Notes and Comment Blog

Not Thorita

Jul 16th, 2014 4:02 pm | By

So what about THOR?

Paris Lees at the Guardian asks.

Hurrah. Marvel comics have revealed that Thor, the God of Thunder, has become a woman. Not in a transgender way, not in a “When Mr Thor gets back from the summer holidays he will be wearing a dress and called Ms Thor” way. No, Thor is simply a woman now and that’s that. And you needn’t worry about her going all soft and silly. As Jason Aaron, writer of the new Thor series, puts it: “This is not She-Thor. This is not Lady Thor. This is not Thorita. This is THOR. This is the THOR of the Marvel universe. But it’s unlike any Thor we’ve ever seen before.”

Excuse me?

Why would it be She-Thor or Lady Thor or Thorita?

That’s like thinking a woman who writes has to be a writeress, and a woman who flies planes has to be a pilotess, and a woman who sciences has to be a scientistess.

We’re not that weird, you know. We’re not that different. We’re not so weird and different that a gender switch necessitates the addition of layer upon layer of fluff and lace and ribbon and meringue.

Anything that breaks up our rigid ideas of just what men and women are supposed to be is a good thing. I’m just not entirely sure that a female THOR does anything to truly challenge the status quo around gender.

Putting women in men’s roles only gets you so far. Sexism didn’t disappear when women started wearing trousers. It’s wonderful that the fairer sex were able to undo their corsets and take on things that were traditionally seen as masculine – whether that be sports, political careers or plain old dungarees – but it has done little to challenge the scapegoating of femininity. We live in a society that still systematically celebrates masculinity while ridiculing all things feminine.

Oh well, give it a few more centuries.

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

An inordinate and unpredictable period of delay

Jul 16th, 2014 3:23 pm | By

Wow. Breaking news – Federal judge just declared the California death penalty unconstitutional.

A federal judge in Orange County ruled Wednesday that California’s death penalty violates the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney, ruled on a petition by death row inmate Ernest Dewayne Jones, who was sentenced to die nearly two decades ago.

Carney said the state’s death penalty has created long delays and uncertainty for inmates, most of whom will never be executed.

He noted that more than 900 people have been sentenced to death in California since 1978 but only 13 have been executed.

“For the rest, the dysfunctional administration of California’s death penalty system has resulted, and will continue to result, in an inordinate and unpredictable period of delay preceding their actual execution,” Carney wrote.

Well that does sound like torture.

Carney, an appointee of former President George W. Bush, said the delays have created a “system in which arbitrary factors, rather than legitimate ones like the nature of the crime or the date of the death sentence, determine whether an individual will actually be executed,” Carney said.

In overturning Jones’ death sentence, Carney noted that the inmate faced “complete uncertainty as to when, or even whether” he will be executed.

The “random few” who will be executed “will have languished for so long on Death Row that their execution will serve no retributive or deterrent purpose and will be arbitrary,” Carney said.

You’re there 20 years, you’re a different person, and then finally the state comes ambling along, yawning and picking its teeth, and says, “yeah ok we’re ready to off you now. Sorry about the wait.” It does seem pretty pointless.

And if it’s pointless after 20 years…then it’s pointless anyway, right? If it doesn’t accomplish anything after a long delay, how much can it accomplish if it’s done promptly?

Natasha Minsker, a director of the ACLU of Northern California, said Wednesday’s ruling marked the first time that a federal judge had found the state’s current system unconstitutional. She said it was also “the first time any judge has ruled systemic delay creates an arbitrary system that serves no legitimate purpose and is therefore unconstitutional.”

And it’s a Bush judge, a Bush 2 judge, a judge appointed by the Shrub. There’s something satisfying about that.

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

Return to Mars Hill

Jul 16th, 2014 11:55 am | By

Damn, I’ve been neglecting to pay attention to Mars Hill church – which is local to me – and clearly that’s a mistake. It’s been melting down, and people have been spilling truckloads of beans.

There are emerging stories of sensational kangaroo courts and “sex demon” trials, like something out of the Salem witch hunts of the 1600s. Even more devastating to individual members are the ways in which they are shamed, taught to blame themselves and each other when they see problems, and to formally shun people who step out of favor with church leaders. Shunnings, both formal and informal, have caused the outcast to spend years in isolation, cut off from friends, sometimes suffering deep clinical depression, nightmares, disillusionment and shattered faith.

Ah yes shunning, one of the gems of human ingenuity.

The problems in the church haven’t always been so obvious. In the beginning, Mars Hill church was a grassroots Seattle start-up with a 90s indie rock approach to organized religion.

Exuding charisma, the church’s young leader, Mark Driscoll, managed to make stories from the Bible entertaining and accessible. Unlike many other Christian evangelicals, he did not think that beer, electric guitars, married sex and mixed martial arts were at odds with Jesus.

Driscoll preaches a theology that counts homosexuality as a sin. He casts females as destined to play a supporting role, always orbitting the male lead. Though many didn’t like what Driscoll had to say, or how he said it, quite a few people did.

Apparently there are always quite a few people who like that way of casting “females”; not all of them are men, by any means.

