Notes and Comment Blog

Not in its founding tablets

Sep 4th, 2014 6:00 pm | By

The really odd thing about Sommers is that she can be more reasonable. It’s puzzling that she finds it worthwhile or fun to be so belligerent and sneery on Twitter. Ordinarily feminists who disagree with each other disagree with each other as opposed to pissing all over feminism as such. Sommers keeps pissing all over feminism itself.

She tweeted a link to a January article of hers in Reason, so I read it. I don’t agree with it, but it’s not vulgarly insulting the way her Twitter output is.

She’s explaining her book Freedom Feminism in response to a review she says misrepresented it.

Freedom feminism stands for the moral, social, and legal equality of the sexes—and the freedom of women (and men) to employ their equal status to pursue happiness as they choose. Freedom feminism is not at war with femininity or masculinity and it does not view men and women as opposing tribes. Theories of universal patriarchal oppression or the inherent evils of capitalism are not in its founding tablets. Nor are partisan litmus tests: It welcomes women and men from across the political spectrum. Put simply, freedom feminism affirms for women what it affirms for everyone: dignity, opportunity, and personal liberty.

(“Founding tablets” is a little insulting, but only a little; mild compared to her Twitter personality.) The as they choose bit is a warning, because I know she considers preferences to be sacrosanct, and that’s one of the places where I disagree with her.

Freedom feminism shares with egalitarianism an aversion to prescribed gender roles: Women should be free to defect from the stereotypes of femininity if they so choose. At the same time, however, it respects the choices of free and self-determining women—when they choose to embrace conventional feminine roles.  Nowhere do I say women should stay in the home or that women who defy convention are “aberrations.” I simply note that, to the consternation of hardline contemporary genderists, many women, when given their full set of Jeffersonian freedoms, continue to give priority to the domestic sphere. Somehow in Presley’s mind “giving priority” means a total rejection of the workplace. Not at all. But many women, especially when they have children at home, do appear to have a strong preference for working part-time.

I’m not really sure what she’s fighting with there. I don’t know of any feminists – however “hardline genderist” they may be – who think women should be forbidden to work part-time, or forced to work full-time. Maybe what she’s fighting with is the thought that if social arrangements were such that both parents could spend more time with their young children than is practical now, then maybe choices would start to change. Is that it? If it is…it doesn’t seem enough to explain her rage at feminists. That’s true not least because surely it could be a good thing for children to spend a lot of time with their fathers as well as their mothers when they’re small? (Once they’re not small they mostly just want to get away, let’s face it.) It could be a good thing for the fathers, too.

In other words the preferences people have now aren’t necessarily the preferences they would have no matter what, so what is so wrong with trying to change conditions so that people can try different possibilities?

That’s article-writing Sommers. Twitter Sommers is just a brawler. (Maybe it’s because Dawkins keeps sharing her tweets? Maybe she’s enjoying the popularity?) Like this from 3 hours ago:

Christina H. Sommers @CHSommers · 3h
Going on Michael Savage Show in few minutes to talk about feminist
Myths and Ms.Information.

See what she did there? Ms. Information? Isn’t that cute? Dawkins retweeted that one.

I don’t know. She claims to be a feminist but she’s devoting all her energies to helping people like Michael Savage piss on feminism. That’s a funny kind of feminism.

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

An emerging generation of human rights activists in Britain

Sep 4th, 2014 4:37 pm | By

A letter in the Independent today tomorrow from an outstanding group of people who allowed me to join them:

Professor Alexis Jay’s report on child sexual exploitation in Rotherham has been met with an array of trite responses. Some commentators have placed undue emphasis on the fact that child sexual exploitation happens in all communities, obfuscating the fact that offenders of Pakistani origin are over-represented in this specific form of child sexual exploitation (on-street grooming).

The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre’s 2011 report, Out of Sight, Out of Mind, researched 2,379 potential offenders caught grooming girls since 2008. Of 940 suspects whose race could be identified, 26 per cent were Asian (almost all of Pakistani origin), 38 per cent were white, and 32 per cent were recorded as unknown. According to the Office of National Statistics, only 6 per cent of the English population is classed as Asian.

We must face up to the cultural, racial and even religious specifics in these crimes. The “double life” syndrome of some men in Pakistani communities cannot be ignored. At the more benign end of the scale, young people will have secret boyfriends and girlfriends, yet display a more pious image in front of their families. The sort of reprehensible conduct we have seen in towns like Rotherham, Rochdale and Oxford is an extreme example of this phenomenon.

Tribal mentalities have imported an honour code that labels women as either honourable or shameful. In some quarters this has developed into an underground “gangster” culture of exploiting and abusing girls who do not fit the honour code. In either case, abuse must be exposed and perpetrators brought before the law.

The honour code has no place in this country: women and girls, regardless of background, culture, ethnicity, religion, lifestyle, or familial lineage, are of equal worth. Fortunately, there is an emerging generation of human rights activists in Britain – many of whom are young, female and secular-minded – who are campaigning hard against misogyny and patriarchy within our communities.

We will continue this important work, through raising awareness, lobbying parliamentarians and facilitating workshops with Muslim women. The victims’ best interests always come first – which is why silence and apologia should never have been an option.

