Notes and Comment Blog

“I am not sure why you feel the need to protect him”

Jan 2nd, 2015 10:08 am | By

I guess I should adjust my opinion of Judd Apatow. I had thought of him as one of the pillars of Bro-world, whose citizens generally seem oblivious to the existence of women as anything other than platforms for genitalia. But that doesn’t seem to cohere well with his attitude to Bill Cosby.

If you’ve followed director Judd Apatow’s Twitter musings for the last several weeks, his views on the rape allegations against Bill Cosby won’t come as a huge surprise.

But over the weekend, Apatow went on a lengthy anti-Cosby rampage. He slammed Cosby’s “cold” defenders for siding with the comedian. He compared Cosby’s lack of conviction in a court of law to Hitler dying without being convicted of murder. And he labeled Cosby “a rapist” and “a monster.”

“I wish he wasn’t a rapist too. I am not sure why you feel the need to protect him,” Apatow told one Cosby defender.

“I always wonder why some people try so hard to not believe women who have been assaulted. What is the root of that?” he tweeted at another.

The usual – the failure to understand that women are human beings just as men are.

Asked by one follower why he had an “obsession” with Cosby, Apatow quipped: “I guess it’s because guys who rape a lot aren’t cool.”

Cosby has never been convicted of any of the allegations against him, but the recent allegations threaten to permanently tarnish the reputation of one of America’s most beloved and powerful comedians.

Not all the rapey priests and bishops have been convicted, either, but the hundreds of allegations threaten to tarnish the reputation of the Catholic church forever.

Apatow’s outspokenness is rare among entertainment industry figures, who have remained largely silent on the allegations that have swirled around Cosby for years but havereached a fever pitch over the last several months.

Save for a few of Cosby’s celebrity defenders like comedian Whoopi Goldberg and singer Jill Scott, the response in show business has been non-existent. Hollywood, it appears, prefers to stay out of the fray.

“Almost nobody here will acknowledge that Bill Cosby has been accused of rape x30,” he said earlier this month.

Well, I guess I do have to adjust my opinion.

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

Have a pleasant trip, thank you for sailing with us

Jan 2nd, 2015 9:33 am | By

Here’s an exciting new way to treat people badly – offer them passage on a ship and then once the ship is well out into the sea…leave. What the hell, you have better things to do, right?

Italian authorities have taken control of a ship with 450 migrants, thought to be Syrian, that was abandoned by its crew off Italy’s coast.

The Italian coastguard said it was now being towed to an Italian port after a rescue team managed to board.

The Ezadeen, sailing under the flag of Sierra Leone, lost power in rough seas overnight off the south-east of Italy.

A total of 796 migrants were rescued from another ship found abandoned without any crew earlier in the week.

It’s the hot new trend.

The alarm was raised in a distress call from one of the migrants using the maritime radio on board, who told the Italian coastguard: “We’re without crew, we’re heading toward the Italian coast and we have no-one to steer.”

The Ezadeen was built nearly 50 years ago and is a livestock carrier. It appears to be registered to a Lebanese company and has come under the control of human traffickers.

That is, the traffickers borrowed it, and once it was in open waters, they returned it to its owners and went away to borrow another ship.

Analysis: Jonathan Josephs, BBC News

The Ezadeen is the latest uncrewed ship full of would-be migrants to be left to drift to its fate in the Mediterranean Sea.

People-traffickers appear to be behind the phenomenon and one source with close knowledge of the rescue operations is concerned that it “seems to be something of a new trend”.

Money for old rope. Borrow or rent a ship, stuff it with people, pocket the cash, nip back to shore in a speedboat.

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

Just children

Jan 1st, 2015 6:01 pm | By

A great comic on the whole “let’s make a special pink fluffy version of this toy for girls” approach to toy-making and -marketing. Maritsa Patrinos is the artist.

“Why do girls need their own Legos?”

“We wanted Legos to appeal to girls more.”

Why not just make them appeal to children? Just children?

There’s no need to sell tricycle for girls and tricycles for boys. There’s no need to sell baseball bats or wagons or toy cars or stuffed animals or train sets or dolls or in fact anything for girls or for boys. There’s no need for all this shepherding and herding and nudging. Leave us alone. Let us play with whatever we want to play with, and keep your ideas about what’s “gender appropriate” to yourself.

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

Dossiers on trolls

Jan 1st, 2015 5:04 pm | By

Sweden has a tv journalist who confronts internet trolls, Robert Aschberg.

The goal of Troll Hunter is not to rid the Internet of every troll. “The agenda is to raise hell about all the hate on the Net,” he says. “To start a discussion.” Back at the Troll Hunter office, a whiteboard organized Aschberg’s agenda. Dossiers on other trolls were tacked up in two rows: a pair of teens who anonymously slander their high school classmates on Instagram, a politician who runs a racist website, a male law student who stole the identity of a young woman to entice another man into an online relationship. In a sign of the issue’s resonance in Sweden, a pithy neologism has been coined to encompass all these forms of online nastiness: näthat (“Net hate”). Troll Hunter, which has become a minor hit for its brash tackling of näthat, is currently filming its second season.

