Notes and Comment Blog

Fierce Buddhism

May 31st, 2015 10:23 am | By

Buddhism is in many ways an exception among religions…but it’s not always as much of an exception as it could should would be. The BBC considers this unsurprising fact.

The principle of non-violence is central to Buddhist teachings, but in Sri Lanka some Buddhist monks are being accused of stirring up hostility towards other faiths and ethnic minorities. Their hard line is causing increasing concern.

Are they simply being accused of doing that, or are they in fact doing it? The second sentence seems to say they are.

[U]pstairs, a burly monk in a bright orange robe holds forth – for this is one of the main offices of a hard-line Buddhist organisation, the Bodu Bala Sena or Buddhist Power Force (BBS).

The peaceful precepts for which Buddhism is widely known barely figure in his words. Instead, the monk, Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thero, talks of his Buddhism in terms of race. Most Buddhists here are ethnically Sinhalese, and Sinhalese make up three-quarters of the island’s population.

“This country belongs to the Sinhalese, and it is the Sinhalese who built up its civilisation, culture and settlements. The white people created all the problems,” says Gnanasara Thero angrily.

He says the country was destroyed by the British colonialists, and its current problems are also the work of what he calls “outsiders”. By that he means Tamils and Muslims.

Aka foreigners aka immigrants aka others aka mongrel races aka infidels aka vermin…

This firebrand strain of Buddhism is not new to Sri Lanka. A key Buddhist revivalist figure of the early 20th Century, Anagarika Dharmapala, was less than complimentary about non-Sinhalese people. He held that the “Aryan Sinhalese” had made the island into Paradise which was then destroyed by Christianity and polytheism. He targeted Muslims saying they had “by Shylockian methods” thrived at the expense of the “sons of the soil”.

And later, in 1959 Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike was assassinated by a Buddhist monk – the circumstances were murky but one contentious issue was the government’s failure to do enough to ensure the rights of the Sinhala people.

Now they’re turning their attention from Tamils to Muslims.

They are not the only Sinhalese who express discomfort at a visible rise in Muslim social conservatism in Sri Lanka. More women are covering up than before and in parts of the country Saudi-influenced Wahabi Muslims are jostling with more liberal ones.

Yet there is no evidence of violent extremism among Sri Lankan Muslims. Rather, they have been at the receiving end of attacks from other parts of society.

In the small town of Aluthgama last June, three people died in clashes that started when the BBS and other Buddhist monks led an anti-Muslim rally in a Muslim area. At the time, I met Muslim families whose homes and shops had been burnt and utterly destroyed, and who were cowering in schools as temporary refugees.

Complicated, isn’t it. “Muslim social conservatism” is a bad thing, cf the part about more women “covering up”; at the same time you don’t want to resist Muslim social conservatism in such a way that Muslims become targets.

Moderate Buddhists have also been targeted by hard-line ones.

That’s familiar too. Theocrats always do target secular believers.

Another country where fierce Buddhism has recently made headlines is Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. A Buddhist faction there, the 969 movement, is known for strident anti-Muslim campaigns that have triggered widespread violence.

Its leader, Shin Wirathu, was recently invited to Sri Lanka by the BBS. Both organisations say that even if Buddhism predominates in their own countries, overall it is under threat. “We want to protect it, therefore we signed a memorandum of understanding on forming alliances in the Asian region,” says Withanage.

Fighting Buddhism; just what Asia needs.

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


May 31st, 2015 9:57 am | By

I’ve seen a couple of ads for new or returning network tv shows recently, both on ABC. One is called The Astronaut Wives Club. The other is called Mistresses.


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

Locked in a room

May 30th, 2015 5:29 pm | By

Taslima tweeted an article in the Times of India: Bangladeshi blogger gets death threat on Facebook.

He will be ‘The Next’, Ananya Azad was warned on a social networking site. A day after ‘The Guardian’ broke the story of how the 25-year-old Bangladeshi blogger was living a life of fear, Ananya spoke exclusively to TOI on Friday.

Speaking from Dhaka, Ananya – who is on a hit list containing the names of 84 atheist bloggers – said: “I am no stranger to death threats and bloodshed.

“My father, author Humayun Azad, was attacked on the streets. But what shocked me was the nature of threat that I got on Facebook. It addressed my father as ‘Nastiker sardar’. It means the leader of atheists. It said being his son, I would meet a gruesome death. My throat would be slashed at Dhaka University’s Raju Bhaskarjya!”

We know these guys don’t mess around.

Ananya is not the only blogger suffering. TOI traced another blogger who is now in hiding in Dhaka. On May 12, a gang of masked assailants had hacked to death blogger Ananta Bijay Das. Ever since, his fellow blogger Monir Hussain has gone into hiding. Exiled Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasrin, in New York now, is trying to help him move out of the country. Monir has stopped updating his blog. Speaking from an undisclosed location in Dhaka, he said: “For 15 days, I have been locked in a room. No TV. No newspapers. I’ve deactivated my Facebook profile.”

Taslima said: “I’m trying to help these bloggers get out of Bangladesh. I am requesting organizations in America and Europe to invite these bloggers to their countries. I have requested the Swedish embassy to grant visa to Monir. Bloggers in Bangladesh are panic-striken. The government isn’t giving them any protection.”

It’s a nightmare.


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

The half that talks

May 30th, 2015 5:09 pm | By

Not funny. Not “ironic.” Not meta. Just everyday sexism.

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

Jennifer Cody Epstein’s letter to the anti-Charlie Hebdo faction

May 30th, 2015 4:40 pm | By

I have permission to publish the letter that Jennifer Cody Epstein sent to her colleagues who organized the petition opposing the PEN award to Charlie Hebdo. In it she describes doing what I wish more people had done: finding out more and changing her thinking as a result.

Herewith that letter:

Dear Colleagues:

Six days ago I received your petition protesting PEN’s decision to award Charlie Hebdo with its 2015 Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award. I added my name to the list based on a number of factors, chief among them the fact that while I was sickened by the fatal repercussions of Hebdo’s repeated lampooning of Islam, I was also deeply troubled by the idea that a magazine that seemed to cater shamelessly to Islamophobia (in a nation that has already banned the hajib from its schools, no less) might be celebrated in any way for its work. I was also influenced by the fact that I am currently at work on a historical novel set in Nazi Germany, and found Hebdo’s visual similarities to Der Sturmer jarring, to say the least.

