Notes and Comment Blog

Everyday kimonoism

Jul 14th, 2015 12:40 pm | By

And then there are the kimono wars, which I’ve been ignoring until now.

The BBC tells the story:

Following an uproar of criticism on social media, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) cancelled an event that protesters labelled racist and culturally insensitive.

Museum officials announced that they would cancel “Kimono Wednesdays,” which was originally scheduled to run until 29 July.

Every week, visitors were encouraged to “channel your inner Camille Monet” by posing in front of Claude Monet’s “La Japonaise” while trying on a replica of the kimono Monet’s wife, Camille, wears in the painting.

Protesters quickly labelled this event as racist, saying it propagated racial stereotypes and encouraged cultural appropriation.

The MFA posted this image on its Facebook page, though I don’t see it there now:


I don’t know. I can sort of see finding it dubious, dressing up in the clothes of distant others…but at the same time, can’t it also be seen as interest in and admiration of the clothes and cultures of distant others? And is that a 100% bad thing?

The passion for all things Japanese was a big deal in late 19th century Paris, and I have a hard time believing that passions of that kind should just be stamped out. Yes they’re probably under-informed and full of naughty exoticism and so on, but…

…but get real, kimonos are incredibly beautiful, and it’s not insulting Japan to say so.

What about the manga fad right now? Are the protesters protesting that?

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

Seeds of satan

Jul 14th, 2015 11:12 am | By

David Robert Grimes takes on five myths about GM foods.

One is that GM is untested. Wrong, he says; it’s tested.

Another is that Monsanto is the devil.

Another frequent claim is that Monsanto specialises in “terminator seeds” that are sterile and cannot reproduce, making farmers dependent on the firm. This persistent myth is also false. It is technically feasible to make sterile seeds, but Monsanto does not sell them (and in 1999 pledged never to explore that avenue).

Does anyone sell them?

Another claim is that it’s all big biz – i.e., I assume, all profit-driven. He cites golden rice as one example of academic and humanitarian as opposed to profit-driven research.

Sadly, it has been doggedly opposed by organisations such as Greenpeace, on ideological rather than pragmatic grounds. This ideological pig-headedness is even more puzzling when one considers that GM advances could not only save millions of lives but also spare our environment the ravages of intensive farming and pesticides. This is often ignored by people who are ostensibly most concerned for the environment. Three years ago, in England, hundreds of protesters tried to destroy a field where genetically modified wheat was being tested by Rothamsted Research, an independent, nonprofit agricultural institution. Publicly funded researchers there had been working to produce a wheat with a naturally occurring plant pheromone that repelled aphids. Were it successful, farmers would no longer have to use potentially hazardous insecticides, substantially reducing our agricultural footprint. This would be an enormous boon to the developing world, where crop failure often means widespread death and suffering. In spite of the potential, protesters vowed to destroy the experiment, just as they have vowed to destroy many other research crops.

And then there’s the “it’s unnatural” complaint, which is just fatuous. Putting a splint on a broken arm is “unnatural” too; so what.

Updating to add: posts about that planned protest at Rothamsted in 2012:

Note for anyone thinking of going to Rothamsted tomorrow (guest post by Bernard Hurley)

From Sile Lane, about Rothamsted this Sunday

A message of thanks from Rothamstead Research

The Take the Flour Back group did not have enough support

“Take the Flour Back” has started the vandalism, intends more

Have a pie chart

Come on, kids, let’s destroy the crops!

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

3 billion miles

Jul 14th, 2015 10:17 am | By

The other big news today is less subject to ambivalence, more purely a treat – the Pluto flyby. Let’s have some photos from NASA.

NASA ‏@NASA 16 hours ago
Pluto’s bright, mysterious “heart” is rotating into view: @NASANewHorizons #PlutoFlyby

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NASA New Horizons ‏@NASANewHorizons 7 hours ago
After 9.5 years & 3.26 BILLION miles I’m just 2 hours – aka 62,258 miles – from closest approach! #PlutoFlyby

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NASA ‏@NASA 3 hours ago
Our 3-billion-mile journey to Pluto reaches historic #PlutoFly! Details & the high-res image:

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See it???

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

It’s a deal

Jul 14th, 2015 9:48 am | By

A deal with Iran. This seems like good news.

World powers have reached a deal with Iran on limiting Iranian nuclear activity in return for the lifting of international economic sanctions.

US President Barack Obama said that with the deal, “every pathway to a nuclear weapon is cut off” for Iran.

His Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, said it opened a “new chapter” in Iran’s relations with the world.

Negotiations between Iran and six world powers – the US, UK, France, China, Russia and Germany – began in 2006.

The Republican Congress is not keen, and neither is Netanyahu.

Mr Obama, who is trying to persuade a sceptical US Congress of the benefits, said it would oblige Iran to:

  • remove two-thirds of installed centrifuges and store them under international supervision
  • get rid of 98% of its enriched uranium
  • accept that sanctions would be rapidly restored if the deal was were violated
  • permanently give the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) access “where necessary when necessary”

What is it with UKnians and the subjunctive?? It’s “would be if—>were” – the subjunctive of contrary to fact. We need a US-UK Subjunctive Treaty.

