Notes and Comment Blog

For those with the privilege of voting in such an historic day

May 22nd, 2015 10:28 am | By

The Irish vote on same-sex marriage is today; polls close in a couple of hours. Counting doesn’t begin until tomorrow.

David Robert Grimes takes a look at some of the bad science being deployed by the No side.

Catholic think-tank the Iona Institute are amongst the loudest voices on the no side. Along with other no campaigners, their main argument has been a rather cynical attempt to reframe the referendum as about children rather than marriage equality, a misconception the referendum commissioner has taken pains to dismantle. This hasn’t discouraged Iona and their fellow no campaigners from attempting to emotively and dishonestly reframe the discussion, however.

Biological parents! Better! Better for children! Never mind that the research doesn’t say that!

Of course, if Quinn and his colleagues gave a damn about the reality of the situation, they would have found their protestations on the suitability of same-sex parents to be utterly misplaced. Numerous studies have since found precisely zero differences in parenting or child outcomes between same-sex or opposite sex couples. The American psychological association state rather succinctly that “… the evidence to date suggests that home environments provided by lesbian and gay parents are as likely as those provided by heterosexual parents to support and enable children’s psychosocial growth.”.

Sadly, the insinuation that same-sex parents are defective continues unabated. Fellow Iona patron Professor Patricia Casey was publicly rebuked on two separate occasions last year for misusing research from both Uppsala University and UNICEF to reach the same dubious conclusion, prompting UNICEF Ireland’s executive director Melanie Verwoerd to slam Casey’s spin as “incorrect and unacceptable”.

They’re lying for Jesus. Surely that makes it ok.

The polls are predicting a yes vote, but there are compelling reasons to consider them unreliable on this issue, partly because of the likelihood that many people will tell pollsters they’re voting yes when they’re not. The Shame Skew, you might call it.

The other big factor is turnout: when turnout is low, only those strongly invested in a particular outcome will vote, and this can skew the result to something quite at odds with majority opinion – essentially a selective sampling problem. This may have been the case in Seanad abolition referendum in 2013, when a turnout of less than 40% skewed the result to quite the opposite of polling predictions.

Ultimately, campaigners in both camps are aware it will be turnout that decides the election. While I generally attempt to hold a neutral position on the pieces I write, I feel obliged to declare an interest here, having canvassed for a yes vote in Ireland last week. As an Irish expatriate living abroad, I cannot vote, yet dearly hope it passes and Ireland becomes a more equal place. Regardless of one’s voting intention, the scaremongering from the no side is simply so much sound and fury, and should be dismissed with the contempt it deserves. Their ostensible grasps at scientific credibility crumble upon even a cursory inspection, and their odious arguments, bereft of facts, should not be allowed set the tone of the conversation.

For those with the privilege of voting in such an historic day, I implore you not to let apathy rule, and to use your vote so we can be proud of the country we all call home.


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

Reaping what you sow

May 22nd, 2015 10:04 am | By

So now it’s the Wahhabis’ turn.

The Islamic State (IS) group says it was behind a suicide bombing on a Shia mosque in Saudi Arabia that killed at least 10 people.

The attack in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province is the first to be claimed by the Saudi branch of IS, which was formally established last November.

They break their eggs at the wrong end, you see.

Witnesses reported a huge blast at the Imam Ali mosque in the village of al-Qadeeh, in Qatif governorate during Friday prayers.

A doctor at the hospital told the BBC that at least 10 people were killed and about 70 injured, “some very critically”.

Allahu aqbar.

The Sunni extremists of IS have a special loathing for the Shia and they will almost certainly have been looking to exacerbate sectarian tensions between Saudi Arabia’s Shia minority and the rest of the population.

Shia anger will likely be directed at the Saudi authorities for failing to protect their community in Eastern Province.

Shias have been concerned for some time at inflammatory speeches given by hardline Sunnis that depict them as being ‘not real Muslims’, a view shared by IS.

That’s religious dogmatism for you. So many people fail to get every jot and tittle of the dogma exactly right, thus becoming “not real” dogmatists, thus deserving to be blown to smithereens.

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

Just as a fact

May 21st, 2015 5:07 pm | By

From Shit People Say To Women Directors:

A few years ago I was working on a major (major!) big budget LA-based film production

I was one of four women (out of more than 60 people) working in the art department. One day a male colleague and I were talking about how few women were working on this production.

He proceeded to inform me that, “women are not as talented as men when it comes to the arts.” 

The weird thing: he said this with no malice, just as a fact.

Well sure. After all, there were only four women in the art department. There’s your fact right there.

I’m an Animator and Character Designer

I’m helping put together a pitch for a company’s new cartoon show, aimed at kindergarten girls. I submit my designs, and get the following notes back:

“Make her white. Only white people spend money.”

“She’s not sexy enough. Make her sexier.”

The character in question is eight. The producers of the show are all old, white men.

Well it could be worse, she could be seven.

