Notes and Comment Blog

Make them take it back

Nov 23rd, 2013 12:11 pm | By

Maryam has drawn up a petition.

Universities UK: Rescind endorsement of sex segregation at UK Universities

Sign that sucker!


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

The part where 2+3=17

Nov 23rd, 2013 11:45 am | By

I think I found the place where Universities UK got their arithmetic wrong.

The guidance document itself is available on their website. I’m reading the pdf version. It lays out general policies and then offers some (hypothetical) case studies. Study 2 is the one about the controversial speaker who demands gender segregation. It starts on page 29.

A representative of an ultra-orthodox religious group

has been invited to speak at an event to discuss faith

in the modern world. The event is part of four different

speeches taking place over the course of a month

exploring different approaches to religion. The initial

speaker request has been approved but the speaker

has since made clear that he wishes for the event to be

segregated according to gender. The event organiser

has followed agreed processes and raised the issue

with university management. The event has been widely

advertised and interest levels are high.

There it is: that’s where the arithmetic is wrong. They forgot to say “No.”

It’s so simple, as so many mistakes in arithmetic are. They merely forgot that the right answer in cases like that is just No.

Here’s how that passage should go:

A representative of an ultra-orthodox religious group

has been invited to speak at an event to discuss faith

in the modern world. The event is part of four different

speeches taking place over the course of a month

exploring different approaches to religion. The initial

speaker request has been approved but the speaker

has since made clear that he wishes for the event to be

segregated according to gender. The event organiser in

turn made clear that this was out of the question.

End of case study. Next?

Seriously, people. What are they thinking? The speaker can go fuck himself. If you invite a speaker and the speaker then makes outrageous requests, you turn the requests down. What is there to discuss? Just say No.

But that’s not what they do in this case study. For some unexplained reason, they treat the request as something that has to be managed as opposed to something that has to be flatly rejected, and go on to talk a lot of stupid kack.

The segregation request is not yet in the public domain

but the students’ union has an active feminist society

which is likely to protest against the segregation

request. Other societies are likely to express similar

concerns. The event is also due to take place a few days

after a number of campus-based activities to coincide

with International Women’s Day.

What the hell??? What does any of that have to do with anything? Does the university normally shove women into corners except around the time of International Women’s Day? Does it need a god damn active feminist society to tell it it can’t shove women into corners? No! Basic equality of that kind is already the norm, and is not dependent on an active feminist society which is likely to protest things.

Things to consider

Legal framework – points likely to be particularly relevant

Aside from freedom of speech and the s.43 duty,

the paramount issue is to consider how equality

obligations apply, and how those interact.

For example, under the Equality Act 2010, the first

question is whether the segregation is discriminatory

on the grounds of a protected characteristic within

the definition of the Act. Segregation in the context of

the facts outlined above would only be discriminatory

on the grounds of sex if it amounts to ‘less favourable

treatment’ of either female or male attendees.

Segregation of that kind is itself “less favorable treatment.” That’s why people risked their lives – and sometimes lost them – to end racial segregation in the US a few decades ago. It’s why people did the same to end apartheid even more recently. Segregation, separation, apartheid: that is less favorable treatment.

It will therefore, for example, be necessary to consider

the seating plan for any segregation. For example,

if the segregation is to be ‘front to back’, then that

may well make it harder for the participants at the

back to ask questions or participate in debate, and

therefore is potentially discriminatory against those

attendees. This issue could be overcome assuming

the room can be segregated left and right, rather than

front and back (and also ensuring that appropriate

arrangements are made for those with disabilities).

No. No, no, no. You’re doing it wrong, because of the simple mistake three paragraphs back. You were supposed to tell the speaker “No” and that’s an end of it.

Consideration will also need to be given to whether

imposing segregation on everyone attending the

event is required (see below). If it is required, this

may amount to less favourable treatment of other

attendees because of a protected characteristic. On

the face of the case study, assuming the side-by-side

segregated seating arrangement is adopted, there

does not appear to be any discrimination on gender

grounds merely by imposing segregated seating.

Both men and women are being treated equally, as

they are both being segregated in the same way.

However, one cannot rule out the possibility that

discrimination claims will be made on other grounds.

For example, it is arguable that ‘feminism’ (bearing

in mind the views of the feminist society referred to

in the case study), or some forms of belief in freedom

of choice or freedom of association, could fall within

the definition of ‘belief’ under the Equality Act. This

would in turn mean that applying a segregated

seating policy without offering alternatives (eg a nonsegregated

seating area, again on a ‘side by side’

basis with the gender segregated areas) might be

discriminatory against those (men or women) who

hold such beliefs. However, the question of whether

such beliefs are protected under the Act is unclear

without a court ruling. Further, an act of indirect

discrimination can be ‘objectively justified’ if it is a

proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim,

meaning the institution should also have regard to

its other obligations under the Equality Act and the

s.43 duty to secure freedom of speech, for example.

Oh for christ’s sake. No. It is not just “the feminist society” that objects to gender segregation, just as it’s not only the organized groups for racial equality that object to racial segregation.

The bit about the other obligations and the duty to secure freedom of speech seems to rest on the assumption that if the speaker is told No then he will refuse to speak. That in turn seems to rest on the assumption that free speech depends on allowing invited speakers to extort any conditions they like, on pain of destroying free speech. That can’t be right. As Maryam puts it in her excellent post on this,

Clearly, this is not about people’s belief systems.