Over the past week, however, I’ve found myself doing further research and considerable soul-searching, and have come to the somewhat chastening conclusion that my decision, while well-intentioned, was misinformed and (quite frankly) wrong.

For one thing, I’ve realized that Der Sturmer was state-sanctioned hate literature in a society where free expression was banned, whereas Hebdo is a free publication deliberately and—yes—courageously celebrating its right to free expression. There is also dismay over yesterday’s shooting in Texas; as writers, should we should really be censoring ourselves on issues that now almost automatically seem to provoke violent retribution, rather than protesting that violence by persevering? (To be honest, such thinking strikes me as more in line with a National Socialist society than a Democratic one).

But my conclusion mainly stems from the fact that at the time I signed the petition, I—like many, I now believe—fundamentally misunderstood Charlie Hebdo’s mission and content. The controversial images—while arguably tasteless, offensive and not even particularly well-drawn—sprang from satire, not hate. It is a profound and crucial difference: if one is to argue for freedom of speech there can be no caveats, no asterisks, no fine print qualifying that “freedom” only applies to expression we don’t consider too upsetting, or doesn’t enrage right-wing fundamentalists with guns. (I think it’s worth noting here that I was also under the misassumption that Hebdo disproportionately lampooned Islam. In fact, as Michael Moynihan points out in his—in my opinion excellent—piece in today’s Daily Beast , the magazine has featured significantly more anti-Christian covers (21) than anti-Islam (7) in the last decade.)

As a writer whose work is largely predicated on diligent and careful research, I am reluctant to admit that in this case, I didn’t do enough of it before sending my name out into the Cloud. Unfortunately, though, that is the conclusion to which I’ve been forced to come, and I thought it best to acknowledge it publically and head-on rather than disingenuously pretending otherwise. I’d therefore like to remove my name from your petition, while also thanking you and the other signatories for the opportunity your letter gave me to struggle with a very central—if thorny—question that impacts all of us as writers.


Jennifer Cody Epstein

An excellent letter, don’t you think? If only more of the dissenters would join her! I find it hard to believe that if they actually considered the facts and arguments that have been presented, they would all continue to insist that Charlie Hebdo is racist and indefensible. Jennifer Cody Epstein told the Morgenbladet journalist that she would welcome the company.

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

“So I crossed out ‘Jews’ and I put ‘Trinity College Cambridge’.”

May 30th, 2015 11:37 am | By

Newsweek Europe does a rather silly interview with Dawkins.

With no good evidence whatsoever, I sense in him the potential for great anger.

“Other people have said that. I don’t believe it. Anger isn’t the right word.”


“No. I do use ridicule a lot.”

“Waspishness” is how it strikes me. He gets irritable easily, and it manifests as waspish retorts – or, as he says, ridicule.

Ridicule is tricky, especially for someone like him. That’s why Dear Muslima was so odd: it apparently never crossed his mind that that level of waspish irritable ridicule of someone way below him in the pecking order might be not so much ridicule as bullying. By “someone like him” in this case I mean someone with his level of fame and, in many quarters, adulation.

Ridicule is tricky even between equals with no fame or adulation. Ridicule can wound, annoy, humiliate. It’s not to be used lightly. It’s not to be used of people “a lot” – yet he says he does use it a lot. That…well, that says a lot about him.

Dawkins has never shied from controversy. In 2013 he provoked considerable outrage on Twitter after tweeting that “All the world’s Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though”.

“That,” he concedes, “was a mistake. Lalla [his third wife, the actress best known as Romana, companion of her former husband Tom Baker in Doctor Who] and I had been to dinner with the then chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks. About 20 leading Jews were there.”

He was informed that “between a quarter and a fifth of Nobel Prizes had been won by Jews. We also learned that the total percentage of Jews in the world is below 1% [and that] only one or two Muslims had ever won a Nobel Prize”.

“They were boasting?”

“Yes but with good reason.” The number of Muslims in the world, Dawkins says, “Is gigantic compared to Jews. I wrote a tweet about it, then I thought, I can’t send that. So I crossed out ‘Jews’ and I put ‘Trinity College Cambridge’.”

Um…oh gawd. Where to begin. He did manage to notice that he’d said something he couldn’t say – because it was a shitty thing to say. But he didn’t manage to notice all the ways it was shitty, so he simply dropped one word and substituted a Cambridge college. That explains so much, and yet so little. Why can’t he expand “then I thought, I can’t send that” to cover more of what he says?

Richard Dawkins is a kind of equivalent, in the digital age, of the professor who can’t be trusted to post a letter. He described Nadia Eweida, the British Airways check-in clerk who was fired for wearing a crucifix as having “one of the most stupid faces I have ever seen” and observed that “Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse”.

What was he thinking of?

“I don’t remember that [last indiscretion]. I don’t think that these are interesting topics.”


He doesn’t remember it??? He wrote a long post about it! There were hundreds of comments on it! It was a row that went on for days. How can he possibly not remember it?

And as for not thinking these are interesting topics – then why does he keep talking about them on Twitter?

Could such episodes have fostered the misunderstanding that he is aggressive?

“Clarity,” he believes, “can be mistaken for aggression. Maybe I’m a bit impatient”.

Know thyself.

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

Repetitive, right?

May 30th, 2015 10:00 am | By

Amy Schumer on Bill Cosby. Works for others we know of too.

Bill Cosby’s defense attorney presents irrefutable evidence of her client’s innocence.



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

“No one is unhappy. Not one of my friends would let his wife drive.”

May 30th, 2015 9:19 am | By

The Guardian also reports on the Haredi school in north London that bans children whose mothers drive them to school.

The group runs Talmud Torah Machzikei Hadass, a boys’ primary school, and Beis Malka, a primary school for girls. Both have been rated good by Ofsted.

