Notes and Comment Blog

The Law Society declines to budge

May 13th, 2014 2:28 pm | By

The Law Society is not going to withdraw its practice note on what it takes to be the correct interpretation of “Sharia succession rules.” The Lawyers’ Secular Society has a response.

The LSS had written a detailed open letter to the Law Society on 24 April 2014 with very specific questions (here). Two weeks later, on 8 May 2014, the Law Society eventually responded to that letter (here) but it failed to answer almost all of the LSS’s questions, with no explanation for this refusal.

The LSS also took part in a large public protest outside the Law Society’s offices in Chancery Lane, London on 28 April 2014, alongside human rights campaigners and women’s rights campaigners, but this appears to have had no effect on the Law Society. (You can listen to LSS Secretary Charlie Klendjian’s speech here and you can read it here.)

Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary, has now intervened in the debate and told the Law Society it must not “undermine” British legal principles with its guidance.

Commenting, LSS Secretary Charlie Klendjian said:

“Naturally we are very disappointed – and actually shocked – at the Law Society’s decision to keep its disturbing sharia practice note despite huge public criticism.

“It is not the Law Society’s business to offer guidance on Islamic theology, even if there is “demand” for it, because this gives sharia law the respectability and credibility of a legal discipline within our jurisdiction. And it is not the business of any organisation which claims, as the Law Society does, to have a “strong record” on equalities, and which says it aims “to help the profession to promote equalities, inclusion and diversity”, to give guidance to its members which explicitly discriminates against women, non-Muslims, “illegitimate children” and adopted children. The reality is that sharia law is anything but equality, inclusion and diversity.”

Well it is diversity. It’s diverse from things like equality and inclusion.

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

Captive recital

May 13th, 2014 10:29 am | By

Boko Haram put out a video yesterday showing some of the kidnapped enslaved schoolgirls (and perhaps some other girls) wearing hijab and long robes, chanting a bit of the Koran. Relatives and friends have identified some of them from the video.

The 27-minute footage was shown to some people in Chibok – the town where the girls were kidnapped – on Monday evening.

Not all girls are from Chibok itself as pupils from surrounding areas had come to do their final year exams in April as the school in the town was considered relatively safe.

A community leader in Chibok told the BBC that school friends had identified three of the girls in the video.

A mother had also recognised her daughter from the girls who appear in a group wearing hijabs, the chairman of the parents-teachers association at the school told the Reuters news agency.

It’s a painful thing to watch, knowing they’re there under duress, with their lives ripped away from them, at the mercy of a bunch of men who love killing people.

Meanwhile, the US has revealed it is flying manned surveillance missions over Nigeria to an effort to find the missing schoolgirls.

A team of about 30 US experts – members of the FBI and defence and state departments – is in Nigeria to help with the search. The UK, France and China also have teams on the ground in Nigeria and an Israeli counter-terrorism team is on its way.

I hope they succeed.


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

Harvard and the archdiocese link arms

May 13th, 2014 9:39 am | By

Religious privilege? What do you mean? I don’t see any religious privilege.

Oh, you mean this?

A Harvard club’s plans to stage a satanic “black Mass” were abruptly cancelled Monday after drawing fire from the Archdiocese of Boston and condemnation from the president of the Ivy League school.

Lucien Greaves, a spokesman for the New York-based Satanic Temple, told the Boston Globe late Monday that the event was called off because no venue was available.

“Everyone involved, outside of the Satanic Temple, got really scared,” Greaves told the newspaper. “And I don’t necessarily blame them, because I understand that they were getting a lot of vitriolic hate mail, and I don’t think they expected it.”

Greaves was not immediately available for further comment.

A petition to stop the black Mass had garnered 60,000 signatures, according to Aurora Griffin, president of the Harvard Student Catholic Association.

Well but you have to understand – Boston is an officially Catholic city. That’s been decided. The archdiocese gets to say what can happen in and around Boston because Boston is Catholic. They’re not going to say what can happen in your city…unless it too is a Catholic city of course.

The history of black Masses is murky, but Catholics say the intent of such ceremonies is obvious: to mock their rituals and beliefs. The Masses often parody Catholic sacraments, such as Communion, and liturgical vestments.

And obviously that simply cannot be allowed. No one can mock Catholic rituals and beliefs – that’s a national rule, not just a Boston one.

Harvard University President Drew Faust called the plans to reenact a black Mass “abhorrent.”

“It is deeply regrettable that the organizers of this event, well aware of the offense they are causing so many others, have chosen to proceed with a form of expression that is so flagrantly disrespectful and inflammatory,” Faust continued.

The Harvard president said she would allow the black Mass to continue, citing the value of free expression on campus, but planned attend a prayer ceremony Monday night at St. Paul’s Church in Cambridge. The Boston archdiocese scheduled the event as a protest to the black Mass.

Ok I’m going to drop the sarcasm now because I’m too disgusted. That’s just pathetic. We are allowed to be disrespectful of the Catholic church.

The Satanic Temple, which announced the Harvard club’s plans last week, is also behind an effort to place a satanic statue next to a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of Oklahoma’s state Capitol.

The temple does not believe in a real devil but advocates for religious tolerance and pluralism.

Greaves said black Masses began as a protest by people who felt oppressed by their local religious cultures.

But some Catholics say the “black Mass” is more sacrilegious than satirical.

Faust, a noted historian, said:  “The ‘black Mass’ had its historical origins as a means of denigrating the Catholic Church; it mocks a deeply sacred event in Catholicism, and is highly offensive to many in the Church and beyond.”

So what? Catholicism is not some harmless pastime, it’s a massively powerful, harsh, coercive, patriarchal, sex-phobic, harmful religion and institution. However often you use the word “deeply” it remains what it is. We are allowed to mock it. “Sacrilege” is not a thing.

Robert Neugeboren, dean of students and alumni affairs at the Harvard Extension School, said Harvard did not endorse the student group’s decision to stage the black Mass.   The school provides evening and online continuing education courses.