If it were so, Muslims would be unable to ride buses, the underground, enter their workplaces via entrances used by both men and women, eat in non-segregated restaurants… They wouldn’t even be able to get to the segregated meeting room since men and women would be mingling freely on the streets and halls right up to their entry into the segregated hall kindly organised by Universities UK.

gender_segregation-150x150And what next? Another set of guidelines asking unveiled women to veil so as not to “result in a religious group being prevented from having a debate in accordance with its belief system.” Maybe they can ask that niqabs be handed out to unchaste and unveiled women before entry.

And now it gets even worse:

It should therefore be borne in mind – taking account

of the s.43 duty, as well as equality duties and Human

Rights Act obligations – that in these circumstances,

concerns to accommodate the wishes or beliefs of

those opposed to segregation should not result in a

religious group being prevented from having a debate

in accordance with its belief system.

If the religious group will have the debate only on condition that women are treated as second class citizens, which is what segregation does, then the religious group doesn’t get to have the debate.

Ultimately, if imposing an unsegregated seating area in addition

to the segregated areas contravenes the genuinely held

religious beliefs of the group hosting the event,

or those of the speaker, the institution should be

mindful to ensure that the freedom of speech of the

religious group or speaker is not curtailed unlawfully.

Those opposed to segregation are entitled to engage

in lawful protest against segregation, and could

be encouraged to hold a separate debate of the

issues, but their views do not require an institution

to stifle a religious society’s segregated debate

where the segregation accords with a genuinely-held

religious belief. The s.43 duty requires an institution

to secure freedom of speech within the law.

It is not “stifling debate” to refuse unreasonable conditions demanded for the debate. Freedom of debate is allowing the speaker to say whatever the speaker chooses to say. It is not allowing the speaker to tell the institution to discriminate among the people who attend the debate. That’s an extra, outside the debate, so refusing the speaker’s unreasonable demand is in no way to “stifle a religious society’s segregated debate.”

This is getting very long. Part 2 to follow.

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

Segregation fine, says Universities UK

Nov 23rd, 2013 10:36 am | By

I’m amazed by this. Really amazed. A group of university vice-chancellors in the UK has “issued guidance” saying that it’s ok for students to be segregated during debates as long as they’re beside each other not in front and behind.

Are they out of their minds??

The Telegraph reports.

Universities can segregate students during debates as long as the women are not forced to sit behind the men, university leaders have said.

Segregation at the behest of a controversial speaker is an issue which arises “all the time” and banning men and women from sitting next to each during debates is a “big issue” facing universities, Universities UK has said.

As a result they have issued guidance which suggests that segregation is likely to be acceptable as long as men and women are seated side by side and one party is not at a disadvantage.

Really? Really, university vice-chancellors? “Likely to be acceptable” to whom?

Would the university vice-chancellors say that if the categories were not women and men but Jews and Gentiles? Blacks and whites? Muslims and Hindus? Dalits and everyone else? Workers and toffs?

This business about ‘Segregation at the behest of a controversial speaker is an issue which arises “all the time”’ – oh yes? Why does it? Because there are so many reactionary theocrats working hard to spread their reactionary theocratic rules? In other words, because there are so many Islamists wanting to speak and universities inviting them to speak because they are “controversial”? Yes. So imagine a UK university invites David Irving to debate his “controversial” views, and he demands that Jews be segregated. Would the VCs say that was likely to be acceptable provided the Jews didn’t have to sit in the back? Would they entertain the suggestion for an instant? I don’t think so.

In a new guidance on external speakers, vice-chancellors’ group Universities UK says that universities face a complex balance of promoting freedom of speech without breaking equality and discrimination laws.

No they don’t. Freedom of speech doesn’t depend on allowing “controversial” speakers to demand that women be segregated.

The report adds: “Assuming the side-by-side segregated seating arrangement is adopted, there does not appear to be any discrimination on gender grounds merely by imposing segregated seating. Both men and women are being treated equally, as they are both being segregated in the same way.”

Jesus fucking Christ. Apartheid? Jim Crow laws? Ghettos? “Whites Only” signs? Not to mention the fact that these “controversial” speakers will have views about women that are unmistakably and dramatically discriminatory: that’s the main thing that makes them “controversial”!

Apart from the controversies surrounding segregation, Universities UK say that academic institutions are facing a legal minefield when organising external speakers and their guidance aims to help them find the balance.

An example of the fine balance is illustrated when the report goes on to say that if side-by-side seating was enforced without offering an alternative non-segregated seating area, it could be deemed as discriminatory against men or women who hold feminist beliefs.

It adds: “Concerns to accommodate the wishes or beliefs of those opposed to segregation should not result in a religious group being prevented from having a debate in accordance with its belief system.”

Well that’s a handy way to dismiss the whole idea of universal human rights – just label the ones that cover half of humanity “feminist beliefs” and then label that a belief system on all fours with religious belief systems. Zip, job done, women relegated to second class status in the blink of an eye.

The report presents some hypothetical case studies which come up on campuses, including whether a speaker from an ultraorthodox religious group requests an audience is segregated by gender.

“These are issues that are arising all the time and these are really difficult issues,” said Universities UK chief executive Nicola Dandridge.

“What emerged from our work on this particular issue is that there is no clearly defined right or wrong here as to whether to allow or outlaw segregation. It is going to very much depend on the facts of the case.”

You made a mistake somewhere then. Go back and check your arithmetic. Find the mistake. Don’t come back until you have.

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

A point in pregnancy when women may be deprived of their civil and human rights

Nov 22nd, 2013 5:37 pm | By

Lynn Paltrow and Jeanne Flavin report on the frightening implications of fetal personhood.