It is generally no longer acceptable in public life to hurl slurs at women or minorities, to rally around the idea that some humans are inherently worth less than others, or to terrorize vulnerable people. But old-school hate is having a sort of renaissance online, and in the countries thought to be furthest beyond it.

The anonymity provided by the Internet fosters communities where people can feed on each other’s hate without consequence. They can easily form into mobs and terrify victims. Individual trolls can hide behind dozens of screen names to multiply their effect. And attempts to curb online hate must always contend with the long-standing ideals that imagine the Internet’s main purpose as offering unfettered space for free speech and marginalized ideas. The struggle against hate online is so urgent and difficult that the law professor Danielle Citron, in her new book Hate Crimes in Cyberspace, calls the Internet “the next battleground for civil rights.”

And Sweden is not immune.

Sweden’s Internet also has a disturbing underbelly. It burst into view with the so-called “Instagram riot” of 2012, when hundreds of angry teenagers descended on a Gothenburg high school, calling for the head of a girl who spread sexual slander about fellow students on Instagram. The more banal everyday harassment faced by women on the Internet was documented in a much-discussed 2013 TV special called Men Who Net Hate Women, a play on the Swedish title of the first book of Stieg Larsson’s blockbuster Millennium trilogy.

Internet hatred is a problem anywhere a significant part of life is lived online. But the problem is sharpened by Sweden’s cultural and legal commitment to free expression, according to Mårten Schultz, a law professor at Stockholm University and a regular guest on Troll Hunter, where he discusses the legal issues surrounding each case. Swedes tend to approach näthat as the unpleasant but unavoidable side effect of having the liberty to say what you wish. Proposed legislation to combat online harassment is met with strong resistance from free speech and Internet rights activists.

What’s Freeze Peach in Swedish?

Some researchers collected a ton of data from the comments section of the right-wing online publication Avpixlat.

Starting with this data, members meticulously identified many of Avpixlat’s most prolific commenters and then turned the names over to Expressen, one of Sweden’s two major tabloids. In December 2013, Expressen revealed in a series of front-page stories that dozens of prominent Swedes had posted racist, sexist, and otherwise hateful comments under pseudonyms on Avpixlat, including a number of politicians and officials from the ascendant far-right Sweden Democrats. It was one of the biggest scoops of the year. The Sweden Democrats, which have their roots in Sweden’s neo-Nazi movement, have long attempted to distance themselves from their racist past, adopting a more respectable rhetoric of protecting “Swedish culture.” But here were their members and supporters casting doubt on the Holocaust and calling Muslim immigrants “locusts.” A number of politicians and officials were forced to resign. Expressen released a short documentary of its reporters acting as troll hunters, knocking on doors and confronting Avpixlat commenters with their own words.

People should own their own words.

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

The literacy rate for 15-24 year-old women is 32%

Jan 1st, 2015 4:04 pm | By

A woman member of parliament in Afghanistan, Shukria Barakzai, escaped death in a suicide bombing last November.

Barakzai, who rose to prominence when she ran underground schools for girls when the Taliban ruled the country, says both the previous Afghan government and its Western benefactors have failed to defend the hard-won rights of women.

“For me, what they do to support women’s rights is just lip service, nothing more than that,” says Barakzai, interviewed in hospital where she was recovering from burns to the left side of her face and her left hand from the attack.

And Afghanistan needs support for women’s rights more than most countries.

World Bank data show Afghanistan still lags far behind even its impoverished neighbours in South Asia.
Only 16 per cent of Afghan females above the age of 15 were active in the labour force compared with 57 per cent in Bangladesh and 27 per cent in India. The fertility rate in Afghanistan is 7.2 births per woman versus 3.1 for all of South Asia. Only 14 per cent of births in Afghanistan are attended by a skilled health worker compared with 36 per cent in South Asia. The literacy rate for 15-24 year-old women was 32 per cent compared with 63 per cent in neighbouring Pakistan.

That’s a gruesome set of stats. 7 children. No medical help in childbirth. Illiteracy. You might as well be born a cow or a goat.

Barakzai, a parliamentarian the past decade, has campaigned against the practice of Afghan men marrying multiple wives; her husband, who runs an oil company, took a second wife without consulting her. She stresses the need for long-term investment in education to compete seriously for jobs instead of aid programmes for “workshops or seminars”.
“If you see their projects, they are always the same. Empowering women by a seminar or workshop. Or embroidery, tailoring,” she laughs. “I am tired of these things.”

Live long and prosper, Shukria Barakzai.


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

She had looked through the door

Jan 1st, 2015 3:07 pm | By

My first awareness of Mark Danner, I think, was reading his long article in the New Yorker The Truth of El Mozote, about a massacre by the army of El Salvador. The full article is on his website. That was December 1993. I kept the magazine sitting around for months because of the cover.


I’ll share a little, because it’s all connected. This wasn’t about Osama bin Laden, it was about the Cold War and the military versus the guerillas, but it was the US behaving badly again. We backed the military despite knowing it was up to its armpits in atrocities.

This is about a massacre, so, be warned.

This is after the men have been killed, after the young girls have been dragged away and raped and then killed.

Around this time, the soldiers returned to the house of Alfredo Márquez. “I was still sitting on the bench with my kids,” Rufina says. “When they came back, they began separating the women from their kids. They pulled the mothers away, leaving the children there crying. They took one group of women and then in a while they came back and took another. That was the saddest thing — little by little, the mothers disappeared, and the house became filled mostly with crying children.”

