ways we can draw more girls into science by integrating it with their existing interests, it is also limiting. For instance, most adult women who hit the glass ceiling are just told to work harder, to be more pro-active, to seek more mentorship, and this can feel exhausting, especially if she already feels like she is doing those things without results. This is because it’s hard to win on agency if you’re not also winning on institution.

The broader societal constraints that lead so few girls to consider themselves “science people” by middle school derive not from whether we push them into science, but what we value in girls as a culture. What gendered representations of science continue to exist in underperforming countries like the US and UK? What messages do we send about how we value intelligence and knowledge, about how girls contribute to society? And, what would it take to overcome these obstacles to produce a more egalitarian learning environment?

Dropping the sarcasm now. Really. Adult women are also told to stop “complaining” or “whining” or being “professional victims.” We’re told the best way is just to put your head down and get on with it and be a role model for the three women who will ever be in a position to see what you’re doing. We’re told to shut up about institution because reasons. We’re told nice women don’t discuss broader societal constraints, because that’s radfem. We’re told only ugly women talk about broader societal constraints while pretty women are fully content with how things are because the vote.



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

More polio for Nigeria

Feb 8th, 2013 11:08 am | By

Nine women shot to death in Kano for attempting to prevent children from getting polio. Nine.

In the first attack in Kano the polio vaccinators were shot dead by gunmen who drove up on a motor tricycle.

Thirty minutes later gunmen targeted a clinic outside Kano city as the vaccinators prepared to start work.

Some Nigerian Muslim leaders have previously opposed polio vaccinations, claiming they could cause infertility.

On Thursday, a controversial Islamic cleric spoke out against the polio vaccination campaign, telling people that new cases of polio were caused by contaminated medicine.

Such opposition is a major reason why Nigeria is one of just three countries where polio is still endemic.

Nine women murdered, and who knows how many children doomed to get polio in the future.

According to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, there were 121 cases of polio in Nigeria last year, compared to 58 in Pakistan and 37 in Afghanistan.

And compared to zero in the rest of the world.

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

No one ever rats out a fellow bro

Feb 8th, 2013 9:31 am | By

Michael Kimmel wrote a great article on the Steubenville gang rape a couple of weeks ago.

As I found in my interviews with more than 400 young men for my book Guyland, in the aftermath of these sorts of events – when high-status high school athletes commit felonies, especially gang rape – they are surrounded and protected by their fathers, their school administrations and their communities. These out-of-control, rapacious thugs are our school’s heroes — “our guys,” as the gang rapists at Glen Ridge High School in New Jersey were called nearly two decades ago. The players themselves hold to a code of silence, the omerta of sexual assault: No one ever rats out a fellow bro. The parents, the school and the community circle wagons in a culture of protection around the boys.

It’s often the girl herself, and her parents, who are vilified and receive death threats for daring to expose the crime in the first place. Raped boys, too, dare not complain: A few years ago, after rookies on the Mepham High School (Long Island) football team were sodomized with broom handles, golf balls and pine cones in a pre-season hazing ritual, the rookies’ parents got anonymous death threats for standing up for their brutalized sons.

This seems like a less than ideal arrangement.

At the moment, we’re hearing a chorus of adults saying “boys will be boys”– surely the most depressing four words spoken about members of my gender. Haven’t you noticed that we always say that when boys have done something really bad? We shrug our collective shoulders in resignation – nothing we can do about it. How come we don’t say, “Oh wow, a man walked on the moon – boys will be boys!” Or “A man won the Novel Prize – boys will be boys!” “A man is working to cure cancer … ” you get the idea.  It’s a pernicious type of male bashing to assume that boys can do no better than be wild rapacious animals. We can do better than this – and we can insist on better from boys as well.

What could be more “misandrist”? Why aren’t the MRAs all over it? Why are they all over feminists instead?

The Steubenville 2

did what they did because they felt entitled to, because they knew they could get away with it. Because they knew that their coaches, their families, their friends, their teammates and the police department–indeed, the entire town would rally around them and protect them from the consequences of what they’ve done.

Because the Steubenville 2 is really the Steubenville 18,437 (I’ve subtracted the girl victim and her parents). Until the community rallies around the victim and not the perpetrators, the shame of gang rape is on them all. All.

The global public outcry in India has begun to change their public conversation about gang rape. Citizens of Steubenville have a moral existential choice about where they stand. Whose side will they be on?

I have an educated guess, but I’ll keep it to myself.


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

One equal law for everyone

Feb 7th, 2013 5:51 pm | By

Nahla Mahmoud went on Channel 4′s programme to talk about her opinions on ‘What does Sharia Law have to offer Britain’ and found herself the only person out of seven interviewed who was against sharia and for secularism.

My interview has triggered a debate in the Sudanese media, both at home and in the diaspora, from which campaigns have emerged inciting people against me calling me a ‘Kafira’ (infidel) and ‘Murtadda’ (left Islam) . I guess Sudanese government officials have time to watch Channel 4 because the Sudanese Armed Forces’ Facebook page posted my picture declaring me an infidel and apostate. Who knew that my private beliefs could denigrate a country’s government, religion, and armed forces?!

