Notes and Comment Blog

Staying within the line

Dec 14th, 2014 5:53 pm | By

Frank Foley,a Lecturer in the War Studies Department at King’s College London, explains some things about torture for the BBC.

As they came to terms with the shock of 9/11, people at the highest levels of the US government wanted to mete out a ferocious response to al-Qaeda suspects.

But let it not be said that they wanted to torture – of course not. We’re the good guys, so we don’t torture. We do something else, that’s unpleasant, but it’s not what fits under the word “torture.” Hell no.

“Everyone was focused on trying to avoid torture, staying within the line, while doing everything possible to save American lives,” Bush administration lawyer Timothy Flanigan has been quoted as saying.

What happened was that “the line” bent.

To rise to the level of torture, one legal memo argued, the interrogator would need to intend to cause suffering “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death”.

If the organs don’t fail – hey presto, it’s not torture.

The Americans were about to learn a lesson that the British had already learned decades earlier in the Northern Ireland conflict.

In the second half of the 20th Century, Britain’s security forces developed what they called the “five techniques”: hooding, white noise, a diet of bread and water, sleep deprivation, and being forced to stand in a stress position against a wall for long periods.

We now know that British agents trained officers of Brazil’s military dictatorship in these techniques.

And then word got out, and people elsewhere didn’t think British security forces were the good guys, and it was all terribly wounding to the feelings.

Regardless of the label, the brutality of these techniques was widely condemned when details were revealed. The UK’s international reputation was tarnished and it lost a good deal of moral authority in its fight against terrorism.

Because, sadly, reputations don’t depend just on one’s own firm conviction that one is not a torturer.

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

Just what every child wants: a faceless doll

Dec 14th, 2014 5:10 pm | By

I saw this horror via Tehmina Kazi on Facebook. A faceless “Deeni doll” is now on the shelves.

A new faceless doll, produced in accordance with Islamic law, has been launched in Britain.

The ‘Deeni Doll’, which is adorned with a traditional hijab headdress, has no nose, mouth, or eyes, in order to comply with Islamic rulings regarding the depictions of facial features.

A doll with no face – it’s hard to imagine anything more creepy. The picture is certainly a nightmare.

View image on Twitter

The toy, which took four years to create, is the brainchild of Ridhwana B, a former teacher at a Muslim school.

She told the Lancashire Telegraph: ‘I came up with the idea from scratch after speaking to some parents who were a little concerned about dolls with facial features.’

She continued: ‘Some parents won’t leave the doll with their children at night because you are not allowed to have any eyes in the room.’

‘There is an Islamic ruling which forbids the depiction of facial features of any kind and that includes pictures, sculptures and, in this case, dolls.’

That’s sick. Children love dolls, animal dolls as well as miniature-human dolls; children talk to their dolls, and they don’t talk to the feet or the bum but to the face. Infants pay attention to faces very earl in life. Faces matter, and there’s nothing wrong with our interest in them and in depictions of them. That’s a sick ruling and it should be ignored. That “doll” is a crime against children.

Although the doll, which retails at £25, is currently limited to the ‘Romeisa’ design – named after a companion of the Prophet Muhammad – Ridhwana hopes to extend the range.

‘The Islamic range in kid’s toys is quite limited at the moment with few choices. Although this project took a while, I am looking at researching other ideas in the future.’

‘I am looking at compiling a book for the Islamic upbringing of children in the future too.’

She’s a fanatic. This is fanaticism of the worst, most life-hating kind. Erasing faces is sick, sick, sick.

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

Insiders don’t criticize other insiders

Dec 14th, 2014 4:44 pm | By

Zachary Goldfarb at the Washington Post reports on how the insiders told Warren to act like an insider. She had dinner with Larry Summers back in 2009, when she was the chair of that panel panel investigating the government’s response to the financial trainwreck.

Larry leaned back in his chair and offered me some advice. … He teed it up this way: I had a choice. I could be an insider or I could be an outsider. Outsiders can say whatever they want. But people on the inside don’t listen to them. Insiders, however, get lots of access and a chance to push their ideas. People — powerful people — listen to what they have to say. But insiders also understand one unbreakable rule. They don’t criticize other insiders.

I had been warned.

You know what that sounds like?

Everything, that’s what. All the institutions and rackets and industries. Show biz, universities, corporations, the circus – everything. If you’re an outsider you’re free to criticize the insiders, to an attentive audience of all your teddy bears. If you’re an insider it’s omertà, baby.

Only not necessarily, any more, because of the internet. With blogs and social media, your audience might be a little broader than the stuffed animal collection.

But still the basic polarity applies. Outsiderdom=freedom but little power. Insiderdom=power but less freedom.