Rufina found herself in one of the last groups. “It must have been five o’clock. There were maybe twenty of us. I was crying and struggling with the soldiers, because I had my baby on my chest. It took two soldiers to pull the baby from me. So when I came outside into the street, I was the last in the group. I was crying and miserable, and begging God to help me.”

The soldiers marched the women down the main street. They passed the house of Marcos Dí­az on the right and, on the left, that of Ambrosiano Claros, where Rufina and her family had spent the previous night. Ambrosiano Claros’s house was in flames. “I saw other houses burning, and I saw blood on the ground. We turned the corner and walked toward the house of Israel Márquez. Then the woman at the head of the line — we were in single file — began to scream. She had looked through the door and seen the people in the house.”

What the woman had seen was thick pools of blood covering the floor and, farther inside, piles of bloody corpses — the bodies of the women who only minutes before had been sitting in the house with them, waiting.

“The first woman screamed, ‘There are dead people! They’re killing people!’ and everyone began screaming. All down the line, the women began resisting, hugging one another, begging the soldiers not to kill them. The soldiers were struggling with them, trying to push the first women into the house. One soldier said, ‘Don’t cry, women. Here comes the Devil to take you.’ ”

Rufina, still at the end of the line, fell to her knees. “I was crying and begging God to forgive my sins,” she says. “Though I was almost at the feet of the soldiers, I wasn’t begging them — I was begging God. Where I was kneeling, I was between a crab-apple and a pine tree. Maybe that was what saved me. In all the yelling and commotion, they didn’t see me there. The soldier behind me had gone up front to help with the first women. They didn’t see me when I crawled between the trees.”

She was one of the only survivors from El Mozote.

Some soldiers sat down for a break right next to her, so she couldn’t move lest they hear her.

The soldiers watched the fire and talked, and Rufina, frozen in her terror a few feet away, listened. “Well, we’ve killed all the old men and women,” one said. “But there’s still a lot of kids down there. You know, a lot of those kids are really good-looking, really cute. I wouldn’t want to kill all of them. Maybe we can keep some of them, you know — take them with us.”

“What are you talking about?” another soldier answered roughly. “We have to finish everyone, you know that. That’s the colonel’s order. This is an operativo de tierra arrasada here” — a scorched-earth operation — “and we have to kill the kids as well, or we’ll get it ourselves.”

“Listen, I don’t want to kill kids,” the first soldier said.

“Look,” another said. “We have orders to finish everyone and we have to complete our orders. That’s it.”

They went to get some sodas at the town store a few yards away.

After a time, when the soldiers seemed to have finished drinking their sodas, Rufina heard crying and screaming begin from the house of Alfredo Márquez: the screaming of the children. “They were crying, ‘Mommy! Mommy! They’re hurting us! Help us! They’re cutting us! They’re choking us! Help us!’

“Then I heard one of my children crying. My son, Cristino, was crying, ‘Mama Rufina, help me! They’re killing me! They killed my sister! They’re killing me! Help me!’ I didn’t know what to do. They were killing my children. I knew that if I went back there to help my children I would be cut to pieces. But I couldn’t stand to hear it, I couldn’t bear it. I was afraid that I would cry out, that I would scream, that I would go crazy. I couldn’t stand it, and I prayed to God to help me. I promised God that if He helped me I would tell the world what happened here.

“Then I tied my hair up and tied my skirt between my legs and I crawled on my belly out from behind the tree. There were animals there, cows and a dog, and they saw me, and I was afraid they would make a noise, but God made them stay quiet as I crawled among them. I crawled across the road and under the barbed wire and into the maguey on the other side. I crawled a little farther through the thorns, and I dug a little hole with my hands and put my face in the hole so I could cry without anyone hearing. I could hear the children screaming still, and I lay there with my face against the earth and cried.”

Rufina could not see the children; she could only hear their cries as the soldiers waded into them, slashing some with their machetes, crushing the skulls of others with the butts of their rifles. Many others — the youngest children, most below the age of twelve — the soldiers herded from the house of Alfredo Márquez across the street to the sacristy, pushing them, crying and screaming, into the dark tiny room. There the soldiers raised their M16s and emptied their magazines into the roomful of children.

The US government at the time denied the massacre, saying it was a battle between government troops and guerrillas.

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

A burden for many families

Jan 1st, 2015 11:49 am | By

Tahmima Anam on early marriage in Bangladesh.

A recent study by the development organization Plan Bangladesh and the nonprofit International Center for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh, showed that 64 percent of women aged 20-24 were married before the age of 18. Early marriage and early motherhood are the cause of a host of social and health problems, from a greater incidence of domestic violence to an increased risk of child and maternal mortality. Young brides stop going to school (according to Unicef, 5.6 million Bangladeshi children have dropped out of education early because of marriage) and thus have fewer opportunities for employment, and, crucially, little knowledge of their rights within marriage.

To the dismay of Bangladeshi NGOs, health workers and activists, the government’s response to this study has been a proposal to lower the legal age of marriage to 16. The minister for women and children’s affairs, Meher Afroz Chumki, commented: “In our country, girls become matured by the age of 14. This may become a burden for many families. If the country allows the parents to marry their daughters off at young age, many social problems may cease to exist as well.”