The schools had said that, from August, any child driven to school by their mother would be turned away at the school gates. The letter said the ban was based on the recommendations of Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokeach, the Belzer spiritual leader in Israel.

It said that if a mother has no other choice but to drive her child to school – such as a medical reason – she should “submit a request to the special committee to this effect and the committee shall consider her request”.

That “no other choice” is a bit opaque. It seems to consider the need of parents to be able to schedule their activities and divide the household labor in accordance with their own schedules and convenience to be a mere frivolity. Driving a kid to school isn’t a recreational activity or a hobby (although it can provide a rare few minutes of quiet time to talk). It isn’t optional, it isn’t a fun extra. Even leaving aside the gross sexism, it’s bizarre that a school would think it’s entitled to micromanage parents’ activities in this way…but then that’s the point of belonging to an ultra sect, I suppose – if there weren’t a lot of stupid fiddly intrusive rules and forbiddings, it would just be average and boring.

Outside the schools on Friday, the Guardian found parents were broadly supportive of the decree. Jacob – not his real name – who said he had sons at one of the schools, said he and his wife had actively chosen to be part of the Belz sect because of its strict regulations. “My mother drives, my mother-in-law drives, if my wife wanted to drive, she could drive tomorrow, we could take our children to another school. We’d have a discussion about it, as in any marriage.”

Wait. Stop right there.

No. Not “in any marriage.” It’s not just normal and routine to “have a discussion” about ordinary activities. It’s not the case that “in any marriage” wives have to check with their husbands before they do something as humdrum as driving a car. “In any marriage” a wife doesn’t have to discuss with her husband whether or not she can brush her teeth or drink coffee or wear jeans or go to the library or read a book or open a window. In healthy marriages spouses don’t see themselves as having an automatic veto over each other’s neutral actions – that’s not a normal or reasonable way to think about a fellow adult, even one you live with. If you itch to veto your spouse’s activities you have the wrong spouse, or shouldn’t have a spouse at all.

“It’s not forbidden in Jewish law. But this is our tradition, this is our choice to be a little more pious. So my wife doesn’t want to drive. This isn’t Saudi Arabia, no one’s going to be punished, or whipped or whatever, or even ostracised.”

But their children won’t be allowed into the school. That is both punishment and ostracism.

Jacob insisted the group did not want to impose its rules on others. “We’re not saying ‘all the women of London shouldn’t drive’, that would be ridiculous. We’re saying, let us get on living our lives how we want to live it – stop saying that we are oppressed.”

He’s not a very clear thinker, is he. Who is the “we” in this story? The school certainly is not saying “let us get on living our lives how we want to live it.” It’s saying if you do this thing that we forbid we will ban your child from our school. The school is telling the parents not to live their lives how they want to in this particular instance. People do have such a funny habit of translating even the most obvious commands into something that sounds liberal and rightsy. “Let us get on taking orders from a Rabbi in Israel about how we can transport our children to school! It’s our precious human right to be told not to drive!”

Another Stamford Hill man, who said he was part of the Belz community, said: “I agree with the policy of women not driving. Hasidic women have never driven cars. No one is unhappy. Not one of my friends would let his wife drive.”

So…that’s no one is unhappy? Or no man is unhappy? The two are not the same.

Also – in the real world, husbands don’t actually have the power to forbid their wives to drive. Marriage is a relationship between two adults; permission for ordinary activities doesn’t come into it.


Another Stamford Hill mother, who gave her name as Judith, said not only was she happy with the ban, but had rejected the offer of dispensation from rabbis who said she would be permitted to drive because she was divorced and had a disabled child. “I choose to be part of this community, it’s my choice,” she said. “Family purity is exceptionally important to us, there’s no bigger priority for us than raising a pure Jewish family.”

“Purity” – one of the most dangerous words in the language.

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

Mothers of our students who have begun driving cars

May 29th, 2015 6:01 pm | By

So are Haredi Jews in London jealous of their Muslim counterparts in Saudi Arabia?

Leaders of the ultra-Orthodox Belz sect in north London wrote to parents saying “no child will be allowed to learn in our school” if their mother drives.

Women driving “goes against the laws of modesty within our society”, it said.

What’s so immodest about driving? I drive when I have access to a car, and I think I do it pretty damn modestly. I’ll admit it does enable me to get from point A to point B more quickly than other forms of movement, but what’s immodest about that? Unless “modesty” means being boxed up all the time. Are women of the Belz sect in north London forbidden to leave the house?

If they are, isn’t that a crime? Isn’t it a crime to confine people by force?

The letter, which was signed from the “spiritual management” of Belz institutions, said: “There has been an increase in incidences of mothers of our students who have begun driving cars, something that goes against the laws of modesty within our society.”

This had led to “a lot of exasperation among other parents”, it said.

The group’s leader in Israel, Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokeach, had advised that “if a woman is driving a car, she cannot send her children to be educated in Belz institutions”, it said.

Well that doesn’t sound like much of a loss, does it. Presumably her daughters would be learning that they have to hide themselves for the sake of “modesty,” while their sons would be learning that they don’t.

The Jewish Chronicle, which first reported the story, said that while many Hasidic women do not drive, this is thought to be the first formal declaration against the practice in the UK.

Dina Brawer, UK Ambassador of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, said the rule was “stupid and impractical” and could not work.

Responding to the letter, Education Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities, Nicky Morgan, said: “This is completely unacceptable in modern Britain.

“If schools do not actively promote the principle of respect for other people they are breaching the independent school standards.

“Where we are made aware of such breaches we will investigate and take any necessary action to address the situation.”

Good. I apologize for saying it of a Tory minister, but I think that’s appropriate. Ordering women not to drive is grotesque.

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

One of the Charlie Hebdo dissenters did change her mind

May 29th, 2015 5:12 pm | By

Whaddya know – Jesus & Mo Author alerted me to the fact that one of the Charlie Hebdo protesters actually did listen and did learn and did reverse her position. It was reported in the Norwegian weekly paper Morgenbladet.

«Dårlig informert». – Jeg har akkurat bedt om at mitt navn tas vekk fra listen, skriver Jennifer Cody Epstein, bestselgende forfatter og oversatt til norsk to ganger.