Dr Shaaz Mahboob

Trustee, British Muslims for Secular Democracy

Tehmina Kazi

Director, British Muslims for Secular Democracy

Diana Nammi

Executive Director and founder, Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation

Kalsoom Bashir

Co-director, Inspire

Mahnaz Nadeem, Iram Ramzan, Ophelia Benson,

Deeyah Khan, Gina Khan, Habiba Jaan, Dr Elham Manea, Lejla Kurić

London WC1

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

She has one thing to say

Sep 4th, 2014 1:34 pm | By

More Sommers. She’s ratcheting up the trashy malevolence by the hour, in a way that’s honestly kind of strange. She’s coming across as more like a bottom-feeding political operative than even an agenda-driven hack at a far-right think tank.

Retweeted by Christina H. Sommers
Astrokid @AstrokidNJ · 1h
#FTBullies PZMyers NEVER felt embarassed for womens hate, violence & death threats at men though … @CHSommers

The very bottom of the swamp.

Christina H. Sommers @CHSommers · 3h
Must-read now! “Men are Harassed More Than Women Online” by
awesome freedom fighter & truth-teller @CathyYoung63

You can be against hardline feminism, but pro-equality. @CathyYoung63 suggests an “equality without anger ” movement. …

Gamers, libertarians, atheists, techies–constantly hectored by gender zealots. But look what they do to one another.

Etc etc etc etc. She’s a hedgehog not a fox; she has one thing to say, and she says it over and over and over again. She hates feminism. She thinks women objecting to street harassment and internet harassment are “gender zealots” who “hector” everyone. What a terrible position to stake a claim on.

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

Guest post: The collection of stories we tell about ourselves

Sep 4th, 2014 1:08 pm | By

Originally a comment by A Masked Avenger on Sommers thinks she is liberal-minded.

aliam, #18:

If you call our ENTIRE CULTURE a RAPE CULTURE then you are saying that MEN have culturally been indoctrinated into being potential rapists in the waiting.

Brian Pansky is right: you’re doing “why are there still monkeys?” You’re trying to interpret a criticism of culture as a criticism of all members of the culture in general, and each one in particular, so that you can conclude, “If ‘rape culture’ is real, then you’re saying I am a rapist!” No such thing.

TW: rape culture, references to rape.

The culture is basically the collection of stories we tell about ourselves. It’s a set of shared myths. Such as the myth that men are protectors, and “don’t hit women,” but rather defend them. That they’re providers. That women are the nurturers. That “normal” is growing up with your mommy, who is definitely a woman and makes dinner every night, and your daddy, who is definitely a man and comes home every night bringing the bacon and stories about his day. And so on, and so on.

And within those myths are some that weaken women’s boundaries by trivializing them or outright denying their existence. There’s the myth that marriage is a contract to have sex, and saying “no” to your husband is a violation of the contract. Or the myth that women say “no” in order to look like “good girls,” when really they mean “yes,” and what they really want is for your manly manliness to overcome their resistance in order to give them an alibi. Or the myth that women who aren’t “good girls” are “sluts” who will have sex with anyone, and who if they say no to you, are insulting your masculinity. And so on, and so on.

The net effect of those stories isn’t to make men hide in the bushes and rape random passers-by. But it very much IS to make men less respectful of boundaries. More likely to badger women who say no, or have sex with intoxicated women without worrying whether they’d have consented when sober, or otherwise have sexual contact with women who are not freely consenting. Which is very much not OK. Which is rape.

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

It is their attitude to women that defines them

Sep 4th, 2014 12:23 pm | By

I had somehow overlooked the fact that Nazir Afzal is not just a regional CCP but also the Crown Prosecution Service’s lead on child sexual abuse and violence against women and girls. Amelia Gentleman in the Guardian points out what this means:

His role means he has oversight of all child sex abuse cases in England and Wales. “So I know that the vast majority of offenders are British white male,” he says, setting the number at somewhere between 80 and 90%. “We have come across cases all over the country and the ethnicity of the perpetrators varies depending on where you are … It is not the abusers’ race that defines them. It is their attitude to women that defines them.”

Engrave those words in letters of fire on your inner bulletin board. It is their attitude to women that defines them. And this, Christina Hoff Sommers & her fans please note, is why so-called “equity” feminism is an insulting joke. Attitudes matter. Racial attitudes matter, and so do other attitudes; attitudes to women matter. This sick idea that all efforts to change attitudes for the better is “radical” in a bad bad bad sense is reactionary and ugly and wrong.

Afzal also makes a shrewd factual point.

Where there is involvement of Asian men or men of Pakistani origin, he points to a practical, rather than cultural explanation – the fact that in the areas where grooming scandals have been uncovered, those controlling the night-time economy, people working through the night in takeaways and driving minicabs, are predominantly Asian men. He argues that evidence suggests that victims were not targeted because they were white but because they were vulnerable and their vulnerability caused them to seek out “warmth, love, transport, mind-numbing substances, drugs, alcohol and food”.

He says the failures in Rotherham were very little to do with “political correctness” and far more to do with incompetence – just not doing the job of policing very well.

…he believes that the cases were not pursued properly because “everyone involved was not as competent as they should have been. I can only speak for the cases I’ve dealt with, but it usually comes down to poor investigation; we didn’t investigate early enough. People have not been as good at their job as they should have been. They haven’t asked the right questions. As a result the victims did not have the confidence to come forward.”

