Notes and Comment Blog

Doing their utmost to confirm the bigot’s view

Feb 6th, 2014 10:45 am | By

Unrepentant Jacobin makes a good point in his post from yesterday on Maajid Nawaz and the cartoon uproar:

It’s interesting to note that secular and progressive Muslims also seem to be those who complain least about ‘Islamophobia’. What drives them to distraction is the refusal of Western relativists to offer them support in their own confrontations with the Islamic far-right. Meanwhile those identitarians who complain most often and most noisily about ‘Islamophobia’ are often the same people doing their utmost to confirm the bigot’s view that all Muslims are childish and intolerant. Not only do they behave in a childish and intolerant way, but they insist that it is they who really represent Islam.

That’s exactly what I kept noticing and objecting to over the past two or three weeks – the way so many people seemed absolutely determined to confirm and spread and celebrate the very worst stereotypes about Muslims there are. The mashup of adamant dogmatism and frothing rage is not a good look.

It is astonishing how quickly a deeply-entrenched taboo can collapse in a free society once it has been violated. Had the reporting of the Jesus and Mo row been universally accompanied by the cartoon in question (as it would have been in any other context), it would have demonstrated at a stroke how stupid the debate about Islam has become. Shafiq and Ansar understand this perfectly, which is precisely why they have kicked up such a racket over such an innocuous image. If sharing a gently satirical comic strip can attract such outrage, vituperation and hatred, what are the chances of a genuinely provocative, transgressive and iconoclastic satire of Islamic beliefs and ideas emerging?

Ask Taslima, ask Salman, ask Waleed.


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

Christians won’t tolerate insults to Jesus Christ

Feb 5th, 2014 4:27 pm | By

I was looking through things earlier today and found an old post that is reminiscent of recent events. (You can’t be reminiscent of something that happened after you happened, but I can’t think of another word for it, and I’m sure you can figure out what I mean.

I’ll just repost it here.

Respect us or we’ll smash your art

November 11, 2008

Hey don’t forget, if that smelly guy grabs your jacket, give him your cashmere sweater too. If somebody belts you in the face, say thank you. Forgive people seventy times seven. Be generous, and more than generous. Like those super-nice people who worry about art works.

Christians have warned of a backlash of art world vandalism, following a decision to halt a private prosecution of a Gateshead gallery which exhibited a statue of Jesus with an erection…Christian Emily Mapfuwa…said the show…was offensive to her faith and instructed her lawyers to seek a private prosecution against the gallery…Mapfuwa’s supporters warned [the CPS decision] could lead some people to destroy similar art works.Her solicitor Michael Phillips said: “Although it is right to say that there was no actual disorder, there was potentially such disorder, which was evidenced to the CPS in the witness statements provided. In particular one witness felt like smashing the object. The decision is simply not in accordance with the facts and is unsustainable.”

Ah. Christian Emily Mapfuwa was offended so she instructed her lawyers to seek a private prosecution against the gallery; a witness felt like smashing the object, therefore the gallery was guilty of creating a risk of disorder. So…any time anyone is ‘offended’ by something, if a witness can be found to testify to feeling like smashing the object, it will then become the case that the ‘offensive’ something is at fault. Then no one anywhere will ever be allowed to say anything ever. Sounds promising.

Christian Voice national director Stephen Green said…”[T]here were those at the Baltic Centre who wanted to take matters into their own hands and I have warned Anita Zabludowicz that her statue will not survive being put on public display again. If the CPS wanted to give the green light to blasphemous art their decision may paradoxically have the opposite effect. With the threat of destruction hanging over it, the Zabludowicz statue is now locked away by its wealthy owners and is unlikely to see the light of day again. The same will go for any other blasphemous works of so-called art. Put simply, Christians won’t tolerate insults to Jesus Christ. However, I do hope that the art world will discover some respect for Christian religious beliefs and for the person of Jesus Christ.”

To put it another way, the CPS wanted to go on allowing free expression in the usual way and Stephen Green and other Christians are determined to use threats of violence to prevent that. ‘Respect’ is unlikely to be what the art world will be discovering more of as a result.

Mediawatchwatch, from whom I lifted this story, has pungent commentary.

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

September in Florence, with needles

Feb 5th, 2014 4:01 pm | By

Heads up – the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society has a call for papers. It’s having a conference in Florence next September, so get those papers in.

The International Veterinary Acupuncture Society (IVAS) is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting excellence in the practice of veterinary acupuncture as an integral part of the total veterinary health care delivery system. The Society endeavors to establish uniformly high standards of veterinary acupuncture practice through its educational programs and accreditation examination and process. IVAS seeks to integrate veterinary acupuncture and the practice of western veterinary science, while also noting that the science of veterinary acupuncture does not overlook related treatment modalities.

It seeks to integrate. I suppose that means it adds acupuncture onto real (“western”) veterinary science so that it can charge money for so doing.

What Does Certification in Veterinary Acupuncture Mean and Why Your Pet Deserves the Best?

  • Certification in Veterinary Acupuncture is an objective measure of knowledge which validates the veterinarian is qualified to provide animal acupuncture as part of the total care plan.

Objective according to whom? (Acupuncturists, of course, silly.) Objective according to what criteria? (Acupuncture criteria, of course, silly.)

  • Certification in Veterinary Acupuncture Demonstrates Professionalism. Certification in Veterinary Acupuncture exemplifies expertise and dedication to a specific, integrative therapy. When the veterinarian is certified, it shows evidence of their professional growth. It also shows a life-long learning for the benefit of their clients and patients.