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

Almost there

May 21st, 2015 4:37 pm | By

Stewart on Obama’s Twitter adventures:

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

And this attitude is infectious

May 21st, 2015 11:46 am | By

Yet another piece about how atheism got to be all full of assholes. I say “yet another” so you’ll know I realize there are a lot and I’ve probably talked about all of them, but this is a good one. (So were the others. Shut up.)

Mark Hill divides the brands of assholery into 5.

#5. The Closest Atheism Has To Leaders Are Terrible People

Yes. That’s true, and it’s a problem if you want atheism to catch on.

He starts, naturally, with Dawkins.

He sneers down on anyone who disagrees with him with such disdain that Professor Snape would be put off, he’s repeatedly gone out of his way to insult and trivialize sexual harassment, and he went off on that weird tangent about watching dogs have oral sex.

And then there’s Kincaid…

YouTube keeps suggesting I watch videos by the Amazing Atheist, possibly because it’s worried by how many hours I’ve wasted watching other people watch other people play video games.

If you have literally anything better to do than watch that video, he “answers 22 creationists” with all the smug condescension of a teenager who just discovered what communism is and won’t shut up about how it’s perfect in theory. In another video, he uses the same haughty tone to defend himself from accusations of having toxic attitudes toward women while doing impressions of them that sound like he plugged his nose and took a hit of helium.

Yes, I get that being a jerk is his shtick. But his videos have hundreds of thousands of views. Dawkins’ The God Delusion has sold over 2 million copies. And this attitude is infectious. Reddit’s atheism board and its 2 million members became such an infamous cesspool that Reddit removed it from its list of default subscriptions.

The infectious attitude is…key.

I’m sure many of you can name atheists who express their arguments rationally and politely, but as a casual fan of intense religious discussions I can only recall the prominent people. I’m like the basketball fan who only knows LeBron. That means arrogant condescension has become the default tone. We’re attracted to people, not because they make compelling arguments but because they’re loud and abrasive. That’s what we think someone who espouses our beliefs should sound like, but that’s like letting PETA represent all vegetarians, or Die Antwoord represent all music.

Next item on the list –

#4. It’s Become Tied To Awful Ideas

I don’t mean to pick on the Amazing Atheist, but the need to defend himself from feminist critiques didn’t come out of nowhere like the knife-wielding clown that snuck up behind you as you read this. Here he is arguing that sexual objectification doesn’t exist, and here he is again making fun of feminist cartoons while the point of them flies so far over his head it struck a passing 747.

And he doesn’t even mention Phil Mason/Thunderf00t.

this isn’t an isolated problem. As AlterNet points out, atheism has become as bad at talking to girls as the boys at a junior high dance. A movement that’s supposed to be about rational thinking has fallen into the same “vagina emotions make chicks a bunch of crazy broads” trap as your friend who got into the pickup community and reeks like an Axe factory. You can’t claim to be a proponent of science and reasonable thinking, only to regress to hacky sitcom stereotypes about women being humorless harpies who bring sexual assault upon themselves. That’s like complaining that no one will take your obvious soccer skills seriously just because you occasionally punch opposing players and pick up the ball.

It might be an idea not to alienate half the potential constituency, in short.

“Spreading your beliefs” and “insulting half the Earth’s population” are contradictory goals. One of the reasons Christianity took off is that Jesus rarely gave sermons about how it’s important to love thy neighbor unless they’re some crazy ho, in which case you just have to put up with them until they’re off the rag, am I right, Biblical men? If you want to attract people to your worldview, you have to make it look attractive.

BuzzFeed, as a reminder that they occasionally engage in journalism that goes beyond telling you what Game Of Thrones character your toaster would be, did an excellent piece on how women who want to engage in the community of skeptics find themselves targets of sexual harassment. When one woman politely pointed out that it wasn’t the greatest idea to hit on her at 4 a.m. in a hotel elevator in a foreign country, Richard Dawkins ripped into her and someone sent her a drawing of her being raped.

But after that things went downhill.

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

Bigger, Better, Shinier Human Rights

May 21st, 2015 11:23 am | By

My latest Free Inquiry column is online. Usually they’re subscribers-only, so it’s fun to be able to share.

It’s about Saudi Arabia’s indignation at Margot Wallström for daring to mention human rights in her address to a meeting of the Arab League – a very mild, gentle, tactful mention.

That’s all. It doesn’t seem very confrontational or harsh, does it? In fact I would expect Saudi Arabia to go the opposite way and nod pleasantly throughout the speech by way of showing the world that of course it agrees that human rights and women’s rights are important. After all, Saudi Arabia sent a representative to the Charlie Hebdo march for freedom of expression in Paris in January, despite the obvious fact that it doesn’t believe in freedom of expression at all. It could have played the game exactly the same way in March, cynically pretending to agree with Sweden in order to keep the game of diplomatic cooperation and lucrative arms deals going.