Patterns of abuse, particularly the psychologically damaging practice of shunning, first came to widespread attention for many outside Mars Hill with reporter Brendan Riley’s Kiley’s 2012 expose, “Church or Cult?” published by the Stranger, which detailed the shunning of a young man for not repenting to the degree that church authorities thought he should.

“To them, repentence is groveling at their feet as if they are god,” said former member Rob Thain Smith — who was pushed out of the church and has a blog, Musings from Underneath the Bus.

Hm, we seem to have a theme today – male personality cults and the abusive behavior they foster.

Smith’s reputation was destroyed, he said, when Driscoll labeled him “divisive.” In the highly charged environment of Mars Hill, this became one of the most feared words in the English language, akin to being labeled a counter-revolutionary in Maoist China. Repentence trials seemed more like class struggle meetings. Still, many stayed quiet, out of fear or misplaced loyalty, sometimes even coming to believe the charges against them, and quietly leaving the church in shame. Though the only weapons were words, the words were like a spiritual death sentence.

Oh gawd, even that is familiar – we (we rebels against The Cult) are constantly called “divisive.”

It was during this period, around the mid-2000s that Driscoll started using more violent language to discredit people.

“I think these guys were trying to do due diligence and to rein Mark in in a healthy way, and at some point he got tired of being reined in,” said Wendy Alsup, who led theology classes for women at Mars Hill. She recently helped start the website “We Love Mars Hill,” one of many sites where former members are posting stories, and has her own blog Theology for Women.

Driscoll would talk about an ex-elder having been “put through the wood chipper.” He also likened someone to “a fart in an elevator.” At one point, on a church social networking site, he told a man to “shut up your wife or I’ll do it for you.”

“He was just brutal,” she said. “When he said these things, we all just hung our heads.”

Alsup quickly learned to fear the power of group disapproval.

“They’re going to project onto me that I am a bitter, nagging, contentious, gossip, manipulator. I learned to rein in my own voice.”

Check, check, check, check.

We humans just aren’t very good at group behavior, are we. We rely on it but we’re bad at it.

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

Will they never learn?

Jul 16th, 2014 10:58 am | By

Via RH Reality Check

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

Where the male professors became intoxicated

Jul 16th, 2014 10:31 am | By

Did somebody mention sexism in science?

The accused is Dr. Aurelio Galli, whose research deals with dopamine transport and signalling.

At a conference the professor “… required the female graduate students to attend a boat party where the male professors became intoxicated and were allowed to make romantic and sexual advances on the students.”

Then there’s this: The professor “would routinely call her ugly, fat and … a stupid in front of other students.”

The suit alleges he knew the graduate student was a recovering alcoholic and told her he wished she “would start drinking again because she would be more fun,” and that “… she would be less stressed out if she had more sex.”

She would be less stressed out if the professor didn’t keep calling her ugly, fat, and stupid, too.

How did the department chair handle it?

According to the lawsuit, when the student reported the conduct to the professor’s supervisor he informed her “that in his opinion it was nothing but a personality conflict.”

Unsurprisingly, Vanderbilt says it will “vigorously defend itself.”

It’s all a personality conflict, isn’t it – between the normal, male personality and the crazed moon-ridden unfathomable female personality.

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

There would be people who would bend over backwards to protect his reputation

Jul 16th, 2014 9:45 am | By

Mathematigal has her views on Feynman and the hero-worship of Feynman and what that hero-worship implies for women in science and mathematics.

She starts with some of the special treatment she has received, such as…

I have had men in academia disparage me to others, and dismiss both my interests and accomplishments as trivial. I regularly deal with comments like “PRO TIP: Mute the video, sit back, and admire the cute girl” regarding my outreach work. I have had jobs (multiple) where I was harassed and propositioned by my own boss.

And then she goes on to explain how Feynman and the cult of Feynman relates to that kind of thing.

Because every time I hear someone in my department or in one of my classes go on about how Feynman was so awesome I mean he was kind of a jerk to women but whatever, I file him (and it is almost always always a him) away as someone who would have sided against me in every single one of the situations I’ve mentioned. Every time I see a joking tweet or post about how Feynman’s second wife divorced him because she didn’t like that he was always doing calculus in his head, while totally ignoring the fact that the divorce papers indicate that he would fly into a rage, attack her, and break furniture whenever she interrupted said mental calculus, my world gets a little bit smaller.

Now, that may not be totally fair to every Feynman fan out there, but let me tell you, life as a woman in phenomenally male-dominated fields is pretty damned unfair. I put people into boxes about stuff like this – not because I think all of the people who hero-worship Feynman (and countless other mathematicians/scientists with similar track records) approve of how he treated women, but because there are actually some that do. As in, there are people today who think that lying to women and treating them like prizes to be won is totally fine. And some of them are researchers, professors, PhD candidates. And I know from personal experience that if I found myself once again in a situation where a prominent man was abusing his power, there would be people who would bend over backwards to protect his reputation, to the detriment of mine. That is the ugly side of hero worship. People like me get the message that great scientific achievement will totally outweigh reprehensible and hurtful behavior towards, well, people like me.