Each year, six million women in the United States become pregnant. Approximately four million women go to term, one million have abortions, and nearly one million experience pregnancy losses, including thousands of stillbirths that occur after 28 weeks of pregnancy. All of these women are at risk when legislators attempt to establish a point in pregnancy when women may be deprived of their civil and human rights.

A stark but accurate way of putting it. If the pregnancy has civil and human rights then the woman who is pregnant loses them.

NAPW has fielded calls for help from women in Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Texas who, late in their pregnancies, were threatened with court orders or other state action if they did not give up their rights to medical decision-making, bodily integrity, and health and submit to unnecessary cesarean surgery.

These are not idle threats. In fact, some women who have refused cesarean surgery or rejected advice to be hospitalized late in pregnancy have been taken prisoner and forced to submit to highly invasive medical and surgical procedures. The justifications for such actions have everything to do with the principles that would be established by laws banning abortions after 20 weeks. One Florida federal district court has already (wrongly) ruled that if states may outlaw abortion at some point during pregnancy and force a woman to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term, then surely the state can also force a woman to undergo major medical procedures to deliver the child she “affirmatively desires to have.”

Sure. Women get pregnant, therefore women should not have full human rights. It totally makes sense.

In an article published earlier this year in the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law, we document more than 400 cases involving the arrests and detentions of—and forced medical interventions on—pregnant women taking place between 1973 and 2005. Since 2005, we have documented more than 300 additional cases.

Our research finds little direct legal authority for these actions. Rather, prosecutors, hospital lawyers, and arresting officers rely on laws like the one being voted on next week in Albuquerque and those already passed in 13 states. They claim that if the state may protect the unborn by depriving pregnant women of their rights in the abortion context, consistency requires that pregnant women be deprived of their rights in all contexts, including birth and pregnancy loss.

These cases press home the need for abortion opponents and supporters alike to oppose these bans and secure society’s commitment to the fundamental principle: that a woman is a person with civil and human rights throughout her pregnancy. Before and after 20 weeks. Always.

Yes let’s agree on that.



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

Jim Bob does history

Nov 22nd, 2013 4:06 pm | By

Speaking of the Duggars, Jim Bob went to the values-voters summit and told the gang that the US is like Nazi Germany because abortion.

Jim Bob Duggar spent most of his speech at the Values Voter Summit imploring attendees to run for office, just like he did, in order to advance social conservative causes like an “army.”

Duggar ended the address by retelling a story about a time when Mike Huckabee and his daughter visited a concentration camp, which he used to compare the current state of the US to Nazi Germany.

“As they were walking out of that concentration camp, he said little Sarah looked up at him and she said, ‘Daddy why didn’t somebody do something?’ You know what, that’s where we are at in our nation,” Duggar said. “Do we want our children, when we’re going to tell them about how great America was, they’re going to look at you and say, ‘Why didn’t somebody do something?’”

Then a few days later he clarified what he meant.

Duggar has continued speaking the truth this week while campaigning for Republican and potential Virginia Governor Ken Cuccinelli II. As he’s had more opportunities to share his thoughts with the world, one might think Duggar had realized that perhaps he went a little far with his comparison of liberal Americans to Nazis. Unfortunately, as the Daily Press reports, Tuesday was not that day. Instead, it was the day for Duggar to specify that the true Nazis are pro-choice Americans:

“Let me clarify,” he said.

“We have since 1973 (when Roe v. Wade was decided) had 55 million abortions, so what we have going on is a baby holocaust,” Duggar said.

No, because it’s not “babies”; it’s pregnancies. It’s not a holocaust when people decide not to conceive, either. A decision not to have a child is not a holocaust of the children who would have been born if no one had decided not to conceive them.

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

Guest post by R Johnston: Fetal personhood and the Thirteenth Amendment

Nov 22nd, 2013 3:07 pm | By

Guest post because I hadn’t thought of it this way (that I recall). Originally a comment on We were here first.

Any good faith reading of the Thirteenth Amendment leads to the conclusion that whatever rights a fetus may or may not have, it does not have any property rights to the uterus in which it resides.  The Thirteenth Amendment explicitly abolishes the practice of granting property rights in a person’s body to anyone or anything other than that person.

I really wish that the legal arguments in favor of abortion had been properly framed.  The right to privacy is entirely the wrong way to look at it. A woman’s uterus is nobody’s property but her own; to argue otherwise is to promote slavery.  It’s easy to see exactly how ridiculous arguments about fetal rights and fetal personhood are once you adopt the belief that women are not slaves.

Appendix: The Thirteenth Amendment:



Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.


Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Appendix 2: the document itself.

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

The second generation of modest dressing

Nov 22nd, 2013 2:37 pm | By

As long as we’re dropping in on the pregnancy-fetishists, let’s drop in on one of the top fetishists of them all, Michelle Duggar. What’s Michelle Duggar been up to lately you wonder? Well trying to get pregnant with kid #20 is one thing (even though she nearly died carrying kid #19 and had a miscarriage last year), and another is telling her daughters not to be slutty, aka teaching them about “modest dress.”

My daughters are the second generation of modest dressing in this family. They’ve grown up being dressed modestly, and in clothes that are definitely more feminine apparel. I’ve told my daughters this has been a joyful journey for me to learn what my Lord has called me to. This is the direction that God has led me as your mother, and you’re in the family.

Rilly? That happened? God personally told her to tell her daughters not to wear jeans because that’s not feminine apparel? (Did he tell her to use words like “apparel” instead of “clothes” to sound more elevated and magisterial? In a feminine way, of course.)