I bet real veterinary programs don’t say things like that. I bet they don’t say a veterinary degree “exemplifies expertise” or wamble about “dedication to a specific, integrative therapy.”

Oh I get it – this is where the “integration” comes in. This is a “certification” for existing veterinarians; it’s an add-on. That clears that up. They’re not teaching vet medicine plus acupuncture, they’re just teaching acupuncture. To vets. So they can show evidence of their professional growth. It’s like taking dance class after school.

  • Certification in Veterinary Acupuncture Demonstrates Commitment. Certification in Veterinary Acupuncture demonstrates a higher level of commitment to providing a broader level of veterinary medical care and to the well-being of the patients.

Higher and broader.

  • Certification in Veterinary Acupuncture Demonstrates Expertise. Clients, their families, and the general public are becoming more knowledgeable about alternative and integrative healthcare options, and they are consumers. Therefore, they are more likely to choose a veterinarian with expertise in the areas of integrative medicine treatments they seek for their beloved pets.

In other words, this is totally worth doing because there are enough gullible chumps out there to make it worth doing.

  •  Certification in Veterinary Acupuncture is Self-Fulfilling. Earning certification does take time and it does require a level of dedication. However, it can prove to be self-fulfilling, and it can instill pride in those who obtain it.

That’s not what self-fulfilling means.

  •  Certification in Veterinary Acupuncture Promotes Quality in Veterinary Healthcare. Certification demonstrates competency and expertise. Our colleagues in veterinary medicine will recognize that competent veterinarians with Certification in Veterinary Acupuncture will promote a high quality of animal care, well-being, and welfare.

Assuming you think all that entails sticking needles in animals for no reason.

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

More a game of “who’s the liar”

Feb 5th, 2014 3:17 pm | By

Amanda Marcotte talks about the value of using a preponderance of evidence standard in the court of public opinion as opposed to a beyond a reasonable doubt standard.

No feminists that I know of have ever in sincerity said that the court should throw out the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard in proving a crime. However, as Brady points out, that’s a criminal standard. It’s perfectly reasonable to have other standards for other situations, such as determining if you feel someone in your community is guilty and needs to be shunned as a danger to women. Or hell, just determining if someone is guilty enough to lose a lawsuit. In civil court, a “preponderance of evidence” standard applies. Remember that Allen wasn’t able to get custody of his children—the judge couldn’t prove he assaulted Dylan Farrow, but it was enough evidence that it was reasonable to cut off access to her.  As Brady says, once you get out of the formal court situation that has an accuser and an accused and a high standard of evidence, you are in a social situation where it’s more a game of “who’s the liar”.

But instead of rehashing his points, I want to talk about the practical effects of applying the “he said/she said, and we’ll never know the truth so we can’t take action” standard in the world outside the courtroom. You almost never hear about what that means as it plays out in real life, but I’ve had it happen to me, seen it happen to others, and have read about it repeatedly, so I would like to explain how it goes.

How it goes is that he continues as normal and she loses all her friends, basically because he’s still fun and she’s a drag.

This is the price of applying the “beyond a reasonable doubt” level of proof to all accusations of rape or domestic violence made in a community context instead of a courtroom context. It may seem like it’s about not choosing one over the other, but functionally, it’s choosing the accused over the accuser. And maybe some people feel that shunning someone without rock solid proof of wrongdoing is so wrong that functionally shunning anyone who tries to out an abuser without such proof is the price to pay. Maybe that principle is so sound that it’s worth sacrificing the well-being of most abuse victims in order to protect the very rare man who has a cleverly manipulative ex-girlfriend who does manage to convince people he’s guilty when he’s innocent without actually offering proof. I can see it. This is a difficult question.

But I look at the Woody Allen situation and feel that it really shows that preponderance of evidence standard really is a better one for the social situation than the beyond a reasonable doubt standard. Can you prove it in court that he molested Dylan Farrow? No. But you can build a case, brick by brick, that he’s probably guilty due to his creepy behavior, his tendency to date underage girls, his willingness to use Mia Farrow’s children as a pool to draw sex partners from, his well-documented obsession with Dylan that included molestation-esque behavior in front of witnesses, eyewitness testimony from the victim, and a court order denying him custody. Not by criminal court standards. But by civil court standards. And therefore enough to believe that he really shouldn’t be enjoying the life that he does as a well-regarded fixture in wealthy, privileged social circles. (Or being, as he was, allowed to adopt more daughters.)

I’ve wondered about that. Why was he allowed to adopt more daughters? He was denied custody of the children he’d already adopted; why was he approved for adoption?

Anyway. That’s how I see it. No, I don’t know; no, I don’t personally have the evidence that would convict him; but there is that list that Amanda gives. It seems a good deal more likely that he did what people say he did than it is that he didn’t.


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

Law reform in Afghanistan

Feb 5th, 2014 10:41 am | By

The Guardian reports on a cunning plan from lawmakers in Afghanistan.

A new Afghan law will allow men to attack their wives, children and sisters without fear of judicial punishment, undoing years of slow progress in tackling violence in a country blighted by so-called “honour” killings, forced marriage and vicious domestic abuse.

The small but significant change to Afghanistan’s criminal prosecution code bans relatives of an accused person from testifying against them. Most violence against women in Afghanistan is within the family, so the law – passed by parliament but awaiting the signature of the president, Hamid Karzai – will effectively silence victims as well as most potential witnesses to their suffering.

That’s family values. The family comes first, and outsiders must never mess with it. That’s how it is with the Amish, for sure – abused women and children are supposed to forgive, not report.