“While we support the ability of all our students to explore difficult issues, we also encourage them to do so in ways that are sensitive to others,” he [s]aid.

Except atheists, apparently, because fuck them, apparently.

Neugeboren said the Harvard Extension School worked with students to defuse some of the controversy surrounding the ceremony.

For instance, he said, a consecrated host – known by Catholics as the Eucharist and believed to be the actual body and blood of Christ – would not be used, he said.

Some Catholic bloggers had expressed outrage at the initial plans to use a consecrated host, calling it “sacrilegious to the highest extent.”

We’re allowed to be “sacrilegious.” We don’t buy any of the belief that make that word appear meaningful, and we’re allowed to say so.

Clooney had said the university’s reaction is insufficient, adding that Harvard’s “spiritual sensitivity” is at stake.

“Since there is no empirical way to show that one host is consecrated while another is not—consecrated hosts do not glow in the dark—there is also no way for anyone but the organizers to know whether a host used in a black mass has been consecrated or not,” Clooney said.

“Catholics at Harvard should not have to be worrying about where Monday’s host comes from.”

Ooh, ooh – he’s onto something here! There is no empirical way to show that one host is consecrated while another is not because “consecration” is a meaningless word, just like “sacrilegious.” Consecrating something doesn’t do anything, and that’s why there is no empirical way to show that one host is consecrated while another is not – see how that works? Extend that thought to all the rest of it and then calm the fuck down and let other people say what they like about Catholicism.

As the archdiocese notes, Pope Francis warned Catholics about the devil recently.

“Maybe some of you might say, ‘But, Father, how old-fashioned you are to speak about the devil in the 21st century!’ ” the Pope said during a Mass in April.

“But look out, because the devil is present! The devil is here … even in the 21st century! And we mustn’t be naive, right? We must learn from the Gospel how to fight against Satan.”

No, we should not, you benighted ignoramus. That kind of thinking gets you inquisitions and witch-burnings and genocides.

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

50 percent more callbacks

May 12th, 2014 5:58 pm | By

Ezra Resnick writes a Letter to a successful white male.

Congratulations! You’re a successful white male. Or, as you might prefer to put it, you’re a successful person who just happens to be a white male — why would anyone think your gender and race have anything to do with your success? That’s textbook sexism and racism. You worked hard to get where you are. You never asked for special treatment, nor do you recall ever receiving any.

There was discrimination in the past, sure, but that’s all over now. It ended one afternoon in…let’s see…1977 was it? That sounds right.

Now there is perfect total universal equality of opportunity, and all you have to do to know that is look around. Or sit in your armchair and think about looking around – it’s the same thing. People have the jobs they want. There are no signs on doors saying “Go away black people.” Everything’s worked itself out, like rocks rolling down a hillside.

You naturally assume, then, that if women or minorities are underrepresented in certain fields, they must generally be less suited for them, or less interested in them, or less inclined to do the work necessary to succeed in them.

Well obviously. There are women doctors and lawyers on tv; there are black doctors and lawyers on tv. Everything is fixed now. If you didn’t get that job it’s because you didn’t really try.

Nevertheless, you keep hearing talk about “privilege” and “unconscious bias” from people who seem unimpressed by your logical reasoning. In order to silence the agitators, perhaps there is some scientific way to demonstrate the absence of discrimination in our society?

We could perform a controlled experiment. For example, we could send emails to university professors from fictional prospective students seeking to discuss research opportunities prior to applying to a doctoral program, varying only the name of the fictional student to signal gender and race — and discover that faculty ignored requests from women and minorities at a higher rate than requests from white males (particularly in higher-paying disciplines and private institutions). Or, we could send fictitious resumes in reply to help-wanted ads, varying only the name on the resume to sound either white or African American — and discover that white names received 50 percent more callbacks for interviews. Or, we could ask university science faculty to rate a fictional student application for a laboratory manager position, varying only the student’s name to be male or female — and discover that the male applicant was rated as significantly more competent and hireable, and was offered a higher starting salary and more career mentoring, than the (identical) female applicant. And so on.


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

A harshly medieval point of view

May 12th, 2014 4:45 pm | By

Amanda Marcotte has bad news for the fans of the pope: he’s not as cuddly as some have been claiming.

I get the enthusiasm for “cool” Pope Francis, I really do. The idea that there could be a pope who is not clinging to a harshly medieval point of view but ready to move into the modern world is so appealing that of course we’re going to grasp onto any evidence, no matter how tenuous, that suggests that Pope Francis might be the one.

Meh. One – it’s just not possible, so attempting to grasp at evidence is pointless. The Catholic church is the Catholic church, not something else; it’s not possible to rise to the top positions by not clinging to a harshly medieval point of view. The harshly medieval point of view is what the church is for. Two, even if the pope were the nicest guy ever, the church would still be the church, and the church is a terrible institution.

No, it’s all bad. Forget the reformist nonsense.

This weekend, Anthony Faiola reported in the Washington Post about Francis throwing his support behind exorcists, saying they are “helping people who suffer and are in need of liberation.” According to Faiola, some in the church are concerned that Francis “has not only dwelled far more on Satan in sermons and speeches than his recent predecessors have, but also sought to rekindle the Devil’s image as a supernatural entity with the forces­ of evil at his beck and call.”

And what does that get you? That gets you thinking that some people are in league with the devil. It’s dangerous stuff.

That’s not all. Despite the fact that Pope Francis received many accoladesfor taking a position against traditional authoritarianism and for criticizing the church for obsessing over birth control and homosexuality at the expense of more important issues, such as economic justice, Francis is now pushing back on the nuns who do just that. I’m talking about the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, a group that represents 80 percent of American nuns and is focused on social justice. In the past, the Vatican has gone after LCWR for focusing on economic inequality rather than bashing contraception and homosexuality. Despite what appears to be common ground between the nuns and the pope, it seems that Francis is not changing that tune.