I go on to get rather confrontational and harsh myself, which is the advantage of being a writer as opposed to a foreign minister.


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

​Shit People Say to Women Directors

May 21st, 2015 10:53 am | By

There’s a tumblr about shit people say to women directors. The Guardian says so.

The site, which launched on 22 April and is causing a storm among film industry insiders, especially women, is a catalog of anonymous stories about the sexist things that happen to women working on film sets.

One female director was asked by a male agent: “How did you get so far so fast, besides the fact that you give good head?” One male director told a female crew member: “I can’t work with someone I want to fuck. It messes with my head.” A male writer told his female assistant: “You are a terrible assistant; why don’t you go back to working in porn where you belong?”

The film industry is like the world of popular sport (not archery or bowls but football and boxing) – it’s so popular and powerful it can do whatever the fuck it wants to. It wants to exclude and insult women? It can, because it’s so popular and powerful.

There is also a litany of complaints about women being told they can’t direct action, informed that a show’s “female and minority slots” are full, and crews rebelling against women or telling women how to do their jobs.

“Shit People Say To Women Directors is a collective diary for women to flush away all of the appalling bullshit we’ve been handed over the years while trying to make a living in film,” say the creators of the site, who have chosen to remain anonymous and would only submit to an interview by email. “Our hope was for women to let off a little steam while shining a light on a pervasive problem … What we did not anticipate, however, was the overwhelming amount of submissions we got from the public. We received a year’s worth of content literally overnight.”

I guess I know what I’m going to be reading for the next several weeks.

Dr Martha M Laurzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, doesn’t think that this Tumblr will have a major effect on the struggles women face in Hollywood. “My impression is that any industry with such heavily skewed gender ratios is unlikely to be cowed by this sort of public outing,” she says. “That said, I do think the remarks on the blog add personal testimony to the substantial quantitative evidence indicting the mainstream film industry for its steadfast sexism.”

Well, there is such a thing as the law. The heavily skewed gender ratio is…how can I put this tactfully…against the fucking law, and public outrage can indeed prompt enforcement of existing laws.

The regrets about speaking out are why the creators of Shit People Say to Women Directors decided to keep all submissions to the site, and themselves, anonymous. “Women have been cowed into silence over these issues for fear of being further shut out, marginalized and denied networking opportunities after being labeled ‘whistle blowers’ or ‘difficult,’” they say.

The anonymity of the site, ironically, is making it easier for women to talk about the issue. “If other people are bringing it up, that’s good for me because I don’t sound like I have a chip on my shoulder,” Rodriguez says. “We all go through it. We’ve all been directed to the hair and makeup trailer. We’ve all been micromanaged by male producers. It’s good to have that out there so that people can see what it’s really like.”

As the site has grown and gotten more popular, words of encouragement from both men and women have poured in and men have started to share their own stories about the awful things members of their gender have done on sets.

Movie industry, we’re coming to get you.

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

The men get picked up by the studios and the women don’t

May 21st, 2015 10:26 am | By

Good. Let’s have more of this kind of thing. The ACLU is starting a campaign to push the US movie industry to stop treating women like the invisible half of humanity.

The so-called celluloid ceiling is firmly intact despite years of complaints about gender inequality, the American Civil Liberties Union reports. In particular, both aspiring and seasoned female directors are excluded from the vast majority of movies.

The ACLU will demand on Tuesday that both state and federal agencies investigate the hiring practices of Hollywood’s major studios, networks and talent agencies and consider filing legal charges.

The ACLU found “rampant discrimination” against female movie directors and has focused its latest investigation mainly on that sector of the industry, but also raises concerns about long-term gender discrimination involving actors, writers and other roles in both film and television.

It’s a completely ridiculous and terrible situation, that everyone knows about, and nobody does anything about. And it matters, because this industry shapes our imaginations and our ideas of how the world is – so it’s teaching everyone that women are scarce and weird, and weak and stupid, and after age 30 useless and repulsive. Less than ideal teaching, wouldn’t you say?

“Hollywood is in a dire situation in terms of gender disparities and the industry has been pretty much getting away with it,” Ariela Migdal, a senior staff attorney in the Women’s Rights Project of the ACLU, told the Guardian on Tuesday.

In 2014, only 7% of the directors of the 250 top-grossing Hollywood-produced films were women – which was down 2% on the equivalent figure for 1998, the ACLU noted on Tuesday.

And last year, 70 network television shows – almost a third – hired no female directors at all, the advocacy group said.

There’s plenty of racial discrimination too, they add.

ACLU researchers found that the number of women studying at leading film schools in the US was roughly on a par with men. And films directed by women do well at prestigious competitions such as the Sundance film festival, Migdal said.

“There is no shortage of talent,” she added. “But then the men get picked up by the studios and the women don’t. It’s blatant and it’s widespread across the industry. When you have statistics and a lot of complaints from individuals, it shows a pattern.”