And it is exactly the same way out here outside the academy, in the secular / atheist / humanist movement, where hero worship and cults of “leaders” are also endemic. The heroes and “leaders” are all male, and people – especially women – who criticize or challenge them are treated like enemy agents in wartime.

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

Some planet

Jul 16th, 2014 8:02 am | By

Have an early morning (well it’s early morning here – I realize this is an eccentric lightly-populated time zone) picture of Jupiter and Io.

Embedded image permalink

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

A Jimmy Savile or a Stuart Hall

Jul 15th, 2014 6:07 pm | By

I’ll have to start following this inquiry into child abuse in the UK. Yesterday’s news was that the judge who was appointed to chair it had stepped down because of conflicts of interest.

May had made clear that as far as she was concerned the inquiry was not being set up to replicate a police investigation into claims of a child sex ring at Westminster. Instead she said its job was to consider whether public bodies such as the NHS, the BBC and non-state institutions such as the churches “had taken seriously their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse”.

It was widely expected that Butler-Sloss, 80, would convene a panel of legal and child protection experts, and come up with recommendations on child policy to ensure that a Jimmy Savile or a Stuart Hall could not get away with what they did for so long ever again.

A brave new world in which adults don’t get to treat pools of children as their personal sex toys. What a concept.

The idea was that Butler-Sloss would review the documentary evidence from the myriad recent official inquiries into child abuse across the country rather than interview witnesses who might themselves still be subject to criminal investigations.

But May also opened the door to a different kind of inquiry, saying that if Butler-Sloss deemed it necessary the government was prepared to convert it into a full public inquiry in line with the Public Inquiries Act 2005.

This immediately raised expectations among victims’ groups and media organisations that not only would the voices of victims who continue to suffer from sexual abuse inflicted on them 20 or 30 years ago be heard, but their allegations would be taken seriously.

So that wasn’t the expectation before? The expectation had been that their allegations would not be taken seriously? That seems unfortunate.

The emergence of the fact that Butler-Sloss’s brother was Lord Havers, who as attorney general in the 1980s had been responsible for some of the decisions not to prosecute, undermined her credibility but should not have proved fatal if she was only looking at the current institutional response to child abuse.

However, the subsequent disclosure that she herself had had the name of a bishop allegedly involved in child abuse withdrawn from her 2011 report into abuse in the Church of England was to prove fatal.

Uh, yeah – that’s fatal.

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

No thank you. No really.

Jul 15th, 2014 5:08 pm | By

Thank you but feminism doesn’t need that kind of help.

A self-styled battalion of the far-right group Britain First has “invaded” a mosque in south London.

The stated aim of the altercation on Sunday was to “demand the removal of sexist signs” outside the Crayford Mosque.

The signs designate separate entrances for men and women, so they can enter for segregated worship as is the custom in most mosques, as well as Orthodox Jewish synagogues and Sikh gurdwaras.

A film of the encounter was posted on Facebook, set to dramatic drumming music and ending with the slogan: “Britain First Defence Force. No fear. No retreat. No surrender.”

All sporting matching black flatcaps, the group of five “activists” marched into the mosque and asked to speak to the imam, before quickly giving up and speaking to the first person they came across.

No no no no no, really. We’ve got this. Go away. Go all the way away, and when you’re there, cast about for a better hobby.

The leader, Paul Golding, announced: “We’re Britain First, yeah? We object to your signs that are outside, the signs for men and women… in this country we have equality.”

The man politely asked them to remove their shoes in a place of worship but the Britain First members ignored him.

“When you respect women we’ll respect your mosques and you’ve got signs out there that segregate men and women,” Mr Golding told him.

A female member of the group accused Muslims of taking equality back “a hundred years” and told him to take the signs down.

No. Just no. Go back to Kent; go inside; sit down and take some deep breaths. Keep doing that for 20 or 30 years.

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

Everybody is exempt

Jul 15th, 2014 4:16 pm | By

The Muslim Council of Britain and Diabetes UK got together and put out a pamphlet for diabetics who plan to fast for Ramadan. It’s a little better in some ways than the NHS advice, but it’s still not good. It nowhere says you just shouldn’t fast if you have diabetes, period. It nowhere says you shouldn’t fast if you have diabetes and you don’t have to. It nowhere says fasting is optional.

It opens with

If you are planning on fasting and have diabetes, it is important to speak to
your diabetes healthcare team as early as possible before Ramadan. For some
people with diabetes, fasting can be dangerous or can cause problems to your
health. Your diabetes team will be able to advise you on whether it is safe for
you to fast. If you are able to fast, they will advise you on how to keep good
diabetes control throughout the fasting period.

That’s not good enough. It puts planning to fast first, and it shouldn’t. It should start with: If you have diabetes, you shouldn’t fast.

It doesn’t come right out and just say you shouldn’t fast. It mentions the risks but in a timid, non-urgent way.