When the girls are little, they’re jumping and playing and not even thinking about modesty. It’s good because that’s the way children should be. As a parent I would have to remind them, let’s not stand upside down on your head in that chair because you want to practice being ladylike. And they look at me with this puzzled looked like, what does that mean? I’ll explain, well, it means that you sit up, put your knees together and pull your skirt down over your knees.

In other words if you stand upside down in feminine apparel then PEOPLE CAN SEE YOUR UNDERPANTS.

Underpants underpants underpants. Oooooh. Satan. Flesh. Hot. Burning. Pants pants pants. What’s under the pants. Under.pants. Underpants. Under pants.


God forbid the kids should just wear jeans or shorts and bounce around any way they feel like. Hell no. They have to be all squicked out about it right from the beginning.

Even though they have on pantaloons or leggings, I’m teaching them that it’s not very polite to sit on your head with your legs scattered all over the place. It’s not like, shame on you, it’s more like, we’re going to learn to be proper and be a little lady instead of a tomboy that climbs in the tree all day long. There’s a time and a place for all of that. I definitely give them the freedom to go catch tadpoles and climb trees because I love doing that, too, but I want them to be ladylike and modest when we’re doing it.

Well, at the dinner table, if they do headstands they might accidentally kick the food onto the floor. But other than that? Pffffff. The hell with being ladylike.

But then I don’t get my instructions from god, so I’m probably all wrong here.




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

Once you define a fetus or embryo as a person

Nov 22nd, 2013 2:14 pm | By

There will be a fetal personhood amendment on the ballot in Colorado next year, RH Reality Check reports.

Personhood Colorado has tried three times to pass some kind of fetal “personhood” amendment in Colorado, which would effectively outlaw abortions. Those previous measures failed by a margin of 3 to 1 in 2008 and 2010, and did not receive enough valid signatures to appear on the 2012 ballot.

But this year it got enough valid signatures to get on the 2014 ballot.

The so-called Brady Amendment, or Amendment 67, was initiated by Heather Surovik, who was struck by a drunk driver when she was eight months pregnant. She lost her fetus, which she had planned to name Brady. Surovik writes on her website that she wanted Brady to be legally recognized as a person so that the driver could be prosecuted on homicide charges.

“Homicide is an act that can only be perpetrated against a person,” Cathy Alderman, vice president of public affairs at Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, told RH Reality Check. “Once you define a fetus or embryo as a person, you pit the rights of a woman against her pregnancy. … We recognize that a pregnancy is part of a woman.”

If only everyone did.

Personhood USA is backing Amendment 67, and it is also appealing the 2012 ruling that its own personhood amendment did not have enough valid signatures, Personhood USA spokesperson Jennifer Mason told RH Reality Check.

Personhood USA’s amendment language specifically defines a “human being” as “a member of the species homo sapiens at any stage of development.” Amendment 67, on the other hand, has language about “protecting pregnant women and unborn children” which vaguely defines “unborn human beings” as a person or child.

“This amendment is unique because it recognizes the personhood of babies like Brady and doesn’t go out of its way to affirm abortion,” Mason said. When asked whether the amendment would affect access to safe abortion care, she said, “It’s a very interesting question before the legislature. … If babies in the womb are people who deserve protection, what’s the difference from other babies?”

Oh gee, yes it is interesting, especially for women who want to stop being pregnant.



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

We were here first

Nov 22nd, 2013 11:41 am | By

There was a very good (and horrifying) discussion of “fetal personhood” on Fresh Air yesterday.

Should a pregnant woman whose behavior has been deemed dangerous to her fetus be legally punished or forced into medical procedures against her will? A study released earlier this year found hundreds of cases across the country where pregnant women were arrested and incarcerated, detained in mental institutions and drug treatment programs, or subject to forced medical interventions, including surgery.

The study, conducted by the group National Advocates for Pregnant Women, found 413 criminal and civil cases where law enforcement intervened in the lives of pregnant women between 1973 — the year the Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade — and 2005.

Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross speaks with the group’s executive director, Lynn Paltrow, who says the legal claims used to justify some of these actions rely on the same arguments that are made in support of personhood measures that would grant the fetus full constitutional rights independent of the pregnant woman.

Paltrow was emphatic about the fact that giving fertilized eggs, embryos and fetuses full constitutional rights independent of the pregnant woman means taking away the pregnant woman’s full constitutional rights.

That’s so obvious, and it’s such a horrifying thing to propose, that it’s blood-chilling to know that there are women who are campaigning for this nightmare. “Yes, please, take away the full constitutional rights of the class of people to which I myself belong!”

Yo: the fertilized egg, the embryo, the fetus, is inside the body of another human being. You can’t give it full constitutional rights without taking away the full constitutional rights of the person whose body is housing it. Her rights should trump those of the fertilized egg, the embryo, the fetus.

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

“Provocative territory”

Nov 21st, 2013 6:28 pm | By

The Independent reported on that “debate” about rape at LSE that Luke Gittos of Spiked considers an important contribution to the “discussion around rape.” You can tell from the very first sentence that what we have here is not an important contribution but an opportunity for someone to be showily “provocative” and “controversial” about a crime against other people.

A leading barrister has waded into provocative territory with comments that people shouldn’t assume that in rape “the victim is utterly innocent.”

Right, just as it’s “provocative territory” to say that in murder or assault with a deadly weapon or grievous bodily harm people shouldn’t assume that “the victim is utterly innocent” – or to put it another way that the victim is a victim.

Here’s the thing about that: it doesn’t matter whether the victim is “utterly innocent” or not; the point is that people don’t get to murder or assault or batter or rape people, PERIOD. You don’t get to punish non-innocent aka guilty people by assaulting them, except in self-defense. Rape is never a form of self-defense. If a woman is about to stab you, rape isn’t the way to stop her.