Under the new law, prosecutors could never come to court with cases like that of Sahar Gul, a child bride whose in-laws chained her in a basement and starved, burned and whipped her when she refused to work as a prostitute for them. Women like 31-year-old Sitara, whose nose and lips were sliced off by her husband at the end of last year, could never take the stand against their attackers.

“Honour” killings by fathers and brothers who disapprove of a woman’s behaviour would be almost impossible to punish. Forced marriage and the sale or trading of daughters to end feuds or settle debt would also be largely beyond the control of the law in a country where the prosecution of abuse is already rare.

But maybe Karzai won’t sign the law?

Don’t get your hopes up.

“We will ask the president not to sign until the article is changed, we will put a lot of pressure on him,” said Selay Ghaffar, director of the shelter and advocacy group Humanitarian Assistance for the Women and Children of Afghanistan. She said activists hoped to repeat the success of a campaign in 2009 that forced Karzai to soften a family law enshrining marital rape as a husband’s right.

But that was five years ago, and since then Karzai has presided over a strengthening of conservative forces. In the last year alone parliament has blocked a law to curb violence against women and cut the quota for women on provincial councils, while the justice ministry floated a proposal to bring back stoning as a punishment for adultery.

It’s strange to see lawmakers actually promoting and protecting violence against women. “Vote for a better Afghanistan, with more violence against women.”

H/t Al Lee

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

Guest post by Gregory in Seattle: the daemon of memory

Feb 5th, 2014 10:07 am | By

Originally a comment on Creating false memories.

There is growing evidence that memories are actually stored in the brain in a very fragmented fashion, with individual fragments held in the place where the data point was processed. That is to say, your memory about driving to work this morning might consist of the sound of traffic and horns stored in the sound processing part of the brain, the route is stored in the part of the brain that processes spacial relationships, individuals signs stored in the parts that deal with vision, color, shape and contextual meaning, etc. These fragments are stored as archetypes: you do not have hundreds of memories about how bacon tastes, for example, you have only one or two that get used over and over again.

In the cerebellum, there is a kind of daemon that assembles these fragments into a cogent whole. This daemon is basically an idiot savant, capable of amazing feats but about as bright as a puppy. Like a puppy, it is very eager to please: if you ask for a memory that it does not know, it will assemble one for you out of the stored memory archetypes. There are independent checks, such as the part of the brain that gives rise to the “I’ve seen/heard/been here before” feeling, but ultimately the memory daemon is the final arbiter of what we remember.

If the daemon can be convinced that a memory exists, it will exist. Maybe it is an actual event — a birthday party or observation of a crime — with some facts remembered and other filled in to justify opinions or cover gaps. Maybe it never existed and was created from scratch, like a Ferris wheel made out of Tinker Toys. Once it has been sufficiently reinforced, it will be as real as any other memory.

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

An unprecedented and scathing report

Feb 5th, 2014 9:36 am | By

A UN committee has come down on the Vatican like a ton of bricks over the Magdalene laundries, RTÉ reports.

The UN committee on the Rights of the Child said the Catholic Church had not yet taken measures to prevent a repeat of cases such as the Magdalene scandal, where girls were arbitrarily placed in conditions of forced labour.

In an unprecedented and scathing report, the UN also demanded the Vatican “immediately remove” all clergy who are known or suspected child abusers and turn them over to civil authorities.

The committee said the Holy See should also hand over its archives on sexual abuse of tens of thousands of children so that culprits, as well as “those who concealed their crimes”, could be held accountable.

The watchdog’s exceptionally blunt paper, the most far-reaching critique of the Church hierarchy by the world body, followed its public grilling of Vatican officials last month.

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

Creating false memories

Feb 4th, 2014 5:52 pm | By

Elizabeth Loftus in 1995:

This manuscript is close to the final version that was published with this citation:
Loftus, E.F. & Pickrell, J.E. (1995) The formation of false memories. Psychiatric Annals, 25, 720-725.

So, scroll down to Lost in a Shopping Mall.

Most of the experimental research on memory distortion has involved deliberate attempts to change memory for an event that actually was experienced. An important issue is whether it is possible to implant an entire false memory for something that never happened. Could it be done in an ethically permissible way? Several years ago a method was conceived for exploring this issue; why not see whether people could be led to believe that they had been lost in a shopping mall as a child even if they had not been. (See Loftus & Ketcham, 5 for a description of the evolution of the idea for the study). In one of the first cases of successful implantation (Loftus & Coan, 6), a 14 year old boy named Chris was supplied with descriptions of three true events that supposedly happened in Chris’s childhood involving Chris’s mother and older brother Jim. Jim also helped construct one false event. Chris was instructed to write about all four events every day for five days, offering any facts or descriptions he could remember about each event. If he could not recall any additional details he was instructed to write “I don’t remember”.

The false memory was introduced in a short paragraph. It reminded Chris that he was five at the time, that Chris was lost at the University City shopping mall in Spokane, Washington where the family often went shopping. That Chris was crying heavily when he was rescued by an elderly man and reunited with his family.

Over the first five days, Chris remembered more and more about getting lost. He remembered that the man who rescued him was “really cool.” He remembered being scared that he would never see his family again. He remembered his mother scolding him.

A few weeks later Chris was reinterviewed. He rated his memories on a scale from l (not clear at all) to ll (very, very clear). For the three true memories, Chris gave ratings of 1, 10, and 5. For the false shopping mall memory, he assigned his second-highest rating: 8. When asked to describe his getting lost memory, Chris provided rich details about the toy store where he got lost and his thoughts at the time (“Uh-oh. I’m in trouble now.”) He remembered the man who rescued him as wearing a blue flannel shirt, kind of old, kind of bald on top…. “and, he had glasses.”