From 2014, for the next several years Ramadan
in the UK is in the summer months and the length of
fasts is very long (17 hours +). Long fasts put you at
higher risk of hypoglycaemia and dehydration, which
can make you ill.
High blood glucose levels can also occur if you eat
excessively at Suhoor or Iftar.

So don’t do it. That’s a good reason not to do it, so just don’t do it. If you must do it, if you insist on doing it, here’s some advice, but you shouldn’t do it…they never say.

When we don’t eat during a fast, at about eight
hours after our last meal our bodies start to use
energy stores to keep our blood glucose (sugar)
levels normal. For most people, this is not harmful.
With diabetes, especially if you take certain tablets
or insulin, you are at risk of hypoglycaemia or
‘hypos’ (low blood glucose levels). This year, the
fasts are long and the risks of hypoglycaemia and
dehydration (lack of water) are high. Another
problem that can occur if you have diabetes, is
the risk of high glucose levels following the
larger meals that we eat before and after fasting
(at Suhoor/Sehri and Iftar).
Hypoglycaemia, high glucose levels and dehydration
can be dangerous for people with diabetes.

So people should not do it – but the pamphlet never says that.


Most people with health problems, such as diabetes
are exempt from fasting. Choosing to fast is a personal
decision that you should make with advice from your
diabetes team. For some people with diabetes, fasting
can be dangerous or cause problems to your health.
Speak to your GP, diabetes nurse or diabetes
doctor before fasting.

That’s the closest they get to really warning people – that bold type saying speak to someone first. But still, they don’t say you just shouldn’t, they don’t say it’s a risk not worth taking, they don’t say you don’t have to.

They never say you don’t have to. Just: you don’t have to, period. On the contrary they imply that you do have to, unless you’re “exempt.” After the bold type they go on to:

Certain people and circumstances are exempt from
fasting. For example:
• children (under the age of puberty)
• the elderly
• those who are sick or have a certain
health condition
• those with learning difficulties
• those who are travelling
• pregnant, breastfeeding and menstruating women
• anyone who would be putting their health at serious
risk by fasting, eg people who treat their diabetes
with insulin and/or certain medication, people who
have diabetic complications (damage to eyes,
kidney or the nerves in your hands and feet), or
people who have poor control of their diabetes

Saying that some people are “exempt” implies that everyone else is required. What is this “exempt” nonsense anyway? Says who? By what authority? According to what? I know, it’s one of the 5 pillars, but why is that being treated as the equivalent of actual law? Everyone is fucking “exempt” from fasting at Ramadan.

Remember, if you cannot fast, you can complete
your duties by offering charity or providing food to the
poor. Speak to your local Imam for more information
about this.
Remember, if you cannot fast this Ramadan,
you may be able to make up the fast at a later date,
perhaps during the winter months.
You must speak to your doctor or diabetes nurse
about your diabetes treatment as early as possible
before Ramadan.

It’s better than nothing, but it’s miles from as good as “you don’t have to at all, and you shouldn’t – it’s too dangerous and too hard on your body.”

Then there’s a rather sad question, “Do I need to wake up for Suhoor?” And the relentless answer.

Long hours without eating increase the risk
of hypoglycaemia. You must try to eat a meal
at Suhoor just before sunrise and not at midnight,
as this will help to keep your glucose levels more
balanced through the fast.

In other words yes, you have to ruin your sleep by waking up at 3 a.m. to eat for the last time before 11 p.m.

At the end there are safety tips, which is good, but also bad, because the risk shouldn’t be undertaken.

Always carry glucose treatment with you.
• Always have diabetes identification, such
as a medical bracelet.
• Test your blood regularly to monitor your
glucose (sugar) levels. This will not break
your fast.
• Test your blood glucose level if you feel
unwell during the fast.
• If your blood sugar level is high or low,
you must treat this.
• If your blood glucose is less than 3.3mmol/l,
end the fast immediately and treat the low
blood sugar level.
• If your blood glucose level is 3.9mmol/l at
the start of the fast and you are on insulin
or gliclazide, do not fast.
• If your blood glucose level is higher than
16mmol/l, end the fast immediately.
• If you become dehydrated, end the fast
immediately and have a drink of water.
• If you start to feel unwell, disoriented,
confused, if you collapse or faint,
stop fasting and have a drink of water
or other fluid.
• You should never stop your insulin,
but you must speak to your doctor
because you may need to change the
dose and times of your insulin injections.

It’s so obviously not at all the right thing for diabetics to do. The pamphlet should say that clearly and say that you don’t have to. In plain English. Not “you may be exempt” but “you don’t have to in the first place.”

The reality is, this will make a whole lot of people sicker than they would otherwise be, all for a religious fast that’s treated as somehow mandatory. That’s a horrible, anti-human, pointless situation.

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

The challenge of responding to the hardest facts of life

Jul 15th, 2014 3:30 pm | By

The New Yorker offers its Nadine Gordimer archive, which is well stocked.

Over the decades, Gordimer wrote dozens of pieces for The New Yorker. Her first, a short story called “A Watcher of the Dead,” was published in 1951.