Barbara Hewson attacked the “ideology of sexual victimisation” during a debate at the London School of Economics, and questioned the long-term damage rape causes.

The ideology is it. And I suppose there’s an ideology of vital victimization around murder, is there? Or in murder do we just accept that the victim is a victim, by definition?

The article in Critical Legal Thinking that Gittos so scorned had this to say about Hewson’s status as a “leading barrister”:

Prior to the LSE debate, Hewson was prob­ably best known out­side the legal world for her reg­u­lar and often pro­voc­at­ive con­tri­bu­tions to online magazine Spiked, and her pub­lic defence of another barrister’s descrip­tion of a 13-​year old child sex abuse vic­tim as ‘pred­at­ory’. Hewson has vari­ously been referred to in the media as a ‘lead­ing’ and ‘prom­in­ent’ bar­ris­ter, but Hewson does not prac­tice in crim­inal law and it is unclear what expert­ise she pos­sesses with respect to the issue of rape that led the LSE to deem her qual­i­fied to take part in this debate.

The Indy quotes some of Hewson’s contribution to the “discussion around rape”:

“The first,” she said, “is the idea that rape and sexual abuse is very widespread but largely unrecognised even by victims themselves who need to be taught to realise what’s really happened.

“Secondly, that it has long term damaging effects. Thirdly that its morally absolutely unambiguous, the victim is utterly innocent and the victimiser is utterly guilty and this is infinitesimal. And finally that claims of victimisation must always be respected, anything less is victim-blaming.”

I look forward to her contributions to “debates” about murder and assault.

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

The word of the year

Nov 21st, 2013 6:03 pm | By

Jezebel has a rude piece about selfies and the claim that they “empower” women and girls. It’s rude but it makes a real point.

…self-taken digital portraits are typically posted on social media, ostensibly with the intent of getting people to respond to them — that’s what social media is. In that respect, selfies aren’t expressions of pride, but rather calls for affirmation. In real life, walking up to a stranger, tilting your head downward at a 45-degree angle, duckfacing, pushing your tits together, and screaming “DO YOU THINK I’M PRETTY!” would be [a cue to] summon the authorities.

Let me put it this way: do you see men and boys tilting their heads down and duckfacing to take selfies? If not, why do you think that is?

You know who was really good at that tilting the head down and looking upward thing? Diana Spencer. She must have spent hours in front of the mirror perfecting it.

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

Sylvia Browne

Nov 21st, 2013 2:04 pm | By

Sylvia Browne has stopped being alive and moved on to the next phase, which she told us is a matter of being permanently 35 and living on a street full of beautiful houses of all different styles.

The obits are calling her a psychic. Not a “psychic” but a psychic. Yo, news media? She wasn’t a psychic. Nobody is.

One of the things she’ll be remembered for is telling Amanda Berry’s mother that Amanda was dead. Amanda was not dead, she was imprisoned in the horror-house of Ariel Castro, but Amanda’s heartbroken mother didn’t live to find that out.

I don’t mean this to prompt any gloating in the comments. Don’t gloat.

But, she was not a psychic. She was a “psychic” and a fraud.


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


Nov 21st, 2013 12:58 pm | By

Oh hey check out what my friend Taslima has been up to. She was at a gathering of Sakharov Prize laureates in Strasbourg. The guy in the middle in the president of the European parliament.

Embedded image permalink

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

“The hysteria around the discussion of rape”

Nov 21st, 2013 11:54 am | By

Someone at Spiked took the trouble to email me to promote one of their articles, so I’ll oblige by talking about how predictably Spiked and dopy the article is. It’s about rape and the smothering politically correct consensus that blah blah blah you’re asleep already aren’t you.

LSE hosted a debate titled “Is Rape Different?” The author, Luke Gittos, who is billed as Spiked’s law editor, attended the debate; one of the four participants was another Spiked contributor.

The debate has since provoked predictable ‘there is no debate!’ uproar from people with nothing better to do on Twitter. But such is the hysteria around the discussion of rape and rape laws that the outrage of the Twittersphere has been allowed to spill into the world of academia.

Wait. People with nothing better to do, yet here Luke Gittos is, reporting on it. Well which is it? Is Twitter just a toy for people with nothing better to do? Or is it a serious thing worthy of reporting by a serious website like Spiked? Is “the Twittersphere” silly or is it significant? Has Luke Gittos made up his mind about that, or is he just throwing shit at walls in the usual Spiked fashion? (Spoiler: I think it’s the latter.)

The journal Feminists at Law, based at Kent Law School, has launched a petition for the LSE to ‘ensure that the ideas disseminated [at the debate] do not feed dangerous stereotypes about women being responsible for the sexual violence perpetuated against them’. The petition has been signed by around 85 people.

Wo, 85 whole people! No wonder Spiked is upset and alarmed!

Another journal published something similar, criticising the decision of the LSE to host the debate and saying it was symptomatic of a neoliberal impact agenda in higher education.

What this reaction reveals is a desire to restrict discussion around rape. We are seeing the cult-like elevation of one inalienable ‘truth’ above all others. This ‘truth’ is that we live in an age where rape is part of everyday culture, and where those in power are doing nothing to stop it. Anyone who dares question this prevailing orthodoxy on rape is guilty of a chauvinistic heresy, attributable to their immersion in a controlling patriarchal society.

Oh get a grip. Of course it’s possible to point at something or other and say it reveals a whatever. So what? I like poking fun at pompous bullshit as much as the next person, or in fact more than most people, but I try not to exaggerate the implications of one pompous-bullshit article unless there’s good reason to think that more than six people read it.