Warren ignored the warning.

And if the past few weeks are any indication, she can operate as an insider without giving her up outsider credentials. She’s remained outspoken, but has become even more influential. She hasn’t stopped throwing bombs at the rich and powerful — and causing trouble for the White House — but she’s won a spot in Senate leadership [and] changed the shape of congressional debates over financial regulation…

Good. Long may she continue.

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

Number 10 to all: No humanist weddings for you

Dec 14th, 2014 4:11 pm | By

Another poke in the eye for those wicked people who can’t manage to bend the knee to a god.

Thousands of couples planning non-religious humanist weddings could have their hopes dashed after a row between the Tories and Liberal Democrats saw Number 10 veto proposals to give such marriages legal status.

The Lib Dems want people who are agnostic, atheist or simply do not want a religious ceremony to be able to have a secular wedding, outside of a register office. Couples could tailor their own ceremonies, and select venues that are not licensed for civil weddings.

Aaaaaaaand…who could possibly object to that? What is there to object to? People can secular-marry in a register office, so why forbid them to secular-marry outside a register office? What possible purpose could that serve other than protecting some absurd religious monopoly?

The British Humanist Association (BHA) reacted furiously to the news, saying it was “shameful” that non-religious couples could not marry in ceremonies with the same legal status as believers.

Under current English law, weddings can take place in any registered religious building including churches, mosques and even premises belonging to the Scientologists, Spiritualists and the Aetherius Society –  whose members believe in aliens and that the Earth is a goddess.

They belieeeeve something; that’s what counts. It doesn’t matter what, as long as there’s no reason to think it’s true. People who fail to do that are eccentric and must be punished.

A historical exemption allows Jewish and Quaker ceremonies to be conducted anywhere – a legal provision that could be extended to allow humanist weddings. A government consultation, launched after the legalisation of gay marriage, found considerable public backing for the reform.

In Scotland, where humanist weddings have been legal since 2005, there has been an increase in the number of people getting married, against a general decline in the UK as a whole. Humanist weddings now account for 10 per cent of all Scottish marriages, making it the third most popular form of marriage in Scotland.

I guess humanists in England and Wales will just have to move north.

Andrew Copson, the chief executive of the BHA, described Number 10’s intervention as “astonishing”, saying it would be a “huge shock” for thousands of couples.

He said: “It is shameful that Number 10 would block the wish of thousands of couples to start their married life in a way that is personal and meaningful to them. Giving legal recognition to humanist marriages is a simple measure which adversely affects no one, has huge popular and political support, and would increase the number of people getting married each year.

“Under this government, Scientologists have been added to the list of religions that can perform legal marriages… To describe the legal recognition of humanist marriages as a “fringe” issue insults the many non-religious couples – much larger in number than these many small religious groups – whose planned marriages next year will not be able to go ahead if Number 10 blocks this change.”

It’s hard to disagree with him.

The BHA has waged a long campaign for humanist marriages to be made legal. A hard-won amendment during the passage of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 compelled the Government to hold a consultation on the issue and awarded them order-making powers to introduce it.

And Cameron just wadded it all up and threw it in the bin. Nasty.

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

Hostages in the window with their hands up

Dec 14th, 2014 3:50 pm | By

Right now at a cafe in Sydney.

The story says the people in the window are staff. Not even privileged rich coffee-sippers, but young people who staff the cafe.*

Picture: Courtesy of Channel 7.

Picture: Courtesy of Channel 7. Source: Supplied

AN ARMED man is holding several people hostage at a cafe in Martin Place in Sydney.

There are hostages standing with their hands up at the windows in the popular Lindt chocolate shop, which has two or three entrances. There is also a black and white flag being held up in a window. It is believed to be the Black Standard, a jihadist flag.

Staff in shop aprons can be seen with their hands on the windows.

Police officers have guns drawn outside the cafe.

The chocolate shop is 30 or 40 metres from the Channel 7 offices so they have cameras trained on the building. The newsroom at Channel 7 have been evacuated.

That’s presumably how they got the photo of the hostages.

Happy holidays.

*Sorry. I didn’t mean to suggest it should have been rich people. It just seems like an extra stab to terrorize the people in aprons…But nobody deserves this; nobody.

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

The worst of the worst

Dec 14th, 2014 11:45 am | By

God Dick Cheney is an embarrassment. He was on tv this morning saying how fabulous torture is and how he regrets nothing.

The former vice president showed little remorse for the dozens of prisoners who were found to have been wrongfully detained, for the man who died in the program, or for people like Khaled El-Masri — a German citizen who was shipped off to Afghanistan and sodomized in a case of mistaken identity.