Oy. No, in Bangladesh and any other country girls don’t “become matured” by the age of 14. Some reach puberty by that age, or earlier, but puberty≠maturity. Maturity is alas completely different from puberty and comes much later (and gradually as opposed to all at once). The prefrontal cortex doesn’t finish developing until age 25, to cite just one index.

The putative “burden” of course is that the daughter might start fucking, and thus destroy the family’s “honor.” That’s why early marriage is considered a fix. It’s all about the fucking, and nothing else.

The minister for health and family affairs, Zahid Maleque, confused matters further by insisting that the problem was elopement, claiming that “rural adolescent girls run away from home to get married.” What united the two officials was the idea of an adolescent girl whose sexual maturity is a danger to her family, and of marriage as a way to control female sexual behavior. This, rather than a system that limits choices for young women, was the problem in their view.

Girls are seen as a contaminant to get rid of, which is depressing in itself, even before we get to the consequences.

The responsibility of our elected officials should be to protect young women from regressive customs that limit their potential, not change the rules to massage government statistics. Despite the politicians’ inadequate response, the future looks promising: Studies show that the rate of early marriage is declining. But we have a long way to go to reverse the age-old assumption that an adolescent girl is a problem to which the solution is marriage.

It’s time for a Year of the Girl, I think.

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

They were essentially without any relevant experience

Jan 1st, 2015 10:30 am | By

Mark Danner talks to Hugh Eaken at the New York Review blog about the CIA torture program.

Danner notes that the Senate’s report on the program contains a lot that was already known, but tells it “in appalling detail that we hadn’t seen before.”

The relentlessness, day in day out, of these techniques; the totality of their effect when taken together—walling, close-confinement, water-dousing, waterboarding, the newly revealed “rectal rehydration,” and various other disgusting and depraved things—is recounted in numbing, revolting detail. The effect can only be conveyed by a full reading, through page after awful page of this five-hundred-page document, which is after all less than 10 percent of the report itself.

What is new, he says, is how amateurish the program was.

It was really amateur hour, beginning with the techniques themselves, which were devised and run by a couple of retired Air Force psychologists who were hired by the CIA and put in charge though they had never conducted an interrogation before. They had no expertise in terrorism or counterterrorism, had never interrogated al-Qaeda members or anyone else for that matter. When it came to actually working with detained terrorists and suspected terrorists they were essentially without any relevant experience. Eventually, the CIA paid them more than $80 million.

So…that’s bizarre. Why would they do that? The people in charge, I mean – the administration, the CIA, whoever it was who was running the show. It’s not as if there’s no such thing as expertise in interrogation, because there very much is – so why didn’t they seek it out? Why be slapdash about something so crucial? They wanted results, surely, so why not do their best to find people who know how to get results?

The second great revelation is the degree to which the CIA claimed great results, and did so mendaciously. Sometimes the attacks they said they had prevented were not serious in the first place. Sometimes the information that actually might have led to averting attacks came not from the enhanced interrogation techniques but from other traditional forms of interrogation or other information entirely. But what the report methodically demonstrates is that the claims about having obtained essential, life-saving intelligence thanks to these techniques that had been repeated for years and years and years are simply not true. And the case is devastating.

And the thing is – they were making those claims before they even started interrogating. The claims weren’t even Save Our Asses after the torture, they were Cover Our Asses in advance.

Those claims have been made by many people and it is another revelation of the report that we see CIA people, notably the lawyers, raising these claims before the program even existed. The lawyers seemed to be thinking, “This is the only way we’re going to get away with this.” There is a quote in the report that people would look more kindly on torture—that is the word used—if it was used to stop imminent attacks. This was the so-called “necessity defense,” which, as the CIA lawyers put it, could be invoked to protect from prosecution “US officials who tortured to obtain information that saved many lives.” This idea was there right from the inception of the program.

So that’s pretty damning. It’s kind of Milosevician, in fact.

But apparently they never really properly discussed all this.

You expect that government officials who make the momentous decision to introduce an officially sanctioned torture program in the United States would have a series of serious meetings in which they would analyze the history of interrogation as it has been used by different government agencies, they would consult with allies who have a history of using these and other techniques, about what works and what doesn’t. They would make a general study of what is necessary and what is not. They would consult with legal experts. They would do a number of things.

In this case, as far as we can tell, most of these things were not done. We find a bare minimum of policy discussion. We know the CIA did very little if any research about what would work and wouldn’t. We see no decision tree springing from the felt actual need to do torture in specific cases, beginning with prisoners in hand who are unwilling to talk. Talk of torture itself—the wisps of the discussion, the ghostly mentions of the word—start very early after September 11, when “high value” detainees are generally not available, let alone refusing to talk.

So that’s all pretty disturbing. It sounds rather as if they were telling each other “well obviously we’re going to have to torture these people” right away, and that sounds as if the ideas about torture sprang straight from rage and vindictiveness rather than any kind of pragmatic need.

But unfortunately there’s no report on the decision-making process in the executive branch.