The ACLU letters will go to the federal agencies the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) and the Labor Department, and the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

Numerous studies in recent months have shown entrenched bias against women on the screen, behind the camera and writing the shows and movies.

And you confirm this for yourself by seeing a movie and noticing how scarce the women are and how underwritten the few women are.

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

Grace Kelly and Jimmy Stewart

May 21st, 2015 9:44 am | By

It reads like an outtake from Amy Schumer’s fuckability video, but it isn’t. From the Guardian:

Maggie Gyllenhaal was told by a Hollywood producer that she was too old, at 37, to play the love interest of a 55-year-old man, the Oscar-nominated actor has revealed.

Let me explain. She’s “too old” to play the role of the woman inserted into the movie solely to show that the protagonist dude is 1. straight and 2. normal. The reason she is “too old” to play that part is that 37 x 2=74 and the man is only 55. It’s a law of Hollywood that the token woman there to show the protagonist man’s straight normality has to be no more than half his age.

Why? Well, because she’s there to show that he’s normal, and normal men are repulsed by women who are more than half their age.

The commonplace practice of casting a much younger female against a much older male has been prevalent since Hollywood’s golden age: Kim Novak was half the 50-year-old James Stewart’s age during filming of 1958’s Vertigo.

I can think of one or two other examples, as well.

However, Hollywood finds itself under increasing scrutiny in 2015 for failing to represent women fairly on screen and behind the cameras. Earlier this month, the American Civil Liberties Union announced it would demand that state and federal agencies investigate why major studio regularly fail to hire aspiring and seasoned female directors for movies, citing “rampant discrimination” in the industry. Meanwhile, a report by the Center for the Study of Women in Television, Film & New Media at San Diego State University found that female actors took just 12% of leading roles in the top 100 domestic-grossing films of 2014.

I’m surprised they got that many.

At the Cannes film festival earlier this week, the makers of drug-war thriller Sicario revealed they had at one stage been under pressure from producers to rewrite the lead role, a female FBI agent played by Emily Blunt, to make the character male.

Of course they were. Because people are men. Women are flukes, weirdos, oddities – they’re not the comfortable, familiar, unworrying default. It’s just way safer and more appealing to have men for all the characters except in the few cases where you want a flukey weirdo.

Gyllenhaal told The Wrap that despite her recent experience – she did not name the production nor the older male star – she remained hopeful that Hollywood was slowly becoming a better place for women to work. “A lot of actresses are doing incredible work right now, playing real women, complicated women,” she said. “I don’t feel despairing at all. And I’m more looking with hope for something fascinating.”

Uh huh. Because I’m not 37 but 137, I know people have been saying this since 1970. That’s a long time for it to fail to happen.

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

From the Temple of Bel to the West Gate

May 20th, 2015 4:16 pm | By

Wikipedia on The Great Colonnade at Palmyra:

The Great Colonnade at Palmyra was the main colonnaded avenue in the ancient city of Palmyra in the Syrian Desert. The colonnade was built in several stages during the second and third century CE and stretched for more than a kilometer. It linked the Temple of Bel, in the southeastern end of the city, to the West Gate and the Funerary Temple in the northwestern part. As of May 2015, the area is under the control of the Islamic State.


Goodbye Great Colonnade.

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

Goodbye Palmyra

May 20th, 2015 4:09 pm | By

Daesh has taken it. They’ll smash or sell everything.

Hundreds of Palmyra’s statues have been moved to safety but large monuments from the ancient parts of the city could not be moved.

“This is the entire world’s battle,” said Syria’s head of antiquities Maamoun Abdul Karim. He called on the US-led military coalition against IS to prevent the group destroying the ancient site.

Rising out of the desert, Palmyra contains the monumental ruins of a great city that was one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world, according to Unesco, the UN’s cultural agency.

Palmyra is the last place anyone would expect to find a forest of stone columns and arches. But for anyone visiting, the key reason for the site’s prosperity becomes immediately apparent: ancient Palmyra sits at the edge of an oasis of date palms and gardens.

For such a remote city, Palmyra occupies a prominent place in Middle Eastern history. From modest beginnings in the 1st Century BC, the city gradually rose to prominence under the aegis of Rome until, during the 3rd Century AD, the city’s rulers challenged Roman power and created an empire of their own that stretched from Turkey to Egypt.

Palmyra was a great Middle Eastern achievement, and was unlike any other city of the Roman Empire. Like Venice, the city formed the hub of a vast trade network, only with the desert as its sea and camels as its ships.

Well, kiss it goodbye. All that is haram, so into the fire with it.

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

Not too far into the future

May 20th, 2015 11:05 am | By

Raymond Johansen posted a translated transcript of an interview Ensaf Haidar did on NRK Debatt.