Skeptics say Iran will just go ahead anyway. The Beeb’s Kevin Connolly says there’s danger that the Saudis will feel they need to get nukes themselves, because Shia v Sunni blah blah blah let’s destroy 7 billion people because god has red hair no god has brown hair yadda yadda.

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

Guest post: We prefer to take our white supremacy like the wind and rain

Jul 13th, 2015 6:16 pm | By

Originally a comment by freedmenspatrol on The self-justifying loop.

It’s a simple formula: Ensure people can’t succeed, preferably by stealing success from them. Then pretend you have taken nothing. Look at them and see that they have achieved less. From inside that carefully-curated ignorance, which we built a culture to train us in from a very young age, it’s clear that those people just aren’t good enough. Maybe we mistreated them in the past, but we “fixed” all that in 1865, 1954, 1965, 2008, or some other year. The date doesn’t matter as long as it’s far enough in the past that we don’t feel implicated. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people literally tell me that black Americans are entirely to blame for their state, usually by some thinly-veiled proxy like “culture” as if that wasn’t just another way of saying that one’s skin color makes one inferior.

It’s like the people who did the things we wish to be seen condemning were just some strange force of nature.

They came, they pillaged, and vanished. They can’t have passed their ideas on. They can’t have had kids to inherit what they looted. They can’t have built a remarkably durable system for extracting wealth from the lives of others which not only outlasts them but also co-opts future generations into it. They certainly can’t have had a vested interest which inspired all of this. They must be some kind of white-hooded Satans, beings of incomprehensible evil which permit no explanation and so absolve us. They were irrationally evil, but we are innocent.

But they did have that interest. White Americans built a nation of great fortunes on the backs of slaves, among others, and it still pays out today. Every mistreatment and indignity drops at least a few pennies in our accounts. Being white makes us free from those abuses, immune, able to stand tall not despite the horrors we have inflicted and continue to inflict upon others but because of them.

It builds solidarity, because we know in our hearts that what happens to those people could never happen to us. It’s never our problem. There’s something Christian about it, though of course it speaks to far more universal conditions than a particular religion: by their torments we are made free. The planters invented Herrenvolk Democracy to maintain their control over poor whites as much as enslaved blacks. From that one can read it as absolutely self-serving and imagine the small farmers as just the victims of a con. I think that’s a mistake. The ideas did serve the planters individual selves, but also a kind of generalized white self in which all with the right skin could partake.

The yeoman farmers knew full well that they were not actually social equals and did not live in the kind of classless society which proslavery theorists extolled (This is where John C. Calhoun gets his nickname: Marx of the Master Class), but they also knew that their culture had a rank infinitely below them. Their white skin spared them the lash, the rapes, the spectacle of loved ones sold away on a moment’s notice. It’s a nasty, mean kind of freedom and did not enrich most of them materially, but delivered a generous helping of cultural returns. We don’t do this in all the ways we used to, but we continued many of them in different forms. Why wouldn’t we? We still get paid.

I don’t know a way out of this without white Americans losing both the literal and figurative plunder we extract from black Americans. Our ill-gotten gains are, after all, the point of the system. Proposed solutions always come with an escape hatch that lets most of the privilege remain, from sharecropping and convict leasing on down through Jim Crow and private segregation academies and their public equivalents. Most of us don’t even want to admit that we have built a nation where we have tremendous advantages, and scream bloody murder at even the slightest challenge to them. It’s who we are and it’s always easier to keep on as we have than to ask ourselves the hard questions. No amount of individual virtue or personal introspection will change that, but I don’t think most of us have ever even gone that far. We prefer to take our white supremacy like the wind and rain, just something that happens rather than something we do.

No need to speculate as to what the runaway feedback loop produces; we live there. We are the people that took fifty years and nine lives to move a flag that we’re still lying about.

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

Total mindfulosity

Jul 13th, 2015 6:05 pm | By

John Horgan has some observations on meditation.

Journalist Robert Wright, an old friend who has recently gotten into meditation, wrote in The Atlantic in 2013 that more experienced meditators “seem much less emotion-driven, much less wrapped up in themselves, and much less judgmental than, say, I am.” He suggests that if more of us meditated, we might get along better.

I have two words to say to that. Sam Harris.

I rest my case.

I suspect that meditation is as morally neutral as reading or jogging. If you meditate to become nicer—perhaps by thinking “Be nice” rather than “Be happy”–meditation might make you nicer. But meditation can make some people meaner, or rather, help them behave meanly without feeling bad about it.

So it’s a good way to reduce cognitive dissonance while still being a shit.

Some meditation teachers claim or strongly imply that they have achieved a state of profound, permanent bliss called enlightenment—also known as satori, samadhi, nirvana, liberation, awakening, cosmic consciousness. These teachers claim that they can help students become enlightened, too.

Anyone familiar with the alternative spirituality scene knows that some prominent teachers, or gurus, have behaved more like sociopaths than saints. They include Chogyam Trungpa, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, Shoko Asahara, Da Free John and many more. Google them for details.