Chris was soon told that one of the memories was false. Could he guess? He selected one of the real memories. When told that the memory of being lost was the false one, he had trouble believing it.

Note, in case anyone reads this without having read previous threads including the comments, I’m not posting this here to suggest that Dylan Farrow has a false (created) memory. It’s part of the broader discussion about memory.





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

Woody sends a guy to rough her up

Feb 4th, 2014 4:06 pm | By

Now morally superior Woody Allen is sending his lawyer out to go on tv and trash Mia Farrow.

(It’s all very tabloid, isn’t it, very People magazine, very what’s new in Hollywood. But it’s also a classic of power-abuse and celebrity-abuse and men crapping on women. We’re stuck with it for a bit.)

An attorney for Woody Allen said Tuesday that Dylan Farrow was coached by her mother and Allen’s former girlfriend, Mia Farrow, to believe false memories of sexual abuse by Allen.

Elkan Abramowitz said on the Today show that Allen isn’t accusing Farrow of lying. “She was a pawn in a huge fight between him and Mia Farrow years ago, and the idea that she was molested was implanted in her by her mother, and that memory is never going to go away,” Abramowitz said.

A “huge fight” – over the fact that Allen decided to start fucking Farrow’s daughter 13 years into their relationship. How could anyone possibly think he could ever possibly decide to mess around with another one of her daughters??

Abramowitz said it’s no coincidence that the allegations are resurfacing just as Allen’s career is hitting a new upswing. “The fact that it’s being brought up now is suspect, the timing is suspect,” Abramowitz said. “Nothing’s happened, they haven’t had any relationship in the last 20 years so all of a sudden we’re seeing these allegations surface again and one has to wonder why. I think that it’s a continuation of Mia Farrow’s desire to hurt Woody Allen.”

Well he got a lifetime achievement award, but some of his achievements in the field of daughter-fucking and daughter-fingering were omitted. Somebody has to set the record straight.

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

Corrupt persuasion

Feb 4th, 2014 3:24 pm | By

Rebecca Buckwalter-Poza points out at the Atlantic that celebrities are allowed to tamper with witnesses in order to avoid prosecution for sexual assault.

The aplomb with which Kelly was received recalled the Golden Globes’ celebration of Woody Allen two weeks before. Actress Diane Keaton accepted a lifetime achievement award on the director’s behalf, heedless of recent Vanity Fair articles adding further detail to long-standing allegations that Allen repeatedly molested his seven-year-old daughter with actress Mia Farrow.

Kelly and Allen have successfully relied on two different versions of the same celebrity strategy to escape the possibility of criminal consequences: legalized witness tampering. Our federal witness-tampering statute applies to anyone who “corruptly persuades” a witness to influence or deter communications and testimony. But the line between acceptable and “corrupt” persuasion becomes very fine when the accused is a celebrity.

Maybe it’s for the greater good, eh? We need our celebrities, we love our celebrities, our lives would be shabbier and duller without our celebrities, so if a few people have to put up with not getting justice…oh well. Right?

Not right in my book.

Woody Allen took a different tack [from Michael Jackson]: He used a “frivolous” custody suit, expert witnesses, and a media blitz that reportedly intimidated his daughter and dissuaded Mia Farrow from pressing criminal charges. On August 5, 1992, Dylan told her mother of her molestation. Eight days later Allen filed his custody suit, hiring expert witnesses to discredit his young daughter. Allen’s side portrayed Dylan as a confused fabulist and former partner Farrow as a hysterical, vengeful ex—allegations that anonymous sources relayed to media to generate headlines like “Mia’s Daughter May Have a Reality Problem” despite a gag order.

What a mensch, huh? What a loving father, what a fair and generous ex? What an all-round decent guy?

Allen’s tactics didn’t win him custody or even visitation rights, but his scorched-earth strategy scarred Dylan and deterred Farrow from pressing criminal charges. The custody battle lasted nearly a year. A criminal trial could take even longer and would be yet harder on Dylan and her siblings, especially if their privacy couldn’t be guaranteed. No doubt prospects for a fair criminal trial seemed dim; the challenge of convincing a jury of Allen’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, insurmountable.

Celebrities are particularly effective at discouraging victims and witnesses from cooperating with law enforcement and prosecutors in cases involving sex crimes against underage victims. Their testimony is critical to securing a conviction, but the alleged victims and their families are understandably reluctant to weather public scrutiny and a high-profile trial indefinitely and at uncertain cost for an unknown outcome.

You might almost begin to think that’s why they target underage victims – that it’s because they make bad witnesses, and their parents don’t want to put them through a trial, and prosecutors don’t want to put them on the stand.

Woody Allen. Remember all that bullshit in Manhattan when he’s yelling at the Tony Roberts character for (ha ha HA) betraying him by going after the Diane Keaton character? There’s a bunch of guff about being decent so that people will think well of you, so that you won’t cringe at yourself, all that kind of thing.

What a joke.

H/t Gretchen Robinson

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

Baby Scoop

Feb 4th, 2014 1:23 pm | By

Kathryn Joyce answers a question I’ve wondered about – yes, the way unmarried mothers were treated in the US (and elsewhere) was as bad (or almost as bad) as the way they were treated in Ireland, and yes, there were a lot of them, and yes, their babies were taken away from them.