We have an essential report from the Office of Professional Responsibility in the Department of Justice about how torture was approved. We have a big and immensely valuable Armed Services Committee report from 2008 about the military’s use of torture. And now we have this report, or rather this executive summary of a report, about the CIA. There are a dozen or so reports about different aspects of Abu Ghraib. But we still have no report on how decisions were made in the executive branch, which is obviously critical.

The White House, including the offices of the president and the vice-president, and the National Security Council—these three vital areas of decision-making—still have not been examined. And there’s a reason for that. The Republicans refused to sign on to the Senate investigation unless these areas were put beyond the committee’s ken.

Democratic government is supposed to be accountable. That’s supposed to be one of its great advantages.

I’m just saying.

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

Not to be his type

Dec 31st, 2014 4:46 pm | By

From Deep Dark Fears on Facebook

More Deep Dark Fears.

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

They didn’t have the proper protective equipment

Dec 31st, 2014 3:58 pm | By

NPR’s Goats and Soda blog reports that more than 360 African health workers died of Ebola this year. It has photos of 36 of them, a poignant collection.

More than 360 African health workers died of Ebola this year. Some of them made headlines around the world, such as Dr. Umar Sheik Khan, the Sierra Leonean physician who treated more than 100 Ebola patients before contracting the disease himself.

But most of the fallen health workers didn’t get that degree of attention. They were doctors, nurses, midwives, lab technicians. They didn’t have the proper protective equipment. As they tried to save the lives of others, they sacrificed their own.

Liberia and Sierra Leone can’t afford to lose all those health workers.

In some West African clinics and medical facilities, the faces of the lost health workers stare out from tribute walls: Photos of the deceased are posted in hallways outside offices and examination rooms. A person’s name and job may be scrawled in ink underneath the photo, along with a personal note.

They had names:

Top Row: Sando Sirleaf Jr.; Sharon Shamoyan; Laurene W. Togba, RN [registered nurse]; Kortoe M. Berry, RN; Gloria Tonia Banks; David Korpu, RN; Jamaimah Harlebah, RN; Youngor Suakollie, RN

Second row: Alice M. Paasewe, CM [certified midwife]; James J. Kemokai, RN; James T. Daah, RN; Enid D. Dalieh, RN; Mercy W. Dahn, RN; Layson Zuu, RN; Josephine K. Gibson, RN; Tamba Eric Fallah, RN

Third row: Kebeh Bernice Zawu; Roseline K Moliwulo, CM; Kebbeh Marzou Akoi; Mohammed Sheriff, RN; Otino J. Garpue, RN; Joseph Sulon, RN; Esther D. Kezelee, RN; Zion S. Nuah, RN

Fourth row: Martha Y. Tom; Isatu Isatu Boyah Salifu; Enoch W.W. Saywon; Nornor Friencelai Kollie; Christian Tulah Harris; Joseph M. Khakie; Nathaniel S. Kollie, RN; Anita Leela Sackie

All died in the line of duty, along with more than 300 others.

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

Mancave, manflu, Manbook

Dec 31st, 2014 3:14 pm | By

The trouble with Facebook is that it lets just anyone use it. It should be just for men. It should be…Manbook!

But that’s ok, he’s way ahead of me, whatever his name is (he has several).

The founder of a  men’s only social media site modeled on Facebook issued a warning this week threatening the lives of women who attempt to sign up.

The creator of ‘Manbook,’ identified as Joschua Boehm — but who also uses the names Peter Nolan, Peter-Andrew: Nolan, and Joschua-Brandon: Boehm — wrote on his newly-launched site, “We would ask you women to respect our rights as you wish your rights to be respected. If you are unwilling to respect our right to freedom of association do not expect men to respect your right to life. Ok?”

“Ok”? Ok men can kill women who try to sign up to “Manbook”? No, not ok. Strange question.

Boehm, under the Peter Nolan name, also maintains a YouTube channel dedicated to videos of his own speeches urging lawmakers to change laws he feels are unfair to men, as well as uploaded videos of men ranting about women they believe have done them wrong.

Imagine my astonishment.

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

Rupert Murdoch would make a lovely gardener

Dec 31st, 2014 12:35 pm | By

New Internationalist has a terrific interview with Kate Smurthwaite. I’ll just give you a couple of highlights to make you want to read the whole thing.

If you could banish one person from the earth, who would it be and why?

No-one, that’s too cruel a punishment. Really that’s the death penalty, in a way. I don’t think harsh punishments achieve anything. We should be rehabilitating people. Rupert Murdoch would make a lovely gardener. Jeremy Clarkson could drive a Meals On Wheels van. Katie Hopkins could teach spin classes. [Prime Minister David] Cameron and [Chancellor of the Exchequer George] Osbourne could pick up litter. Although that might lead to a massive rise in people dropping bags of their own faeces as litter.

Rehabilitation; good plan. George Bush could work in a chicken-processing plant. Dick Cheney could pick cotton.

Which is most nerve-wracking: stand-up comedy or appearing on ‘Question Time’?

Neither. I love my job. I’ve been doing stand-up far too long to remember what pre-show nerves feel like and I was buzzing to be on ‘Question Time’. I’ve wanted to do it forever, and even more so when I found out who the other guests would be. I did specially ask to be on with someone from the current cabinet because I don’t want to waste my time with a bigot with no real power like over-exposed [leader of the UK Independence Party Nigel] Farage; I want to be talking to the people who can actually change things. And they turned up [Conservative politician] Ken Clarke for me, which was perfect. Well, I obviously got to him cos now he’s stepped down from the cabinet! Also Lord Oakeshott, who was on with me, has since left the Liberal Democrats. I might be the Buffy of ‘Question Time’!