For my 2003 book Rational Mysticism, I interviewed men who claimed—or implied—that they had meditated their way to enlightenment. They struck me as being narcissistic rather than wise and saintly. See, for example, my profile of guru Andrew Cohen.

I think a lot of men confuse the two. (Women probably would too if they could, but all the sexist jokes make it impossible.) (I’m joking; relax.)

Matthieu Ricard trained as a biologist in France before becoming a Buddhist monk. He has been described as “the happiest man in the world,” after Richard Davidson reported that Ricard displayed high levels of neural activity associated with well-being. (Ricard, Davidson and Antoine Lutz co-authored the above-cited Scientific American article.)

Ricard is probably a great guy, but I’ve been down on him since reading science writer Stephen Hall’s 2010 book Wisdom. Hall admiringly describes Ricard coming from Nepal, where he “spent tens of thousands of hours training himself to be compassionate,” to New York, where he taught meditation to “financiers.”

First: Isn’t there something weirdly contradictory about meditating on compassion to achieve personal peace of mind? If you are truly compassionate, shouldn’t you spend more time actually helping others? Second: Financiers? Come on.

Well wait, maybe it’s worked. Maybe the financiers actually have become more compassionate.

*looks around*

No, of course you’re right; I don’t know what I was thinking.

Some meditators insist that their primary goal is neither niceness nor happiness but knowledge. Meditation supposedly helps you understand the nature of the self, mind, reality. Spiritual author Ken Wilber compares meditation to a microscope or telescope that helps you “see your Buddha nature.”

The problem is that different meditators “discover” different truths. Some find confirmation of their belief in God, the soul, reincarnation, extrasensory perception and other supernatural phenomena. Others find confirmation of their materialism and atheism.

So if I’m going to do that I’d rather just go for a walk.

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

Threats to ovaries

Jul 13th, 2015 4:31 pm | By

Hilda Bastian has thoughts about outrage.

You didn’t need any academic theory, though, to know that wading into gender generalizations – even flippantly – was foolhardy territory for a formal guest at an event intending to honor women in science at a journalists’ conference. Progressing women’s rights to equal dignity and opportunity has always elicited outrage. But for the last couple of decades, sexist remarks and sexist jokes have, too.

This cartoon by Punch contributor, George du Maurier, comes from 1895. That was the era when anthropological claims about lower female intelligence had been losing ground as a way to keep women out of higher education (Joan Burstyn, 1973). So the ground had shifted to fanning medical fears to discourage women from higher study – nervous problems, threats to ovaries, and the like.

Cartoon taking aim at an educated woman

Du Maurier uses “ugliness” as the stereotype basis for his joke about an intellectual woman. That one was also part of the standard repertoire for demeaning suffragettes. And it’s still going strong in 2015.

Very strong. The little gang of obsessives who rage at me can’t mention me without making a point of how ugly I am. (Re-reading Mistakes Were Made is giving me some insights into why they do that. Cognitive dissonance, you see – it would be pretty disgusting if they were doing that just out of bullying urges, so they have to be doing it because I really am as evil as they say, and my evilness is revealed and underlined by how ugly I am. Thus they’re good people, doing important work, dedicating more than 4 years now to trying to silence me.)

When a rights-based complaint is seen as trivial by a group that’s strongly “anti-PC”, outrage from competing protected values can be propelled into high-speed collision. When feminism is involved, that can quickly draw a crowd that gets very ugly, and it certainly did here. Once it tapped into the rich vein of resentment many have about journalists too, it brought “Gamergate” energy and its signature torrent of extreme online abuse into the arena.

We apparently can’t say a word without drawing a crowd that gets very ugly. That crowd does a lot to make our case for us, but that’s not really very good news, since the ugly sexism they demonstrate is the very thing we want to get away from.

The Tim Hunt furor vividly highlights the extent to which concerns about everyday sexism are regarded as trivial – a minor nuisance that’s a kind of social hazard of being a woman, something to just shrug off and go about our science. As though that’s unconnected from anything serious. Yet, as Virginia Valian writes, the mountains of disadvantage women face are made of molehills “piled one on top of the other”.

Everyday, or mild, sexism (including jokes) imposes a burden of disrespect and workplace incivility. That doesn’t mean it happens to everyone, or that it bothers everyone. But workplace incivility is common, and it’s part of sustaining a climate that allows discrimination against individuals to thrive. That climate includes under-recognized and under-reported workplace harassment. And a society where there’s been no substantial drop since the 1990s, but perhaps an increase, in sexual assaultagainst young women.

Uta Frith, chair of The Royal Society’s Diversity Committee, wrote, the swift, wide, and strong reaction to Tim Hunt’s comments “was an outpouring waiting to happen”. How do you mitigate against individuals being harmed when that happens though?

We’re still finding our way through this. The analogy of storm seems to me far more useful than ones based on violence: we can shut the metaphorical doors against digital communication, not fuel it, and wait for it to pass. Apology, showing care for those other than yourself who were harmed by your actions, and not seeking personal redemption while in the eye of the storm seem to be the best outrage minimization/reduction strategies for an individual.