“I’d do it again in a minute,” said Cheney.

He also spoke repeatedly of how the program was justified to get the “bastards” who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks.

He’s really that stupid? Or that self-blinded or that warped by his own loyalties? He really thinks the badness of the 9/11 attacks justifies bad things done to other people, including innocent people wrongly detained? He really misses the point by that wide a margin?

About the program’s serious errors — and the abuses that CIA Director John Brennan described as “abhorrent” on Thursday — Cheney said, “I have no problem as long as we achieve our objective.”

Spoken like a true war criminal.

The Senate report has led to new calls for former Bush administration or CIA officials to be prosecuted for the torture program they oversaw, but Cheney on Sunday dismissed an appeal from Ben Emmerson, the UN Special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights, to reopen inquires.

“I have little respect for the United Nations, or for this individual, who doesn’t have a clue,” said Cheney.

Back atcha, war criminal.


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

Even when you are emotionally invested

Dec 14th, 2014 11:12 am | By

Here’s an interesting issue.

From the context where I found it, I gather it’s one of those right-wing moral panics about creeping PC run amok creepingly amidst us, but setting that aside, it’s still an interesting issue. The issue is something like: can an exam question about a very fraught current event or series of events be so emotionally loaded that it either shouldn’t be on the exam or should have a trigger warning?

Eugene Volokh writes it up for the Washington Post.

Several readers have asked me about the controversy at UCLA Law School related to this exam question in a First Amendment Law class:

Question I (35 minutes)

CNN News reported: On Nov. 24, St. Louis County prosecuting attorney Robert McCulloch announced in a publicized press conference that Police Officer Darren Wilson (who has since resigned) would not be indicted in the August 9 shooting of Michael Brown. Michael Brown’s stepfather, Louis Head, was with hundreds of protesters assembled outside the police station, listening on loudspeakers and car radios when they learned Officer Wilson was not being charged. Standing on the hood of a car, Mr. Head embraced Michael Brown’s mother. Mr. Head asked someone for a bullhorn but it was not passed to him. He turned to the crowd, stomped on the hood and shouted, repeatedly, “Burn this bitch down!”

Police Chief Tom Jackson told Fox “News,” “We are pursuing those comments … We can’t let Ferguson and the community die [as a result of the riots and fires following McCulloch’s announcement]. Everyone who is responsible for taking away people’s property, their livelihoods, their jobs, their businesses — every single one of them needs to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

County Attorney Robert McCulloch asks lawyers in his office whether to seek an indictment against Head by relying on a statute forbidding breach of the peace and another prohibiting rioting (six or more persons assembling to violate laws with violence). A recent hire in the office, you are asked to write a memo discussing the relevant 1st Amendment issues in such a prosecution. Write the memo.

My colleague Prof. Robert Goldstein had this question on his exam; some students complained, and he decided to partly withdraw it: He didn’t count it for students who got a lower score on it than on the other questions, and this didn’t affect the grades of students who got a higher score on the question, because the class was too small to be graded on a curve.

My first thought, before reading Volokh’s commentary, was that that and other things like it are exactly the kind of thing many lawyers have to think about every day. It goes with the job. Adding trigger warnings would seem kind of like adding trigger warnings to exam questions about ooky things like blood and infections in med school. What would be the point? If crucial parts of the job squick you out, then that’s not the right job for you.

Volokh, after commenting on more practical aspects, confirms what I was thinking:

To be sure, some people might be deeply emotionally invested in an issue, and have a hard time viewing it from both sides. But a key part of a law school education is to learn how to do this, even when you are emotionally invested. If you want to work for, say, the NAACP (or the NRA), you will do your clients no favors by being so zealous in your opinions that you fail to grasp the best arguments on the other side.

And that is also true when the matter is still raw in your mind. Often you have to make arguments just days after some traumatic event (here the exam was two weeks after). Indeed, often you have to make arguments just days after a traumatic event that involves you much more directly than the Ferguson incident involved UCLA students — for instance, what you see as a racist verdict that will send your innocent client to prison, or an appellate decision that you think unjustly rejects an argument that you’ve spent years developing. As a lawyer, you need to master your emotions enough to deal with such situations. As a student, you have to learn how to do that.

It doesn’t do to lose your temper or burst out sobbing in the courtroom if you’re one of the lawyers. You have to train yourself (or let yourself be trained by others) not to react to triggers. That’s part of many jobs.

This can end up being a source of tension or estrangement between the two kinds of people. The ones who have learned how to tamp down their emotions can overlearn it and become tamped down in all contexts instead of only the job one. Even those who don’t can seem cold and bot-like to the rest of us. It’s a little bit tragic, really.