After that, she continued to publish stories about life in South Africa, with occasional excursions into other genres. In 1954, she published a memoir of her childhood, called “Allusions in a Landscape”; in 1995, she wrote about being a juror at Cannes; and, in 2001, she recalled, in a short, pensive meditation on memory, running into an old friend on a London street.

But it was through her short fiction that Gordimer made her presence felt the most, and two of her short stories in our archive are available for anybody to read. Both happen to be about secrets revealed. “The First Sense,” from 2006, is about a woman who discovers that her husband, a cellist, is having an affair. (She works in an office; the affair is one more way in which his life is more exciting than hers.) “A Beneficiary,” from 2007, is about a daughter who discovers a family secret in her mother’s old papers. It poses a question that Gordimer asked in many of her stories: “How do you recognize something that is not in the known vocabulary of your emotions? … What do you do with something you’ve been told? Something that now is there in the gut of your existence.” It’s a theme Gordimer returned to again and again: the challenge of responding to the hardest facts of life.

These stories, and others by Nadine Gordimer, are available in our online archive.

Nadine Gordimer

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

Hatred of sex workers is one of the few things they have in common

Jul 15th, 2014 3:05 pm | By

Sex workers in Iraq are being murdered in wholesale lots.

AFP reporters were able to pass unchallenged through the main police checkpoint into Zayouna, where the previous evening police said gunmen stormed two apartment buildings and killed 27 women with silenced weapons.

“This is the fate of any prostitution,” read a inscription on the door of the one of the raided buildings.

Zayouna residents say that local apartments have long been used for prostitution and that alleged sex workers are found murdered every few months, with police unwilling or unable to prevent the attacks.

“If a person got shot right next to a policeman they wouldn’t say anything. They’re afraid. It’s the rule of the strong over the weak,” said a shopkeeper who declined to be identified.

“So what if they were prostitutes? It’s God who judges us, after all.”

Oh no, it’s religious fanatics who judge us, and murder us if the judgment is thumbs down.

Shiite militias with connections to political parties hold sway over parts of Baghdad, while suicide blasts by Sunni extremists are still frequent, with sectarian killings on both sides routine.

Both groups’ extreme antipathy to sex workers is probably one of the few things they have in common.

“Everyone’s afraid. Let me be killed but I have to say what’s in my heart. I’m a Shiite, and I’m telling you these were Shiite gangs. Who else controls Baghdad? They’re more powerful than the police and any other authority,” said tattooed taxi driver Hassan Assad, 36, who works in Zayouna.

“The prostitutes have been here since Saddam’s time. Why do you think they’re doing this? Because their husband has been imprisoned or killed and they’re trying to feed their kids. How did Iraq come to this?”

Well the US helped a lot with that.


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

Many will put themselves at risk of serious illness

Jul 15th, 2014 12:55 pm | By

Is it Islamophobic to point out the dangers to health of Ramadan, especially Ramadan in July? If so, prepare to be shocked by this June 27 article in the notoriously Islamophobic Guardian.

Tears ran down the cheeks of an elderly Asian man sitting in his hospital bed during Ramadan last year as he sought reassurance from Muslim chaplain Siddiq Diwan because he could not participate in the annual religious month-long fast.

“I know I am ill and do not have to fast, Imam,” the old man said to Diwan at Manchester Royal Infirmary. “But I have never missed one in seven decades, and I really feel bad about it.”

While this patient had reluctantly accepted that fasting was not an option for him, thousands of Muslims with diabetes in the UK go ahead regardless. Many will put themselves at risk of serious illness and dangerous complications by taking part in the Ramadan fast (beginning on 28 June) when they go without food, water and even medication between sunrise and sunset – despite the fact that the Qur’an makes exceptions for the sick, pregnant women, children and anyone for whom it would cause physical harm.

That spells out the problem pretty well right there. Ramadan is obviously way too onerous. It’s too coercive, too mandatory, too exceptionless, too demanding. That elderly Asian man with diabetes should not be feeling guilty or sad or anything of the kind about having to refrain from fasting; it shouldn’t be any kind of issue. Nobody should go without water (or medication ffs) between sunrise and sunset; it’s bad for the body.

And this idea (or none-too-subtle implication) that it’s “Islamophobic” to say so? Bullshit. Thinking people should have a less harsh and dangerous version of their religion is not a hostile act or even thought.

[An imam's] experiences are echoed in the UK’s first study on the beliefs and experiences of Muslims with diabetes during Ramadan, being carried out by Manchester University-based psychologist Dr Neesha Patel. The results, published in the journal Health Expectations, highlight the intense pressures felt by individuals with diabetes during the period, from family, culture, religion and their own conscience.

More than half the diabetics in Patel’s study still fasted; many continued to do so through a sense of obligation, the need to conform or a belief that the Qur’an demanded it. Some altered their own medication during the period of Ramadan – mostly without the advice of their GP or practice nurse. Some were put under family pressure to follow the fast, while others felt the need to conceal their decision not to fast by snacking in secret.

That’s awful. There’s nothing good to say about it. it’s just awful; it’s fucked up.