Dear Ensaf Haidar, here is your interview again and the following is a translation I hope do you justice. My arabic is limited so please do not feel offended. We tried our best. You are a strong woman and we wish you and your family the best of luck. You are right. Millions of people around the world stand right beside you and your husband Raif Badawi
Ensaf is asked if she knows how her husband is doing in prison at the moment

Ensaf: Raif’s situation is not good at this moment in time – healthwise or psychologically. His situation is not good at all. But that is normal considering his situation, based on all the uncertainty. To sum it up, his situation is not good at all.

Question: You reside in Canada right now with your three small children. Do you have any contact. Direct contact with your husband now?

Ensaf: Raif calls every now and then, but they are always short conversations.

Question: Your husband was sentenced to one thousand lashes for having championed free speech in SA. Were you surprised of this sentencing. How harsh it was?

Ensaf: Of course. I was very surprised and shocked. All he did was exercise his free speech. I never thought he would get such a violent punishment. It was and still is a shock.

Question: If the authorities in SA goes through, if they persist with the lashing. Do you fear that your husband might not survive it?

Ensaf: Of course. A man cannot take 50 lashes. Raifs body and mind will not be able to handle 50 lashes every week. It is simply torture, nothing more nothing less.

Question: Do you think the international outcry over this and the pressure against SA has in any way helped the situation?

Ensaf: I hope that it has helped. As for now everything is uncertain. But [the support] it has helped me. I feel like the whole world is standing right beside us. I am sure that the Raif cause will affect things in measurable ways. This far it is our family that suffers the consequences. Raif knows and feels that the whole world walks stands beside him.

[Editors note: in excess of a million people have signed a petition supporting him]

I hope that people will continue to fight for his release.

Question: In Norway there was quite a lot of debate when King Abdullah died, and a member of our Royal family went to a ceremony in SA. It was debated whether the Crown Prince of Norway should actually raise the issue of your husband with the authorities of SA. Do you think that would have helped?

Ensaf: Of course. When governments talk to each other, that is helpful. I hope they ask they ask the SA government to release Raif.

Question: Tell me about the culture gap here… Your own father in law said that he would gladly kill your husband if the authorities would not do it. How does remarks like that make you think? [Editors note: Must have meant to say “feel” – not “think”]

Ensaf: If Raif had done anything wrong and his father witnessed that…. If he had been a real father, he would not want to kill his own son, whatever he might have done.

Question: All over the world people are demonstrating in front of SA embassies every Friday – to help your husband. But what is your next step to help free him?

Ensaf: First I would like to thank each and every one standing in front of the embassies every week. As for the next step, I do not have a solution. I hope we find away to get him released right away. At this time, I do not know how to make that happen. But I do hope we find a solution. If someone have an idea that can get Raif released, I can only hope that they help us.

Question: Do you think the plight of your husband is also helping the world understand more of what’s going on human rights wise in SA?

Ensaf: That is self evident.

Question: And are you at present optimistic that at some point you will be reunited with your husband?

Ensaf: Of course! Of course! Of course! Not too far into the future.

Conclusion: Ensaf Haidar thank you very much for taking part in this interview!

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

Ensaf around the world

May 20th, 2015 10:50 am | By

Ensaf Haidar is in Norway, and keeping us posted.

Norsk PEN also updates us.

A new friend did the same:

Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting Ensaf Haidar, the wife of Raif Badawi who is imprisoned in Saudi Arabia for creating a website. In January he received the first 50 lashes, and ever since people from all over the world have mobilized to stop the flogging. Ensaf is an inspiring lady who is tirelessly working for Raif’s freedom. ‪#‎FreeRaifBadawi‬


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

Must be able to handle a sword

May 20th, 2015 10:24 am | By

Job opportunity in Saudi Arabia: they’re hiring executioners.

Saudi Arabia is advertising for eight new executioners, recruiting extra staff to carry out an increasing number of death sentences, usually done by public beheading.

No special qualifications are needed for the jobs whose main role is “executing a judgment of death” but also involve performing amputations on those convicted of lesser offences, the advert, posted on the civil service jobs portal, said.

Not a bad job at all; just cutting off heads and hands. Light, healthful work in a pleasant environment.

The Islamic kingdom is in the top five countries in the world for putting people to death, rights groups say. It ranked third in 2014, after China and Iran, and ahead of Iraq and the United States, according to Amnesty International figures.

Great company my country keeps, isn’t it – China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. Murderers’ Row.

A man beheaded on Sunday was the 85th person this year whose execution was recorded by the official Saudi Press Agency, compared to 88 in the whole of 2014, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW). Amnesty said there were at least 90 executions last year.

Most were executed for murder, but 38 had committed drugs offences, HRW said. About half were Saudi and the others were from Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, Jordan, India, Indonesia, Burma, Chad, Eritrea the Philippines and Sudan.

Well at least the US doesn’t execute people for drugs offences. Yet.

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

Those young women were totally unwilling

May 20th, 2015 9:20 am | By

HRW on Indonesia’s “virginity test”:

Virginity testing is a form of gender-based violence and is a widely discredited practice. In November 2014, the World Health Organization issued guidelines that stated, “There is no place for virginity (or ‘two-finger’) testing; it has no scientific validity.”