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

Such a pretty tincture

Dec 13th, 2014 5:55 pm | By

I’ve been remembering the tinctures – the tiny little tinctures that Prince Charles used to sell for £10 the 50 ml bottle. He doesn’t sell them any more because the regulators told him to stop pretending they had medicinal value.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has upheld a complaint over the online advertising, for a range of organic products, including Duchy Herbals Echina-Relief Tincture and Duchy Herbals Hyperi-Lift Tincture saying the product had no “scientifically proven benefits for treating colds and low moods”.

The advert for the products, which are sold for £10 for 50ml in some Boots and Waitrose stores, claimed “If you haven’t managed to escape the winter sniffles, look no further than our new Echina-Relief Tincture, which offers natural relief from cold and flu symptoms … Our Echinacea, Hypericum and Detox Tinctures provide alternative and natural ways of treating common ailments such as colds, low moods and digestive discomfort …”.

The regulator found that the Duchy Originals advert breached the code in four areas including substantiation, truthfulness and medicinal claims.

The ASA ruling said: “We noted that it was intended that the Detox Tincture was presented as a food supplement that could help eliminate toxins and aid digestion. We considered however that the claim that it could “treat … digestive discomfort” implied that Detox Tincture had scientifically proven benefits. Because we had seen no evidence for the efficacy of Detox Tincture, we concluded that the ad was misleading”.

The watchdog said the advertisement must not appear again in its current form.

There’s no such thing as “detox” except for addictions. Those things labeled “detox” in the health food stores might as well be labeled “bullshit.” It sounds helpful though, so people buy it.

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

Ghomeshi was the way he was

Dec 13th, 2014 4:56 pm | By

In the CBC’s Fifth Estate show on Jian Ghomeshi, there was discussion of the fact that he once told a producer at a meeting who had just yawned that he would like to hate-fuck her to wake her up. (No doubt it stuck in my mind because the US is too puritanical to allow the word “fuck” on broadcast tv.) A few days later the producer wrote about her history with Ghomeshi at the Guardian. It’s an ugly story. Familiar, and ugly.

I used to work as a radio producer for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. A few months into my job in 2007, I let out a big yawn at a staff meeting and my host told me “I want to hate fuck you, to wake you up.” I was 27 years old. I made sure never to yawn in front of him again.

There was groping. There was leering while shirt-unbuttoning. There was gaslighting, there were psychological games that undermined her.

In 2010, I went to my union to try and find a way to end this pattern of sexual harassment by Jian Ghomeshi. I had no intention to sue, or to get him fired, or even to have him reprimanded. I just needed him to stop. The union representative and my executive producer at Q, the radio show for which we worked, did nothing.

He was popular. She was just a producer. She didn’t matter and he did, so the union rep and the boss did nothing.

As I said: ugly.

She could have walked, but it was a plum of a job. Why should she be forced to?

I went years without reporting the harassment because I feared for my job and my career: getting asked to be part of the original production team behind Q was the biggest break I’d ever had. It was my first permanent, full-time job. I had stability, many excellent colleagues and a dental plan. The show became a conspicuous success with a known celebrity at its helm. If I quit, where else was there to go?

Plus she wondered if it was her fault.

The union rep did tell her she could start a union arbitration, or file a formal grievance, but the trouble was that confronting Ghomeshi was exactly what she didn’t want to do.

By the time my union rep offered to informally talk to the executive producer of the show, Arif Noorani, I felt like I was trapped in a feedback loop: I had cried in my boss’s office already, on more than one occasion, because of Ghomeshi’s behaviour towards me. A couple of days later, Noorani called me in for a meeting, and told me that Ghomeshi was the way he was, and that I had to figure out how to cope with that.

Well that sounds familiar.

So she did walk. She moved to LA and tried to forget about Ghomeshi.

Then my friend Jesse Brown – who had been one of my main confidantes during my time at Q – called to ask if I’d tell my story publicly, as part of his investigation into Ghomeshi after two young women came forward and said they’d been assaulted by him. But I wasn’t keen to be called a slut and a liar and a fabulist, and I was nervous that someone would identify me publicly and, in doing so, would damage the new career and life I’d worked so hard to build. I also didn’t think my experience being sexual harassed by Ghomeshi was remotely comparable to what the victims of his assaults had gone through. But Jesse persisted, and, eventually, I gave him permission to write about me anonymously.

A few days after the story was published, Noorani sent an internal memo to all the current Q staffers about me:

… In [the article], the producer claims she approached the executive producer with claims of sexual impropriety in the workplace. It is untrue. At no time, was I approached with such allegations from this producer or anyone else. If I had, I would have immediately reported them.