Patel says: “Ramadan is an annual event – it is going to be with us forever. There is a large Muslim population in the UK and the level of diabetes in some of the communities is many times higher than in the UK generally. This is a big issue. For change to happen there needs to be government support.”

The UK has a population of 2.7 million Muslims, of whom 325,000 have diabetes. The South Asian population has six times the general rate of the condition. This year the holy month of Ramadan falls in the summer, and fasters in parts of the northern hemisphere will face periods without food or water that last up to 21 hours. These long periods of abstinence will feature for the next 10 years.

That’s a death sentence for some people.

GP Dr Faizan Ahmed from Moss Side Family Medical Practice in Manchester agrees there is a need for clarity. He says: “At the moment there is a social stigma in some community groups about not fasting, and the onus is very much on the individual to make a decision.”

Since 2010, his practice has invited all patients known to be Muslim for a pre-Ramadan review of their health and medication. This he described as a “watershed”, with fewer patients ending up in A&E since, and some taking the decision for the first time not to fast because of their health problems.

In the absence of national health guidelines, Diabetes UK, in collaboration with the Muslim Council of Britain, has produced culturally-sensitive material for people who want to fast, and scripts for Imams. This year the charity is sending volunteers into five largely Islamic areas during Ramadan, with the aim of reducing diabetic complications.

The best outcome would be if the whole thing were optional. But clearly that’s way too much to ask…

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

I never pented, so how can I repent?

Jul 15th, 2014 10:25 am | By

Hi, people in government, whether at the federal or state or local level, here’s something I don’t want you to do: tell us to “repent” and join together in prayer. Ok? Thank you for your attention in this matter.

Governor Terry Branstad of Iowa has been doing just that to the citizens in his state and I think he should apologize and stop and apologize again. It’s none of his god damn business. Repent, governor, not in the churchy sense but in the secular sense. You’re a governor, not a priest. You live in a secular democracy, not a theocracy. It’s not your job to tell citizens to repent.

An official proclamation signed by Gov. Terry Branstad (R-IA) has called on Iowans to pray and repent on a daily basis.

In a public ceremony earlier this year, Branstad signed the proclamation ahead of a July 14 revival at the Iowa Capitol:

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Terry E Branstad, as Governor of the State of Iowa, do hereby invite all Iowans who choose to join in the thoughtful prayer and humble repentance according to II Chronicles 7:14 in favor of our state and nation to come together on July 14, 2014.

Well don’t. Don’t hereby invite. Do your own job, and don’t do more than your job. Don’t shove your benighted religious views on the citizens.

On Tuesday, Branstad was also one of the speakers at the 11-hour Christian event.

The governor explained that his proclamation “was very much in line with the great tradition” that started with President George Washington.

Branstad thanked the attendees for encouraging those who served in public office to “follow God’s will.”

Iowa Lt. Gov. Kim Reynold (R) also spoke, praising the crowd for “standing up for our rights, and for individual liberties.”

Except of course their rights to have a secular government.


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

The non-sexual worth of a woman never occurs to him

Jul 14th, 2014 6:23 pm | By

Some detail on Feynman’s view of and behavior toward women.

In Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!, chapter You Just Ask Them?, Richard Feynman frequented a bar and desired to have sexual intercourse with the women there. He discovered that the women in the bar did not provide sexual favors in exchange for monetary compensation in the form of drinks. Although he gained a reputation for spending money on drinks for women, he was frustrated at the fact that the women did not consider alcoholic drinks to be payment for sexual services.

So he got some advice, and followed it. The advice was to treat the women like shit.

On the way to her motel she says, “You know, I won’t have time to eat these sandwiches with you, because a lieutenant is coming over…” I think to myself, “See, I flunked. The master gave me a lesson on what to do, and I flunked. I bought her $1.10 worth of sandwiches, and hadn’t asked her anything, and now I know I’m gonna get nothing! I have to recover, if only for the pride of my teacher.”

I stop suddenly and I say to her, “You… are worse than a WHORE!

“Whaddya mean?”

‘“You got me to buy these sandwiches, and what am I going to get for it?Nothing!”

So she reimbursed him for the sandwiches, and his guru said then she’ll have sex with you, and she did. Lesson learned: treat women like shit.

Feynman, like most self-professed Nice GuysTM, “learned” that women want to be disrespected, instead of learning that a woman’s sexual consent is not bought with money. Unfortunately, most of the male geeks who read his book will use this anecdote to rationalize calling women “bitches”, “whores”, and “worthless”. (Of course, a man who wants intellectual justification for disrespecting women thinks that women are “worthless” when they are not sexually available to him. The non-sexual worth of a woman never occurs to him.)

Feynman continues:

When I was back at Cornell in the fall, I was dancing with the sister of a grad student, who was visiting from Virginia. She was very nice, and suddenly I got this idea: “Let’s go to a bar and have a drink,” I said.

On the way to the bar I was working up nerve to try the master’s lesson on an ordinary girl. After all, you don’t feel so bad disrespecting a bar girl who’s trying to get you to buy her drinks — but a nice, ordinary, Southern girl?

We went into the bar, and before I sat down, I said, “Listen, before I buy you a drink, I want to know one thing: Will you sleep with me tonight?”