For the rest of us, understanding and impulse control are essential to finding a path that doesn’t encourage cruelty. But can deep, meaningful, societal change be achieved at more than a glacial pace only through non-confrontation? Historically, it hasn’t. Action can’t really be avoided if the intractable harm caused by hostility and lack of empathy to the distress of women and minorities is to really shift. The outrage isn’t just negative: it’s a sign of hope and enthusiasm for creating a better future, too.

Don’t be an asshole about it, but don’t be silent about it, either.

Seems right to me.

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

But how consolingly ugly

Jul 13th, 2015 3:42 pm | By

Via Hilda Bastian, via Project Gutenberg, a George du Maurier cartoon from 1895. It’s extraordinary how little we’ve moved on from that.

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

Future toast

Jul 13th, 2015 3:20 pm | By

This has me wondering if it would really be that bad to live in Oklahoma, or maybe Kansas – this article in the New Yorker about the fact that when the Cascadia subduction zone finally snaps, the resulting tsunami will wipe out everything west of the I-5 freeway that runs from southern California to the Canadian border at Blaine, Washington. I live a couple of miles west of I-5. The article is titled The Earthquake That Will Devastate Seattle.

When the next very big earthquake hits, the northwest edge of the continent, from California to Canada and the continental shelf to the Cascades, will drop by as much as six feet and rebound thirty to a hundred feet to the west—losing, within minutes, all the elevation and compression it has gained over centuries. Some of that shift will take place beneath the ocean, displacing a colossal quantity of seawater. (Watch what your fingertips do when you flatten your hand.) The water will surge upward into a huge hill, then promptly collapse. One side will rush west, toward Japan. The other side will rush east, in a seven-hundred-mile liquid wall that will reach the Northwest coast, on average, fifteen minutes after the earthquake begins. By the time the shaking has ceased and the tsunami has receded, the region will be unrecognizable. Kenneth Murphy, who directs FEMA’s Region X, the division responsible for Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Alaska, says, “Our operating assumption is that everything west of Interstate 5 will be toast.”

But wait a second. There’s a mountain range between Seattle and the ocean. I’m looking at it right now – the middle of it is due west of me.

So I guess Seattle will just be shaken and smashed like the rest of the region.


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

First of all she’s a woman

Jul 13th, 2015 12:50 pm | By

Yet again I’m surprised. Some women athletes decide not to build muscle, because they’re girrrrrrrls.

The Times starts with Serena Williams, who has muscles. She plays tennis – muscles come in handy.

Williams, who will be vying for the Wimbledon title against Garbiñe Muguruza on Saturday, has large biceps and a mold-breaking muscular frame, which packs the power and athleticism that have dominated women’s tennis for years. Her rivals could try to emulate her physique, but most of them choose not to.

Despite Williams’s success — a victory Saturday would give her 21 Grand Slam singles titles and her fourth in a row — body-image issues among female tennis players persist, compelling many players to avoid bulking up.

So…they actually decide not to work to have the extra power that would make them better at their chosen sport?

“It’s our decision to keep her as the smallest player in the top 10,” said Tomasz Wiktorowski, the coach of Agnieszka Radwanska, who is listed at 5 feet 8 and 123 pounds. “Because, first of all she’s a woman, and she wants to be a woman.”

Good god.

She would stop being a woman if she had bigger muscles?

For many, perceived ideal feminine body type can seem at odds with the best physique for tennis success. Andrea Petkovic, a German ranked 14th, said she particularly loathed seeing pictures of herself hitting two-handed backhands, when her arm muscles appear the most bulging.

“I just feel unfeminine,” she said. “I don’t know — it’s probably that I’m self-conscious about what people might say. It’s stupid, but it’s insecurities that every woman has, I think. I definitely have them and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I would love to be a confident player that is proud of her body. Women, when we grow up we’ve been judged more, our physicality is judged more, and it makes us self-conscious.”

That’s so desperately sad.

Wouldn’t it be nice if people could stop judging women that way?

The Times includes a picture of her gripping the racket with both hands, muscles bulging – I think she looks quite breathtaking.

Madison Keys, a 20-year-old American, was recently angered by a television show in which men discussed their picks for the most attractive female athletes.

“One of the guys on it was like, ‘Well, aren’t they all really masculine?’ and I kind of took it personally,” Keys said. “I was like, ‘No, I’m not, actually.’ I think it still is a little bit against kind of what society thinks that you should be doing.”

Little tiny bodies and little wispy voices – that’s what society thinks that you should be doing. It can take a running jump.

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

The self-justifying loop

Jul 13th, 2015 12:19 pm | By

I’m re-reading Mistakes Were Made, by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson. That’s the one about self-serving bias aka cognitive dissonance, and all the exciting ways it plays out.

One item –

…if we have enslaved members of another group, deprived them of decent education or jobs, kept them from encroaching on our professional turfs, or denied them their human rights, then we evoke stereotypes about them to justify our actions. [p 60]

Thunk. Yes we do, don’t we. Consider racism in America. Doesn’t that just exactly describe our history?