It’s a time that in the United States is often referred to as the “Baby Scoop Era,” and during it some estimates hold that a full fifth of all children born to never-married white women relinquished their infants for adoption. For women sent to maternity homes, that number rose to 80 percent, comprising anywhere from 1.5 million to 6 million women. 

While, at least in the movie, Philomena maintained that she was never coerced into relinquishing her son, for many U.S. birth mothers or first mothers (preferred terms vary) who are now in their 50s, 60s, or older, the pressure they encountered at maternity homes was harsh and unapologetic. Severe isolation was normal, as was withholding information from women about their pregnancies and impending labor. Maternity home residents were forbidden visits with friends, family, or the fathers of their children, and weren’t allowed to receive letters or phone calls. They were sometimes dropped off at hospitals to labor alone, separate from married mothers, sometimes without pain medication, and pushed to sign relinquishment papers while they were still drugged or recovering from labor.

And so on. It was bad.

“They wanted to keep us scared to death,” said Karen Wilson-Buterbaugh, the 65-year-old founder of the Baby Scoop Era Research Initiative, which compiles documents from the period. “They didn’t want us to be repeats. It was so traumatizing that many mothers don’t remember the births.”

As a 17-year-old unwed expectant mother, Wilson-Buterbaugh was placed by her Catholic family in a Washington, D.C.-area maternity home in 1966. Women sent there were expected to work for their keep, and there were locks on the doors of the floors housing women considered flight risks. To Wilson-Buterbaugh, the differences between the U.S. maternity homes and the Magdalene Laundries are few. In the United States, widely available baby formula allowed infants to be adopted almost immediately, rather than staying with breastfeeding mothers, and U.S. women were sent home quickly, to return to their lives as “born-again virgins,” unlike their Irish counterparts, who were penalized with further years of debt-bondage. But for many, the sense of lifelong loss is the same.

It is a big difference that they weren’t kept locked up for years or decades. But that said – they were still treated like shit. Yet another chapter in the expanding volume Neglected Histories of the Ways Women Were Treated Like Shit.

The problems didn’t stop at U.S. borders either. Similar adoption programs occurred in other countries, particularly Commonwealth nations. However, some of these nations have begun to acknowledge their mistakes. In Canada, several churches have undertaken archival digs to determine what role they may have played in coercive adoptions. In Australia, the advocacy of Baby Scoop Era mothers resulted last year in a national apology from the prime minister for forced adoptions, modeled on the country’s previous apologies for human rights abuses—including forcible adoptions—of indigenous people.

Not a volume, not even a set; a whole shelf.

For the New York Post’s Kyle Smith, this is apparently unknown history, papered over with the assumption that more adoptions are good, and therefore maternity homes that facilitate more adoptions are good. That’s not a big surprise, but even likely allies seem unaware of the connections between Philomena’s quest and the experiences of millions of U.S. women. Last week, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) partnered with the real Philomena Lee to call onIreland to open its adoption records and grapple with its past (a call reflected in a recent petition aimed at the Catholic Church). U.S. birth mothers/first mothers have started a Facebook group called “We Are the American Philomenas,” and they share a sense of bafflement that most people are unaware of how common their story is.

“It’s just beyond our comprehension that they can’t connect those dots, especially after all the efforts we’ve made,” Wilson-Buterbaugh says. “There are millions of Philomenas out there, from just about every country. We’re just flabbergasted that people aren’t figuring this out.”

Ok. Time to fix that.

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


Feb 4th, 2014 12:21 pm | By

I’ve been thinking about memory, naturally. I often do anyway, and Dylan Farrow’s open letter has brought it to the fore again. I was thinking yesterday about how non-specific and narrative and composite my memories are, at least the older ones. I set myself a question: can I summon up a clear distinct visual memory that I know to be one memory, like a photograph?

I tried hard for some time, and couldn’t do it. I suspect it can’t be done. If I see something only once, I don’t properly remember it at all. If I see it repeatedly, I can visualize it, but I can tell the visualization is composite – it’s not a one-time look that gets frozen.

Is anybody else different?

Probably not. If memory were not like that, people would probably not take so many pictures. We like pictures so much because we don’t remember what we see.

It’s sad, isn’t it.

I’ll tell you what I can remember way better than I can remember anything visual, and that’s navigation. How to get to places. I can go for walks in my head. It’s quite a good game – “Suppose you’re in Ladbroke Grove, and you decide to walk to Highgate. Go.”

It all makes sense, I’m guessing. Composite memory is plenty good enough for facial recognition and other kinds of recognition – in fact better, because you don’t get a false negative just because an expression is different or the wind is blowing.

Well, it’s stupid to babble about it, I have multiple books that spell all this out, and I’ve even read some of them. But then one has to remember it all…

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


Feb 4th, 2014 11:57 am | By

I was reading this article about child sexual abuse and belief, in which Andrea Grimes starts by telling us a little about herself -

I am an only child and I have awesome, twangy Texas-raised parents who Texas-raised me. My best friends are brilliant academics who sort of hate academia. I am overly friendly in awkward situations. I am funny and I love Star Trek. I throw big parties. I do yoga at home so I can skip savasana. I talk too much.

And when I was a kid, a relative sexually abused me.

I was reading this article, I say, and when I read that sentence I suddenly remembered that I can say the same thing, and that it was odd that I hadn’t thought of that while thinking about memory and Dylan Farrow.

It is odd. Why didn’t I think of it? Then again, of course, being in the habit of second-guessing my memory, now I’m not sure I didn’t. But at the time I first read that sentence – an hour or so ago – I did think I hadn’t, and I did feel surprise.

I was only a little older than Dylan Farrow was in August 1993, that’s the thing. I’m not sure how much older; I was at least 8 and a few months (because of where I was at the time) but possibly 9.