My old union issued a memo along similar lines, saying that no union staff members had heard of any complaints of sexual harassment. I emailed Bruce May, a staff representative at the CMG, and told him the memo was wrong, because I’d spoken to Neesam. May replied that technically the memo was correct, because Neesam was an “elected representative” and not a union “staff member”. He asked if that “clarified” things for me, and I said that it did: it clarified that the union was carefully parsing its words to leave casual readers with the impression that I was lying and they had done the right thing.


Chris Boyce, the executive director of radio at the CBC, has been equally coy – saying that management launched an investigation into Ghomeshi’s workplace conduct in the summer, while dodging the question of who, specifically, he talked to. None of my former colleagues were contacted, nor was I. Meanwhile, when my former boss, Noorani, was identified as the executive who told me that I had to learn to cope with Ghomeshi’s harassment, he was shuffled to another show, instead of being shown the door.

Chris Boyce is the guy we saw in that extended interview for the Fifth Estate, shuffling and shifting and sweating.

The key players who protected Ghomeshi for so long are now seemingly now using those skills to protect themselves.

But the system that obsessively propped up Jian Ghomeshi needs to change. He is one disgusting man – but our public broadcaster, demoralized over long-running budget cuts and criticisms that it was out of touch with the public and its younger listeners, latched onto him as their savior and clearly didn’t want to let go. The CBC allowed a two-tier workplace to emerge, in which Ghomeshi didn’t have to comply with either the law or workplace norms as long as he kept pulling in listeners, and workers like me only had job security so long as we accepted his abuses of authority. I was essentially forced to either leave the show or allow my boss to lay his hands on my body at his pleasure. But since then, no manager or executive who was complicit in creating or maintaining a workplace in which Ghomeshi was allowed to operate with impunity has lost his job, let alone apologized.

So it goes. If they’re popular and attractive and bring in the bucks, they’re shielded and protected for years or decades, while the people they harmed just twist in the wind.


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

The small school she opened

Dec 13th, 2014 4:12 pm | By

Mukhtar Mai is strong and active these days, which is good to learn. If you’ve been reading B&W for a long time you may remember a lot of posts about her gang rape, ordered by the village elders as punishment for something her younger brother was alleged to have done (he hadn’t).

KARACHI: Mukhtar Mai put up a smiling face throughout the evening – a smile that symbolised courage, defiance and resilience, even when others spoke about how difficult life is for rape survivors.

On Thursday, she was called to address a seminar, titled ‘Rape and Sexual Violence: Legal Reforms,’ organised by War Against Rape (WAR) to celebrate 25 years of its existence.

I remember thinking at the time she might be psychologically wrecked for life. I’m profoundly glad she isn’t.

“Before 2002, I had never dealt with the police,” said Mukhtar, recalling what had happened to her in Meerwala, Punjab, when she went to the Mastoi tribe to seek forgiveness for her brother’s conduct. “I had asked my family why they were only sending me to ask for forgiveness. Was it because I was sitting at home and my four sisters were not?”

After the rape, Mukhtar’s family discouraged her from pressing charges or registering an FIR. “Nonethless, I decided that it’s better to fight than to die.” She talked about the small school she opened after the incident, selling off her buffalo and whatever jewellery she possessed to pay for the sole teacher’s salary. In 2005, the Canadian high commissioner donated two years’ funding to the school.

She also spoke about her other projects: a shelter home providing support not only to rape victims but also to girls shunned by their families after marrying of their own choice and a telephone helpline for women who are in danger and cannot leave their homes. Despite what happened to her, Mukhtar held no bitter feelings for the opposite sex. “There are good and bad people everywhere.”

Now that’s a hero.

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

“”But she crossed the line by telling my mom about it”

Dec 13th, 2014 12:57 pm | By

You couldn’t make it up. Update: you could make it up, and someone did. I bit! /end of update.

You know how Alanah Pearce has been getting harassment, and how she’s been reporting some of the harassers to their mothers?

Now some of the reported ones are suing her for doing that. For some reason the judge has apparently failed to throw the case out.

Australia-based video game reviewer Alanah Pearce is set to appear in court after revealing to mothers that their sons threatened her on her Facebook page, according toThe Huffington Post

According to the 21-year-old, the threats were prompted by her game reviews posted on YouTube. Some viewers responded negatively on her reviews by posting sexually abusive messages on her Facebook account.

Which is not something that people should do. People should not do that.

In response, she decided to conduct her own investigation on her male abusers and discovered that many of them are aged 10 to 15 years old.

That would explain a lot. I can think of several harassers who sound about 10.