He is disturbed at the number of times cases were dropped because police were concerned that they would be too difficult to prosecute because “the credibility of the young woman was damaged by her chaotic lifestyle”. Sometimes police would decide not to pursue a case because the victim had criminal convictions herself. “My view is that this is exactly what you would expect with a victim. That she has been led astray and manipulated by the abuser. He’s not going to look for the young girl who has never been in trouble. They deliberately target the ones who have the most chaotic backgrounds, the most troubled lives.”

I can all too easily imagine being incompetent that way myself. The victims are doubtless very off-putting in a lot of ways, and I’m not at all good at ignoring off-putting qualities. It’s a difficult skill.

Afzal has received criticism from all sides for his work in this area. Members of the Asian community have asked him: “‘Nazir, why are you giving racist or Islamophobes a stick to beat us with?’ My response to that is that we as a community should be carrying our own stick. Then there won’t be a reason for people to launch blanket attacks on the whole faith and the whole community.” He had hope for more “vocal” condemnation of the child sexual abuse scandals by the Asian community, as well as more support of his work combating “honour”-based killings and forced marriages – two other issues he has focused on in the past decade. “I do feel that there’s a deficit of leadership in some parts of the Muslim community. They could be much more challenging of certain behaviours,” he says, adding that this is the most effective way to counter the threat of Islamophobia. “The silence of people who may know something or have heard something only hurts our children.”

It would help if the media and others listening for vocal condemnation of the child sexual abuse scandals asked more women for their thoughts. I know a lot of liberal Muslim women they could ask; I know a lot of people who know a lot of liberal Muslim women they could ask. The trick is to get the media to know them too.


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

Humanists in Nigeria are not fighting semantic battles

Sep 4th, 2014 11:19 am | By

Padraig Reidy at Index on Censorship fisks Helen Ukpabio’s lawsuit against the BHA and the Witchcraft and Human Rights Information Network.

Her specific claim against the BHA is that an article on its website claimed she believed that noisy babies may be possessed by Satan.

The article, which appeared in July 2009, says that Ukpabio wrote in her book, Unveiling The Mysteries Of Witchcraft, that “A child under two years of age that cries at night and deteriorates in health is an agent of Satan”.

In this, the article is mistaken. Ukpabio’s book does not seem to contain this sentence. Rather, under the heading “How To Recognise A Witch”, Ukpabio writes: “Under the age of two, the child screams at night, cries, is always feverish suddenly deteriorates in health, puts up an attitude of fear, and may not feed very well.”

In other words, she didn’t write that a child under two years of age that cries at night and deteriorates in health is an agent of Satan, but rather, that such a child is a witch.

Therefore she is suing for five hundred million pounds.

But is that really even what she’s objecting to? Padraig says it’s not.

Her complaint, in reality, is not about the 2009 article, or the difference between satanic possession and witchcraft. Ukpabio’s underlying complaint is about a campaign to have her banned from the country in April 2014. It is the coverage of her controversial trip to Britain in April that her lawyer claims caused her to suffer reputational injury.

So why, rather than attack the numerous news outlets who reported negatively on her UK visit, during which a London venue cancelled her booking after being alerted to her witchfinding and exorcising activities, is she instead pursuing threatening humanists?

[thinks hard]

Because Leo Igwe is a humanist?

At the World Humanist Congress in Oxford last month, Nigerian delegates such as the brilliant, brave Leo Igwe, spoke passionately about preachers and witchfinders like the Lady Apostle. While in Britain “militant atheist” has become a term of abuse associated with the gauche tweets of Professor Richard Dawkins, in Nigeria, a forthright approach to religion and the abuses carried out in its name is a necessity. Humanists there are not fighting semantic battles; rather, they are engaged in a real struggle to save children and vulnerable people from accusations of witchcraft and possession: accusations that could lead to them being thrown out of their homes, beaten and even killed.

What scant support Nigerian activists receive comes from the international atheist and humanist community. While I would not cast doubt on western humanists’ solidarity with their Nigerian comrades, a costly court case would make anyone think twice before getting involved in faraway struggles again.

Seriously. It’s given me pause. It’s likely to give anyone pause.

To grant Ukpabio’s claim any credence would be to severely inhibit the struggle against dangerous superstitions in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa. To even get involved in an legal argument over whether satanic possession is worse than witchcraft would grant a glimmer of legitimacy to the abuse of children in the name of God. That is reason enough for the English High Court to dismiss the Lady Apostle’s ludicrous lawsuit.

In some states in the US it would be liable to anti-SLAPP suit laws. People like Helen Ukpabio, who cause the kinds of terrible suffering and harm that she causes, should not be able to use the courts to silence people who campaign against the harm they do.


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

All aboard for Manchester Peterloo

Sep 3rd, 2014 6:26 pm | By

Here’s a good idea – changing the name of Manchester’s main railway station from Manchester Piccadilly to Peterloo.

Last month was the anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre. This peaceful rally on 16 August 1819 radically transformed British politics and marked the beginning of the long march to universal suffrage.

To mark the occasion this year, actor Maxine Peake read out the names of the 15 people who lost their lives in the tragedy. But for the 200th anniversary, in 2019, we want that important day to be given the commemoration it deserves.

We want it to be remembered by having the word Peterloo on the lips of the millions of people who ask for train tickets across a counter each year or type out their request on a web page and say where they want to go. We want to see it on thousands and thousands of train timetables, and day after day night hear it boomed out across the station platforms, from Euston to York, Newcastle to Carlisle, Penzance to Inverness. Everywhere. How? By changing the name of Manchester’s main station from Piccadilly to Peterloo.