  1. Slavery
  2. Grudging emancipation, with compensation for the slaveholders and penury for the former slaves
  3. Restoration of slavery in all but name through Jim Crow laws
  4. Segregation throughout the country, with attendant underfunded schools and infrastructure
  5. Barring from most decent jobs throughout the country

So how do we make ourselves feel Okay in the face of all that? How do we go on seeing ourselves as okay people in a pretty good country? We evoke stereotypes to justify our actions.

It’s not just that racism leads to bad treatment, it’s also that bad treatment leads to racism. It’s a horrible loop, and it’s taking us way too long to get the hell out of it.

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

To encourage people to take personal responsibility

Jul 13th, 2015 11:16 am | By

The Tories are all excited about a new way to shred the remaining social safety net. The UK could become even more like the US! Where an illness can make you homeless in an instant!

David Cameron is prepared to look at making workers pay into flexible saving accounts to fund their own sick pay or unemployment benefits, Downing Street has confirmed.

The idea was first floated by Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, who said he was “very keen” to have a debate about encouraging people to use personal accounts to save for unemployment or illness, even though it is not official government policy.

Sure. Fuck unions, fuck collective bargaining, fuck benefits, fuck pensions and socialized health care – just have everybody fund their own, because everybody has plenty of leftover money. Life is fair! Everybody is rich! We can all kick back and relax while pouring champagne over our heads.

Asked about the idea of workers saving up for their sickness and unemployment benefits, Cameron’s official spokeswoman confirmed he was prepared to consider such a model.

“I think the PM shares the work and pensions secretary’s view that we should be doing more to encourage people to take personal responsibility for how they manage their affairs,” she said.

Because people who aren’t paid very much are so irresponsible. Take teachers for instance – they don’t make very much. It’s irresponsible of them not to be bankers instead. Everybody knows bankers make lots of money! So anyone who decides to do something that pays less than that is being irresponsible. Let’s punish them.

The proposal of fortune accounts for the UK was examined in depth in a paper by the free market libertarian Adam Smith Institute thinktank in 1995, which looked at how people could go to a single private provider for an account that gave them long-term care insurance, disability cover, health insurance, savings fund management and unemployment insurance.

This paper suggested: “Many other things that we often regard as ‘welfare’ today are also insurable and will be part of the fortune account package. Cover against incapacity to work, long-term care services, and disability, will all be in the package.”

And you know what else? These will be bank accounts, so bankers will get even more pay. And since everyone will be a banker by then, because it’s irresponsible not to be, everyone will get hugely richer. Win win!

Emma Lewell-Buck, a Labour member of the Commons work and pensions committee, said it was “the latest signal that the Tories are determined to dismantle what is left of our country’s safety net”.

She added: “People don’t choose when to fall ill, and the right to sick pay guarantees people financial security if they are unlucky enough to be too ill to work. Under the scheme the Tories are proposing, that security would disappear.

“David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith can cope just fine without sick pay but, for millions of British people, it provides essential support and peace of mind. As always, it’s the most disadvantaged who are in the firing line under the Tories.”

Only because they’re so irresponsible. Responsible people take good care not to be disadvantaged.

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

Those zany Marxist libertarians

Jul 13th, 2015 10:54 am | By

Lejla Kurić did a public Facebook post on Saturday linking to a catalogue of the murdered men and boys of Srebrenica. You scroll down it and it goes on and on and on.

The third comment was from a denier.

Stephen Browne There was no genocide in Srebrenica. Noam Chomsky can prove that.

The hell he can.

Via this route, I found an article by Ed Vulliamy the day after ITN won its libel suit against Living Marxism, March 15 2000. I’m permanently fascinated by Living Marxism, because they haven’t gone away, they’ve only mutated into their own opposite (or met themselves traveling in the other direction), and they’re still covering the landscape with bullshit.

[H]istory – the history of genocide in particular – is thankfully built not upon public relations or melodrama but upon truth; if necessary, truth established by law. And history will record this: that ITN reported the truth when, in August 1992, it revealed the gulag of horrific concentration camps run by the Serbs for their Muslim and Croatian quarry in Bosnia.

The law now records that Penny Marshall and Ian Williams (and myself, for that matter) did not lie but told the truth when they exposed this crime to the world, and that the lie was that of Living Marxism and its dilettante supporters who sought, in the time-honoured traditions of revisionism, to deny those camps existed.

Of course Living Marxism was unable to offer a single witness who had been at Trnopolje, the camp they claimed to be a fake, on that putrid afternoon of August 5, 1992. Indeed, they were unable to produce any witnesses at all. Unlike any member of Living Marxism or their sympathisers, I was there with ITN’s cameras that day. We went to two camps: Omarska and Trnopolje.

Why did Living Marxism get into this fight? Was it sheer exhibitionism?

What does it take to convince people? The war ground on, the British foreign office and Living Marxism in perfect synergy over their appeasement of the Serbs while other, worse camps were revealed. The bench in The Hague issued its judgment on Trnopolje in 1997: a verdict that described the camp as infinitely worse than anything we reported – an infernal place of rape, murder and torture. Witness after witness confirmed this. The Financial Times enthusiastically re-iterated Living Marxism’s claims of a fabrication, but published a hasty and grovelling retraction when it looked at LM’s non-evidence.