Også hun har endret mening.

– Min opprinnelige impuls var basert på noen alvorlige feiloppfatninger som jeg frykter at flere andre underskrivere deler, selv om de kanskje ikke snur offentlig i en litt pinlig form, slik jeg gjør nå.

Epstein sier at hun misforsto Charlie Hebdos oppdrag og innhold fundamentalt, og etter hvert skjønte at Charlie Hebdo var satire, ikke et forsøk på å utnytte «rasismen, islamofobien og anti-semittismen som vokser frem rundt om i verden».

Google translate with some tweaks based on guesses:

Translation by Harald Hanche-Olson:

“Misinformed”. – I have just now requested the removal of my name from the list, writes Jennifer Cody Epstein, bestselling author and translated to Norwegian twice.

She too has changed her mind.

– My original impulse was based on some serious misunderstandings which I fear are shared by several other signers, even if they don’t turn around in public and somewhat embarrassingly, the way I am doing now.

Epstein says that she fundamentally misunderstood Charie Hebdo’s mission and contents, and came to understand that Charie Hebdo was satire, not an attempt at exploiting “the racism, islamophobia, and anti-semitism that are growing around the world”.

– After some investigating and soul searching, I have concluded that my opinion was based on information that was lacking and, to be quite honest, wrong – even if the intentions were good.

So, good for her. If only more would follow suit!

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

“Our 11 year old is in labor right now”

May 29th, 2015 4:36 pm | By

Another very bad thing.


May 26 at 10:16am

Our 11 year old is in labor right now. She is 35 weeks and doing fantastic busting every myth out there! She is strong and holding on to her faith in the Lord.

253 people like this.


It’s not a poe.

This lil boy born prematurely to a 14 yo raped by a 66 yo online predator.
He is healthy and mom is thrilled with her precious gift from God.


That 14-year-old is so lucky to have been raped.

More on the 11-year-old:

While Amnesty International, the UN and others are doing everything in their power to see that babies die, I have the joy of currently helping another adolescent in the U.S. She was 10 when she was raped and turned 11 two months after becoming pregnant by a 13 year old. She is now eight months pregnant and doing fantastic with the support of her family and CHOICES4LIFE. She has been very active in sports also. Bet that’s a surprise to you. Doctors say she will be able to deliver naturally but should complications arise as with any pregnancy the option for a caesarean section is there.

This 11 year old girl, now 8 months pregnant, offers some advice to those other young girls in her situation: “Don’t listen to all those people who don’t know what you’re going through. That’s not their baby. It’s yours!” She has discovered what almost all the mothers I’ve worked with have discovered. Her baby is helping her to heal even before she has seen her precious lil one. The girl’s mother plans to raise the baby with all the love a grandmother should feel though she is barely in her 30s. She understands that her family is precious no matter how they came to be. The eleven year old is joyously looking forward to seeing and holding her baby. She’s picked a name that says her baby is a gift from heaven. This family is such an inspiration proving giving life is better than taking it. But the world refuses to understand.

The world refuses to understand what? The size of an 11-year-old’s pelvis?

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

If we want young women to speak up

May 29th, 2015 11:57 am | By

Kate posted a comment on that article. I wonder if Espinoza will reply…and apologize.

Hello all – I am Kate Smurthwaite and I feel I should clear a few things up. Firstly I didn’t say young women “shouldn’t speak up” I said if we want young women to speak up [we] should focus on making sure it is safe for them to do so, rather than giving them patronising pep talks.

Secondly the suggestion that I should maybe not get paid for doing my job or that I should spend my time visiting state schools (who generally can’t afford to pay me) rather than private schools is ridiculous. As I said in my article, I have to take work that pays before work that doesn’t pay. I think it’s deeply regrettable that that means state school students miss out on interesting speakers. I am actively involved in campaigns for better school funding. I can’t live on air though so I have to do paid work. I’m JUST GUESSING the journalist who spent a whole five minutes writing this also expects a paycheque at the end of the day.

And it’s rather an exaggeration to call me a BBC writer. I have written for two shows that are produced by HatTrick and aired on the BBC. This is less than 5% of my job (time-wise or money-wise). I’m a comedian, writer and political campaigner.

And yes, thanks for the feedback – aren’t I ugly?! You are rather making my point for me that the Internet can be a nasty bullying place, especially for women, and as such pushing young women into it without challenging the sexism in it or even warning them of the risks is downright stupid.

Curiously if the author of this piece had, well, shall we say, grown some ovaries, he could have just included the link to my actual article in The Teacher. There is an online PDF of the whole issue and my column is on P25. I guess that would have spoiled all the fun of the dishonest click-bait headline though, wouldn’t it?

Thanks all for the interest in my work though.

Why would girls or women feel any hesitation about speaking up when their words are always treated with the scrupulous fairness we see in this very article? I just can’t figure it out.

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

No she did not say young women “shouldn’t speak out”

May 29th, 2015 11:44 am | By

The Telegraph goes out of its way to misrepresent a column Kate Smurthwaite wrote for The Teacher. I know this because I saw Kate’s correction of the Telegraph’s misrepresentation on Facebook.

The correction first:

For the benefit of those asking – no I did not say young women “shouldn’t speak out”, I said if we want them to rather than dishing out pep talks we should be making it safe for them to do so online. Otherwise this piece is fairly accurate.

Other than misrepresenting her core point, it’s fairly accurate.

Now Javier Espinoza’s Telegraph piece:

A BBC writer and comedian who is paid by private schools to give motivational talks says girls should “not speak up” as they will get bullied online.

Kate gently points out that it’s not all that odd to be paid for one’s work. It seems quite likely that Javier Espinoza doesn’t write for the Telegraph for nothing.

Writing in the Teacher magazine, Ms Smurthwaite said: “As a woman with a public profile I am often asked to go into schools and talk to students. My enthusiasm for eating food and living in my home means, sadly, I say yes much more often to private schools than state schools – they do tend to pay more after all.

“Typically they want me to talk to the girls. They engineer something relating to politics week or careers day and ask me to encourage the girls to speak up about issues that matter to them. A noble cause, but one that utterly misses the point.”