Of course he’s not. He’s the pope.

Barbie Latza Nadeau of the Daily Beast reports that under Pope Francis, the Vatican shows no sign of laying off the crackdown on American nuns who Pope Benedict claimed were “pushing radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.”

Such as?

[T]he LCWR is not advocating for gay marriage or birth control. They simply don’t discuss issues of contraception and homosexuality, preferring instead to focus on issues like climate change, immigration, and assisting refugees in need of aid. Despite doing what Pope Francis supposedly wants his flock to do, however, the nuns continue to be punished and castigated by the Vatican, suggesting that the new pope is the same as the old.

So not discussing contraception and homosexuality equals radical feminism. Huh.

This is the Catholic church, people. It is what it is and not something different and better.



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

The performativity of class status

May 12th, 2014 9:52 am | By

Ally Fogg on the other hand has an interesting (as opposed to familiar and deadly-boring) post on the meanings and resonances of “cunt” in the UK, with an emphasis on the class aspect.

In my last blog, I noted in passing that I am prone to using very offensive language, including the word ‘cunt.’ I think it was coincidence, but around the same time Ophelia blogged on that very topic, and inadvertently created a perfect case study of the phenomenon I was discussing.

It was entirely coincidence; I hadn’t seen Ally’s post when I wrote mine. I wrote mine because of the inspiration of Ricky Gervais’s Facebook post.

As PZ noted in a follow-up called ‘How to drive a Brit crazy’, anyone objecting to the use of that word is likely to reap a torrent of comments saying “it’s a perfectly acceptable word; everyone says it in England.”

I’ll return to the question of whether ‘everyone says it in England’ in a minute, but first let me observe that what PZ describes is a classic example of the “you shouldn’t be offended by that” fallacy. Irrespective of how the word is used in other cultures, to many people – and especially to most Americans – ‘cunt’ is a deeply offensive, sexist and misogynistic word. In truth I use it very rarely on the internet / social media, because I know there will be people reading who will be upset by it and I have no wish to hurt them. I quite consciously modify my language out of respect for the sensibilities of some people who might read my words. That just seems like the decent thing to do.

Well that’s it, isn’t it. Why wouldn’t that be what you do?

Mind you, you need at least one additional adjective along with (or, perhaps better, instead of) “offensive.” Some people (though certainly far fewer than when I grew up swearing like a sailor) find mere swearing offensive as such, and I don’t defer to that when I’m writing. I don’t give a flying fuck about swearing; it’s epithets I care about; I think some are vicious and should be avoided. It’s perfectly possible to use the word “cunt” not as an epithet, obviously, and I have no problem with that – in fact, the more the better, because maybe eventually that would destroy its utility as The Worst Epithet Of All and then maybe there could be one that doesn’t denigrate women. That would be nice.

Occasionally I will weigh up that risk of offence against whatever point I wish to express by using it, and jump in with both feet. If someone objects, I may or may not apologise or regret my choice of word, but never would I tell someone that s/he is wrong to be offended. That would be outrageously presumptuous. The “But in England…” defence is indeed a pile of cack.

That said, the debate raises (or more accurately, misses) a point about the c-word that I find fascinating. In my experience, whenever foreigners, and especially Americans, fail to grasp a nuance of British habits, it is because they are almost entirely oblivious to the function and history of our class system, which runs like deep scars into every aspect of our society, our politics and – above all – our culture. The c-word is a quite splendid example of this in action.

It is simply not true that everyone in England says “cunt” all the time. It is not commonly considered sexist or misogynistic (note, I’m not saying it isn’t – I’m saying that’s not how it is considered) however it is undoubtedly considered exceptionally vulgar. Vulgarity in British culture is inextricably wrapped up with the performativity of class status.

Ah yes…he’s right, I have been neglecting or overlooking that aspect. I am at least somewhat aware of it, but naturally I don’t get all the nuances.

That’s what Dave was saying in his amusing comment on Saturday -

I think it is rather more “argument getting carried away after skimming a few pages of an Irvine Welsh novel”. Not even everybody from Glasgow calls everyone they meet a c**t; and the notion we should set our threshold of social acceptability at “drunken teenager looking for a fight” is so absurd as to require no further comment.

It’s a fine line, innit – between performing not being a posh git and being the epitome of a drunken teenager looking for a fight. That’s the case here, too, you know – we do class performativity, it’s just not so clearly labeled. Look at George Bush – one extended example of bizarro-world performativity of class status.

Read Ally’s post for erudition about Chaucer and Shakespeare and Burns, and a lot more.

Where I grew up in Eastern Scotland, the word cunt is used prolifically. I once heard two elderly women in Dundee talk about their grandchildren, including the memorable phrase “och, the pair wee cunt’s got the maist affy colic” (translation: “Oh, the poor little soul has the most terriblestomach pains.”). Such usage serves a social and political function. It states, very forcefully, that the speaker resides proudly among the vulgar, not the refined. It is used in full knowledge that it will cause upset and offence to those of a delicate disposition. It is a statement of political identity, and I have no doubt that largely explains why it is so much more prevalent in the further flung homelands of Scotland and Ireland – not to mention Australia – than it is in England. Even within England, it is used more commonly the further you get (both geographically and sociopolitically) from the ruling class and the bourgeoisie.

This is not a justification or a defence. I could be entirely correct about the above and it could remain true that when used as a slur, the word is deeply misogynistic, positioning women’s bodies and sexuality as something dirty and negative. It can also be true that words change, gather or lose layers of meaning over time. Even if it was once used without intrinsic misogyny does not mean it remains free of those semantics today.

So in that sense, I am not seeking to shift the debate as to the acceptability of the word in either direction. However I am convinced that there is a profound difference between British and American usage. In Britain the word is mostly used for the performative power of its vulgarity, and its misogyny is unnoticed and incidental. In the US, the word is mostly used for its performative misogyny and it is the vulgarity, in terms of social class, which goes unnoticed and incidental.