Go for it, I say!

We need the support of the Manchester city council, and indeed the councils of the towns around Greater Manchester which sent their people to the demonstration.

It will not cost the council a single penny, only a council resolution and a letter to Network Rail. We need the support of the trade unions, such as the RMT. We need the support of all railway users to get onto their MPs and councillors. We need the support of all the political parties acting together, no matter how divided on other issues, to remember the 100,000-plus men, women and children – ordinary working people from Manchester and Salford and all the surrounding towns – who converged in St Peter’s Fields, right near what is now the Central Library, to demand the vote and representation in parliament which was completely denied them.

The authorities turned the cavalry on them. Fiften were killed, over 600 injured. The shock waves took England by storm. It was the explosion that began the journey to universal suffrage, to this day our most important democratic instrument and right. Uproar and demonstrations followed across the whole country and inspired Shelley to write The Masque of Anarchy, the greatest political poem in the language, his denunciation of the aristocratic land-owning elite who had parliament in its pocket. From that moment no amount of suppression could hold back the tide demanding change. Thirteen years later in 1832, parliament was forced to bring in the Great Reform Act, which for the very first time gave parliamentary representation to the growing populations of the new industrial towns and cities such as Manchester which up to then had no parliamentary representation at all, and with it an extension of the right to vote.

Well worth commemorating, wouldn’t you say?

Anyone who wishes to join the campaign can contact John Browne on or Michael Knowles on

H/t Maureen


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

Sommers thinks she is liberal-minded

Sep 3rd, 2014 5:55 pm | By

bspencer at Lawyers, Guns & Money points out one of Christina Hoff Sommers’s latest sneers at feminism.

Anita Sarkeesian Kickstartered a video project continuing her work on women and tropes in video games. Gamers everywhere responded with measured skepticism by threatening her with rape and death. She was even temporarily hounded from her home. But she was a feminist on the internet–she should have known what she was getting into. Christina Hoff Sommers, vile faux-feminist, approves.

Christina H. Sommers @CHSommers

I always expected other liberal-minded scholars to join me in exposing 3rd wave feminist lunacy. Never happened. But now the gamers r here.
7:21 PM – 30 Aug 2014

Yes, that’s right. Christina Hoff Sommers is backing doxxers and men who think making rape and death threats is a reasonable response to a video project exploring sexist tropes. Oddly, this should surprise no one, as Christina Hoff Sommers is an old school Chill Girl.

Disgusted and surprised by that, I went to take a look at Sommers’s Twitter, and got more disgusted than I was when I set out. She’s basically just another Phyllis Schlafly without the religion. What a pity that Richard Dawkins keeps retweeting her.

Christina H. Sommers ‏@CHSommers
Most gamers seem to support equality feminism. What they reject is today’s male-bashing, propaganda-driven, female chauvinism. #GamerGate

That got 1,423 retweets. The anti-feminists adore her.

Here is my Factual Feminist playlist. I am trying to correct all the sisterly sophistries. Keeps me busy.

ICYMI: Recent interview in which I explain why today’s hashtag feminism is a scourge.

How did feminism become toxic? In early 90s, my side won all the arguments. But other side quietly assumed all the assistant professorships.

There is a good deal of bullshit in (at least some) Women’s Studies programs – anti-science; women’s special “ways of knowing”; addled relativism about FGM; etc – but feminism hasn’t “become toxic.” That claim is itself bullshit.

3rd wave feminism is based on false violence & injustice data.The propaganda is now fueling a panic against men.

After that one a retweet:

You’re a mythbuster in the grand tradition of those who debunk harmful nonsense, speaking truth to power in the public interest.

Yeah – feminism is “the power.” Right.

Back to Sommers:

Feminism should be about equality of opportunity, mutual respect between sexes–not trigger warnings, sex panics, victimology or policing men.

Most guys like images of sexy women. Why attack them? It is wrong to police sexuality of LBGT people–but also wrong to police hetero guys.

That sounds like that Fox News panel we saw the other day – “Let men be men!”

Gay people have been sex shamed and demonized forever. Deeply wrong. But today, heterosexual men are also demonized & lied about. Not OK.

Term “rape culture” is sexist. Implicates average guy in a horrible crime. Call people out who use it. It’s a form of gender profiling.

That one I just don’t begin to understand (having seen it before is no help). How is it sexist? It’s about a particular culture; it doesn’t say that everyone, or everyone in any particular category, is part of that culture. She’s just shamelessly bullshitting there.

Enough for now. She seems to be worse every time I look at her Twitter account. I think Twitter has gone to her head.

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

A clash of values

Sep 3rd, 2014 4:50 pm | By

A guy in Dublin wants state schools to be more accommodating to Islam, according to the Irish Times.

It goes wrong right in the first sentence.

A spokesman for the Muslim community in Ireland has called for radical change in the educational system to accommodate children with Islamic beliefs.

There is no “spokesman for the Muslim community in Ireland.” That’s not a thing. The guy wrote a book; that doesn’t make him a spokesman, and you couldn’t have “a spokesman for the Muslim community in Ireland” if you wanted to, because there’s no procedure for electing one.

But anyway…

Dr Ali Selim, of the Islamic Cultural Centre in Dublin’s Clonskeagh and a lecturer in the Mater Dei Institute and Trinity College, has called for “a revolution of inclusivity” in Irish schools and “an upheaval in Irish educational perspectives”.