She goes on to say that girls are not stupid, and it’s cynical to attribute their reluctance to speak up to hormones and biological bashfulness. Girls know that speaking up has consequences. “We need to stop telling girls to speak up and instead start building a world in which they can do so safely.”

Here’s the column:

Espinoza, or the Telegraph through Espinoza, fundamentally distorted her meaning. How obnoxious is that?

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

The FHA adopted a racial policy that could well have been culled from the Nuremberg laws

May 29th, 2015 10:44 am | By

A key paragraph from Richard Rothstein’s From Ferguson to Baltimore: The consequences of government-sponsored segregation:

When the Kerner Commission blamed “white society” and “white institutions,” it employed euphemisms to avoid naming the culprits everyone knew at the time. It was not a vague white society that created ghettos but government—federal, state, and local—that employed explicitly racial laws, policies, and regulations to ensure that black Americans would live impoverished, and separately from whites. Baltimore’s ghetto was not created by private discrimination, income differences, personal preferences, or demographic trends, but by purposeful action of government in violation of the Fifth, Thirteenth, and Fourteenth Amendments. These constitutional violations have never been remedied, and we are paying the price in the violence we saw this week.

He gives details of how ghettos are created, including:

Unable to get mortgages, and restricted to overcrowded neighborhoods where housing was in short supply, African Americans either rented apartments at rents considerably higher than those for similar dwellings in white neighborhoods, or bought homes on installment plans. These arrangements, known as contract sales, differed from mortgages because monthly payments were not amortized, so a single missed payment meant loss of a home, with no accumulated equity. In the Atlantic last year, Ta-Nehisi Coates described how this system worked in Chicago.

So let’s see Coates’s description:

In 1961, [Clyde] Ross and his wife bought a house in North Lawndale, a bustling community on Chicago’s West Side. North Lawndale had long been a predominantly Jewish neighborhood, but a handful of middle-class African Americans had lived there starting in the ’40s. The community was anchored by the sprawling Sears, Roebuck headquarters. North Lawndale’s Jewish People’s Institute actively encouraged blacks to move into the neighborhood, seeking to make it a “pilot community for interracial living.” In the battle for integration then being fought around the country, North Lawndale seemed to offer promising terrain. But out in the tall grass, highwaymen, nefarious as any Clarksdale kleptocrat, were lying in wait.

They were the people who sold houses on installment plans.

Three months after Clyde Ross moved into his house, the boiler blew out. This would normally be a homeowner’s responsibility, but in fact, Ross was not really a homeowner. His payments were made to the seller, not the bank. And Ross had not signed a normal mortgage. He’d bought “on contract”: a predatory agreement that combined all the responsibilities of homeownership with all the disadvantages of renting—while offering the benefits of neither. Ross had bought his house for $27,500. The seller, not the previous homeowner but a new kind of middleman, had bought it for only $12,000 six months before selling it to Ross. In a contract sale, the seller kept the deed until the contract was paid in full—and, unlike with a normal mortgage, Ross would acquire no equity in the meantime. If he missed a single payment, he would immediately forfeit his $1,000 down payment, all his monthly payments, and the property itself.

The men who peddled contracts in North Lawndale would sell homes at inflated prices and then evict families who could not pay—taking their down payment and their monthly installments as profit. Then they’d bring in another black family, rinse, and repeat. “He loads them up with payments they can’t meet,” an office secretary told The Chicago Daily News of her boss, the speculator Lou Fushanis, in 1963. “Then he takes the property away from them. He’s sold some of the buildings three or four times.”

Very profitable.

Ross had tried to get a legitimate mortgage in another neighborhood, but was told by a loan officer that there was no financing available. The truth was that there was no financing for people like Clyde Ross. From the 1930s through the 1960s, black people across the country were largely cut out of the legitimate home-mortgage market through means both legal and extralegal. Chicago whites employed every measure, from “restrictive covenants” to bombings, to keep their neighborhoods segregated.

Their efforts were buttressed by the federal government. In 1934, Congress created the Federal Housing Administration. The FHA insured private mortgages, causing a drop in interest rates and a decline in the size of the down payment required to buy a house. But an insured mortgage was not a possibility for Clyde Ross. The FHA had adopted a system of maps that rated neighborhoods according to their perceived stability. On the maps, green areas, rated “A,” indicated “in demand” neighborhoods that, as one appraiser put it, lacked “a single foreigner or Negro.” These neighborhoods were considered excellent prospects for insurance. Neighborhoods where black people lived were rated “D” and were usually considered ineligible for FHA backing. They were colored in red. Neither the percentage of black people living there nor their social class mattered. Black people were viewed as a contagion. Redlining went beyond FHA-backed loans and spread to the entire mortgage industry, which was already rife with racism, excluding black people from most legitimate means of obtaining a mortgage.

And that poison is still all over the system today. It’s not “de facto” at all; it’s not a matter of individual free choices; it’s the outcome of a deliberate organized system.

“A government offering such bounty to builders and lenders could have required compliance with a nondiscrimination policy,” Charles Abrams, the urban-studies expert who helped create the New York City Housing Authority, wrote in 1955. “Instead, the FHA adopted a racial policy that could well have been culled from the Nuremberg laws.”

Contemplate that.

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

Majority viciously attacking small numbers of dissent

May 28th, 2015 6:09 pm | By

Speaking of the Charlie Hebdo protests…a few days ago Joyce Carol Oates retweeted a string of remarks by Dan Therriault, then made some of her own.

The first:

Dan Therriault ‏@dantherriault May 22
With PEN dissent, I suspect more writers would have separated themselves from Hebdo content if those few who dissented were not so vilified.

Majority viciously attacking small numbers of dissent used to stop more dissent, to threaten quiet others & maintain their majority opinion.

This devaluing of dissent in the US bleeds into everything, the media questioning authority, political parties, attacking corporate culture.

But it’s truly disheartening to see writers pulled along the cultural move to the right to attack fellow writers for their rational dissent.

That’s so annoying.

Just because it’s a minority does not mean it’s right or reasonable. Calling it dissent doesn’t make it right, or reasonable, or fair, or factually accurate.