There have long been – and continue to be – debates amongst British people as to the c-word’s function and acceptability. Even amongst women and within British feminism there is no kind of consensus on either side, and anyone who claims there is must be disingenuous or mistaken. I do not seek to persuade anyone that the word should be considered harmless or benign, but I would call on everyone to understand that to British people, the politics of cunt are perhaps much more profound, complex and encumbered with historical baggage than you could possibly imagine.

I believe it.

Fortunately I don’t have the power to meddle with what people in the UK say to each other in person, or even to remark on it (unless people tell me stories about it, which they mostly don’t). But on international social media like Facebook and Twitter? Different story.



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

Guest post by latsot on the “not a gendered insult” canard

May 12th, 2014 7:51 am | By

From a comment by latsot on Gervais “will continue to use offensive words like cunt, atheism & Derek”


I’m British too and like many other Brits I’m sick to death of your droning argument that we don’t consider “cunt” to be a gendered insult. I can speculate about a possible reason you think – or at least say – this: the insult “cunt” seems almost interchangeable with other insults, some also gendered (such as “dick”), and others not.

Unfortunately, there’s only one tiny flaw with that argument: it is bullshit. It’s bullshit partly because “cunt” is always known to be a worse insult than any of those others. It might be argued that this distinction is arbitrary; that “cunt” is considered worse solely due to historical accident independent of the more literal meaning of the word. I’d be as impressed as I would be surprised if anyone managed to come up with a plausible argument along those lines, but I think that’s what you’d have to do to realistically claim that “cunt” is not considered a gendered insult in the UK. Or perhaps you could argue that usage of “cunt” to describe female genitalia is obscure in the UK. Of course, we all know that this is anything but the case. Nobody calls someone a cunt in isolation of its anatomical meaning. You know and they know what the word means and you both know you know they know it.

Your sadly popular argument seems almost to be saying that the insult “cunt” is not gendered unless someone is being explicitly and literally compared to an actual cunt. That relying on the implicit baggage the word carries somehow renders the insult not gendered, even though everyone involved understands that baggage perfectly well.

If “cunt” used as an insult were not pretty much universally considered a greater insult than words like “dick” or “prick” and those words used with roughly the same frequency in the same sort of circumstances, then the fact that “cunt” is gendered wouldn’t be so much of a problem. But you know perfectly well that “dick” means someone casually or relatively mildly unpleasant and “cunt” means someone exceedingly, deliberately, habitually, maximally unpleasant and you know what else those words mean.

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

Looking down at the earth

May 11th, 2014 5:47 pm | By

Hey look – live streaming from the International Space Station.

Pale blue dot close up; your house from very far away.

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

They create jobs you know

May 11th, 2014 5:33 pm | By

One of those “please share” items so I’m sharing it because wo.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow said it best: “Turn that frown upside down oil-soaked neighbourhood, you can get a job cleaning it up if you just have the right attitude. We’ll make it worth your while. That is seriously what Kinder Morgan is arguing to the freaking Canadian government about why they should be allowed to triple the capacity of their pipeline.”

More in the Vancouver Sun.



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

In private emails to football pals

May 11th, 2014 5:12 pm | By

Richard Scudamore, the head of the Premier League, supports women’s football, good on him, but – he talks the drearily familiar way about them when he lets his hair down.

Premier League chief Richard ­Scudamore’s sexist views are today exposed by his former PA.

She reveals how the boss who publicly backs women’s football exchanged sleazy emails with senior colleagues in which females were referred to as “gash”.

Yeah that’s no good. Talking about them as if the hole between the legs were all there is to them – that’s no good.

Scudamore – who will be at Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium today for their expected crowning as Premier League champions – likes to be seen as a champion of equality in the game.

He has joined forces with the FA and Sports England to promote a new FA Women and Girls programme with a £2.4million investment over two years.

The soccer boss has publicly claimed the league strives to be at “the leading edge” of the “whole equality agenda”.

But his former PA saw another side to 54-year-old Scudamore who earns more than £1million a year. She told the Sunday Mirror his emails were sent to her ­automatically while she was working for him at the Premier League last October so she could arrange his diary.

“I can tell you he has no respect for women,” she said. “I don’t think anyone should have to be exposed to such language and opinions at work.

“It was highly offensive. The emails portrayed women in a very derogatory manner. I have worked for very professional organisations and never seen anything like it. That’s why it shocked me.”

But it’s the hip new thing.


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


May 11th, 2014 4:51 pm | By

The governor of Borno state in Nigeria says there have been sightings of the kidnapped schoolgirls.

Governor Kashim Shettima said he had passed reports of the sightings of the girls to the military for verification.

Mr Shettima added that he did not think the girls had been taken across the border to Chad or Cameroon.

Meanwhile, France is suggesting a summit.

“I suggested, with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, a meeting of Nigeria’s neighbouring countries” Francois Hollande said.

“If the countries agree, it should take place next Saturday” he added.

Countries neighbouring Nigeria, such as Cameroon, Niger and Chad, would be invited to the security summit.

Aides said the US, UK and EU would also be likely to attend.

The US, UK and France have already pledged technical assistance to the Nigerian government.

Meanwhile, President Jonathan said an Israeli counter-terrorism team would arrive to Nigerian to help in searching for the schoolgirls, who were abducted last month.

So, maybe there is hope.

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

Toting a weapon in a demonstration changes the stakes

May 11th, 2014 11:00 am | By

An excellent piece at The Stone on “open carry” and the exciting time it is when a bunch of gun-toting fanatics can force law enforcement to back down because law enforcement doesn’t want yet another Waco or Ruby Ridge. Patrick Blanchfield

Earlier this month, in Bunkerville, Nev., representatives of the Bureau of Land Management withdrew from a tense standoff with supporters of Cliven Bundy, a rancher who owes the federal government over $1 million in unpaid fees for allowing his cattle to graze on public land. The hundreds of self-appointed militia and “states’ rights” activists who flocked to support Bundy, many in full tactical gear and openly carrying assault rifles, blockaded a federal interstate and trained their weapons on B.L.M. employees who sought to negotiate with the rancher and his family. Fearful of a pitched gun battle, the B.L.M. departed, leaving Bundy and his supporters to celebrate, emboldened, with a barbecue.