It is precisely this climate of ‘you can’t say that’ which universities have traditionally challenged in the name of robust open debate. The LSE took the admirable decision to host the debate entirely in the public realm, even publishing the discussion as a video online. In doing so, it demonstrated a commitment to the traditional role of the university in leading and promoting public discussion.

That’s bullshit. It implies that universities “have traditionally” had no limits whatsoever on what can be robustly debated, and that’s just bullshit. Universities started as religious institutions, and they operated within very narrow limits. And as for this shock-horror about “you can’t say that” – there are actually things people shouldn’t say. An oncologist shouldn’t tell a patient with cancer to use homeopathy or go to the Burzynski clinic, for example. A US president shouldn’t say that atheists are not citizens, for example. A teacher shouldn’t tell students that they’re going to hell unless they subscribe to a particular religion, for example.

But the idea that debates like this should be held in public is anathema to contemporary ‘anti-rape’ (as if anyone is ‘pro-rape’) campaigners, who seem to think that certain arguments are capable of turning almost any member of the great unwashed into a ‘rape sympathiser’.

Welllllll there’s a shining example of privilege at work. He thinks no one is pro-rape? Dude! Lots of people are! Think about it.

Any attempt by journals like Feminists at Law to limit our access to alternative or critical views should be recognised as more than an attack on those making arguments they disagree with: it is an attack on our right to know. So three cheers for the LSE for staging the debate; three cheers for those who took part; and three cheers for those members of the public who attended and fought hard for the ideas they believed in. At a time when hysteria can enforce false orthodoxies in public life, we need these open, interrogative forums more than ever.

Do we? Isn’t the need more for good research than it is for staged debates? The latter have more to do with entertainment than with the search for knowledge. (Note that Gittos used the dog-whistle “hysteria” twice in this short article.)

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

Well you don’t see rhinos with hangovers, now do you

Nov 20th, 2013 4:09 pm | By

Myths can be lethal.

A friend of mine just got back from a trip to Botswana to see the wildlife; she told me one of the guides told them there’s been a big surge in rhino poaching and it’s because of a myth in Vietnam that a bit of rhino before you get shitfaced will make the hangover not so bad. Well that’s a pathetic reason to wipe out a species, even if it’s true.

So I Googled, and there’s reporting on it. Like a piece titled

Using horns in hangover cures the hot new way to make rhinos extinct

Drunks in Vietnam have recently acquired a taste for rhinoceros horn and, frankly, the timing couldn’t be worse. The selfish lushes will pay $50,000 for a pound of horn, believing it will cure their hangovers, and the surge in demand is pushing rhinos to the very brink of extinction. It seems the dwindling rhinoceros population is inversely linked to an increase in stupid medical mysticism.

Why the fuck couldn’t they make the stupid myth be about dandelions or dust or something else abundant and easy to produce?

The Atlantic reported on it at the same time, last May.

Rhino Horn: Party Drug Some conservation groups, however, don’t think rhino horn’s newfound popularity in Vietnam has much to do with the cancer cure-all rumor (pdf, p.2). The more likely reason, they say, is that the horn powder is increasingly seen as a cocaine-like party drug, virility enhancer and luxury item–”the alcoholic drink of millionaires,” as a Vietnamese news site called it.

That’s partly because it is supposed to help the liver. With alcohol consumption on the rise as living standards improve, the swinging Vietnamese now prize rhino horn  as a way to let them drink more and cure hangovers faster. Tom Milliken, an expert on the rhino horn market, reckons that a rhino-horn  detox, ”especially following excessive intake of alcohol, is probably  the most common routine usage promoted in the marketplace“.

Ah it’s our old friend detox again. Goodbye rhinos, hello bogus “detox” drug.

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

Guest post by Leo Igwe: UN and Witch hunts in Ghana

Nov 20th, 2013 3:02 pm | By
The United Nations should use the visit to Ghana of the Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, Ms Gulnara Shahinian, to shine an international light on the menace of witch hunting in the country and in other parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Ms Gulnara Shahinian is scheduled to visit Ghana from 22 to 29 November 2013.
 The aim of her visit is to ‘assess the situation on the ground with regard to slavery-like practices’ in the country. According to a press release from her office, Ms Shahinian will, during her stay in Ghana, ‘explore strategies to address the current challenges in ending such practices, including the use of the worst forms of child-labour in a number of economic sectors, and other forms of contemporary slavery that are often less visible such as domestic servitude, and those emerging from harmful traditional practices.’ Unfortunately, there was no mention of the harmful traditional practice of witch hunting in Ghana and the plight of accused persons, especially women, children, internally displaced due to witchcraft accusation in this west African nation. The UN should break the silence on witchcraft related abuse in Ghana now!
Witchcraft is a way many people in contemporary Africa interpret misfortune, and Witch hunting is still observed and ‘respected’ as a tradition in Ghana. Most victims of witch persecution lack protection under the law in Ghana. When it comes to issues concerning witchcraft, tradition trumps human rights. Suspected witches are attacked, killed or expelled from their communities.
The UN Special Rapporteur should use her visit to promote the campaign to end witch hunting in Ghana. The witch hunting situation in Ghana is unique because the country has ‘safe spaces’ where alleged witches take refuge. These places are called ‘witch’ camps. They are not official refugee camps. The ‘witch’ camps are makeshift shelters and part of the traditional mechanism for managing and containing witchcraft accusations.
I urge the UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery to pay a visit to any of the ‘witch’ camps in Kukuo, Gambaga, Gnani, Gushegu, Naboli, Kpatinga or Bonyase in Northern Region. She should explore ways of getting the UN involved in providing humanitarian assistance to victims of witchcraft accusation. In fact the UN special rapporteur should get the UN to adopt these camps as refugee camps or camps for internally displaced persons. Witchcraft is a traditional belief, and witch hunting is a traditional practice of expelling and trying by ordeal persons suspected of engaging in harmful occult practices. It is one of the issues Ms Gulnara Shahinian should raise during her visit. The UN Special Rapporteur should discuss with all stakeholders strategies of ending this terrible practice in Ghana. The UN should help make witch hunting history in Africa!