I can’t imagine why she would prefer a secular state…

Another issue is marital rape, honour killings and domestic violence: in Pakistan, there are 300 cases of acid burnt women with no charges pressed against their husbands. Here in the UK, a study reported by the One Law for All campaign shows that 4 out of 10 women in Sharia court cases were party to civil injunctions against their husbands. The One Law for All campaign as well as other groups like Secularism Is a Women’s Issue are among the frontline defenders campaigning against Sharia courts, fighting for women’s rights and demanding gender equality.

You might almost think that women had special reasons to care about secularism and that secularism has every reason to be welcoming to women. Almost, but then someone would come along and tell you otherwise.

But Islam is hard on children, too.

Other discrimination against children that must be considered is the lack of exposure to different ideas and thoughts. Children from an Islamic background are often taught to close their minds to new ideas and some are brought up to hate their Jewish, Christian and Hindu classmates, as well as any gay students in their class.

In addition to my own experiences at school in Sudan, one can grab any school curriculum from an Islamic state see how it restricts critical thinking and any questioning of religious doctrine. Evolutionary theory is banned from most educational systems in Islamic states, as it contradicts the creationist story in the Quran. Sudanese professor, Faroque Ahmed Ibrahim, stated in his open letter that teaching evolution at University of Khartoum was among the main reasons he was tortured and imprisoned by the Sudanese government. Moreover, little girls are often taught from birth that they are ‘lesser’ human beings, which results in lower self-esteem and lack of confidence later in life. It is however, the case with most other faith-based schools and education including Christianity and Judaism which, sadly, have the same ‘holy-centralised’ ideology.

It’s hard on gays, non-Muslims, atheists.

Cases such as Iranian Ali Ghorabat for apostasy, Jafar Kazemi and Mohammad Ali Haji Aghaee for enmity against God, Sudanese theologian Mahmoud M. Taha for his progressive Islamic views and Egyptian Nasr H. Abu Zaid for his critical views on the Qur’an show the widespread persecution of people who dare to question blind belief.

This is not a thing of the past: just this month Kuwait jailed Abdel Aziz Mohamed Albaz for criticizing Islam, Saudi Arabia jailed Raif Badawi for his liberal views, Tunisian artist Nadia Jelassi is facing prison for her ‘un-Islamic’ artistic pieces. Countries like Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen implement the death penalty for those who renounce or criticize Islam, but they also punish anyone who is progressive, liberal or wishes to think freely and live a modern, 21st century life.

Being an atheist and an ex-Muslim should have been a private matter for me under a secular state. However, under an ‘Islamic Inquisition’ as fellow secular campaigner Maryam Namazi describes, it became necessary for dissenters, especially those who are persecuted, to publicly air our views and call for equal treatment because this persecution will not end until we stand together and speak out. I chose to speak out on Channel 4 and in many other venues in the UK because I cannot stand by and watch others suffer the same discrimination and persecution that I faced. The current persecution of the five groups I discussed above, both here in the UK and around the world, provide a duty for everyone to stand up for the simple principle: all humans are equal.

Watch Nahla on 4ThoughtTV.

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

Anene was raped and mutilated because she was a girl

Feb 7th, 2013 1:16 pm | By

Guest post by Gen, Uppity Ingrate.

It started with an article by Sisonke Msimang, which I will excerpt rather than quote in full.

I read an article on Thursday morning. It said: “The victim had been sliced open from her stomach to her genitals and dumped.” The radio is full of this story. Full of politicians and posers, trying to outdo one another. Like funeral criers. But it will end, the show. And there will be marches and petitions. There will be statements and rage. But it will happen again. Until we are inured to shock. It will happen again. Until our bones are worn into dust and our teeth crushed into the sand. It will happen and happen. Until we invent a way to stop being women. Until we find a way for our blood to no longer bleed between our legs. As long as we exist, we will be raped.

So, no, I will not march. I don’t believe my marching will stop this war. I will cry, as I have been already this morning. And maybe, I will begin to feel my way out of the lurching, heavy knowing after I have spoken with others. With the mothers and the sisters, the brothers and fathers – those like me, who have girls.

There is only this: a dead, hollow knowing that has always been knocking at my heart. From the minute she was born, it fell in step with the rhythm of my breath: to raise a girl in this world, to raise her strong and healthy and proud, to ensure that she survives and then to insist ferociously that she laugh and dance and think and dream, is to choose the most heartbreaking and joyous path. It is to tempt fate every single day, it is to fear that her breath will be strangled by a stranger. It is to live with the horrible possibility that this could be your child.

Anene was raped and mutilated because she was a girl. It was her vagina and her breasts that they wanted to destroy. It was her walk and her talk. It was her girl-ness. These parts of her were broken and sliced and pulled apart, not by monsters, but by friends. Each of her 10 fingers were broken.