Disagreeing with the stupid things said by the anti-Charlie people is not the same thing as devaluing dissent. Charlie Hebdo is all about dissent!

Again this just reflects ignorance of what Charlie Hebdo is – it’s hardly the voice of the oblivious comfortable majority!

Defending Charlie Hebdo is not part of “the cultural move to the right.”

Now for Oates.

Joyce Carol Oates ‏@JoyceCarolOates May 22
@dantherriault “Move to the right” signaled by attack of dissenters as “fellow travelers” in echo of Joseph McCarthy’s crude smears.

PEN controversy might have been dealt with rationally–writer-friends Paul Auster & Russell Banks, for instance, wrote only private letters

& their (opposing) positions very clearly stated; but not made public, unfortunately. & at once, name-calling, threats, etc. poisoned scene.

It did not help that American writers/ commentators really knew little of French tradition in which Charlie Hebdo-like satire is revered.

Isolated caricatures, presented by our media to arouse/ inflame (?) reactions, were interpreted in American terms, not French terms.

It is said that poetry is what is left out when poems are translated & perhaps satire is not translatable either. We “see” only in context.

None of that is any kind of reason to kill the staff of Charlie a second time.

This whole conversation is one of those irregular verb items – we’re the rational dissenting minority, they’re the dissent-hating right-wing majority.

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

Nobody’s mind seemed to change

May 28th, 2015 5:06 pm | By

Paul Berman starts his long and brilliant article on the Charlie Hebdo-PEN protests by noting that both sides agreed on the values; it was the facts that were contested.

The protesters, most of them, wanted the world to know that, in regard to press freedoms, their commitments were absolute. Willingly they would defend the right even of Nazis to say whatever terrible things Nazis might say, as the ACLU once did in Illinois. But they honestly believed that Charlie Hebdo is a reactionary magazine, racist against blacks and bigoted against Muslims, obsessively anti-Islamic, intent on bullying the immigrant masses in France. A dreadful magazine. Nazi-like, even—therefore, a magazine not even remotely worthy of an award from PEN. On these points the protesters were adamant. Only, why?

A modest heap of useful information about racism in France and the distinctly non-Nazi political nature of Charlie Hebdo and its cartoons did accumulate during the course of the affair, and the modest heap ought normally to have changed a few minds. Nobody’s mind seemed to change, however.

I noticed that. I didn’t understand it and still don’t. Was it just wounded ego in all cases? They just couldn’t admit they’d gotten their facts wrong? They could make a big public fuss but couldn’t bring themselves to undo the damage even when told how wrong they were on the facts?

I attended the PEN Gala and listened to the speeches and found myself wishing that my friends among the protesters, having boasted to the entire universe of their boycott, had sneaked in, anyway. They would have watched the leaders of PEN bestow the award on Charlie Hebdo’s surviving staffers, and this would have of course been galling, given what they believed about the magazine. They would have heard Charlie Hebdo’s editor utter his incisive mot, “Being shocked is part of democratic debate. Being shot is not,” which was impressive and true and maybe immortal, yet would have left them unmoved because it did not speak to their objection. But what would they have made of the speech by Dominique Sopo, who is the president of an organization called SOS Racisme? SOS Racisme is the liveliest and most prominent civil-rights organization in France, and its president’s speech was the liveliest moment of the controversy.

But apparently they remain unmoved even by Dominique Sopo and Alain Mabanckou. They still think they know better.

SOS Racisme’s slogan was “Touches pas à mon pote,” or, “Don’t touch my buddy,” which charmingly expressed and still expresses the anti-racist ideal. With this slogan the organization enjoyed a major success. “Touches pas à mon pote” has entered the French language. SOS Racisme succeeded for a while in getting young Arabs and North African Jews in some of the immigrant districts to work together in neighborhood committees, and these activities inspired admiration in still other neighborhoods. The people who attended the PEN Gala heard a few echoes of those achievements in Sopo’s speech, in the easy way he condemned several different kinds of bigotry at once—bigotry against Arabs, Muslims, blacks, Jews, and Roma, quite as if a prejudice against one were a prejudice against all. You think it is easy to express an across-the-board liberalism of that sort in our day and age? And sound other than wimpy? I have always admired the oratory of the French left.

I do think it’s easy, actually…but then I’m a universalist, so maybe I would.

SOS Racisme nonetheless counts for something in France. It is the single loudest voice of anti-racism. It is a glory of the democratic left. And it was a dramatic thing to see SOS Racisme’s president speak up for Charlie Hebdo at the PEN Gala—for the Charlie staffers who, as he took pains to explain, have always been his comrades, allies in one campaign after another, always, always. Anybody who gives a little thought to Sopo’s analysis ought to be able to understand something about Charlie Hebdo’s world-view, too, which amounts to something more than equal-opportunity mockery. To satirize the National Front, as Charlie Hebdo has done relentlessly—this has been more than a good idea, politically speaking. To satirize the Islamists—likewise. Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons have more than once drawn a distinction between the political Islamists, with their frightful ideas, and a French Islam that is perfectly consistent with the most progressive of principles and the well-being of the immigrant neighborhoods

But the protesters thought they knew better – despite being told that they didn’t.

Yes, what would the protesting writers at PEN have made of any of this, if only their own boycott had not prevented them from hearing Sopo make his argument? Or if they had conducted a bit more research into Charlie Hebdo and its politics? They would not have enjoyed hearing Sopo deliver one remark in particular. “It is very important that we do not kill those who died a second time,” said the president of SOS Racisme. This meant: “You Americans who know nothing about the struggles of us immigrants and children of immigrants in France, you Americans who consider Charlie Hebdo to be unworthy of an award from PEN—you Americans should stop slandering our murdered comrades.” In sum, “Touches pas à mon pote.” I suppose the protesters would have shrugged this off, as they shrugged off the remarks of everyone else who tried to reason with them.

Exactly. They didn’t engage at all.

Only, why? Is it really true that, in the ranks of PEN, one person after another is blinded by a provincial ignorance of everything not American, beginning with France’s language and ending with its cartoons?