Indonesia’s coordinating minister for politics, law, and security, Tedjo Edhi, acknowledged that the military requires the tests on November 18, 2014, the day that Human Rights Watch issued a report about “virginity testing” for female National Police candidates. Maj. Gen. Fuad Basya, the armed forces spokesman, said that the Indonesian military has conducted “virginity testing” on female recruits for even longer than the police, without specifying when the practice began. Human Rights Watch research found that all branches of the military – air force, army, and navy – have used the test for decades and also extended the requirement to the fiancées of military officers.

It kind of makes you wish the whole childbearing thing could be shifted to factories instead of human women’s bodies, so that women and men could relate to each other without anyone worrying about whose sperm is/might be inside which woman.

Human Rights Watch interviewed 11 women – military recruits and fiancées of military officers – who had undergone the test at military hospitals in Bandung, Jakarta, or Surabaya; a female officer at the military health center; and a doctor who worked in a military hospital in Jakarta. Applicants and fiancées who were deemed to have “failed” were not necessarily penalized, but all of the women described the test as painful, embarrassing, and traumatic.

All of the women interviewed told Human Rights Watch that it was required of all other women applying to enter the military or planning to marry military officers. They said that the only women excluded were those with “powerful connections” or who bribed the military doctors who administered the tests. Human Rights Watch found that the testing included the invasive “two-finger test” to determine whether female applicants’ hymens are intact. Finger test findings are scientifically baseless because an “old tear” of the hymen or variation of the “size” of the hymenal orifice can be due to reasons unrelated to sex.

Plus there’s the fact that a soldier’s virginity or non-virginity really has nothing to do with being a soldier.

Indonesia’s National Police responded to the Human Rights Watch exposure of police use of “virginity testing” by supporting the practice. A senior police official, Inspector General Moechgiyarto, on November 18 confirmed the requirement, defending it as a means of ensuring “high moral standards.” He suggested to the media that those failing the test were prostitutes.

Again the reduction of morality to more or less sexual activity.

Human Rights Watch has advocated ending “virginity testing” in other countries, including Egypt, India, and Afghanistan. These procedures have been recognized internationally as a violation of human rights, particularly the prohibition against cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment under article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and article 16 of the Convention against Torture, both of which Indonesia has ratified.

But if you think morality boils down to policing women’s access points, well, never mind your pesky conventions against torture then. Safety first.

Indonesian Women Speak Out on “Virginity Testing” in the Indonesian Armed Forces:

I initially learned from other physicians performing the “virginity test” in our hospital. The women were positioned like women giving birth. In 2008, I administered the test myself. Those young women were totally unwilling to be positioned in such an opened position. It took an effort to make them willing to [undergo the virginity test]. It was not [just] a humiliating act anymore. It was a torture. I decided not to do it again.
—A female physician in a military hospital in Jakarta

On the one hand women must be fiercely policed so that they don’t allow random people to have access to their Significant Orifice, on the other hand women must let some stranger check their Significant Orifice for evidence of random people having access. You just can’t win.

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

Two fingers

May 20th, 2015 8:16 am | By

A news item from the Jakarta Globe:

Jakarta. The commander of Indonesia’s armed forces believes that invasive virginity tests for female recruits are a good thing and the only way to gauge the women’s morality.

Asked for his response to growing international condemnation of the practice, Gen. Moeldoko insisted to reporters at the State Palace in Jakarta on Friday that the so-called two-finger test was one of the requirements for women joining the Indonesian Military, or TNI.

“So what’s the problem? It’s a good thing, so why criticize it?” he said.


He conceded, though, that there was no direct link between a woman being a virgin and her abilities as a member of the armed forces, but insisted that virginity was a gauge of a woman’s morality – one of the three key traits he said a woman must have to serve in the TNI, along with high academic aptitude and physical strength.

The virginity test “is a measure of morality. There’s no other way” to determine a person’s morality, Moeldoko claimed.

A person’s? How do they determine men’s morality then? They don’t stick two fingers up’em, I assume, so what do they do?

Also – I know it’s obvious, but what a ridiculous notion of morality. So you can be cruel, sadistic, violent, selfish, and tyrannical, but as long as you’re a virgin, you’re a moral person? Really?

Human Rights Watch has told Indonesia to stop doing this, so that’s why Moeldoko was asked for his thoughts.

The Indonesian Council of Ulema, or MUI, the country’s highest Islamic authority, has also come out in opposition to the practice, saying it goes against Muslim jurisprudence, Tempo reported on Saturday.

Syarifudin Damanhuri, the head of an East Java district chapter of the MUI, suggested a religion test instead, arguing that it would give military recruiters a better profile of an individual’s character than a virginity test ever could.

No. No, that won’t do either.

To justify the tests, military officers told female recruits they were crucial to preserving “the dignity and the honor of the nation,” HRW said.