She loves her job and she’s brilliant at it.

Tell me a bit about your work with Abortion Rights (ARUK

I’m the media spokesperson for AR, or as some of my dear friends like to call me ‘the face of abortion’. There are a lot of women’s rights organizations I’m involved with. The other two big ones would be Eaves Housing – which helps trafficking victims – and Women For Refugee Women – which helps asylum-seeking women, but they’re usually given more sympathetic media coverage. The AR role puts me right in the firing line for cups of coffee and being called a murderer.

Reproductive rights are very basic human rights, if you don’t have control over your own body, your other rights are pretty meaningless. The anti-choice campaigners never face up to the fact of what taking away a woman’s right to choose means. It means forced pregnancy. That’s unbearably cruel. I’m very proud to be part of an organization that refuses to stand for that.

That. They never do call it forced pregnancy. I do though; I call it that often.

What is your biggest fear?

That we’re going backwards. One of the most dangerous ideas ever is this notion that things inevitably get better. The march of progress. They do not. Brave and wonderful individuals have been fighting for your rights for centuries. Not just to get them, but to keep them, too. We should be more grateful and more aware of the need to keep fighting. I went to state schools and then to Oxford University for free; when I’m ill I walk straight in to my local NHS clinic or hospital and I get great treatment. In a generation’s time quality healthcare and education could have become a luxury only the rich can afford.

Uhhhhhh…that’s the US right now. God this country is an embarrassment.

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

Well of course the queen is down with it

Dec 31st, 2014 11:50 am | By

Oh yay, Canada gets to have a Pope John Paul II Day.

It what? Why would it even want such a thing? Why would anyone want such a thing?

The Catholic Register gives us the skinny.

The bill to establish Pope John Paul II Day passed the Senate Dec. 16 and has received royal assent.

Conservative MP Wladyslaw Lizon introduced private member’s Bill C-266, an Act to establish Pope John Paul II Day, in 2011. The bill designates April 2 as Pope John Paul II Day, though does not make it a legal holiday or non-juridical day.

In a statement, Lizon described the passage of the bill as a “proud but very emotional moment.”

Lizon’s bill passed the House of Commons in the spring of 2013 with support from members of all three major political parties. But it faced some snags in the Senate due to concerns the bill was honouring a religious figure.

Well quite. If any one human being on the planet is unmistakably a religious figure, it’s the pope. What’s a secular government doing creating a specific-pope day?

Lizon had argued Pope John Paul II’s legacy was far more than religious.

“Pope John Paul II’s work transcended so many boundaries,” said Lizon. “He promoted the values of peace and tolerance along with his strong stand against human rights violations. These are values that resonate deeply in our country and with Canadians. This was the motivation of this legislation.”

Bullshit. The Catholic church ferociously opposes many core human rights, especially those relating to women. John Paul was a reactionary on that subject.

They should change the date of his day to July 37.

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

They tried to out-Catholic each other

Dec 31st, 2014 10:31 am | By

Donal O’Keefe at urges repeal of the Eight Amendment.

I’m in my mid-forties and the early 1980s were the backdrop of my early teens. I have odd, snapshot recollections of the time. I remember those frantic men and women with their rosary beads and their placards of aborted foetuses and the mania that seemed to grip the country. It was a very strange time in Ireland.

I remember Garret and Charlie like Saint George and the Dragon, seemingly locked in eternal conflict for the Taoiseach’s job, and I remember 1983, the year after GUBU, when they tried to out-Catholic each other as both agreed to support the Pro-Life Amendment Campaign’s amendment to outlaw abortion.

In later life, Fitzgerald at least had the decency to regret his actions.

You don’t want politicians trying to out-Catholic each other. That’s a party game out of nightmares.

Ireland’s constitutional ban on abortion, the only such in the democratic world, is our abiding legacy of that bizarre and feverish time and here’s Ireland’s dirty little secret: the truth is there was no danger at all in 1983 that Ireland would legalise abortion. The Eighth Amendment, for all the pain and the confusion and the alphabet soup of A, B, C, D, (and now P) X and Y grief it has caused over the past three decades, was never really about abortion.

Article 40.3.3 only exists because 31 years ago Catholic fundamentalists saw this as their line in the sand. With the spectres of contraception, divorce and homosexuality looming, they saw an open goal. This was their show of strength, their bulwark against the liberal onslaught.

It said abortion on the tin but it was about control. That’s the key to the creepy, sex-obsessed dogma behind this Constitutional aberration: control, not over souls – because the next world is never enough – but control over women’s bodies. After all, if your body isn’t even your own, your soul is hardly likely to go getting any flighty notions.

Is there any surer way of keeping women away from freedom than making sure they can never avoid pregnancy? Short of just plain locking them all up for life, that is.

The Eighth Amendment remains a minefield from a long-lost war, blighting lives unborn when it was planted. We need political leadership (although God help any politician trying to sell that at the Church gate collection) and we as an electorate need to grow up too. It’s past-time we became a proper secular democracy and dispensed with the rank hypocrisy of outsourcing 11 terminations a day to Perfidious Albion.