It was very minor, in comparison. I was much more grossed out and freaked out by a stranger assault a year or two or three later. But it wasn’t nothing. (I don’t want to be coy. It was a cousin 20 years my senior, one I liked a lot because he was funny and irreverent. He came into my bedroom one evening after I’d gone to bed, and put my hand on his fly. Oh hai: that’s a penis there. That’s all.)

Frankly I find Dylan Farrow’s story very plausible. I just have reservations about the insistence on vows of belief, because of the epistemology of it. Do I think it happened? Hell yes. Do I “believe” it? That’s the wrong question.


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

Liberal veneer

Feb 3rd, 2014 6:11 pm | By

An interesting article by Rumy Hasan in Open Democracy last December: Beware of Islamism with a liberal veneer. We’re well familiar with that phenomenon. The two women sitting next to Abhishek and Chris on The Big Questions were classic examples – using liberal rhetoric to defend illiberal traditions and practices, while enveloped in degrading black bags.

The recent outcry among British politicians and the London press over gender segregation in universities has shone a light on a relatively new phenomenon: the recourse to the foundational principles of liberal democracy by Islamists in pursuit of their agenda. This approach appears to be working as is evidenced by Universities UK’s (UUK) policy guidance (now withdrawn) on gender segregation at events organised by Islamic Societies. In very reasonable language, UUK advised:

“Concerns to accommodate the wishes or beliefs of those opposed to segregation should not result in a religious group being prevented from having a debate in accordance with its belief system”.

A thoroughly reactionary, sexist, practice was justified on the basis of rights – specifically the right of Islamist speakers and Muslim women to have segregated seating. This demand is thought reasonable because of the importance afforded to religious beliefs – non-religious beliefs are not granted this privilege.

We get it in the US too – the “right” to home school, the “right” to deny children medical care on religious grounds, the “right” to refuse to vaccinate one’s children, the “right” to refuse to perform abortions or dispense the morning after pill even though it’s part of your job.

It is curious – and revealing – that similar ‘liberal-minded’, ‘reasonable’, ‘freedom of choice’ arguments are not invoked for segregation on the grounds of race or ethnicity along the lines of the judgment – that set out the doctrine of ‘separate and equal’ facilities for races – of the US Supreme Court in the notorious Plessy versus Ferguson case of 1896. But, pray, why are so many who would rightly denounce this doctrine on the grounds of race, apply it on the grounds of gender? To this question no satisfactory answer is provided; a simple appeal to respect for religious belief suffices.

I keep saying.

The General Secretary of the LSE’s Student Union, Jay Stoll, provided a simple answer to the outrage felt by UUK’s policy guidance: on Channel 4 News he baldly asserted that this was a manifestation of ‘Islamophobia’. He naturally hoped that such ‘analysis’ would quell the critics and end the debate. Now Mr Stoll has some form on this: back in October at the Freshers Fair, his Students Union forced two members of the LSE Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society to remove their ‘Jesus and Mo’ t-shirts on the grounds that this constituted ‘harassment’ of Muslim (not Christian) students (hence was Islamophobic but not Christophobic). Thankfully, after vigorous campaigning and threat of legal action, Craig Calhoun, the Director of the LSE – but not the Students Union – has apologised to the two students. One should, therefore, not be unduly surprised if the LSESU gives support to requests by Islamic societies for segregated audiences at meetings they organise on campus; and helps with its enforcement.

Well so far, that hasn’t happened that I’m aware of – and I think I would be aware if it had because I think Chris and Abhishek would tell me.

Whilst recognising that Islamists in Muslim-majority countries – from the Wahabbi House of Saud to Sunni Pakistan to Shia Iran – are contemptuous of liberal, democratic, values, many Islamists in the west now realise that this rejectionist approach is counterproductive to their cause. Hence they are skilfully resorting to arguments coated with liberalism. It is, therefore, imperative that those concerned by the corrosive values of Islamism: gender segregation, attack on freedom of expression, and veiling are only three instances – should see through this liberal veneer to reveal the reactionary agenda underneath and to put up robust opposition to their demands.

We’re doing our best. But there are always the useful idiots…like Bob, the author of one of the comments:

Presumably Hasan sees himself as someone who stands up for genuine liberal values. Yet he denies the right of Muslim women to sit separately from men if they choose – even if, as happened at the iERA meeting at UCL, a mixed-gender section is available to those who don’t want single-gender seating. And he justifies the French ban on women wearing the niqab.

Some liberal! What happened to John Stuart Mill’s principle, which is the bedrock of liberalism, that individuals should be free to act as they choose, free from interference by the state or anyone else, as long as they cause no harm to others?

See? That’s exactly what the two women next to Abhishek and Chris claimed, and it’s dead wrong. It’s dishonest. Nobody is denying the right of Muslim women to sit anywhere they want to sit – provided there are empty seats. All anyone is denying is a guaranteed pre-arrangement of segregated seats, which is to say, an imposition of segregation on everyone who attends.

We don’t get pre-arrangements like that in the normal course of things. We don’t get to stipulate what kind of people we want to sit next to on buses, in restaurants, on planes, in movie theatres, at concerts, at political meetings – even in church, as far as I know. (In mosques, on the other hand, it’s a different story. Well there you go. That’s why some people stop going to mosques.)

I wonder if Bob would say

Presumably Hasan sees himself as someone who stands up for genuine liberal values. Yet he denies the right of white people to sit separately from black people if they choose -  even if, as happened at the iERA meeting at UCL, a mixed-race section is available to those who don’t want single-race seating.