Seriously, now – what does that sound like? It sounds like fucking Boko Haram, that’s what. It sounds like fascism. It sounds like what it is: hundreds of men with guns thwarting a branch of civilian government. This is not something we want.

…as a transaction between the state and citizens decided not by rule of law, nor by vote or debate, but rather by the simple presence of arms, Bunkerville is deeply troubling. Guns publicly brandished by private individuals decided the outcome. For all Bundy’s appeals to constitutional justification, what mattered at the end of the day was who was willing to take the threat of gunplay the furthest.

We don’t want that. It’s the opposite of civilization, and we prefer civilization.

Bunkerville is simply the next step in a trend that has been ramping up for some time. Since the election of Barack Obama, guns have appeared in the public square in a way unprecedented since the turbulent 1960s and ’70s — carried alongside signs and on their own since before the Tea Party elections, in a growing phenomenon of “open carry” rallies organized by groups like the Modern American Revolution and, and in the efforts by gun rights activists to carry assault weapons into the Capitol buildings in New Mexico and Texas (links to video). According to open carry advocates, their presence in public space represents more than just an expression of their Second Amendment rights, it’s a statement, an “educational,” communicative act  — in short, an exercise of their First Amendment freedom of speech. (See this, from the group Ohio Carry, and this Michigan lawsuit.)

No. Guns are not educational and they’re not speech. Go away.

what does it mean, in a democracy that enshrines freedom of speech, to publicly carry a gun as an expression of political dissent? Toting a weapon in a demonstration changes the stakes, transforming a protest from just another heated transaction in the marketplace of ideas into something else entirely. It’s bringing a gun to an idea-fight, gesturing as close as possible to outright violence while still technically remaining within the domain of speech. Like a military “show of force,” this gesture stays on the near side of an actual declaration of war while remaining indisputably hostile. The commitment to civil disagreement is merely provisional: I feel so strongly about this issue, the gun says, that if I don’t get my way, I am willing to kill for it. 

Quite. And I don’t want that.

We should also note that not all symbolic speech is created equal. On the contemporary stage, those bearing guns in protest are most likely to be white, right-leaning, and rural. As the historian Adam Winkler has documented, this represents a more or less direct reversal of the upheavals of the late ’60s and ’70s, when Republican politicians pursued new gun control legislation in response to armed protests by urban African-American leftists. Today, it is those most sheltered from actual state violence — from the day-to-day reality of police brutality — who also feel most threatened by the state, most free to threaten violence against hypothetical violations, and most entitled to opt out of civil discourse by reaching for their weapons. Our racial double standards for who can safely gesture at political violence are enormous. At least before his racism became public, Bundy and his supporters could point assault weapons at federal agents and be lionized as “patriots” by a United States senator and celebrated on Fox, whereas a single New Black Panther standing near a polling station while holding a billy club prompted calls on that same network for former Navy SEALs to show up in force and “fight back.”

In many ways this country is just not sane.

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

Grown men attempting to snuff out the aspirations of young girls

May 11th, 2014 9:18 am | By

Yesterday for the first time Michelle Obama gave the weekly presidential address, in order to speak up about the kidnapped and enslaved Nigerian schoolgirls.

Speaking for the first time instead of the US president, before what is Mothers’ Day in the US on Sunday, she said the couple were “outraged and heartbroken” over the abduction of more than 300 girls from a school in Chibok on 14 April.

“What happened in Nigeria was not an isolated incident. It’s a story we see every day as girls around the world risk their lives to pursue their ambitions.

“I want you to know that Barack has directed our government to do everything possible to support the Nigerian government’s efforts to find these girls and bring them home. In these girls, Barack and I see our own daughters. We see their hopes, their dreams, and we can only imagine the anguish their parents are feeling right now.”

She also said, with angry emphasis: “grown men attempting to snuff out the aspirations of young girls.” Yes.

Ken Wiwa, an adviser to the president and son of playwright and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, wrote in an article for the Observer that there was something “reassuring” in the fact that the world cared about the plight of the girls. He said that, with support, Nigeria could “overcome this challenge”, and called it the turning point in the battle against terrorism.

The US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, said the security council should act quickly to designate Boko Haram as a terrorist group and hold “its murderous leaders to account”. The security council has demanded the release of the girls and is threatening to take action.

“The members of the security council expressed their intention to actively follow the situation of the abducted girls and to consider appropriate measures against Boko Haram,” the 15-member council, which includes Nigeria, said.

The logistics are appallingly difficult though.

In her speech, broadcast nationwide on radio and uploaded as a YouTube video, Michelle Obama said: “This unconscionable act was committed by a terrorist group determined to keep these girls from getting an education – grown men attempting to snuff out the aspirations of young girls.”

She noted that the Chibok state secondary school where they were abducted had been closed because of terror threats, but the girls had gone back to take exams. “They were so determined to move to the next level of their education … so determined to one day build careers of their own and make their families and communities proud,” she said.

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

Blurred Lines

May 10th, 2014 5:42 pm | By

BBC 2 had a show about misogyny a couple of days ago, and the New Statesman has a review by Rachel Cooke.

She starts by saying misogyny is nothing new and she’s not sure it’s worse now than in the past.

I see, though, that in one sense all of this is irrelevant. What matters is that women feel misogyny is on the rise, there being so many exciting new outlets for the expression of woman hatred.