So it worked even with an ordinary girl! But no matter how effective the lesson was, I never really used it after that. I didn’t enjoy doing it that way. But it was interesting to know that things worked much differently from how I was brought up.

Feynman initially assumed that if a man bought drinks for a woman, she owed him sex. After these experiences, he assumed that if a man “disrespected” a woman by not buying her anything, she provided him with sex because she was stupid or masochistic.

Sadly, in both these cases, he never considered the possibility that a woman’s sexual consent and worth should not be monetized in the first place.

But he’s seen by many as a mavericky hero.

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

You are not less than

Jul 14th, 2014 3:48 pm | By

Malala Yousafzai went to Nigeria in solidarity with girls who are prevented from going to school there.

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

One of the great guerrillas of the imagination

Jul 14th, 2014 3:22 pm | By

The Guardian on Nadine Gordimer.

Born in Gauteng, South Africa, in 1923 to immigrant European parents, Gordimer was awarded the Nobel prize for literature in 1991 for novels and short stories that reflected the drama of human life and emotion in a society warped by decades of white-minority rule.

Many of her stories dealt with the themes of love, hate and friendship under the pressures of the racially segregated system that ended in 1994, when Nelson Mandela became South Africa’s first black president.

She was called one of the great “guerrillas of the imagination” by the poet Seamus Heaney, and a “magnificent epic writer” by the Nobel committee.

Gordimer became active in the then banned African National Congress after the Sharpeville massacre, and was one of the first people Mandela asked to see when he was released in 1990.

She had three books banned under the apartheid regime’s censorship laws, along with an anthology of poetry by black South African writers that she collected and had published.

The first book to be banned was A World of Strangers, the story of an apolitical Briton drifting into friendships with black South Africans in segregated Johannesburg in the 1950s.

In 1979 Burger’s Daughter was banished from the shelves for its portrayal of a woman’s attempt to establish her own identity after her father’s death in jail makes him a political hero.

In later years, Gordimer became a vocal campaigner in the HIV/AIDS movement, lobbying and fund-raising on behalf of the Treatment Action Campaign, a group pushing for the South African government to provide free, life-saving drugs to sufferers.

She has a prominent place on the Mattering Map.

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

Adios Nadine Gordimer

Jul 14th, 2014 3:08 pm | By

Bruce Gorton sent me the link to an excellent local tribute, which included this by Professor Adam Habib, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of the Witwatersrand:

Gordimer epitomised all that Wits University holds dear

Wits University has learnt with deep sadness of the passing of one of its most illustrious alumni, a great South African writer, and one of the world’s most esteemed literary figures, Nadine Gordimer. The University wishes to extend its sincerest condolences to her family, friends and the entire South African literary and academic community.

Gordimer was a dear friend to Wits, maintaining a lifelong connection to the University, and giving generously of her time. She often appeared on campus to participate in colloquia and alumni events. In addition, the Nadine Gordimer Lectures brought other luminaries such as Susan Sontag, Amartya Sen and Carlos Fuentes to Wits.

Gordimer studied at Wits where she mixed for the first time with fellow professionals from diverse racial, class and national backgrounds. She received an Honorary Doctorate in Literature from the University in 1984, in recognition of her immense contribution to literature and the transformation of South African society.

As a Nobel Prize-winning author, a powerful political activist, and a revered intellect, she epitomised all that Wits University holds dear. She will be greatly missed by the Wits community.

And by many other people, I should think. Salman Rushdie posted a photo on Facebook of himself with Gordimer and Gunter Grass, linking arms.

Gordimer was born in 1923.

Her mother was from an assimilated Jewish family, and thus her upbringing was secular.

She entered the anti-Apartheid movement in the 1960s, following her friend Bettie du Toit’s arrest.

In 1962 she helped edit Nelson Mandela’s famous I am prepared to die speech.

Gordimer won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991, for a long career in literature that saw many of her books banned by the Apartheid Government.

“I used the life around me and the life around me was racist,” she said in a 1990 interview.

“I would have been a writer anywhere, but in my country, writing meant confronting racism.

“She wrote as if censorship didn’t exist,” one critic posted on a South African website.

One of the greats.

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

Perhaps listening to them would help you

Jul 14th, 2014 12:07 pm | By

Janet Stemwedel has a brilliant post at the SciAm blog about the perils of idolizing human people.

The coordinated effort to build a reliable body of knowledge about the world depends on a baseline level of trust between scientists. Without that trust, you are left having to take on the entire project yourself, and that seriously diminishe[s] the chances that the knowledge you’re building will be objective.

That also applies to the rest of life. Morality is a product of the benefits of co-operation; if you’re not moral you’re not trustworthy, so unless you’ve very good at dissimulation, you’ll lose the benefits of co-operation if you’re not moral.