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

Progress is slow

Nov 20th, 2013 2:30 pm | By

The New York Times magazine ran a long piece on the not enough women in STEM subjects question last month. It’s by Eileen Pollack, who herself stopped short of doing physics as a career. She started from way behind as an undergraduate because No Girls Allowed…

I attended a rural public school whose few accelerated courses in physics and calculus I wasn’t allowed to take because, as my principal put it, “girls never go on in science and math.” Angry and bored, I began reading about space and time and teaching myself calculus from a book. When I arrived at Yale, I was woefully unprepared.

But she caught up, dammit. But guess what – jumping over hurdles gets tiring after awhile.

In the end, I graduated summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, with honors in the major, having excelled in the department’s three-term sequence in quantum mechanics and a graduate course in gravitational physics, all while teaching myself to program Yale’s mainframe computer. But I didn’t go into physics as a career. At the end of four years, I was exhausted by all the lonely hours I spent catching up to my classmates, hiding my insecurities, struggling to do my problem sets while the boys worked in teams to finish theirs. I was tired of dressing one way to be taken seriously as a scientist while dressing another to feel feminine. And while some of the men I wanted to date weren’t put off by my major, many of them were.

Mostly, though, I didn’t go on in physics because not a single professor — not even the adviser who supervised my senior thesis — encouraged me to go to graduate school. Certain this meant I wasn’t talented enough to succeed in physics, I left the rough draft of my senior thesis outside my adviser’s door and slunk away in shame. Pained by the dream I had failed to achieve, I locked my textbooks, lab reports and problem sets in my father’s army footlocker and turned my back on physics and math forever.

That was 1978. Recently she decided to try to find out if things had changed.

When I first returned to Yale in the fall of 2010, everyone kept boasting that 30 to 40 percent of the undergraduates majoring in physics and physics-related fields were women. More remarkable, those young women studied in a department whose chairwoman was the formidable astrophysicist Meg Urry, who earned her Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins, completed a postdoctorate at M.I.T.’s center for space research and served on the faculty of the Hubble space telescope before Yale hired her as a full professor in 2001. (At the time, there wasn’t a single other female faculty member in the department.)

In recent years, Urry has become devoted to using hard data and anecdotes from her own experience to alter her colleagues’ perceptions as to why there are so few women in the sciences. In response to the Summers controversy, she published an essay in The Washington Post describing her gradual realization that women were leaving the profession not because they weren’t gifted but because of the “slow drumbeat of being underappreciated, feeling uncomfortable and encountering roadblocks along the path to success.”

But shouldn’t they just tough it out? What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, after all. If that makes them give up then they must be weak and fragile – right?

No. Innate obstacles are one thing, and stupid ones created by people being jackasses are another.

Pollack arranged to meet with some interview female students interested in science and gender so that she could interview them; she was told that few would be interested enough to show up. Wrong.

The students clamored to share their stories. One young woman had been disconcerted to find herself one of only three girls in her AP physics course in high school, and even more so when the other two dropped out. Another student was the only girl in her AP physics class from the start. Her classmates teased her mercilessly: “You’re a girl. Girls can’t do physics.” She expected the teacher to put an end to the teasing, but he didn’t.

Other women chimed in to say that their teachers were the ones who teased them the most. In one physics class, the teacher announced that the boys would be graded on the “boy curve,” while the one girl would be graded on the “girl curve”; when asked why, the teacher explained that he couldn’t reasonably expect a girl to compete in physics on equal terms with boys.

Wouldn’t it be nice if people would stop doing that? But no, wait, that’s “politically correct” – and we can’t have that. It’s much better to remain free to pour scorn on people so that they will doubt themselves and stop trying.

In the two years that followed, I heard similar accounts echoed among young women in Michigan, upstate New York and Connecticut. I was dismayed to find that the cultural and psychological factors that I experienced in the ’70s not only persist but also seem all the more pernicious in a society in which women are told that nothing is preventing them from succeeding in any field. If anything, the pressures to be conventionally feminine seem even more intense now than when I was young.

It’s a long process. So long that nobody gets to see it happen, perhaps.

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

She was never told why she was hauled away

Nov 20th, 2013 9:35 am | By

Elizabeth Coppin is a survivor of both an Irish industrial “school” and a Magdalene laundry. She has taken her fight for justice to the UN.

Terrified Elizabeth Coppin was just 14 when she was taken out of the Co Kerry industrial school she had attended for 12 years and “locked up” in the Peacock Lane Laundry in Cork.

She was never told why she was hauled away from everything she knew and dumped in the hated institution with the chilling warning: “It will be a very long time before you get out.”

And it was the start of a hellish four years in three laundries for Elizabeth where she was:

  • FORCED to work long days with no pay
  • MADE to sleep in a cell with bars over the window and only a bucket for a toilet
  • LOCKED in a bare padded cell for three days after being falsely accused of stealing another girl’s sweets, and
  • PUNISHED by having her beautiful hair shaved off and her named changed to Enda after she ran away to escape the nightmare.