When the president of your country (who was re-elected for a second term!) is acquitted of rape because the victim, despite clearly not wanting to have sex, “didn’t say no” and said victim is then hounded and threatened until she had to fled South Africa and seek asylum in the Netherlands and things just go back to their poisonous levels of normal afterwards with no harm no foul kind of attitutes, then yes, I do think that politicizing the issue and forcing the government to take a stance and start seriously implementing strategies (as opposed to just talking about it and making empty promises) may be the first step, in addition to the work done by grassroots activists.

It’s weird, here in South Africa, and really hard to explain. According to many of the important measures, we’re doing really well against sexism. On paper. We have gender equality enshrined as absolute in the constitution and have the third highest female government representation in the world. We have drives for education all children, for helping encouraging girls to get into STEM fields, and women have traditionally been part of the work force (albeit in low-paying, low-status jobs, but still). When we struggled for suffrage for all South Africans, regardless of race, colour or creed, we included women in that catagory *by default*.  Women fill many positions of power, and even the backlash against feminism we see so clearly is not present (or at least not so VOCAL) that I’ve experienced here in South Africa.

Yet the prevailing culture (and I do not mean “culture” as a euphemism for ‘black’ or ‘indigenous’ or the other racist shit people often like to sneak in when they say “culture”, I mean the literal overarching country culture that runs the same shit through all peoples and subcultures of South Africa) is still demonstrably and DEEPLY toxic against women. (On my darker days, I sometimes feel that the reason the MRA and backlash is not so loud here in ZA because their ideals and ‘ideas’ are already mostly realized on a cultural, societal level, here.)

When you add to that the legacy and normalization of violence that’s been woven into the fabric of the country without any noticeable non-violent periods since even before the institutionalization of Apartheid (in fact, since just about the time the Dutch first came to the Cape and colonized…) and the current socio-economic crisis which is actually more of a collapse, where unemployment and EXTREME poverty affects the majority of the country…

Well. I’m not sure how to even *begin* thinking about addressing these problems, which all feed on each other and amplify each other and form a vicious cycle that gets louder and louder and worse and worse every year (it feels like) in a sustainable manner.

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

Sing it!

Feb 7th, 2013 12:35 pm | By

The radical feminists are in your streets!

There are lots. See them all.

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


Feb 7th, 2013 11:32 am | By

You know that video that “mykeru” did a couple of days ago? The one that prompted some stranger to tweet at me that I’m an immoral little twat who should get a fucking hobby? It’s now the featured video at A Voice for Men – with my face on it, looking like a nightmare-idiot, because it caught me in mid-blink.

Fabulous. I love being a target.



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

South Africa contemplates a “debate” on rape

Feb 7th, 2013 10:32 am | By

South Africa has its own recent horrific rape-combined-with-mutilation-murder, and there are people who want that too to be a catalyst for outrage and change.

The gang-rape and murder of a 17-year-old girl in South Africa has triggered expressions of outrage from politicians and calls for Indian-style protests against a culture of sexual violence.

Anene Booysen was reportedly lured away from her friends and raped by a group of men. She was badly mutilated and left for dead on a building site in the town of Bredasdorp, 80 miles east of Cape Town, and found by a security guard on Saturday morning.

Hospital staff who fought to save her life were given counselling because of the horrific nature of her injuries, local media said. Before she died, Anene identified her former boyfriend as one of her attackers.

The former boyfriend certainly makes it interesting. Not stranger rape and murder, not random opportunistic rape and mutilation and murder, but personal, vindictive, possessive, angry rape and mutilation and murder.

Patrick Craven, spokesman for the Congress of South African Trade Unions, said: “When a very similar incident occurred in India recently, there was a massive outbreak of protest and mass demonstrations in the streets; it was a big story around the world. We must show the world that South Africans are no less angry at such crimes and make an equally loud statement of disgust and protest in the streets.”

But such a display seems unlikely in a country where rights groups complain that rape has become normalised and lost the power to shock. In 2010-11, 56,272 rapes were recorded in South Africa, an average of 154 a day and more than double the rate in India.

The same thing is said of DR Congo – rape has become normalized there.

Lindiwe Mazibuko, parliamentary leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance, said: “It is time to ask the tough questions that for too long we have avoided. We live in a deeply patriarchal and injured society where the rights of women are not respected. Indeed, there is a silent war against the children and women of this country – and we need all South Africans to unite in the fight against it.”

Mazibuko vowed to table a motion in parliament to debate “the ongoing scourge” and said she would request special public hearings “so that we can begin a national dialogue on South Africa’s rape and sexual violence crisis”.

Such calls are bemusing to campaigners already working to combat such violence. Dumisani Rebombo, who was 15 when he raped a girl at his school in 1976, is now a gender equality activist. “We don’t need a debate, we need action,” he said. “My take is that more people need to say enough is enough, let’s prevent this in our country. We don’t need more recommendations. We need education. The question of debate is an insult.”

Really. What is there to “debate”? What is there to have a “dialogue” about? Whether or not rape is bad?

Maybe Mazibuko just said it clumsily, but clearly Rebombo doesn’t think so. Clearly he thinks South Africa should skip the “debate” and just say Stop.

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