What about someone who is scrupulously honest about his scientific contributions but whose behavior towards women or members of underrepresented minorities demonstrates that he does not regard them as being as capable, as smart, or as worthy of respect? What if, moreover, most of these behaviors are displayed outside of scientific contexts (owing to the general lack of women or members of underrepresented minorities in the scientific contexts this scientist encounters)? Intended or not, such attitudes and behaviors can have the effect of excluding people from the scientific community. Even if you think you’re actively working to improve outreach/inclusion, your regular treatment of people you’re trying to help as “less than” can have the effect of exclusion. It also sets a tone within your community where it’s predictable that simply having more women and members of underrepresented minorities there won’t result in their full participation, whether because you and your likeminded colleagues are disinclined to waste your time interacting with them or because they get burnt out interacting with people like you who treat them as “less than”.

Well then you get…a situation we’re all too familiar with.

This last description of a hypothetical scientist is not too far from famous physicist Richard Feynman, something that we know not just from the testimony of his contemporaries but from Feynman’s own accounts. As it happens, Feynman is enough of a hero to scientists and people who do science outreach that many seem compelled to insist that the net effect of his legacy is positive. Ironically, the efforts to paint Feynman as a net-good guy can inflict harms similar to the behavior Feynman’s defenders seem to minimize.

In an excellent, nuanced post on Feynman, Matthew Francis writes:

Richard Feynman casts the longest shadow in the collective psyche of modern physicists. He plays the nearly same role within the community that Einstein does in the world beyond science: the Physicist’s Physicist, someone almost as important as a symbol as he was as a researcher. Many of our professors in school told Feynman stories, and many of us acquired copies of his lecture notes in physics. …

Feynman was a pioneer of quantum field theory, one of a small group of researchers who worked out quantum electrodynamics (QED): the theory governing the behavior of light, matter, and their interactions. QED shows up everywhere from the spectrum of atoms to the collisions of electrons inside particle accelerators, but Feynman’s calculation techniques proved useful well beyond the particular theory.

Not only that, his explanations of quantum physics were deep and cogent, in a field where clarity can be hard to come by.
Feynman stories that get passed around physics departments aren’t usually about science, though. They’re about his safecracking, his antics, his refusal to wear neckties, his bongos, his rejection of authority, his sexual predation on vulnerable women.

The predation in question here included actively targeting female students as sex partners, a behavior that rather conveys that you don’t view them primarily in terms of their potential to contribute to science.

And, you see, that’s a really bad thing. But way too many people think it’s not a bad thing at all.

Stemwedel lists some of the ways that dismissing the harm of this kind of thing can itself do harm, then sums up:

You may be intending to convey the message that this was an interesting guy who made some important contributions to science, but the message that people may take away is that great scientific achievement totally outweighs sexism, racism, and other petty problems.

This is what quite a few people tried to tell me about Shermer. It’s what gets said and implied about various other sexually predatory Famous Thought-Leader Dudes.

There is a special danger lurking here if you are doing science outreach by using a hero like Feynman and you are not a member of a group likely to have been hurt by his behavior. You may believe that the net effect of his story casts science and scientists in a way that will draw people in, but it’s possible you are fooling yourself.

Maybe you aren’t the kind of person whose opinion about science or eagerness to participate in science would be influenced by the character flaws of the “scientific heroes” on offer, but if you’re already interested in science perhaps you’re not the main target for outreach efforts. And if members of the groups who are targeted for outreach tell you that they find these “scientific heroes” and the glorification of them by science fans alienating, perhaps listening to them would help you to devise more effective outreach strategies.

Oh, yes.

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

HALEA needs help

Jul 14th, 2014 11:17 am | By

The IHEU reports that a humanist group in Uganda that does terrific important work needs help in the wake of a robbery.

The Humanist Association for Leadership, Equality and Accountability (HALEA) runs education and support services for children in some of the poorest parts of Kampala.

They go into schools running workshops centered around human rights and the rights of the child in particular, as well as democracy, confidence-building, and other issues. They run debates on ethical and humanist topics that otherwise may never be discussed. HALEA even publish a regular magazine written and produced by school students; it’s a rare and valuable opportunity for children to see themselves in print and to be heard! Through leadership training at their offices HALEA support some of the brightest and most able students to learn new skills, and through their IHEU-supported public debate series they air topics and arguments among adult participants which otherwise are often heard only from a one-sided perspective.

And we know how desperately Uganda needs that.

But this week HALEA have suffered a major setback. On Tuesday Kato Mukasa the director of HALEA told us:

“We woke up today to the sad news that our offices had been broken into and lots of property and cash taken. The first people to reach the office found [the building security guard] unconscious lying at the upper/ behind part of the building. Our offices were wide open.”

The thieves have taken all 6 computers, 2 laptops, power cables, their projector and camera, three guitars, a desktop printer, and even the office phone was taken. Some cash due to be paid for rent was also stolen. (The security guard is now conscious again, by the way!)

“HALEA staff and members are devastated with this development, we have lost the important tools that enable us to operate and surely this is a great set back in the history of the organization. This has happened at a time when we had so many vital activities going on and many pending.”

The main school holiday in Uganda is over the Christmas period, not the summer months of the northern hemisphere, which means that HALEA’s work is at its peak and the need is urgent.

There’s a donate button on the IHEU page.

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