Officers who wish to marry require a letter of recommendation from their commanders, who only issue them upon confirmation that the fiancée has undergone a medical examination, including the “virginity test” at a military hospital.


Sorry to keep shouting, but really. Women who plan to marry officers have to get a “virginity test” at a military hospital?! That’s grotesque.

I wonder if the hospitals require the women to wear high heels while they’re being “tested.”

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

Tarek’s goodbye to Taslima

May 19th, 2015 6:04 pm | By

Tarek Fatah thinks highly of my friend Taslima Nasreen.

On my way to Delhi’s Indira Gandhi airport Sunday night for a flight back to Canada, I made a detour to pay my respects to someone I consider the bravest woman alive today — exiled Bangladeshi author, Taslima Nasreen.

I think many people consider her that, and rightly so.

Despite the security, this woman of steel, who has braved both physical and verbal assaults over her last 20 years in exile, sounds despondent.

She tells me, “The jihadi death squads of Bangladesh, who have killed three secular writers in three months, have now added my name to their list.”

Swiping her iPad, Nasreen shows me the threat made on Twitter by someone using the now-deleted handle @JihadForKhilafa, a call to wage jihad to establish an Islamic Caliphate.

“@TaslimaNasreen u r also among the 84 who r on the hitlist. Count ur days -;” the message reads.

Nasreen repeats a line from the award-winning Bangla film Nirbashito about freedom of speech, based on her life.

“It’s the pen and the sword; the sword always wins.”

We’ve been watching the sword win victory after victory lately.

Nasreen smiles, as she often does, with a wicked twinkle in her eyes, but I sense an air of despondency in her.

“We will win,” I tell her, trying to infuse her with some optimism.

“Kaisa jeeta ga, tumm bhi tho bhag gaya?” she asks me in jest.

(“How can we win, when you, too, are running away?”)

She speaks in a lilting, Urdu accent, reminding me of the 1970s, when both of us were citizens of Pakistan.

“No, I am not running away,” I protest. “I will fight the cancer of Islamofascism until it’s defeated.”

But she isn’t convinced.

“That’s your problem, Tarek,” she tells me, “stop fooling yourself, (the problem is) Islam, not Islamofascism.”

“I, too, am a European citizen”, she lectures me. “I too, can live in Europe, but I choose to fight the extremists here in India. This is where the epic ‘Ghazwa-e-Hind’ (will occur).”

This refers to the end-of-time battle Prophet Mohammed is said to have predicted, where non-Muslims will come under Islamic control, triggering the long-awaited Islamic Armageddon.

Nasreen taunts me, arguing this war will not be waged by jihadis in air-conditioned Canada.

“Come to Canada,” I suggest.

“Really?” she responds sarcastically. “I can never forget the mob of Muslim students in Montreal’s Concordia University, who successfully disrupted my speech, and I had to be taken away by police.”

Swords clanged in the background.

We part, knowing we may never meet again.

The woman I consider the world’s bravest feminist, who has no family, siblings, parents or children, just her conviction and integrity, beams me a smile.

I am teary-eyed as I say “Khuda Hafiz”, (“May God be your Protector”), a parting wish banned by Islamists in Bangladesh and Pakistan, but not yet in India.​

And may she not need any protectors.

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

“Your brother’s engaged and we need your dowry money to pay for his wedding.”

May 19th, 2015 5:46 pm | By

Another Mighty Girl.

18-year-old Sonita Alizadeh never expected her love of rap music to change her life. When the Afghan-born singer was 14 years old, she was devastated to learn that her parents were arranging a marriage for her. In response, she wrote and recorded a powerful song called “Brides for Sale.” Not only did it change her parents’ minds, but the attention her music video generated has led to new opportunities and given her the chance to speak out on behalf of girls forced into child marriages around the world.

Sonita fled Afghanistan with her family to Tehran, Iran when she was eight years old. She discovered a non-profit organization that offered programs for undocumented Afghan kids; there she learned karate, photography, and had her first lessons in singing and rapping. Her lyrical ability quickly caught people’s attention, and she started working with an Iranian director who helped her polish her style and make her first music videos. She had high hopes for pursuing her interest in music until one day her mother told her: ‘You have to return to Afghanistan with me. There’s a man there who wants to marry you. Your brother’s engaged and we need your dowry money to pay for his wedding.”

Crushed by the prospect of being forced into a child marriage, Sonita poured her feelings into a new song, “Brides for Sale.” In the music video, she appears dressed as a bride with a bruised face and a barcode on her forehead. It begins: “Let me whisper, so no one hears that I speak of selling girls. My voice shouldn’t be heard since it’s against Sharia. Women must remain silent… this is our tradition.” She was worried what her parents would think of the video, but to her relief, they loved it and told her she didn’t have to marry. “It means so much to me that my family went against our tradition for me,” Sonita said in an interview with PRI. “Now I’m somewhere that I never imagined I could be.”