Last week, the President of the High Court, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, asked the consultant obstetrician Dr Peter Boylan whether medical guidelines would be helpful in dealing with cases such as this latest tragedy. Dr Boylan said they would, before adding “repeal of the Eighth Amendment would be even more helpful”.

Hard cases make bad law, goes the old legal maxim. Look at all the hard cases this bad law has made.

Repeal the Eighth Amendment.

H/t Barry Duke.


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

Hard to ignore

Dec 30th, 2014 5:09 pm | By

Maajid Nawaz points out a comrade in Pakistan. Newsweek Pakistan calls him an unlikely icon.

Mohammad Jibran Nasir, a 27-year-old serial do-gooder from Karachi, has become the inadvertent leader of Pakistan’s post-Peshawar anti-extremist discourse.

Hours after the Dec. 16 attack, Nasir joined a 200-strong vigil for the Peshawar slain in Islamabad.

The numbers weren’t exactly bad, but the venue caused him some concern. “Why do people in Islamabad have to hold vigils at such places where no one can see you and no one can hear you?” he tells Newsweek. So he decided to take his protest to Lal Masjid, a “mosque” linked up with both Al Qaeda and the Islamic State and whose cleric, Maulana Abdul Aziz, brazenly defended the Peshawar attack on TV.

That day, it was just Nasir and three others standing there in the cold, demanding Lal Masjid change course and Aziz apologize. The audacious act caused a stir on social media. The next evening, Nasir had scores by his side, with police keeping an uneasy calm between the unarmed protesters and Lal Masjid’s menacing, stick-wielding supporters. The second day of the protest also failed to get any coverage from Pakistan’s easily frightened media organizations, but Nasir’s crusade would soon become hard to ignore.

That’s because the police filed charges against him, for “disturbing the peace.” (The what??? In Pakistan?!)

On Dec. 19, Aziz used his Friday sermon to threaten suicide-bombings if any harm came to him. Two days later, with public sentiment having turned so sharply against him and Lal Masjid, Aziz was forced to apologize for his heartless Peshawar comments. Nasir rejected the expedient apology and continued with the protests.

Three days later, Nasir received a warning from Ihsanullah Ihsan, spokesman of the Taliban splinter Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, to back off. He didn’t. “We are standing firm,” he tweeted. The same day, police relented and filed charges against Aziz under the antiterrorism laws. On Dec. 26, a court ordered Aziz’s arrest. Aziz has vowed to resist any attempts to take him into custody.

I hope Nasir will stay safe.

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

One reason not to carry a loaded gun in a handbag

Dec 30th, 2014 2:17 pm | By

This is a sick country.

A young mother was shot and killed by her 2-year-old son today in an Idaho Walmart, police said.

Lt. Stu Miller of the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office said that the boy was sitting in the shopping cart when pulled the handgun from his mom’s purse and pulled the trigger. The victim, whose name hasn’t been released, was 29 years old.

Walmart of course sells guns among other things. One-stop shopping – you can buy a gun there and get shot with it in one easy trip.

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

Vocal fry with hash browns

Dec 30th, 2014 2:07 pm | By

So, I’ve learned something. I’d never head of “vocal fry” until I read that Slate piece, so I had to look it up. Apparently it’s big among the Kardashians. (I wonder if it’s also big among Rachel Zoe [who – gasp – dresses Kardashians omg!!] too. She’s like a walking textbook of bizarre vocal affectations – I bet she does vocal fry all the time.)

I’d never heard of it, but I recognized it when I watched this. Oh that; right.


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

Guest post: Pedram Razghandi on vaccination and resurgent pathogens

Dec 30th, 2014 1:48 pm | By

There’s a heated discussion of vaccinations on a Facebook thread of mine, on which Pedram made such informative comments in response to a claim that whooping cough was coming back because of “over use of vaccination” that I requested and got permission to quote them here. The rest is Pedram.

No, high vaccination rates in the population means that a pathogen cannot replicate as quickly–many fewer hosts will be available. Vaccination is just a way of inducing a regular adaptive immune response (the adaptive immune cells are exposed to antigens that mark the dead or inactivated pathogen used in the vaccine, without the danger of an infection). If this is done extensively enough, the pathogen can quickly be suppressed or even (mostly) eradicated. Preventing new infections is a very fast way of stopping a disease in a population.

And, those few people who cannot get vaccinated (those with severely weakened immune systems, lymphoma, or very rare autoimmune conditions) can be protected by the ‘herd immunity’–if others aren’t being infected, no one can spread it to them. Now if vaccination rates are low, the pathogen has a chance to replicate again, starting with the unvaccinated people. After enough rounds of new infections, that suddenly expanding, once-small population of pathogen strains would be carrying a *lot* of low-frequency new mutations, and gradually, increased exposure of vaccinated individuals to non-vaccinated individuals (who are basically walking microbial culture vats at this point) means more chances for the resurgent pathogen to spread to them. That in turn gives a significant selection pressure–those variants among the myriad low-frequency mutants which differ in key antigens will slip unnoticed past the vaccine-primed immune systems (which were adapted to the old strains), and the fast spread will begin anew. **And even worse, those low-frequency mutants will still be among a whole bunch of medium-frequency ‘freak’ mutants, since the previously severely contracted population of pathogen would have left various strains that possibly differ substantially from the wild type of the past, just by sampling error (i.e. genetic drift), but now supplemented with this explosion of new mutants.