And others who should have known better cheered Living Marxism on.

Hungry for controversy, a sizeable portion of London’s intelligentsia lined up to support Living Marxism. They rallied round those who had named me and others as liars in the name of free speech – so why not name them too, the great, the good and the up-and-coming? Fay Weldon, Doris Lessing, Harold Evans, Toby Young, and even a handful of contributors to this newspaper. A diverse coterie, eager to sip Living Marxism’s apparently excellent claret at the ICA, to eat their canapés and run alongside the rotten bandwagon of revisionism. But how, and why?

And why are the Living Marxism people still around and still treated as valued talking heads?

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

Butterflies and Wheels 2015-07-12 17:38:59

Jul 12th, 2015 5:38 pm | By

David Olusoga on Britain and slavery.

The history of British slavery has been buried. The thousands of British families who grew rich on the slave trade, or from the sale of slave-produced sugar, in the 17th and 18th centuries, brushed those uncomfortable chapters of their dynastic stories under the carpet. Today, across the country, heritage plaques on Georgian townhouses describe former slave traders as “West India merchants”, while slave owners are hidden behind the equally euphemistic term “West India planter”. Thousands of biographies written in celebration of notable 17th and 18th-century Britons have reduced their ownership of human beings to the footnotes, or else expunged such unpleasant details altogether. The Dictionary of National Biography has been especially culpable in this respect. Few acts of collective forgetting have been as thorough and as successful as the erasing of slavery from the Britain’s “island story”. If it was geography that made this great forgetting possible, what completed the disappearing act was our collective fixation with the one redemptive chapter in the whole story. William Wilberforce and the abolitionist crusade, first against the slave trade and then slavery itself, has become a figleaf behind which the larger, longer and darker history of slavery has been concealed.

Lots of Sir Thomas Bertrams with plantation off there across a big ocean, where we don’t have to think about it.

George Orwell once likened Britain to a wealthy family that maintains a guilty silence about the sources of its wealth. Orwell, whose real name was Eric Blair, had seen that conspiracy of silence at close quarters. His father, Richard W Blair, was a civil servant who oversaw the production of opium on plantations near the Indian-Nepalese border and supervised the export of that lethal crop to China. The department for which the elder Blair worked was called, unashamedly, the opium department. However, the Blair family fortune – which had been largely squandered by the time Eric was born – stemmed from their investments in plantations far from India.

The Blair name is one of thousands that appear in a collection of documents held at the National Archives in Kew that have the potential to do to Britain what the hackers of WikiLeaks and the researchers of PBS did to Affleck. The T71 files consist of 1,631 volumes of leather-bound ledgers and neatly tied bundles of letters that have lain in the archives for 180 years, for the most part unexamined. They are the records and the correspondence of the Slave Compensation Commission.

The Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 formally freed 800,000 Africans who were then the legal property of Britain’s slave owners. What is less well known is that the same act contained a provision for the financial compensation of the owners of those slaves, by the British taxpayer, for the loss of their “property”. The compensation commission was the government body established to evaluate the claims of the slave owners and administer the distribution of the £20m the government had set aside to pay them off. That sum represented 40% of the total government expenditure for 1834. It is the modern equivalent of between £16bn and £17bn.

Compensation to the owners, notice. Not compensation to the slaves. Oh god no; far from it. The slaves were made to pay for the compensation – the compensation to people who had stolen their labor for generations.

The compensation of Britain’s 46,000 slave owners was the largest bailout in British history until the bailout of the banks in 2009. Not only did the slaves receive nothing, under another clause of the act they were compelled to provide 45 hours of unpaid labour each week for their former masters, for a further four years after their supposed liberation. In effect, the enslaved paid part of the bill for their own manumission.

Imagine if you kidnapped some girls and held them prisoner for years, the way Ariel Castro did…and then after ten years they escaped. Imagine the state making the kidnapped girls go on being Ariel Castro’s sex toys for another four years to “compensate” him for not being able to own them forever. It’s like that. The former slaves were owed billions, and they were never paid a dime.

The large slave owners, the men of the “West India interest”, who owned huge estates from which they drew vast fortunes, appear in the files of the commission. The man who received the most money from the state was John Gladstone, the father of Victorian prime minister William Ewart Gladstone. He was paid £106,769 in compensation for the 2,508 slaves he owned across nine plantations, the modern equivalent of about £80m. Given such an investment, it is perhaps not surprising that William Gladstone’s maiden speech in parliament was in defence of slavery.

The records show that for the 218 men and women he regarded as his property, Charles Blair, the great-grandfather of George Orwell, was paid the more modest sum of £4,442 – the modern equivalent of about £3m. There are other famous names hidden within the records. Ancestors of the novelist Graham Greene, the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and the architect Sir George Gilbert Scott all received compensation for slaves. As did a distant ancestor of David Cameron. But what is most significant is the revelation of the smaller-scale slave owners.

There were lots of them. It was just an investment like any other.