This was necessary to accommodate the needs of a society which is now “home to a variety of Christian denominations, as well as people of other faiths and of none”, he says in his book Islam and Education in Ireland, to be published next week.

So the schools should be secular, and thus inclusive to everyone, of every religion and none.

Estimating that of approximately 65,000 Muslims in Ireland today as many as 20,000 would be in the under-18 school-going age, he relates difficulties these young people face when it comes to admission to schools, as well as their problems with PE classes, relationship and sexuality education, music and drama classes, and practice of their faith during school hours.

Do they? Or does Dr Selim just think they ought to?

He then sensibly objects to the Catholic monopoly in many state schools.

This continued despite a prohibition of discrimination on religion grounds by all recent Equal Status Acts, he says and quotes the example of a Catholic boys’ secondary school in Dublin that says in its policy statement: “Non-Catholic enrolment will only be considered in the event of being undersubscribed.”

That’s revolting in a state school, no question.

He suggests there is “a clash of values” also between Islam and “traditional ways of teaching PE”. In some schools, “under the guise of health and safety, Muslim girls are obliged to take off their headscarves for PE classes, which is not acceptable to them”.

Where schools were “persistent”, they should “employ a female PE teacher and provide students with a sports hall not accessible to men during times when girls are at play. They should also not be visible to men while at play.”

Dr Selim sounds like someone who should get his mind out of the gutter.

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

Found near a railway track

Sep 3rd, 2014 4:20 pm | By

More village cruelty in India.

The semi-naked body of a teenage girl who was allegedly humiliated by village elders for protesting against her father’s harassment has been found near a railway track in eastern India.

Police suspect the 15-year-old girl in West Bengal was raped and murdered.

Her family said she was made to spit on the ground and lick it up – an act considered a grave form of humiliation.

So the official punishment by humiliation was the making her spit on the ground and then lick it up, and the unofficial punishment (for having spat on the ground and licked it up?) was the suspected rape and murder. Thorough, aren’t they.

The BBC’s Amitabha Bhattasali in Calcutta says the girl’s body was found near a railway track in the state’s Jalpaiguri district on Tuesday – a day after a village court had summoned her and her farmer father to settle a dispute over a tractor.

Her family members told the police that the elders “threatened the girl with dire consequences” when she protested against the “harassment of her father” by the village court.

Villagers said the girl “disappeared” when the court was in progress, and her body was found the next morning.

Could be a coincidence. Maybe it was a passing tiger that killed her and tore most of her clothes off.

Local villagers said political rivalry between the village elders and the girl’s family could have led to an escalation of the dispute – the elders are reported to be supporters of the ruling Trinamul Congress party, while the girl’s family reportedly supports the state’s main opposition Communist Party of India (Marxist).

Earlier this year, a woman in West Bengal’s Birbhum district was gang-raped, allegedly on orders of village elders who objected to her relationship with a man.

In 2010, village elders in Birbhum ordered at least three tribal women to strip and walk naked in front of large crowds, police said.

The women were being punished for “having close relations” with men from other communities.

Life is shit for women in India.


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

A bacchanalia of gridiron pageantry

Sep 3rd, 2014 3:37 pm | By

American football – maybe it’s actually not the coolest sport there is? Some heretic called Steve Almond is suggesting as much.

Every Sunday (and Monday, and some Saturdays and Thursdays) for the next five months, millions of Americans – and plenty of Brits, thanks to three regular-season games in London – will feast on a bacchanalia of gridiron pageantry.

Best-selling author Steve Almond, however, won’t be watching.

The self-professed long-time American football fan writes in the Los Angeles Times that he feels guilty about watching a sport whose participants risk traumatic brain injury.

More than that, however, he says he objects to “the cynical commercialisation of the sport, its cultish celebration of violence and the more subtle ways in which football warps our societal attitudes about race, gender and sexual orientation.”

Yes to all of that, and it also warps our societal attitudes about education and secondary and tertiary education.

The game is getting safer? Hardly, he says. Tackling and violent collisions are still an integral part of the game. Injuries still abound. And even the most state-of the art gear can’t prevent possibly debilitating concussions.

The players know what they’re getting into and are paid millions? It’s only because the fans create the market. Players perform for our amusement. And the “Football Industrial Complex”, as he calls it, grinds up and spits out the tens of thousands of others who play but don’t get the golden lottery ticket of a career in the NFL.

It’s like Hollywood that way. Lots of people have a fantasy of being a football star or a movie star, and almost none of them succeed.

According to University of Virginia Prof Mark Edmundson, it’s because football represents what the US has become.

“Football is a warlike game, and we are now a warlike nation,” he writes in the Los Angeles Times. “Our love for football is a love, however self-aware, of ourselves as a fighting and (we hope) victorious people.”

Back when the US was more pacifistic – when it had to be dragged, kicking and screaming into world wars – baseball was the national pastime.

“That game is skill-based, nonviolent and leisurely,” he writes.

Football, however, “is urban, tough and based to a large degree on the capacity to overwhelm the other team with sheer force. Football is a tank attack, a sky-borne assault, a charge into the trenches for hand-to-hand fighting.”

Whereas in proper football – soccer – you get a penalty for bashing people. There’s still bashing but it’s not central to the game.

I’m with Almond, but I know it’s absolutely futile. I’m just hoping the team local to me loses every game so that people will stop yapping about it.