My guess is that he wouldn’t, yet he feels comfortable and righteous saying it about gender. Spot the real liberal, eh?


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

Don’t think you can straddle

Feb 3rd, 2014 4:12 pm | By

Charlie Klendjian says it’s time to pick a horse.

In censoring themselves Channel 4 News and Newsnight not only failed in their task of reporting the news to their viewers – to enable their viewers to form their own opinion about the cartoon – but they also reinforced the very religious taboo that Nawaz had received death threats for challenging and which had landed Chris and Abhishek in hot water with the Libyan School of Economics – sorry, the London School of Economics. As Nawaz tweeted:

“Thank you @Channel4News you just pushed us liberal Muslims further into a ditch #LynchMobFreeZone #TeamNawaz”.

I am appalled at the treatment of Nawaz and I am appalled at the editorial decisions of Channel 4 News and Newsnight to censor the Jesus and Mo cartoon. Religious censorship is bad even on a good day, but when it prevents discussion of the actual news item at hand it becomes surreal.

But it’s not censorship, it’s careful sensitive thoughtful considerate avoidance of Offending someone. It’s Nice, which is the opposite of Mean, so it must be good. Mustn’t it?

It’s high time we all faced up to a very unsettling reality here: sharia law is alive and kicking in the United Kingdom in 2014, and so is its deadly blasphemy code. After Nawaz had tweeted the picture Mohammed Shafiq of the Ramadhan Foundation referred to him as “Gustake Rasool”, which means “Defamer of Prophets”. This is a religious and legal charge punishable by a death sentence in Pakistan. Nawaz travels regularly to Pakistan and has family there. Shafiq also tweeted that:

“We will notify all muslim organisations in the UK of his despicable behaviour and also notify Islamic countries”.

It’s tempting to think this is a difficult legal or moral conundrum. It isn’t. There are difficult legal and moral issues out there but this is not one of them. The question before us is very simple: do we have the right to depict Mohammed? It’s a simple question and so it deserves a simple answer. The answer is either yes or no. My answer is yes. If your answer is “yes, but”, then sorry that’s just not good enough. If you have to pause for thought before answering the question then you’ve probably already decided the answer is no.

My answer is yes with no buts. Religious taboos do not apply to people who have no interest in the religions that spawn them. As far as I’m concerned they don’t apply to people who do have an interest in those religions either, unless those people consent – and even then they shouldn’t apply in such a way that other people’s rights are abridged. A religious taboo on men talking to women could very easily abridge women’s right to work and function in the public sphere, like for instance doing their jobs.

“Oh but we have to be respectful because depiction of the prophet Mohammed is forbidden in Islam and so it’s offensive to Muslims”, I hear you say, clutching your dusty GCSE Religious Studies certificate proudly (I have an ‘A’ grade myself; it was one of my favourite subjects).

You’re wrong.

Point 1: there is a history within some strands of Islam of depicting Mohammed.

Point 2: all Muslims are individuals. Some of them will find a depiction of Mohammed offensive and some won’t. Why are you more concerned about the Muslims that want to enforce blasphemy codes rather than those challenging them, often at great risk? In choosing to instinctively sympathise with those seeking to enforce blasphemy codes you make it even harder for liberal and secular Muslims to rise up. As Nawaz says, you push them “further into a ditch.” You side with the oppressor rather than the victim. Think about that, carefully.

Why indeed? Why why why? Why side with religious zealots (to put it no more strongly) against the people who don’t want to be pushed around by them?

Point 4: if someone is offended, so what? Do you know how offended some men (and women) were at the idea of women having the vote in this country? Do you know how offended some white people were at the idea of racial equality in the US and South Africa?

That’s an argument I make often. The very people who are so offended by images of Mohammed are indeed also offended by women having rights and walking around in public just as if they were human beings too. Why side with them?

Don’t think you can straddle both sides of the Jesus and Mo argument, arguing in one breath how free speech and free expression are important but in another breath how we have to be “respectful” and not cause offence, like a Hollywood stuntman expertly riding two horses. At some point those horses will go their separate ways. Pick a horse now – while you still have something of a choice.

Now that’s a metaphor.

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

Nice, nice, nice

Feb 3rd, 2014 3:33 pm | By

An item from Twitter by someone who goes by @vrunt.

Embedded image permalink


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

We oppose that bad thing you did

Feb 3rd, 2014 12:16 pm | By

Something called SOAS Muslim-Christian Dialogue has written an open letter to Student Rights. (SOAS is the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.)

As members of SOAS Christian-Muslim Dialogue Society, we oppose your vilification and targeting of university Islamic societies including SOAS Islamic Society on the issue of gender segregation in their events.

We support the right of each student to act according to his or her personal religious convictions. For some, segregated seating serves these convictions and allows participation in mixed events. We support the right of SOAS Islamic Society to accommodate both segregated and mixed seating in any event.

We oppose the notion that segregated seating is somehow indicative of extremism, and believe this to be motivated by Islamophobic sentiments.

As members of a Society including Christians, Muslims, and individuals of other faiths and none, we stand with SOAS Islamic Society in this matter.

That’s very wrong and obtuse. Each student has a right to sit wherever she can find a place. No one disputes that. The issue is not choosing a seat, the issue is imposing segregated seating. They fudge that the same way Universities UK did by talking of “both segregated and mixed seating in any event,” but including a section of non-segregated seating doesn’t make the two sections of segregated seating acceptable. As we keep pointing out, they wouldn’t be acceptable if the criteria were race or religion instead of gender. Whites here, blacks there, mixed in between – no, that’s not ok. Neither is the gender version.