Sonita’s music attracted such attention that she was offered a full scholarship to an arts academy in Utah and she recently held her first US concert in San Francisco. Although Sonita is thrilled by the opportunities she’s finding in the US, her heart remains back home with the millions of women she knows still live with discrimination, forced marriage, and worse. She told PRI, “I sometimes I think about the fact that I could have been a mother right now — with a few kids. It’s not a thought I like.” But she hopes that her music can make a difference for other girls and women like her: “Rap music lets you tell your story to other people. Rap music is a platform to share the words that are in my heart.”

Watch a subtitled video of her song “Brides for Sale” on YouTube. You can read more about Sonita’s story on PRI.

To learn more about the crisis of child marriage worldwide, photojournalist Stephanie Sinclair’s eight-year-long investigation into the practice has been turned into a 10-minute video call to action by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Watch the video, “Too Young to Wed: The Secret World of Child Brides,” which is not recommended for young viewers due to graphic content.

To learn more about the movement to end child marriage and how to get involved, visit Girls Not Brides, a global partnership of over 300 civil society organizations from around the world.

For several books about Mighty Girls who fought against child marriages, check out “Homeless Bird” for ages 9 to 13 (
), “The Lightning Dreamer” for ages 13 and up (, and “I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced” for ages 16 and up (

For stories of both real-life and fictional girls and women confronting gender discrimination and prejudice in a multitude of forms, visit our “Gender Discrimination” section at

For a highly recommended book for older teens and adults that discusses how girls and women are fighting back against oppression and transforming their communities, check out: “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” at

There are also two films that explore the transformative potential and power of girls and women in developing countries – both for ages 13 and up: the documentary based on the “Half the Sky” book (
) and “Girl Rising” (

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

Ten minutes’ grace

May 19th, 2015 4:53 pm | By

Of course. Obama got a shiny new POTUS Twitter account, and he tweeted a tweet to see if it worked. Ten minutes later, the Twitter scummerati were calling him “nigger.” Of course they were.

Here at [New Civil Rights Movement], announcing the news about 45 minutes later, we joked, “Someone’s going to have to break it to him that he doesn’t get to keep the account when he leaves office…”

But back on Twitter, it took conservatives all of ten minutes to start engaging in despicable acts, by calling President Obama “nigger.”

That was the first, but hardly the last. A quick search this morning found 60 tweets that included @POTUS and nigger…

Twitter means never having to filter what you say.

Jonathan Capehart at the Washington Post has some thoughts.

There are moments when I come this close to quitting Twitter. The amount of hatred squeezed into 140 characters or less by lunatics usually cloaked in anonymity is enough to make you question your support for the First Amendment and your faith in the decency of other people. To the uninitiated, the torrent of bigotry can leave you feeling violated. Even the most seasoned, battle-scarred, seen-it-all, can’t-nuthin’-shock-me individual will be left O-o by the filth in his or her Twitter feed.

Especially her.

If you follow me on the beast that is Twitter, you have seen me do battle with racists, homophobes and the willfully uninformed and ignorant. I strongly believe those folks need to be exposed[,] for sunlight is the best disinfectant, as the saying goes. And I strongly believe those folks need to endure the public censure and ridicule that comes with being revealed as a hate-filled bigot. It is then that whatever sliver of hope I have in humanity is restored.

A pretty thought, but since most of them are anonymous, they can’t be exposed, can they.

Welcome to Twitter, Mr Obama.

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

Guest post: I can tell a story about a concerned, caring Earl

May 19th, 2015 4:10 pm | By

Originally a comment by A Masked Avenger on Guest post: Narrative in literature is about explaining something

Narrative is a particularly engaging form of explaining.

Engaging… and dangerous. I can tell a story about how a woman saves herself from an attacker in the park by shooting him with her concealed weapon, and influence readers to believe (a) that “normal” attacks against women are by strangers in parks, and (b) women would be safer if only they carried more guns.

Or I can tell a story about a concerned, caring Earl, who sticks by his servants despite their being arrested twice and charged (falsely, of course) with two different murders, and who spends himself to the brink of penury all for the welfare of his tenants.

Or about the woman plantation owner whose slaves are heartbroken by the emancipation proclamation and insist on continuing to work for her without pay because she’s such a wonderful mistress.

Or about the libertarian paradise, or the socialist paradise, or… or… or…

I’m having trouble tracking it down, but I seem to recall that Mary Roberts Rinehart wrote a popular novelization of a famous crime, in which she exonerated the counterpart of the person who was actually convicted for the crime, with the effect of convincing many people that the person was innocent after all. I’m probably misremembering that it resulted in an actual pardon. In any case, again IIRC, Rinehart’s theory of the case was deemed unsupportable.

Whether or not that’s accurate, there are enough examples in which novels and movies “based on actual events” have colored public memory of those events to the point that misconceptions of those events are more prevalent than accurate knowledge.

I don’t see a solution to the problem, but we’re suckers for a good story. To a terrifying extent.

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