To solve the issue, she decided to contact her abusers’ mothers to tell them about what their sons have been posting online.

One mother responded by forcing her son to write a handwritten apology letter to Pearce.

However, some of the abusers, with the help from their mothers, have filed a lawsuit against the game reviewer on grounds of defamation.

Defamation? How can it be defamation?

One of the boys said the threats were only meant as a joke and should be ignored. He then stated that he is more mature than Pearce because of how he would have handled such a situation and even accused her of being a tattle tale.

“Our so-called ‘threats’ were just small pranks, and not much different than things you see on the Internet every day,” he said. “If I was receiving these death or rape threats online I would have just brushed them off because I’m clearly more mature than her.”

“But she crossed the line, though, by telling my mom about it,” he added. “Something you learn at a very young age is to never be a tattle tale. She obviously missed that important lesson.”

And that’s grounds to sue her for defamation?

No, of course it’s not. Is there something about the legal system in Australia that would explain this?

And by the way, fuck that idea. It’s a bullies’ charter. It’s a rapists’ charter. Yes you damn well do be a tattle tale when someone is bullying or harassing you or a third party. Of course you do. If that kid’s mother is on his side in this, there is something badly wrong with her thinking.

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

This reflects cultural conventions, not sexism

Dec 13th, 2014 11:20 am | By

Wait wait wait.

Yet another of the American Enterprise Institute’s anti-feminist “feminists” takes on “the conventional wisdom” about women in science.

It’s the conventional wisdom that women are held back in science because of sexism. A new paper by a research team at Cornell University reports that young women faculty members prosper in math-based fields of science. Statistically, women are less likely to continue on in certain science fields, but there are cultural conventions that need to be taken into account. Visiting Factual Feminist Sally Satel will discuss these factors in this episode.

But there are cultural conventions? Well of course there are – and those cultural conventions are part of what sexism is. Why would the presence of cultural conventions undermine claims that women are held back in science because of sexism?

But Satel says it does.

She says women and men without children have pretty equal rates of publication, but men with children have higher rates than women with children. But don’t go thinking that’s sexism – oh no, it’s something completely different.

More research is needed to fill in this picture, but you could speculate that this disparity exists because fathers are more likely to have a spouse who’s caring full time for the children than are the mothers. It’s not rocket science. It’s easier to have kids when there’s someone at home doing the childcare. This reflects cultural conventions, not sexism in science. [1:50 to 2:20]

I haven’t yet listened to how she explains that absurd claim, because I was so gobsmacked by it that I wanted to yell about it first.

Hello? The idea that women must or should do all the childcare while men do none of it (or share it only in leisure hours) is indeed a cultural convention, and that cultural convention is sexist. Defining people’s duties and tasks by what gender they are is indeed sexism. The fact that men are more likely to have a spouse who’s caring full time for the children than are women is indeed sexism.

Let me guess – Satel’s explanation will be that this pattern simply reflects people’s natural unforced preferences, now that we have totally eradicated sexism and thus made all preferences free.

Ha. Like hell we have.


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


Dec 13th, 2014 9:28 am | By

Checking in on Twitter…That photo of the Greenpeacers standing around with their stupid yellow message is at the top of my page, and I stared at it some more, with a new or refreshed feeling of…something…

…something, it occurs to me, very close to a sense of profanation. Of something “sacred” being violated and profaned by a hostile external doesn’t-belong element. Everything in me screams GET OFF as I look at it. GET AWAY FROM THERE.

Embedded image permalink

It’s more aesthetic than sacerdotal, though. The hummingbird is so arresting and stark and beautiful – that cheap yellow clutter is just an outrage next to it.

But it’s not purely or solely aesthetic. There’s added weight because of whatever (unknown) meaning the lines had to the people who made them and shared in them. There’s added weight because of what things of that kind generally do mean to the people who made them and shared in them. Or maybe it’s not exactly that (since the meaning found in contemporary religious artifacts around me doesn’t tend to inspire me with anything)…maybe it’s more like that plus distance plus not knowing. I suppose if I knew the lines stood for some kind of dreary accounting system with the gods, much of this awe would dissipate. But I don’t know that, so the awe remains.

Anyway. I just think there’s something odd, and not in a good way, about people who can be happy making something so ugly right next to something so beautiful – who can be happy making a beautiful thing ugly by carefully placing their garbage in its embrace.

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

Guest post: Why we pay attention

Dec 13th, 2014 9:07 am | By

Originally a comment by SC (Salty Current) on That’s why.