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

Martin and the women

Sep 3rd, 2014 11:39 am | By

A long Guardian think-piece on Martin Amis and why he gets so much attention and why so much of it is hostile yadda yadda – kind of a dopy navel-gazing three levels of meta piece, frankly, but I skimmed down to see if it ever gets to the thing that most annoys me about Martin Amis, and it does. I wonder if you can guess what that might be…

Also there’s the old question mark over his women. When I interviewed Amis about House of Meetings I asked him about the charge levelled by some reviewers that the female protagonist Zoya was a “male fantasy figure” (the same thing could be said of Nicola in London Fields and Scheherazade in The Pregnant Widow). “All that means is that she’s pretty,” he responded. “Are they suggesting that there are no pretty women? Or that novelists can’t pull? Or perhaps it means that book reviewers can’t pull?” There, again, the combat stance.

No, it’s more that Martin Amis isn’t interested unless they are pretty.Martin Amis is quite remarkably frank about his hostility to women he considers not-pretty. I developed a certain settled loathing of him because of the way he kept attacking Philip Larkin (in his memoir and in articles and interviews) for having had a long-term gf Amis called “an eyesore.”*

Amis of course knows that the question is not about whether women in fiction are allowed to be attractive – that it has to do with their agency, their interiority, the sense that they are acted upon rather than acting in his fiction. But a sort-of-surly, sort-of-amused two fingers is the preferred response. Fuck you, the eisteddfod. The counterargument that he couldn’t perhaps be bothered to make is that Amis is writing, and doing so effectively, about a particular sort of masculinity. Women mostly register through their effects on men.

Does it get him off the hook to say that his subject is not female interiority: that that’s not his game? Up to a point. Even if that’s conceded (and he might not concede it), it limits his reach as a novelist. There’s no real getting around the fact that Amis writes, primarily, about men: and that his approach to masculinity is one in which women are a different tribe – sometimes feared, often longed-for, sometimes despised, frequently admired, but always other.

It limits his reach as a novelist because he presents a world that is grotesquely unreal (and not in a good way). His women are like paper dolls, and the world isn’t like that.

Well, his next book is going to be autobiographical. It will, like one of Bellow”s novels, feature real people: himself, his father and his father”s best friend, Philip Larkin. “Yes, he’s in my novel, and Monica Jones [Larkin's girlfriend]. A terrible woman. An eyesore, a bore, a hag. I spent one evening with them in 1984. God, I thought she was hideous.”

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

Not in attendance

Sep 3rd, 2014 10:27 am | By

So that’s another no-show.

A comment by Carol on He promised to do so:

I know that DJ also didn’t appear at CSICON 2011, even though he was scheduled to present there.

Yes, he was scheduled to present there. He was scheduled to present at the Houdini Seance, along with Randi and Massimo Polidoro and Ray Hyman.

DC in Detroit did a long, detailed post covering the whole conference, and she reports that he did not appear.

12pm-1.30pm: Houdini Seance

CFI has been doing a Houdini seance every Halloween for… well, I don’t know how long, but I’ve heard several of them on Point of Inquiry. Because of circumstances, two of the people scheduled to be involved in the seance, DJ Grothe and James Randi, were not in attendance. Therefore, someone got the great idea to just give Joe Nickell the mic and see what happened. Talk about people who enjoy storytelling!

Ray Hyman also performed a few “tricks” for us, and Massimo Polidoro gave a sort of book report on Houdini specifically.

After all that, Houdini had the audacity to not appear.

Joe Nickell wasn’t originally scheduled for that session, and Grothe was.

And I still know of other, similar items that are not public knowledge yet.

(It’s not very cool, this business of not turning up. It’s bait and switch. People decide to go to things based on who is going to be there. Emergencies obviously can’t be helped, but repeatedly not turning up – that’s not cool.)

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

The credibility of the young victims was questioned

Sep 2nd, 2014 4:55 pm | By

The Chief Crown Prosecutor for the Northwest (of England), Nazir Afzal, is getting some heat for doing his job.

As the Chief Crown Prosecutor for the North West, I led the teams that brought the so-called Rochdale Grooming Gang to justice in 2012 for abusing up to 47 girls.

My work saw me go up against not only the offenders, but those who tried to intimidate me for bringing abusers before the courts. They said I had given racists a stick with which to beat minorities – I said our communities should be carrying their own sticks.

Right-wingers went after him too.

The network of prosecutors I lead has tackled grooming and child sexual abuse in England and Wales for the past two years. We are advising about hundreds of suspects while, at the same time, protecting hundreds of victims. In one operation alone by Greater Manchester Police there are 20 potential victims and 180 suspects.

The problem we identified in Rochdale was that justice was prevented from being delivered because the credibility of the young victims was questioned.

Why? Sexism and classism. The ideal victim should be male, middle-aged, white, and prosperous.

If we don’t believe a young, vulnerable girl, who will? The authorities and communities appeared to have turned a blind eye to the abuse of its children.

The ethnicity of many of the abusers in Rotherham, Rochdale and other places is a matter of fact – they were from Pakistani or South Asian backgrounds.

I do not care where they come from as long as they are stopped and brought to justice. I told Parliament in 2012 that the ethnicity of the perpetrators was an issue, not the issue. It was not the abusers’ race that defined them, but their attitude to women and girls. They targeted girls because of their vulnerability, and failings by those who should have safeguarded them.

There is no excuse for what the abusers did, nor is there any excuse for the authorities to choose not to believe and protect them.