Well maybe that’s why they couldn’t engage and couldn’t admit – because then they would have to admit how provincial and ignorant they had been, and that’s not fun. But if they hadn’t been so provincial and ignorant in the first place…

But Berman goes on to say that’s not it. They’re not that ignorant; they do have French friends; they are too connected to be that ignorant. He thinks it’s part of the ongoing, ten-years-old cartoon panic.

Someone might reply by saying: “Still, isn’t it true that the Muslim community feels outraged and injured by the cartoons and by Charlie Hebdo itself? Even if the excellent people at SOS Racisme wish it were otherwise, mightn’t this be the case?” To which I respond with the commonsense observation that, in the immigrant neighborhoods of France, a battle has been going on for many years, pitting the Islamists against the democrats and secularists, and the Islamists have used their victories to proclaim themselves the voice of a community that does not exist, and to denounce everyone else as racist traitors to Islam. But why should we line up on the Islamists’ side?

Why indeed. This is something I’ve been arguing about for more than ten years – what a gruesome and destructive mistake it is to take Islamists for the only “authentic” Muslims and ignore the liberal secularist Muslims as if they were traitors to their people.

He tells us of two terrific Algerian writers, too richly to excerpt; I urge you to read the whole article. Just the conclusion of that section:

I picture my protesting friends at PEN turning the pages of these books by Algerian novelists and saying to themselves: “My God, it’s dreadful! Salman Rushdie appears not to be an isolated figure, after all. Here are novelists who make fun of religion. And of Islam, which, as we know, only a racist would do. They are worse than the cartoonists. They think terrorism is a problem not only for governments but for novelists. These novelists are the sons of Albert Camus. How ghastly! Boualem Sansal thinks Islamism is barbarism! Kemal Daoud says, ‘I am Charlie!’ Why, these people, who happen to be the leading writers of modern Algeria, must be dangerous reactionaries of the worst sort! They are challenging the terrorists, instead of appeasing them, as any decent person would do! If these novelists ever dare come to New York, we will picket them.”

In the third section he says something I felt very strongly too.

The American writers’ protest against Charlie Hebdo has been remarkable on one additional count, and that is its dosage of personal cruelty. It was no small thing to observe a couple of survivors of the Charlie massacre make their way to New York, a mere four months after the slaughter, and be greeted with jeers and a boycott. A supremely chilly heart is needed to mount such a protest. And yet, a couple of hundred warm-hearted American writers lent their names to the chilly protest.

Yes. That was horrific. I squirmed with shame.

The spectacle of their doing so was, of course, a humiliation for New York—for the New York that once upon a time underwent its own Islamist attack and received an outpouring of warmth and sympathy from French people, whose motto of the day, “Nous sommes tous américains,” was the progenitor of “Je suis Charlie.” Still, the protesters never meant to humiliate New York. Nor did they mean to display solidarity for the immigrants of France. Less than two weeks before the Charlie staffers were boycotted at the PEN Gala, Marine le Pen, the leader of the National Front in France, attended a gala of her own in New York, the Time Magazine “100 Gala,” and here would have been the moment to show a little solidarity, if anybody were inclined to do so. But it was the Charlie staffers, and not Marine le Pen, whose arrival in New York stirred a protest.

Ouch. I didn’t know that.

It’s a sad and depressing and squalid episode.

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


May 28th, 2015 11:47 am | By

Josh Marhsall at Talking Points Memo:

In Touch Weekly is reporting that in 2007, when Josh Dugger was 19[,] he sued the Arkansas Department of Human Services to prevent them from making a finding against him or possibly to prevent on-going monitoring of his interactions with his sisters.

I’m writing this here in the Editor’s Blog because In Touch Weekly‘s reporting on this seems thinly sourced and, let’s be honest, In Touch Weekly is not where we normally go for industry standard reporting.

They had documents for the previous stories, but this one is just “as told to.”

According to this report, when local police decided that no crime had been committed within the three year statute of limitations, they nonetheless referred the case to Arkansas’s Families in Need of Services agency. The FNS has a different charge – not criminal culpability but protecting the welfare of children in the state. In other words, the statute of limitations wouldn’t be relevant to their ability or charge to monitor Josh Duggar since he was still living in the Duggar home with his younger sisters.

So a bit less than a year after an anonymous tipster put in motion the chain of events that led to the actual police investigation in 2006, Josh Duggar apparently sued the state to block something the state DHS was doing. This was around the time that the Duggar family reality show was moving into production for its first season in 2008.

So they probably didn’t want quite that much “reality” in their “reality show” about how fabulous they are.

Josh Duggar was apparently successful in his legal action. According to the report, the records of the lawsuit as well as the documentation which the suit was over are both sealed.

Maybe he too will be invited to speak at TAM.

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

Guest post: In a way ordinary empathetic identification doesn’t explain

May 28th, 2015 11:01 am | By

Guest post by Josh Spokes.

I have some thoughts on femininity, women, and my relationship to these as a gay man. For months I’ve stewed on this topic wondering how to express it. This may or may not be an elegant exposition. It’s also full of “I” statements, which is tedious and unfortunate. I know no other way to make it clear my subject is my own impressions, not generalizing statements about what other people ought to do or be motivated by.


1. As a man I’m never going to grok what it is to live as a woman. Please know that nothing I write is meant to suggest or imply that.

2. This is not a cookie-seeking project; I’m not going for Best Man Feminist merit badges.

Violence against and denigration of women has always been viscerally emotional for me. It affects me in nearly the same way that my horror of homophobia and anti-gay violence does. Misogyny so upsets me that I worry I sometimes look like that guy who’s SUPER INTO FEMINISM in a way that’s annoying or invites skepticism.

Conversely, I trust women and feel emotional connections to them far more easily than I ever will with most men. (Those of you men who are my friends or lovers don’t need to get anxious about this, ‘kay? I love you and trust you, but you are an exception). Given a choice during an end of the world scenario, I’d choose to survive the apocalypse with all women before I’d even think of wanting men around. I’m completely serious about that. It has been that way since I can remember being a person with thoughts. Men have always been a danger to be carefully watched, tiptoed around, and never to be behind one’s back. Yes, one of the obvious roots of this was growing up in a house with a wife/child beater and rapist.