Student Rights has a reply.

Like yourselves we support the right of individual students to act according to their religious convictions, and have repeatedly stated that if these individual students wish to choose to sit separately from the opposite gender during events then that should be of no concern.

However, students do not have the right to impose their religious views on others, and in accommodating areas of segregated seating student societies are doing just this.

This view is supported by the EHRC, which has declared that “in an academic meeting or in a lecture open to the public it is not, in the commission’s view, permissible to segregate by gender“.

In supporting the right of SOAS Islamic Society to impose segregated areas in this way you are therefore in opposition to the EHRC and are potentially also supporting a breach of SOAS’s Equality and Diversity Policy, as well as failing to support the many Muslim women who have joined the campaign against this practice.

But the EHRC is so…you know…E.



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

Did an archbishop create that syllabus?

Feb 3rd, 2014 11:26 am | By

This is a horrifying development – from The Guardian Comment is Free:

For A-level students in the UK, there is only one exam board that runs a real philosophy course. And that’s about to be changed into yet another religious education course.

For the last nine years, I have taught the AQA’s A-level philosophy course. It’s a good course, and the only one to represent the breadth of philosophy as a discipline in its own right. So I was somewhat surprised to learn that the AQA have this week, without warning or consultation, published a completely new draft syllabus, which is now just waiting to be rubber-stamped by Ofqual.

The new specification completely excludes the previous options to study aesthetics, free will, all European philosophy since Kant, and – most significantly – political philosophy. This will be all replaced with a compulsory philosophy of religion topic, which will make up 50% of the AS course.

And that’s not even all, or even the worst. The new specification also reduces the how of philosophy to focus on the what. The how is the important part!

The exam board will also reduce the marks given for students’ ability to critique and construct arguments, and more marks will be given for simply knowing the theories involved. Essentially, where young philosophers were previously rewarded for being able to think for themselves and question the role of government, the new course can only be passed by students who can regurgitate classic defences of the existence and perfection of God.

Appalling. Let’s hope the secular philosophers can intervene and fix this mess.

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

Beginners’ etiquette

Feb 3rd, 2014 10:45 am | By

I’m going to do a Miss Manners thing here and propose a rule of etiquette.

If you’re in a couple, don’t start fucking one of your partner’s children. No, even if that child is adopted. Really. That’s a rule. It’s a good rule. Follow it.

No, even if that child is no longer a minor. No, don’t stay with your partner waiting patiently until that child turns 18 and then pounce.

No, even if the child says you were never a parental figure. Even if you were always buried in a newspaper or playing a video game whenever that child was in the room – even then, don’t start fucking that child.

Are there exceptions to this rule? All rules have exceptions; there must be exceptions to this rule. Are there?


No, this is an exceptionless rule.

But what if you go on to marry your ex-partner’s child? Is it ok then?


But what if you marry your ex-partner’s child and the two of you adopt children. Then it’s ok, right?


No, it’s not ok if you marry your ex-partner’s child and the two of you adopt children. What’s more, somebody should keep a close watch on those adopted children. As many people as possible should keep an eye on those children. That’s doubly or triply true if those children are the same sex as the parent who is the child of the ex-partner. Everyone involved should be alert to patterns. But that is only damage mitigation; the rule is don’t start fucking one of your partner’s children; if that rule is obeyed then the damage mitigation will not be needed. Just don’t start fucking one of your partner’s children. It’s a simple rule.

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

Two different takes

Feb 2nd, 2014 6:13 pm | By

One take, by Robert Weide in The Daily Beast. First, who he is:

I produced and directed the two-part PBS special, Woody Allen: A Documentary, that premiered in the U.S. on the “American Masters” series. I also supervised and consulted on the brief clip montage that aired as part of the recent Golden Globes telecast, when Allen received the Cecil B. DeMille Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Now, his take:

I was actually somewhat impressed with Ronan Farrow’s now-famous tweet from the summer of 2012: “Happy father’s day—or as they call it in my family, happy brother-in-law’s day.” The target was fair game, and I remember thinking Ronan had inherited his father’s wit—before his actual paternity came into question. (A good sense of humor and the ability to think on his feet will serve him well on his own show on MSNBC.)

A different take, this one by Maureen Orth in her long Vanity Fair article last November:

Allen brought another action before Judge Wilk in order to be able to see Dylan and to resume unsupervised visits with Ronan. He and the boy had never gotten along. As I reported in the 1992 Vanity Fair story, Ronan, at three, had kicked Allen, and Allen had twisted the child’s leg until he screamed. According to court testimony in the second trial, in June 1996, Ronan’s psychiatrist testified that on a supervised visit to Allen’s apartment in 1995, Ronan, then seven, reported that he had kicked Allen, who then grabbed him by the neck with both hands and threw him down on the couch. Shortly thereafter, the supervised visits were suspended.

At the end of the trial, in which both sides referred to Ronan’s “phobic reaction” to Allen, Judge Wilk informed Ronan that he would have to resume visits with his father in the office of his psychiatrist—which Allen vehemently objected to. Ronan started heaving uncontrollably, collapsed on the floor in front of everyone, and had to be carried out. The judge ruled that Dylan did not have to see her father at all. Allen appealed again and lost. He never saw Ronan again either. Last year on Father’s Day, Ronan tweeted, “Happy father’s day—or as they call it in my family, happy brother-in-law’s day.”

Weide thought that tweet was a piece of wit, something to smile at, a sign of talent and quick-thinking. Great god almighty.

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