Antibiotic overuse is totally different. It is most often the problem when they’re being misused–‘stretched’ in low doses, or the dosing is terminated prematurely. Most mutations which confer resistance to an antibiotic (or antivirals, for that matter) are also costly in terms of replicative fitness, since they involve changes in structure of key receptors or overactivity of some metabolic enzyme, so fully-resistant strains are extremely rare. Strong, sustained antibiotic dosing regimens kill off infections. But decreased antibiotic concentration means that partially-resistent strains (shitty replicators, but better against antibiotics than the wild type strain) can outcompete their nonresistant counterparts. Once enough of them survive, more replicative generations means more chance for some other mutation to appear which compensate for the resistance traits’ effects on replication, or complete the resistance without further reproductive cost, so the resistant strain takes off. Vaccines on the other hand aren’t killing off robust and diverse populations of pathogens–rather, they prevent new infections by small founding populations, which are overwhelmed by the vaccine-primed immune system’s fast adaptive response.

Nature doesn’t choose how to adapt. Adaptations happen because of changes in average genetic variants in the population, due to some variants replicating more frequently than other variants.

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

How shall we then talk?

Dec 30th, 2014 1:25 pm | By

Hmm. Is it sexist – or even misogynist – to advise women to talk with authority? Marybeth Seitz-Brown at Slate is more or less arguing that, and I don’t think I agree.

Last week, I gave an interview on NPR, and while most of the reactions were overwhelmingly positive, I also received several messages suggesting I change my voice so that people will take me seriously. Why? Well, I uptalk. But I’m not ashamed of it, and no one else should be either.

Uptalk, in case you’ve missed several years of media frenzy, is using a rising intonation at the end of a phrase or sentence. What’s the matter with that? Well, that rising intonation is similar (although not identical) to how any English speaker sounds when asking a question, so to some people it sounds as if uptalkers are speaking only in questions, and are thus not very confident.

Well I don’t think anyone should be ashamed of uptalking, but that’s not the issue. Talk of being ashamed seems like a deflection. And I gotta be honest: I hate uptalking myself, and I do think people should avoid it in places like interviews on NPR. (By the same token, I think Terry Gross should get rid of her many vocal affectations so that she would sound more professional and, yes, authoritative in a job she’s been doing for more than thirty years.) One thing I hate about uptalking is that it seems to demand a response from the listener at the end of each sentence – a grunt, an “uh huh,” a brief check of some sort – which is a burden, and silly. I do think it’s a bad habit to get into, at least for people who have to do some talking as part of their jobs.

And the same applies to talking in a baby voice, and to saying “like” every fourth word, and to any other leftover from childhood that adults should leave behind. I don’t think it is specific to women, and I don’t think women should be immune to the criticism.

I really do appreciate these listeners’ concerns, but the notion that my uptalk means I was unsure of what I said is not only wrong, it’s misogynistic. It implies that if women just spoke like men, our ideas would be valuable. If women just spoke like men, sexist listeners would magically understand us, and we would be taken seriously. But the problem is not with feminized qualities, of speech or otherwise, the problem is that our culture pathologizes feminine traits as something to be ashamed of or apologize for.

No, I don’t think it is misogynist and I don’t think it does imply that women should speak like men. I think adults should talk like adults, at least in situations like NPR interviews.

I believe we can do better than that. We can evaluate the merits of an idea based on the soundness of its reasoning, not the pitch range in which it’s articulated. We can reject the knee-jerk habit of dismissing people for the sound of their voices without actually hearing what they have to say. And—rather than telling women to talk like men or shut up—we can encourage each other to celebrate the different rises and falls, the creaks and quakes that make up our voices.

Well how about not creating a false dichotomy? It’s not a forced choice between talking like men and shutting up, it’s advice not to talk like a fumbler or a child if you can help it.

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

They are not like us

Dec 30th, 2014 12:57 pm | By

My new Freethinker column is posted. It’s stuff I’ve been saying here, but it’s chafing my mind rather, so I wanted to say it there too. It’s about police fascism in the US, and the way our mephitic heritage of genocide and slavery (notice how both are rooted in racism? funny coincidence, isn’t it?) has produced a stratified society which means police work can be a tough job. It’s a vicious circle, and to break out of that vicious circle we’d need to do things that are not part of the Church of the Free Market, so we don’t do them. We’d rather spend billions on locking people up than on ways out of the trap.

The one comment is from a UKanian talking about a one and only visit to the US.

Racism, in the affluent area I was living in, was blatant in the comments made. And I had the distressing experience of watching a Mexican, picked up in some queue, working furiously in hot sun in the garden while we enjoyed drinks. I caused surprise and resentment at deciding to take him a drink. My hosts wife said, “They are not like us. They don’t expect to have to be given a drink.” The worker seemed scared of me. I discovered he was an illegal immigrant. At the end of the day money was handed to the man who had brought him; not to the worker.

Alas, I recognize the picture.

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