I’ve given this a bit of thought over the past several months, especially when I’ve been inclined to say, “Can we start ignoring him now?” Eventually, I realized that I pay attention to posts about Dawkins in much the same way as I pay attention to Right Wing Watch. As you and Lee said, he’s a rich and influential person and so even his most ludicrous and poisonous statements get media attention and a public hearing. Several years ago, I wouldn’t have thought that I’d ever regard Dawkins in this way.

Second, I have a longstanding interest in the ways governments (the US and UK in particular), corporations, and their networks of think tanks and political organizations surreptitiously spread their ideologies and work to sabotage social justice movements. In light of the involvement of some known atheists with AEI and some of the recent organization/foundation shenanigans, I’m even more concerned than ever that the atheist and skeptical movements have been and are being used as vehicles for these interests.

Third, I’m disappointed. It’s largely my own fault, I admit, because I hadn’t sufficiently investigated what Dawkins and others had said in the past and hadn’t been attentive enough to some evidence. Nevertheless, I had difficulty believing that he and others would be so resistant to applying to themselves the principles they so passionately, publicly espoused, or that they could so callously defend some of the things they have.

Finally, I care about the atheist/secularist cause. I feel that I need to know what people like Dawkins are saying so that I can distance myself from them and my anti-faith advocacy and values from theirs.

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

More than all the gold ever mined

Dec 12th, 2014 5:46 pm | By

The garbage in the oceans problem is worse than people thought. Much worse.

More than 5 trillion pieces of plastic are afloat in the world’s oceans, according to a new study published Wednesday in the journal PLOS One.

Ranging in size from a grain of salt to larger than a plastic water bottle, the plastic pollution in the world’s oceans weighs more than 269,000 tons—far more than all the gold ever mined in the world and far more than scientists previously estimated.

And that’s in just a few decades. Good job, humans.

Study author Marcus Eriksen and his team from the 5 Gyres Institute, based in Los Angeles, spent tens of thousands of hours scouring the world’s oceans for plastic between 2007 and 2012. They used trawling nets to scoop particles from the ocean surface and visually counted very large pieces. The study provides a snapshot of the magnitude of marine plastic pollution and its movement around the world’s oceans, said Eriksen.

The estimate is much higher than what previous studies found.

It’s interesting what a hard time we have getting an accurate bead on just how destructive we are as a species.

“It’s evidence that there is too much plastic in the ocean,” Cózar said in an email. “Only two or three generations have been using plastic materials. This provides evidence that the current model of managing plastic materials is economically and ecologically unsustainable.”

Garbage in, garbage in some more.


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

The damage

Dec 12th, 2014 4:29 pm | By

The damage Greenpeace did is worse than I’d realized. (Thanks to Tsu Dho Nimh for giving us the link to a graphic picture.)

You can see it very clearly in this picture from RT, assuming those naughty Russians haven’t faked it up.

Greenpeace hand out photograph showing Greenpeace activists from 7 countries gathered in Nazca, Peru during a protest in the framework of the UN climate talks on December 8, 2014. (AFP/Greenpeace)

That’s a mess.

Peru This Week points out that it hasn’t been established that the marks were not there before Greenpeace invaded the site.

Photographs taken yesterday at 5:05 p.m. by Captain Juan Carlos Ruiz are timely and demonstrate the current state of the lines. However, at the moment it is still unclear whether or not photographs taken prior to the incident correctly demonstrate the state up to the very moment the activists entered.

On their facebook page, Greenpeace International states, “We can assure you that absolutely NO damage was done. The message was written in cloth letters that laid on the ground without touching the Nazca lines. It was assessed by an experienced archaeologist, ensuring not even a trace was left behind.”

So an experienced archaeologist helped them barge onto a closed site to leave a “message”? That’s a baaaaaaaaaaad archaeologist.

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

Especially bad decisions

Dec 12th, 2014 3:50 pm | By

Stacey Patton and David J Leonard at the BBC look at why some victims get blamed for being killed by the police.

“You had a 350lb (158.8kg) person who was resisting arrest. The police were trying to bring him down as quickly as possible,” New York Representative Peter King told the press. “If he had not had asthma and a heart condition and was so obese, almost definitely he would not have died.”

This sort of logic sees Garner’s choices as the reasons for his death. Everything is about what he did. He had a petty criminal record with dozens of arrests, he (allegedly) sold untaxed cigarettes, he resisted arrest and disrespected the officers by not complying.

It’s as if the cops were a chainsaw or a cliff edge or an erupting volcano – unconscious things that human beings need to be careful of.

According to Bob McManus, a columnist for The New York Post, both Eric Garner and Michael Brown, the teenager shot dead by a police officer in Ferguson Missouri, “had much in common, not the least of which was this: On the last day of their lives, they made bad decisions. Especially bad decisions. Each broke the law – petty offenses, to be sure, but sufficient to attract the attention of the police. And then – tragically, stupidly, fatally, inexplicably – each fought the law.”