But that is not nearly all of it. From the point of sentience I gravitated toward things “for girls.” Girls’ games. Fashion. Jewelry, make-up. Female-driven literature. Girl heroines in stories were far more likely to make me think, “I get that, I so understand that” than the boy heroes I was supposed to like. Grumpy, cynical Harriet the Spy? When I say I identified with her, it’s not strong enough. I really got her.

My fantasy game-playing always had me as a female character. I was Nellie Oleson on Little House on the Prairie. Or Malificent from Sleeping Beauty. Or a witch. Or a genie. Yes, there was a decided bias toward villainous and magical characters. At the time I thought it was just because they were so obviously fabulous and had better clothes, which is true. Looking back I suspect it was an unconscious identification with a character who was smart, passionate, but constricted by a society that characterized everything interesting about her as a threat to be neutralized.

I was tormented with the idea that I was born a mistake. That I was “supposed to be a girl.” There was literally no framework for me to understand gender in any other way. I didn’t think I wanted to be a girl (although I still don’t know exactly what that meant), but I was sure I wasn’t right and something was seriously broken.

Though I came out as a gay man at a very young age and used bravado as an effective tactic, I was haunted for a long time by the belief that there was something ontologically wrong with me.

This is the toxicity of gender.

As you guessed, I was read as an effeminate boy, starting before I went to kindergarten. You can fill in the many instances of gender policing and attempts to circumscribe my activities.

The price was ostracization, vicious bullying, beatings, whisper campaigns, teachers with barely a passing interest in sticking up for me because what did I expect being such a little queen. Almost all of it from men and boys. The sexual threats implied in the violence were clear, even if they were never spoken. I knew from the beginning that men had slotted me into the category of bitch, that which is slapped around, used, degraded, and raped if too uppity. In short, I read as “girl/woman” in this misogynistic system. In some ways, even a bit worse, because I willingly liked “girl things.” Didn’t even have the sense to be ashamed of it.

Girls and women were usually safe havens for me. With rare exceptions, I wasn’t afraid of girls. I didn’t fear they’d hold me down and laugh while beating the shit out of me. I didn’t fear they’d drag me into a public space to mock and degrade me, confident that their peers would support them or say nothing. Which EVERY macho boy got away with EVERY time with NO consequences. They were right to be utterly confident. They were usually socially rewarded for their bullying, including by teachers.

All this is not an exercise in “working out demons” or any navel-gazing bullshit like that. It’s meant to explain the conclusion I came to recently about my motivations. While I’m not and never will be a woman, I do think I have a closer grasp of what that experience can be like than the average man. Certainly more so than the average straight man. Does this seem reasonable?

This is why feminism matters so much to me. This is why I get shouty and screamy and angry and over the top at the ceaseless misogyny and degradation of women that goes on everywhere, all the time. Because I feel it. Not the way women do, but closer to that than most men will grasp. It’s also me, my kind—-anyone not working overtime to disavow any feminine-coded interests—who is meant to be frightened and put in place by this behavior.

When the women I know and love describe what they go through, it hits me in the gut in a way ordinary empathetic identification doesn’t explain.

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


May 28th, 2015 10:12 am | By

And this is part of the unsavory mix:


Emery Emery @emeryemeryii May 20
Excited that @michaelshermer has been added to the #TAM2015 lineup. Never give in to unsubstantiated slander.

“Never give in to unsubstantiated slander” here must mean ignore multiple accounts by women of various forms of skeevy behavior, including non-consensual sex. It must mean ignore corroboration by witnesses. It must mean ignore what James Randi said himself. It must mean ignore all of that as “unsubstantiated,” in order to include the subject of all those accounts. Ignore what all those women say, because they don’t count; only the Important Thought-Leader Men count.

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

The old boys-will-be-boys canard

May 28th, 2015 9:51 am | By

In Duggar-world, girls and women “tempt” men and boys, and “defraud” them with their sexual allure. In the real world…girls and women “tempt” men and boys, because they’re sluts and boys just wanna have fun.

Amanda Marcotte has the story.

20 middle and high school aged boys have been accused of participating in an electronic “trading card” ring involving nude photos of female students. Reading the coverage of it, it becomes immediately clear how these boys got their overblown sense of entitlement: Their parents and community have rushed forward to support the boys for their invasion of privacy —and have demanded, instead, that the girls be criminalized for being such alluring little temptresses.

One mother, eager to shift the blame, told the local news station, “The girls are just as responsible as the boys,” and that “The girls know that the boys trade them and it’s kind of a game that the girls want to be involved in.” She did not offer evidence of this supposed consent. Instead, she seems to be hiding behind the old boys-will-be-boys canard and implying that being sexual with one person means losing your right to decline sexual contact with others.

The Duggars, James Randi, the parents in New Jersey – it’s all the same old shit. Boys just can’t help using photos of naked girls as trading cards, because they’re boys, and they were drunk, and hey at least they weren’t violent.

This, of course, is what feminists refer to as “rape culture,” where male entitlement to women’s bodies is normalized while women’s ownership over their own bodies is shamed.

Marcotte goes on to say that the goal shouldn’t be to punish the boys harshly, but to intervene to make it clear to them that consent is all-important – and that this can be done.

As Irin Carmon reported for Salon in 2013, unlike adult sex offenders who often have ingrained and hard-to-fix personality issues, juvenile sex offenders are surprisingly easy to rehabilitate. More than 95 percent of juvenile sex offenders who get caught don’t reoffend. It’s not exactly a boys-will-be-boys problem, but it is true that a lot of young men who do this are simply experimenting with the social messages they get that glamorize non-consent and treat sexual aggression and misogyny as “manly”—and most will reject those messages in adulthood, especially if they receive early interventions.

The consequences don’t need to be severe to be a deterrent. Mild punishments, combined with consent education, can accomplish the goal of preventing the crime without provoking fears of “ruining” the lives of boys who cross the line.

Now while we’re at it can we somehow intervene in the culture as a whole, to kill with fire that message that sexual aggression and misogyny are “manly” and rebellious and funny and cool?

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