There should be more like Nazir Afzal.

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

Bassam Raies

Sep 2nd, 2014 4:03 pm | By

I saw an angry tweet by Razan Saffour @RazanSpeaks saying a journalist called Bassam Raies was killed by ISIS two weeks ago and there wasn’t a peep about it. So I looked for news and…it’s true, there’s not a peep about it, which means I can’t even tell if it’s true or not. There are a few mentions but they’re all identical and all from either Twitter or random sites that I don’t recognize.

Reporters Without Borders has nothing. The Committee to Protect Journalists has nothing. I think they would have anything if there were anything to have, so…I’m not sure this is a true story. But if it is, I would like to make a peep about it.

Of course that’s Razan Saffour’s point: there’s nothing. So maybe it’s a real story and there’s nothing in English. If so that’s pathetic and shocking.

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

Another beheading

Sep 2nd, 2014 3:46 pm | By

It’s being reported that IS has beheaded the American journalist Steven Sotloff. NBC says it’s not confirmed yet, but there seems little reason to think that IS would say it had when it hadn’t. It’s not as if its members are hesitant about being brutal bastards. The text of the story (as opposed to the video) states it as fact in any case.

The Islamic militant group ISIS cut off the head of an American journalist in a video made public Tuesday — following through on a threat it made when it beheaded another American two weeks ago and vowed to keep killing unless the United States stopped airstrikes.

The journalist, Steven Joel Sotloff, was beheaded in a video made public by SITE Intel Group, which monitors jihadist organizations. The video surfaced days after Sotloff’s mother pleaded with the leader of ISIS for mercy.

I hope no more parents or other relatives do that. It’s so obvious that they don’t do mercy, and that pleading only makes it more fun for them.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said it condemned the “pure barbarism” in the strongest possible terms.

Sotloff, like Foley, “went to Syria to tell a story,” said Joel Simon, the executive director of CPJ. “They were civilians, not representatives of any government. Their murders are war crimes and those who committed them must be brought to justice swiftly.”

Must, but won’t.

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

“We will rape your mother and make you watch”

Sep 2nd, 2014 12:17 pm | By

The New York Times reports on Rotherham.

It starts with one victim’s account of how the grooming was done – it started with teenage boys flirting and then older men taking over and closing the doors of the trap.

The rapes started gradually, once a week, then every day: by the war memorial in Clifton Park, in an alley near the bus station, in countless taxis and, once, in an apartment where she was locked naked in a room and had to service half a dozen men lined up outside.

She obliged. How could she not? They knew where she lived. “If you don’t come back, we will rape your mother and make you watch,” they would say.

She finally mustered the courage to tell her mother, right before her 14th birthday. The police came and took away bags of stained clothes as evidence.

But a few days later, they called to say the bags had been lost.

“All of them?” she remembers asking. A check was mailed, 140 pounds, or $232, for loss of property, and the family was discouraged from pressing charges. It was the girl’s word against that of the men. The case was closed.

Well it always is the girl’s word against that of the men, isn’t it. Or it’s the boy’s word against the priest. It turns out that’s not actually a reason to throw up your hands and close the case.

The scale and brutality of the abuse in Rotherham have shocked a country already shaken by a series of child abuse scandals involving celebrities, public officials, clerics and teachers at expensive private schools. The Rotherham report suggests that it continues unchecked among the most vulnerable in British society.

Yet people go on defending their pet celebrity. Never mind that there are several accounts that describe a similar approach! Never mind that he’s been on a list of dudes to avoid for years! He’s our creeper, so shut up! Those women are all sluts, they must be.

…the report also outlined how those victims and parents who did ask for help were mostly let down by the police and social services, despite a great deal of detail known to them for more than a decade, including, in some cases, the names of possible offenders and their license plate numbers.

“Nobody can pretend they didn’t know,” Ms. Jay said in an interview.

Unimpeded, the abuse mushroomed. Over time, investigators found, it evolved from personal gratification to a business opportunity for the men.

So here’s a thought: don’t ignore the allegations. Investigate them.

Some officers and local officials told the investigation that they did not act for fear of being accused of racism. But Ms. Jay said that for years there was an undeniable culture of institutional sexism. Her investigation heard that police referred to victims as “tarts” and to the girls’ abuse as a “lifestyle choice.”

In the minutes of a meeting about a girl who had been raped by five men, a police detective refused to put her into the sexual abuse category, saying he knew she had been “100 percent consensual.” She was 12.

“These girls were often treated with utter contempt,” Ms. Jay said.

It makes me angry.


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

He promised to do so

Sep 2nd, 2014 11:15 am | By

Well this is one possible reason – Maria Berglund at Skepchick Sweden.

Last year D.J, who was booked as a speaker at the European Skeptics Congress in Stockholm, simply didn’t show up. The group that organized the congress were quite surprised, since he hadn’t contacted us for a cancellation. They managed, at the last minute, to throw in another speaker to take his place.

When I got in contact with him, he sounded quite surprised and claimed that he absolutely had cancelled recently. I then asked him to let us know who he had communicated with, and he promised to do so. He didn’t, however, and when I kept asking him for it he kept telling me that he would get back to me about this when he was by his computer. He never did.

He also promised the Swedish Skeptics to pay us the money for the hotel room, but never did. Both of these facts I double checked a while ago with the current board.

And I’ve heard other stories of that kind, from people who are, like Maria, in a position to know.