Well no, that’s not right, because it’s two different things. If women feel misogyny is on the rise when it isn’t, then it’s worth explaining that it isn’t. But the fact that there are so many exciting new outlets for the expression of woman hatred is not just a feeling; it’s reality. So there’s no need to make concessions to subjectivity and fee-fees, because the fact that there are lots of new outlets for misogyny means that there is more misogyny around now. Because of the outlets, you see.

It’s in our faces (or perhaps I mean on our screens) like never before. In her excellent and often shocking documentary Blurred Lines (8 May, 9.30pm), Kirsty Wark thankfully didn’t get too bogged down in trying to ascertain whether misogyny really is growing. Instead, she focused on the impact of the internet (and, to a lesser degree, the media) on both women and men, whose more sexist impulses it may validate.

Ya think?

It was disappointing that she allowed the Spectator columnist Rod Liddle to talk so flabbily about how men get trolled as horribly as women – apparently, we should just “man up” and deal with it – without ever asking him why he thought it was acceptable to write of the deputy leader of the Labour Party: “So, Harriet Harman, then. Would you? I mean after a few beers obviously, not while you were sober.”

Rod Liddle is a shameless, indeed boastful misogynist. I did a post about that once, years ago.

Wark’s material was cold-shower sobering. The unstoppable vileness – from Frankie Boyle telling “jokes” about vaginas to a Stirling University men’s hockey team singing songs about inducing miscarriages on a public bus service – seemed even more than usually shameful, piled end to end in this way. We all know what followed when Mary Beard appeared on Question Time but Wark had thought to look at social media responses to all women guests on the show over the course of the first three months of this year. Dear God, it was ugly. Does this stuff keep some women from public life? Yes. For my part, there are pieces I avoid writing for fear of what will follow on Twitter and “below the line”.

Well then it’s the women’s own fault, right?! They should just toughen up – or else they should get off the internet. Oh wait…

Germaine Greer reflected on the prescience of her statement that (I paraphrase) most women have very little idea how much men hate them. Say what you like about the internet; at least it has given us a bracing slap round the face on this score.

Yes, but I’d rather it wasn’t true. I’m naive enough to wish fewer men did hate women.

Our friend Maureen Brian watched the show (the programme for you UKnians – never let it be said that I try to force everyone to speak and understand American!) this evening and gives this report (in the present tense because she was reporting while watching):

KW is a pretty competent journalist and is asking the right questions but she’s meeting a hell of a lot of people who are either deeply brain dead, totally confused or refusing to engage with the question. Heading that last list is the execrable Rod Liddle. There have been stars – a psychologist whose experiments show that e.g. tolerating sexist behaviour does indeed encourage those who are really sexist to go out and do it some more! Surprise!

Also a linguist countering the “but the internet isn’t real” meme by tracing the feedback loops between trolls and mainstream media and public life. Also Laurie Penny is on the ball.

Finally we get to the shift in the balance of power – Germaine Greer not sure about this – and the immaturity of the adolescent male. How this is being addressed in the very best sex & relationship education which not everyone gets.

Now we have Steubenville and more confusion. Balanced by the thought of using the changes in technology to power the fight-back.

It’s mystifying that they had Rod Liddle on that show (programme) at all.

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

Ubiquitous? Actually, no.

May 10th, 2014 10:25 am | By

PZ has a post on The Cunt Question (that’s where I saw Maki Naro’s tweet, and there are more there).

The defenses are hilarious, irrational, and indignant. It’s incredibly common to see people protest that it’s a perfectly acceptable word; everyone says it in England; it doesn’t have any sexual connotations at all, because apparently, people in the UK are so stupid that they don’t remember that it’s a word that refers to the female genitalia. The Argument from Regional Ubiquity simply doesn’t work — would we accept that Southerners get a free pass on calling people “nigger” because everyone down there is rednecked cracker, so it’s OK?

I must remember to call it that, because I have this argument over and over again. It’s The Argument from Regional Ubiquity and it is bullshit.

There are a lot of good comments.

The first, for instance, by aziraphale:

I’m a Brit and I have never, in my whole life, called anyone a cunt. Possibly because if I did, my female friends (mostly also Brits) would never speak to me again.

But but but The Argument from Regional Ubiquity!

Bad argument. Next?

thetalkingstove @ 28 is another useful datum:

I’m British and I can’t remember the last time I actually heard someone say the word.

Perhaps I have a sheltered existence, and I’m positive that there *are* people and groups where it’s thrown around all the time, but this idea that everyone in the UK is going around saying it in every other sentence is ludicrous.

carlie @ 32 on two ways the conversation can go:

Exchange from a reasonable person who has no INTENT to use a slur in its sexist/racist/etc way:

Person 1: *slur*
Person 2: Hey, that’s a *** slur that is really demeaning towards *** people. Don’t do that.
Person 1:
Option A) Oh no, I had no idea! I certainly did not mean to do that. I won’t use that word in the future, then!
Option B) Oh, I didn’t realize that group interpreted that word in that way. I certainly did not mean to do that. I won’t use that word in the future, then!

Unreasonable person exchange:

Person 1: *slur*
Person 2: Hey, that’s a *** slur that is really demeaning towards *** people. Don’t do that.
Person 1: But I didn’t mean it that way!
Person 2: I’m sure you didn’t, which is why I’m letting you know. I know that you wouldn’t want to be seen as a bigoted person when you aren’t, so I’m giving you the advice that using that word makes you look that way.
Person 1: You can’t tell me what to do! I’ll use it if I want! Everyone should magically understand that I don’t mean it that way so it’s ok if I say it! Because people in Borneo don’t mean it that way when they say it! I’m not a bad person! You’re the bad person!

Gregory Greenwood @ 38, which was the one that made me decide to collect several, because these comments are filling in the picture:

As a Brit, I would just like to say that PZ is right on the money here. The oblivious misogynist idiot contingent within the UK knows full well that the term is misogynist – they are relying on the likely unfamiliarity of a majority US audience with UK cultural norms to try to get away with it, that’s all.