Sometimes I just don’t like human beings very much.

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

The fox is INSIDE the hen house

Jul 12th, 2015 5:16 pm | By

Golly. That bozo Abdullah al Andalusi, who goes on The Big Question to say stomach-turning theocratic things, worked at the Inspectorate of Constabulary until someone belatedly noticed him on tv. Bit of a blunder there.

For almost two years Abdullah al Andalusi, led a double life, the Telegraph can reveal.

By night, he taught that the terror group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) was “no different to Western armies,” said that “kaffirs,” non-Muslims, would be “punished in hell” and claimed that the British government wanted to destroy Islam.

By day, using a different name, he went to work for the same British government at the London offices of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC), the official regulator of all 44 forces in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

HMIC’s staff, who number less than 150, are given privileged access to highly sensitive and classified police and intelligence information to carry out their inspections.

The inspectorate’s work includes scrutinising police forces’ counter-terrorism capabilities and top-secret plans for dealing with terror attacks.

It has also recently published reports on undercover policing and the use of informants.

HMIC admitted that Mr al Andalusi, whose real name is Mouloud Farid, had passed a security vetting check to work as a civil servant at the inspectorate.

Maybe he’s a double agent. Maybe it’s the al Andalusi part that’s fake.

He was subsequently promoted to executive grade, a management rank, placing him at the heart of the security establishment.

He was only sacked after bosses spotted him on television defending extremist Islamic positions on behalf of his organisation, the Muslim Debate Initiative, which is heavily dependent on Saudi money.

The inspectorate insisted that he did not handle classified material but former friends of Mr al Andalusi said he had done so.

Well…maybe they could burn everything and start over.

MPs have called for a full investigation into how someone with as long a record of extremism as Mr al Andalusi had survived vetting and been appointed to his post.

Under the name by which he was known to HMIC, Mouloud Farid, his links with the Muslim Debate Initiative were a matter of public record.

He was registered as a director of the organisation at Companies House, though he earlier this year changed to yet a third name, Wazir Leton Rahman, on the companies register.

“This man’s unsuitability for sensitive work should have been obvious from the start,” said Khalid Mahmood, Labour MP for Birmingham Perry Barr.

This is kind of amazing.

“There is a lack of understanding of different strains of Islam in the civil service. I will be asking why the systems designed to prevent this did not work.”

Mr al Andalusi, a prominent figure on the extremist lecture circuit, is closely associated with the extremist group Hizb ut Tahrir, which believes that voting and democracy are un-Islamic.

Yet he had a job supervising the police.

How very inept.

He said that “those who reject IS merely because IS’s school of thought is disagreeable to them should remember that Islam permits difference of opinion. To reject something as outside the fold of Islam, due to it being a different school of thought to one’s own, makes one a purveyor of disunity among Muslims.”

Hahaha yes Islam permits difference of opinion as long as everyone agrees on keeping women down.

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

Just a tiny drop

Jul 12th, 2015 4:47 pm | By

Bill Cosby gets squeally-excited about the powers of a potion that makes girls flop down and open their legs.


Hellooo America. Very amusing.

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

Biblical I don’t think so

Jul 12th, 2015 4:10 pm | By

More from the “Biblical” pig at Biblical Gender Roles, this time about whether or not it’s ok for a man to insist on having sex with his wife even if she’s in pain. This guy is so full of shit…and cowardly with it, because he’s anonymous.

Question 1 – Was the husband wrong for having sex with his wife while she was pregnant and in pain?

It depends. Had he just had sex with her in the last few days? Then perhaps he should have put her need to not experience more pain and discomfort ahead of his need for sex. But if she had been in pain for weeks or a month and he finally came to her and said “Babe I need this, I promise I will make it quick” – then she should have put his need for sex above her need to not experience additional discomfort.

So there you have it. I suppose this piece of human garbage thinks that disgusting claim is “Biblical” because it’s hierarchical, and that’s all that counts. I suppose he thinks it’s “Biblical” because it boils down to saying the man gets to order “his wife” to do whatever he wants and she has to obey. I suppose he’s worked things out in his mildewed “mind” in such a way that the Bible says whatever he wants it to say for the purpose of dominating another adult human being.

Either way, the hell with the bible. What kind of piece of human scum insists on poking his wife when she doesn’t want to because it hurts? What kind of piece of human scum wants to do that? A decent human being would want first of all not to cause a spouse pain, especially via sex. (To put it in selfish terms for a moment, way to put her off the whole thing for the future, not to mention losing her trust and affection.)

Rather than hash this out again here – I have answered this entire issue from a Biblical perspective in the my article “Is a husband selfish for having sex with his wife when she is not in the mood”. But the short answer is no he is not being selfish for having sex with his wife simply because she is not in the mood. The Bible is clear that for the purposes of sex “The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife.” – I Corinthians 7:4.

Notice that makes it mutual. Notice that first Corinthians is actually more decent than this piece of shit Mr Biblical Gender Roles.