As one might fight a chainsaw or a volcano. If you get killed, well, what did you expect?

But why not talk instead about the choices the cops made, they ask.

There is plenty of blame to go around. The NYPD’s embrace of stop-and-frisk policies rooted in the “broken windows” method of policing is a co-conspirator worthy of public scrutiny and outrage.

Yet, we focus on Eric Garner’s choices.

Such victim-blaming is central to white supremacy.

Emmett Till should not have whistled at a white woman.

Amadou Diallo should not have reached for his wallet.

Trayvon Martin should not have been wearing a hoodie.

And so on, for a long list of examples.

The irony is these statements are made in a society where white men brazenly walk around with rifles and machine guns, citing their constitutional right to do so when confronted by the police.

Cliven Bundy pointed his gun at a bunch of federal cops and drove them away. Cliven Bundy is not a person of color.

Strange, isn’t it.


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

Ruling: the killing of Tamir Rice was a homicide

Dec 12th, 2014 12:40 pm | By

The Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s report ruled Rice’s death a homicide.

(Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office)

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

Grave violation

Dec 12th, 2014 12:21 pm | By

The Malay Mail Online notes that the IHEU report on freedom of thought singled out Malaysia “for trampling on the rights of non-religious sections of society.”

The International Humanist and Ethical Union’s (IHEU) latest edition of the Freedom of Thought Report 2014 gave Malaysia a“grave violation” rating, specifically citing Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s speech in Kuantan on May 14 in which he branded “humanism and secularism as well as liberalism” as “deviant”.

Najib went on to describe these elements as a threat to Islam and the country at a national-level Quran Recital Assembly, the report added.

“This country is found to be declining due to alienating rhetoric against “atheists” and “humanists” voiced in 2014 by the prime minister, as well as ongoing legal disputes over the freedoms of religious minorities contributing to interreligious tension,” stated the report.

But but but but isn’t Malaysia one of those nice “moderate” officially-Islamic states? Like Indonesia?

Although a degree of religious freedom is granted to non-Muslim religious minorities including Christians, Buddhists and Hindus, the report pointed out that Malaysia is far behind in terms of for freedom of thought and expression specifically due to the control exerted on the majority Malay Muslim community.

“Ethnic Malay (are) subjected to strict state controls over an enforced, homogenous religious identity, including mandatory Sharia laws and localised death penalties on the books for “apostasy”,” it noted.

That counts too you know. Even if non-Muslims have all possible freedom, if Muslims are subject to state-enforced religious “laws” and punishments, then that’s not religious freedom. Many Christians in the US don’t want to be governed by the “laws” of the FLDS church or the Southern Baptist Convention or indeed any other religious law, and if the feds forced all Christians to be subject to Christian laws, that would not be religious freedom. At all.

While the Federal Constitution protects freedom of religion or belief and the freedom of expression, it is restricted by Shariah laws and policies in a bid to protect Islam as the religion of the federation including Putrajaya’s ban on the use of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims, it said.

Brunei, which had recently legislated hudud, and Indonesia, for its suppression of religious minorities and harassment by its religious police, were also rebuked and given the grave violation rating”.

But they’re the “moderate” ones! So…that means…

oh dear.

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

Greenpeace still doesn’t get it

Dec 12th, 2014 11:53 am | By

Greenpeace has apologized to the people of Peru for stomping on the Nazca lines in order to stick a dopy slogan next to them – but it’s a bad, point-missing apology.

Greenpeace has apologized for the action. “Without reservation Greenpeace apologises to the people of Peru for the offence caused by our recent activity laying a message of hope at the site of the historic Nazca Lines,” the organization said in a statement. “We are deeply sorry for this.

“Rather than relay an urgent message of hope and possibility to the leaders gathering at the Lima UN climate talks, we came across as careless and crass.”

No, you dumb fucks. You damaged the site. It’s not about how you “came across” and it’s not about “offence” – it’s about the damage you did by entering a site that is closed in order to preserve it. Jesus h christ wouldn’t you think an environmental group of all groups would be able to grasp the difference between “causing offense” and doing irreparable damage to a part of the earth?

What stinking cowards they must be along with being whatever kind of ruthless shithead you have to be to barge into a closed historical archaeological artistic site in the first place. How cowardly and evasive to pretend all they did was cause some offence and appear careless and crass.

No doubt they did that for legal reasons, because they’re hoping to avoid prosecution and/or financial damages – but then their apology is a worthless chickenshit lie.

Frankly, I hope Peru sues them into oblivion, them and their “message of hope.”


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