We have our share of priviliged, oblivious and outright bigoted arsehats over here, just as you colonials Americans do over there. It is the curse of the human condition. Their moaning may amuse you, but it amuses me rather less given that I have to live among people like this every day.

If you think trying to impress upopn them that the term ‘cunt’ is misogynistic is difficult, just try to convey the notion that ‘fag’ is homophobic. They will stubbornly claim it is just slang for cigarette, and ignore all popints to the contrary about its connotations in other cultures.

PZ @ 86 in response to one of those “But context!!” retorts:

We understand the context. We see how it’s part of a long tradition of treating women as inferior. You’re the one refusing to recognize history, context, and meaning to pretend it’s just a one-syllable expletive, a meaning-free insult. That is such total nonsense — and of course everyone uses it a strong insult, because it has such patent connections to female sexuality.

When random women explain to you that it is a shotgun insult — that it causes a lot of splash damage when you use it — and yet you persist in claiming your noble calling as an Englishman to continue to use it whenever you damn well want to, then your claim that you aren’t really sexist is pretty well demolished.

Andy Groves @ 119:

Another British person chiming in here with another data point: The c-word is the vilest single word any British person can say to another. If Ricky Gervais really thinks it isn’t terribly sexist and offensive, he should try saying it on UK TV and seeing what happens to his career.

Yes, some British people might claim to use it as a term of endearment to acquaintances in the same way that a generation or three ago, they might have referred to a friend as a “daft old bugger”. But it’s still incredibly offensive. Maybe manocheese can tell us in exactly which contexts he uses the word. Talking to his mother? His friend’s mother? His doctor? His boss? A policewoman? A nurse? His daughter?

Louis @ 138:

Manocheese, #122,

I’m saying that it’s possible that I can say the word in a culture where nobody takes it as a sexist comment.

Prepare to be inundated with lots of people, myself included, telling you that they DO take it as a sexist comment in UK culture. The meaning (and sadly use) of the word is not completely divorced from either its other meanings or the extant cultural misogyny very much present in the UK.

Do we (typically) see the word as horrendously sexist as the Americans do (where it seems to be directed at women far more than it is here)? No, perhaps not. But that’s a difference of degree, not of nature. Its use is a sexist act, regardless of the user’s intent and regardless of the use of other words. Does that make its user a Global Forever And Ever Super Sexist? Nope. But it does mean that, when considering all the relevant context, its use is sexist and thus it should be used (or rather not used) judiciously.

For a better illustration of context, let’s just say you have a conflict [with] someone who is of “black” African heredity, or Pakistani or Indian heredity, do you call them an “n-word” or a “p-word” (we all know the words I mean)? I’m betting you don’t. The most relevant difference, if indeed you don’t, is that you have a greater awareness of the moral…”dubiousness” (generous term!)…of racism than you do misogyny. The social consequences of naked racism are more apparent to you than the social consequences of naked misogyny.

Tom Slatter @ 139:

Speaking as a ‘Brit’ I’m bemused whenever someone claims the C-word is in common usage here. It isn’t, it really isn’t.

While I get the impression there might not be quite the same level of disgust at hearing it as there might be in the US, it is still definitely not acceptable and definitely one of the most socially unacceptable words someone might use.

It isn’t the most unacceptable language, there is even more disapproval of racist terms which seem to be in a different category – not saying that’s right, but it is the case – but no-one is using it who doesn’t understand it to mean exactly what we all know it means.

‘More tea, you c**t?’ is not a phrase you’re likely to hear over here.

Not only is The Argument from Regional Ubiquity a crap argument, it’s also based on a false premise: the supposed regional ubiquity isn’t.

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


May 10th, 2014 9:06 am | By

Some comments left on one of the three or four irritable Facebook posts I fired off about Ricky Gervais yesterday:

anotheranother2All hail the great Atheist Community!

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

But, in the UK…

May 10th, 2014 8:57 am | By

Maki Naro @sciencecomic on Twitter:

Whenever anybody points out that “cunt” is a misogynistic slur

Embedded image permalink


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

Guest post by Leo Igwe: The menace of Boko Haram

May 9th, 2014 5:41 pm | By

The menace of Boko Haram is not just a military issue – it is an ideological one. The west should help Nigeria defeat Boko Haram and win the battle of ideas.

The kidnapping of more than 200 school girls by Nigeria’s terrorist group, Boko Haram, has attracted outrage and condemnation from different parts of the globe.(1)

People across the world have joined the online campaign to ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ and pressure the government of Nigeria to do more in combating the menace of this Islamist group.(2,3).

The US, the UK and France have offered to help Nigeria rescue the girls and bring their abductors to justice.

But some people are speculating that an intervention by western countries could turn Nigeria into another Afghanistan. They are suggesting that Nigeria be left alone, that no assistance be given to the country as it battles this Al-Qaeda linked organisation.(4)

Personally I think those making this submission are mistaken. I have been writing about Boko Haram and the activities of other muslim fanatics and theocrats in Nigeria for many years.

It is obvious that Nigeria needs military and intelligence assistance to rescue the abducted girls and defeat Boko Haram. Unfortunately, efforts by the Nigerian government to contain the insurgency and attacks have proved largely ineffective. So Nigeria needs help, urgent international help to boost its counter terrorism initiatives.

If international assistance is provided to countries when they are hit by natural disasters, or when countries experience aviation mishaps as in the case of the missing Malaysia airline flight MH370, why should countries – western or eastern – not extend help to Nigeria and ensure that these girls are brought back to their families? Nigeria is grappling with a humanitarian crisis with a international dimension. The government is fighting a transnational terrorist group that recruits members from neighbouring countries.(5) Boko Haram has already carried out trans-border raids and kidnapping(6). It has attacked the UN building in Abuja.(7) If it gets the opportunity, Boko Haram could attack embassies of western countries or business interests in Nigeria as al-Shabab did in Kenya.(8) The menace of Boko Haram is not just a Nigerian issue. This terrorist group poses a serious threat to peace and security in the region and beyond.