I saw this via Vyckie Garrison at Raw Story:

I wish I could say the teachings at “Biblical Gender Roles” are a rare and extreme interpretation of biblical manhood and womanhood in American contemporary Christian community, but while the anonymous fundamentalist writer lacks much of the subtlety and sugar coating of more established and prominent ministries, his interpretations and instruction are not misrepresentative of the “biblical” advice which married couples who seek Christian counselling for relational problems encounter on a daily basis.

It’s sickening.

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

Non-random mass murder

Jul 12th, 2015 11:55 am | By

Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre. The remembrance didn’t go smoothly. The Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić was chased away by protesters throwing stones.

Mr Vucic is a former radical Serb nationalist who served under Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic in the late 1990s.

He is now a pro-Western politician seeking to steer Serbia into the European Union. His government managed to secure support from its ally Russia on Wednesday to veto a UN resolution calling the events in Srebrenica a genocide.

Well that would explain why the Bosnian protesters were pissed off.

It was a genocide. They were killed because they were Bosnian; that’s genocide. “Ethnic cleansing” is genocide.

Tens of thousands of people came to pay their respects to the victims of Srebrenica and show their solidarity with the people of this much-diminished town. They heard international dignitaries speak of the horror of what had occurred here and how it must never be repeated.

Then former US President Bill Clinton made a specific point of praising the courage of Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic for turning up in the face of hostility from many ethnic-Bosniaks. They are angry that while Serbia has condemned the massacre, it has never used the word genocide to describe what happened.

Serbia, meet Turkey.

On the other hand…

Mr Clinton praised Mr Vucic for being there.

However, later the Serbian leader was heckled by crowds shouting “Allahu Akbar” as he entered to lay flowers.

As some chanted “responsibility” and “genocide”, others proceeded to throw objects – reports suggested stones, water bottles and a shoe were among the items used.

Skip the “Allahu Akbar” – that’s just more sectarianism. Skip all that. Leave it alone.

Maajid Nawaz said the same thing in a comment on his public post about the anniversary.

Louis Joon Ahh so that was the event that motivated you and took you to Egypt, the outrage and the injustice to fellow Muslims, would that be a fair assessment,,,?
Like · Reply · 2 · Yesterday at 10:23am

Maajid Nawaz Yes, but I should have seen them first and foremost as fellow human beings, I tribalised it & played to the identity politics of it all. That can only lead to more & more division.
Unlike · 55 · Yesterday at 11:14am

Don’t tribalize. See the fellow human being first. Don’t see “women” or “Christians” or “Tutsis” first; just see the fellow human being first.

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

How to silence the peasants

Jul 12th, 2015 11:26 am | By

Still at it. Still muddying the waters by saying Tim Hunt was sacked by UCL, when he was never employed by UCL in the first place. Simon Heffer in the Telegraph:

How to silence Sir Tim’s bullies

Except that it didn’t “sack” him.

Also, the claim that “silly” dismissive contemptuous remarks about women are “entirely harmless” is highly debatable. (I think they’re just flat-0ut wrong, but then that’s what I think, and it’s debatable.)

UCL acted after a particularly nasty display of mob rule by denizens of Twitter, where it is too easy to vent bovine opinions first and reflect later, rather than treat these grandstanding bullies and halfwits with the contempt they merit.
No it didn’t. There hadn’t been any big Twitter uproar at that point. He’s just making it up as he goes.
When will the Government defend Sir Tim? Now he is available, why don’t they give him a great position in the world of science or higher education, and show the bullies they can’t win?

You know what I think he should do? Offer his services to do outreach to girls or young women or both, to encourage them to go into science. I think that would be great.

And this business of calling it “bullying” when underlings push back against contempt from their upperlings – that’s a very ugly business indeed.

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

What’s up, Doc?

Jul 12th, 2015 10:17 am | By

Oh good grief. Unconscious sexism – it gets in everywhere.

A BBC story about the finding of a medieval ring in Norfolk.

The ring, found by a metal detectorist in South Creake, Norfolk, dates from between 1350 and 1430.

Dr Jonathan Good, author of The Cult of St George, said the ring “attests to the popularity of St George” and may be linked to a guild devoted to the saint.

Dr Good, who is associate professor of history at Reinhardt University, in Georgia in the US, said the ring “could have have owned by a guild member. It could have been a way of them showing their dedication”.

“It is in these pre-reformation times that St George came into his own in England,” said Dr Good.

Kathleen Kennedy, an expert in medieval rings and associate professor at Penn State-Brandywine University in the US, said it was “a wonderful find for Norwich”.

She said the ring was “originally enameled, so like so much of the medieval statuary remaining to us today, what we see as one colour would have originally been brightly variegated”.

Dr Adrian Marsden, a coin expert based at Norwich Castle Museum, said: “The ring has on it St George spearing a dragon. That is unusual and interesting because St George was a very popular saint in Norwich.”

A tweet from DOCTOR Kathleen Kennedy:

Kathleen E. Kennedy ‏@TheMedievalDrK 2 hours ago
hey @BBCNews If the 2 men quoted get to be called “Dr” why don’t I? … #medievaltwitter

Was it because they couldn’t remember if it was Doctoress or Doctorette?

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