This could of course be just misunderstandings and innocent mistakes, but that seemed less likely when I started to hear a bunch of similar stories from other people and organizations – D.J. not showing up, not keeping promises and not paying people money. The biggest problem was not him being a no-show and not paying for a hotel room, the biggest problem was that the boss of JREF seemed to be lying to us and that this appeared to be a pattern.

Exactly; see above.

Here’s one such similar story, from an Australian blogger at TAM Australia in 2010, that I found quite easily by googling.

The next talk was sensational. It was Dr Pamela Gay‘s (AstronomyCast, Slacker Astronomy & SIU faculty), talk on Citizen Science, during which she presented on the wonderful contributions made by amateurs in the field of astronomy…

I found Dr Gay’s talk as enthusiastic and inspiring as ever, as she is truly a gifted and entertaining presenter. Even though Pamela was a late ring-in due to JREF President DJ Grothe‘s late withdrawal from the conference due to an unforeseen scheduling clash, her presentation was one of the highlights for me, and was loudly applauded by an appreciative audience, which seemed to surprise her somewhat.

See it? The JREF President’s late withdrawal from a talk at his own organization’s conference due to an unforeseen scheduling clash??? A what? How could there be such a “scheduling clash”? What engagement could bump that engagement? It would be like Obama withdrawing from the State of the Union to cut the ribbon on a new supermarket in Tulsa. And even if there were such a scheduling clash, how exactly could it be unforeseen?

So, yeah. One possible reason.


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

Knowingly or unknowingly

Sep 2nd, 2014 10:32 am | By

Sanal Edamaruku posted a photo of a chilling ad from an Indian newspaper on his Facebook page, with a comment.

Freedom of thought and expression are guaranteed as fundamental rights in Indian Constitution. Promotion of critical inquiry, scientific temper and spirit of reform are fundamental duties.

Resist all attempts to take India back to medieval times. The picture given is an advertisement by Karnataka state government in a prominent Indian newspaper.

Photo: Is India going the Iran way? Criticism of religion or faith can be taken as an offence now. </p>
<p>Freedom of thought and expression are guaranteed as fundamental rights in Indian Constitution. Promotion of critical inquiry, scientific temper and spirit of reform are fundamental duties. </p>
<p>Resist all attempts to take India back to medieval times. The picture given is an advertisement by Karnataka state government in a prominent Indian newspaper.

That’s a hell of a sweeping prohibition – note the “with a view to hurt religious sentiments knowingly or unknowingly.” Emphasis mine. Don’t do it on purpose and don’t do it by accident either! So the only way to be sure not to do it is just to…do nothing.

And if you do do it, on purpose or accidentally, the citizens are encouraged to call the cops on you.

And that’s why Sanal no longer lives in India.

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

Terrified of what Zimmy would do

Sep 2nd, 2014 9:41 am | By

A guest post at Left Foot Forward by “Helen” who tells a story of being groomed at age 16 by her “boyfriend” age 24.

I met Zimmy through Zamir, who I truly believed to be a “friend”, although since friends tend not to take you round to their uncle’s and offer you for sex in exchange for heroin, I can see now that he most definitely was not.

Zimmy was Zamir’s dealer and didn’t hesitate in asking me out, although like “friend”, “out” meant sitting in his Audi smoking a drug I thought was weed but that he later told me was heroin. Being such a good ‘boyfriend’, he also later introduced me to crack.

It was 1996. Looking back I was stupid, but at the time it was an escape from the misery of my family life and I thought everything would be fine. Over the next few weeks Zimmy showered me with gifts, money and drugs, but also started to tell tales of torturing his drug rivals and threatening me and my family:

“If you leave me I’ll burn your house down and only rescue you”; “You know too much about me now so if you leave me I’ll have to kill you”; “If you ever leave I’ll shoot you and leave you on the side of the M40”; “You are going to leave your family, and I’ll give you a nice flat in Reading”.

Hmmyeah, not the best boyfriend ever. She started trying to get away from him.

It all came to a head one night when I was in a café and he came in and demanded I left with him. The café was full of Pakistani men, I was there with a “friend”- I didn’t like going home at night. I was terrified of what Zimmy would do to me, I told him I wouldn’t go, but no-one at all stood up for me and I was asked to leave.

As soon as I got in his car I asked him not to leave our town, but he left and started driving toward Heathrow on the M40. I knew he was going to shoot me – I knew too much about his businesses, so I acted as bubbly and friendly as I could. I thought that if I showed fear, he’d act accordingly and kill me.

He pulled over to the side of the motorway, and made me get out, and made me kneel on the side of the road. I waited, and then he drove off and left, and I never saw him again. I think he just wanted to scare me.

So she’s disgusted by the news that’s come out of Rotherham.

The Left has a responsibility to stand up for the most vulnerable people in our society.To stand against abuse and against bigotry. But this is not what has happened.

We learn that there may have been a culture of silence within Labour over this issue, and that a House of Commons Committee is going to investigate exactly what they knew and why they didn’t act more aggressively.

Denis McShane says he was forced into making a ‘grovelling climb down’ after he raised these issues out of fear of them affecting ‘community cohesion’. And herein lays the tragic irony. By sweeping the issue under the carpet, the Left actually damaged community cohesion and betrayed the girls who were being victimised. Ann Cryer says she was shunned by parts of Labour for raising the matter of grooming gangs.

Why is it always so easy to sweep the concerns and needs of women and girls aside?



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