There is no doubt that western intervention could worsen the situation in Nigeria. This could happen if western countries think that the Boko Haram issue requires only a military solution. It does not. The menace of Boko Haram is both a military as well as an ideological issue. And defeating this terrorist group needs – and would need – both the force of arms but also the force of ideas – secular democratic ideas. It will require mental reorientation and ‘value change’. Boko Haram is an armed group of suicide bombers driven by virulent Islamic extremism and existential nihilism.

The name ‘Boko Haram’ means ‘western education is forbidden’ in the local hausa language. This speaks volumes about the ideological leaning. The group is opposed to ‘western education’ and secular government. It is an offshoot of the ‘anti-western’, jihadist, islamist, theocratic ideology that prevails in many parts of northern Nigeria, hence its agitation for the establishment of an Islamic state.

Boko Haram is a radical fall out of this quest for sharia law andIslamic theocracy by muslim majority states in the country. Like Al Shababa, islamism is its ideological power base for mobilization of support and for recruitment of members. The abduction of the school girls is a radical demonstration of its islamist perception of women and its opposition to secular ideals of gender equality, dignity and human rights.

Secularists, feminists and human rights campaigners should explore ways of counteracting the indoctrintation, ‘dogmatization’ and brainwashing of young muslims in mosques and Quranic schools across northern Nigeria. It is at these ‘praying’ and ‘learning’ centers that clerics radicalize young muslims and turned them into mechants of death and destruction. Human rights campaigners should liase with secular oriented groups and institutions to promote educational reform and inculcate the values of critical thinking, separation of mosque and state, tolerance of other religions and world views, free and open society and universal human rights.

Western intervention should be geared towards helping Nigeria defeat Boko Haram militarily and ideologically.

Leo Igwe is a humanist activist currrently doing research at Bayreuth International Graduate School of African Studies(religious studies), University of Bayreuth in Germany


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

When Hitler was on Facebook

May 9th, 2014 5:01 pm | By

Another thing about Ricky Gervais’s bit of Facebook wisdom is how childishly wrong it is as a claim (much less an argument).

If you grabbed Hitler and shouted “stop killing innocent people you cunt”, someone on Facebook would call you out on your sexist language.

Well first we have to accept that “you” can “grab” Hitler in the same world where people will comment on Facebook about what you shouted at him. It’s too much to ask us to accept that. If Ricky Gervais were in a position to “grab” Hitler and shout something at him, he wouldn’t be in a position to report his shouting on Facebook.

Then, an even more demanding task: we have to accept that grabbing and shouting at Hitler is some kind of important useful, even heroic work that shouldn’t be interrupted by people objecting to sexist language. But is it? No, I don’t think so. I don’t think Hitler would have been dissuaded from killing millions of people by Ricky Gervais, no matter how loudly Ricky Gervais called him a cunt.

Then we have to accept the hidden premise: that if someone is really really terrible, the way Hitler was, then it’s ok to call that person a cunt.

Well that’s just fucking stupid. The two things aren’t even related to each other. Calling a really terrible person a name, any name, makes no difference to anything. It’s idiotic to defend it in the guise of heroic resistance work.

So that’s one thing. It’s totally beside the point. And the other thing is, it’s still bad to use sexist (or racist etc but Ricky Gervais didn’t talk about any of those, it’s only the sexist ones he’s defending) epithets. It doesn’t become ok to use them once you get VERY angry or VERY upset. There isn’t a gauge you can check to see if you’re angry or upset enough to start using sexist epithets. There isn’t some point at which it becomes ok. As sadly usual, this becomes easier to see if you swap a racist epithet for the sexist one. Suppose some white Republican legislator writes a law making it a crime for a woman to have a miscarriage (hello Tennessee!); does that make it ok to call that legislator a nigger or a wetback?


This isn’t a hill anyone should want to die on. It’s pathetic. It’s pathetic to see grown men pitching baby fits over their precious right to call people cunts. It’s gervaisy and pathetic.

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

Searching for Boko Haram

May 9th, 2014 4:22 pm | By

According to the Nigerian Tribune, the US and UK have brought in the high tech equipment to locate the Boko Haram hiding place and the schoolgirls they’ve enslaved.

BOTH the United States and British anti-terror specialists who arrived Nigeria on Friday have started deploying high-grade surveillance technologies to track down the voice, location and the fire power of Boko Haram terrorists who kidnapped over 200 girls of a secondary school in Chibok, Borno State.

According to reports on Friday by Daily Mail of the United Kingdom and other news channels monitored by the Saturday Tribune, the deployment and further operation of the exercise is being overseen by the Special Forces, even as there are indications that the Special Forces may deploy, within days, the spy plane called The Sentinel Radar Plane to be operated by the British Royal Air Force Squadron 5 to locate the hideouts of the terrorists.

Both the British and US anti-terror specialists started using aerial surveillance and evesdropping technology on Friday to help pinpoint the position of the terrorists holding nearly 300 schoolgirls hostage.

Let’s hope it works – and that Nigerian soldiers capture all the Boko Haramists alive and send them to a prison where they get a whole lot of Boko.

[Gordon] Brown, who is the United Nations special envoy on global education, said that he had spoken to US Secretary of State, John Kerry, who agreed that air and satellite surveillance would be extended into neighbouring countries.

The former PM urged British people to sign the Bring Back Our Girls petition, which he said was putting pressure on the Nigerian government to take action and making clear that the international community shared the ‘revulsion’ of ordinary Nigerians for Boko Haram.

US First Lady, Michelle Obama, is among dozens of political figures and celebrities, including Jessie J., Angelina Jolie, Leona Lewis, Hillary Clinton, schoolgirl Malala Yusafzay and model Cara Delevingne to have backed the petition.

Speaking from Abuja, Mr Brown said: “The more people who can sign the petition, the more I think the Nigerian government officials and others will want to take action.”

We all signed it ages ago.


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