Now 64, Elizabeth has returned home from England to Listowel, Co Kerry, to fight for justice for herself and the thousands of women like her who were treated like slaves in the Laundries.

That was priest-ridden Ireland, Catholic Ireland. What was that again about the link between religion and compassion?

Elizabeth and fellow Magdalene survivor Mary Merritt have taken their campaign all the way to the United Nations Committee Against Torture to make their voices heard.

Defiant Elizabeth revealed: “As a vulnerable, ignorant, innocent and frightened child growing up in rural Ireland in an industrial school, abuse by the nuns was a daily ritual for as far back as I could remember.

“I have formed the opinion my torture in the Magdalene Laundries was State-sponsored because the Government and the nuns sent me to the Laundries whilst under-age and in their care.

“The fear of punishment was very real to us women in the Magdalene Laundries.

“We were dependent on the nuns for our welfare, liberty, subsistence and for our very survival.

“The religious have since tried to justify this saying they provided us with shelter, board and work and they acted in the best interests for all who entered the Laundries but this just adds insult to injury.

“I never asked the nuns to take me there and I want the Government to admit our human rights were violated and that we deserved better.”

Elizabeth finally got out of the Laundries aged 19 after almost five years and was so traumatised by what she had been through she fled to England.

She was treated like shit in the Peacock Lane laundry. She was locked up in solitary for three days with only a bucket and a cup and plate. She finally managed to escape, and got a job in a hospital.

But her world crumbled all over again when three Government officials turned up three months later and warned her: “Run away from this place we’re taking you to and we will put you in a place you’ll never get out of.”

Elizabeth wasn’t taken back to Peacock Lane but was instead moved to The Good Shepherd’s Laundry in Cork.

She said: “I was given the name Enda, my hair was shaved by the nun in charge and as she cut it she said, ‘I don’t think you will be running away for a long time’.”

As if she were a serial murderer, when in fact she was a young girl who had been locked up in prisons from the age of two.

Fortunately Elizabeth only had to endure that agony for five months, after which she was moved to another laundry, this time in Waterford.

She added: “I was there for one year. I had my own name and my own clothes, we used toilets and slept in dormitories and even though I was locked up and still doing the laundry work I found this place more tolerable.

“Maybe that’s because I was so institutionalised at that stage and the nun in charge was nice to me.”

And opening up about why she feels she can’t accept the Government’s offer of compensation after the Martin McAleese Report, Elizabeth said: “We worked, toiled and slaved under duress, coercion and fear.

“We were never given any type of education, we were not allowed to have friends and verbal abuse was normal so can someone please tell me how that wasn’t a serious breach of our human rights?”

No, no one can. That was a very serious breach of their human rights.


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

Spin the doll

Nov 20th, 2013 8:17 am | By

Girls! Girls demanding something different, girls who like to engineer things.

Fewer than 3 in 10 graduates in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are women. And barely 1 in 10 actual engineers are women. Early in a girl’s life, the toys marketed to her are usually things that don’t encourage her to enter those fields. GoldieBlox intends to change that by teaching them while they are young that these fields can be fun — and apparently epic, by the looks of this super-genius 2-minute video. Watch and learn.

It’s a commercial for a company called GoldieBlox.


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

What about yoga?

Nov 19th, 2013 5:59 pm | By

I don’t think I see much – if anything – about yoga among the targets of the skeptical patrol. But there’s a lot of bullshit in it isn’t there? Plus a lot of…what to call it…not full-on bullshit but a kind of hinting at more than is really there. Isn’t there?

I’m wondering because I was idly reading some bit of fluff in a neighborhood throwaway this afternoon and there was an “article” on the wonders of yoga written by someone who runs a yoga place (so what possible motivation could she have to pretend it’s more magical and health-giving than it really is?), which along with apparently reasonable claims about exercise was “it detoxes your organs.” I beg your pardon? No it doesn’t. “Detoxing your organs” isn’t a thing, and if you see a claim that treats it as a thing you know there’s bullshit going on.

Okay, Google is my friend, so here we go. 5 Yoga Poses for Detoxification.

Note from Joy: I am thrilled to share another post with you from my friend and amazing yoga instructor Michelle from sol glo. As you may have noticed, we launched our Spring 2013 online program: Eat Clean Body Lean: 21 Days to a Joyous New YouRegister Today!

These poses she has graciously put together for you will stimulate the passage of toxins! Of course the calming and centering aspect of yoga is essential for detoxification as well. Your body will not efficiently eliminate any toxins if you are in sympathetic nervous system mode, better known as “fight or flight”. Enjoy these poses from Michelle — she’s awesome!

That looks like a move from the reasonable to the not so much. Stress is bad for the body, so to the extent that yoga is good at relieving stress (which I think it is) it’s good for the body and makes it feel better. But is that “detox”?

“Happy New Year” often goes hand-in-hand with “Detox” for most people especially after indulging over the Holidays.

Yoga can help us release toxins that have been built up in the body and need help finding their way out, enhancing all of your efforts in your cleanse.  Through various twists, folds, inversions, and sweating, Yoga will clean out toxins, lower stress hormones, send more oxygen to our cells, and increase circulation to carry nutrients to the cells and toxins away to be eliminated.

“Yoga will clean out toxins”? That’s just gibberish, right? Decreasing stress will lower the production of adrenalin, as I understand it, but that doesn’t mean it “cleans it” out.

You know what else is a good anti-stress thing to do? Go to a big semi-wild park on the bluffs above Puget Sound with a bursting-with-energy dog on a cold cloudy damp day, and have fun. All those little chores you have to do become very manageable.


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