Notes and Comment Blog

Our short and pithy observations on the passing scene as it relates to the mission of Butterflies and Wheels. Woolly-headed or razor-sharp comments in the media, anti-rationalist rhetoric in books or magazines or overheard on the bus, it’s all grist to our mill. And sometimes we will hold forth on the basis of no inspiration at all beyond what happens to occur to us.

Proud to be top

Jul 20th, 2015 11:35 am | By

At a different Pride parade, a month ago…

Just days after Pride Toronto’s dispute resolution process banned the group from forthcoming celebrations, the Canadian Association for Equality (CAFE) — a group denounced by critics for being anti-feminist and misogynist — were peacefully walking the streets of Richmond Hill for Pride York Fest.

Oh good grief. That’s Justin Trottier’s group.

MRAs marching in a Pride parade.

And so the nine-person CAFE contingent, including a handful of women, marched, sandwiched between contingents from the federal and provincial Liberal parties as well as a local newspaper.

Few who lined Yonge St. between Crosby Ave. and Vern Dynes Way batted an eye when CAFE members doled out buttons and leaflets advertising their group, aimed at improving the status, health and well-being of boys and men.

Were there also groups aimed at improving the status, health and well-being of white people, rich people, straight people? I worry about them. How do the advantaged get even more advantaged?

“It’s not that men’s issues are more important than other people’s issues, it’s that they are relevant,” said Justin Trottier, CAFE’s executive director.

He told the Star the group was “so excited” to participate in the parade because the group’s “principles and values are the principles and values of the LGBT community, certainly of the Pride Parade.”

He dismissed accusations of having an anti-feminist agenda as being “knee jerk decisions about our motives . . . generally made in ignorance of the facts.” He urged critics to become familiar with CAFE’s work for men and boys before jumping to conclusions.

Ever the bullshitter.

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

Good lad

Jul 20th, 2015 10:58 am | By

Inspired by karmacat, I looked up the Good Lad Project that so irritates Dan Bell of InsideMAN.

What We Do

The Good Lad Workshop is an Oxford-based effort to empower men to deal with complex gender situations and become agents of positive change within their social circles. We run workshops throughout term time for groups of men within the university, such as sports teams, drinking societies, clubs and JCR/MCR members.

Our workshops focus on issues relating to consent, masculinity, peer pressure, power and responsibility. Instead of casting men as potential perpetrators who just have to learn to obey the law, we promote the idea of ‘positive masculinity.’ We challenge men to see not just obligations to avoid harming women, but opportunities to make a positive difference in women’s lives.

Is that such a bad thing? It doesn’t seem like such a bad thing. What would you have to believe to see it as a bad thing? I guess either that men should be dominant over women, or that there are no familiar predictable conflicts between women and men. Both of those beliefs seem pretty hard to defend.

What does Dan Bell seem to believe? That men are hard done by, that men get too much criticism and re-education, that men are disadvantaged just as much as women are, or perhaps more.

Even if he’s right on all counts, it seems to me the Good Lad approach could still be a useful one. It seems to be a workshop meant to get people to think harder about how to behave decently. Who among us couldn’t use some of that?

Workshops are an hour long. Their focus is a series of scenarios developed from real life situations. We believe the scenarios involve difficult issues where there are not necessarily clear answers and are, therefore, genuinely worthy of reflection. Ultimately, our aim is not to tell any man what to do, but to equip them with a powerful, alternative framework to analyse complex gender situations.

Doesn’t sound very dogmatic or doctrinaire, does it.

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

Not just for their own good, but for women’s too

Jul 20th, 2015 9:23 am | By

So much ugly. It’s the Torygraph, so whaddayouexpect, but all the same – the bluntness is a little surprising. Dan Bell says We must stop indoctrinating boys in feminist ideology.

On Wednesday, the Daily Mail reported that a school in Oxford has become the first to introduce “Good Lad” workshops, in which boys are singled out for sessions that teach them about “the scale of sexual harassment and violence aimed at female students” and how they must stand up for women’s rights.

The workshops are the latest in a mushrooming series of initiatives in which ideologically-driven activists are being invited into schools, driven by the belief that boys need to be re-educated to prevent them from becoming a threat to women.

And? Boys shouldn’t be taught not to harass or attack girls?

Another organisation, A Call to Men UK, also goes into schools, stating on its website: “A CALL TO MEN UK believes that preventing violence against women and girls is primarily the responsibility of men. We re-educate through trainings (sic), workshops, presentations, school projects and community initiatives.”

And yet another, the Great Men Value Women project, frames its mission as about helping young men, but it’s also driven by the belief that young men need to be re-educated as feminists – not just for their own good, but for women’s too.

And? Boys shouldn’t be taught things that benefit women as well as men?

What kind of sick worldview does this guy have, that he finds it shocking to see children taught to act for the good of others as well as themselves?

[S]ince when was it acceptable to impose ideology on school children? And for that matter, would we ever dare to suggest school girls ought to be taught that Great Women Value Men?

Uh…yes? Every second of every day? We’re all taught from birth that the important valuable complicated interesting people are all men. And if he thinks school girls are not taught that they have to value men…jumping jesus is he ever out of touch.

In March, the Government announced the introduction of new consent classes for children aged as young as 11. The plans were launched on International Women’s Day and the PSHE guidelines repeatedly state they are primarily part of the Government’s A Call to End Violence Against Women and Girls strategy.

According to a “Fact Sheet” published by one of the guidelines’ key contributors, a top priority for the lessons is “challenging notions of male sexual entitlement” and the lessons should be seen “in the context of a society in which gender inequality is the norm… and girls and young women are subjected to high levels of harassment, abuse and violence – overwhelmingly from men and boys they know”.

And? Has Dan Bell not looked at the culture lately?

And the indoctrination doesn’t stop when a boy leaves school, it continues when he gets to university too – the “Good Lad” workshops in Oxford, are in fact a spin-off from compulsory consent classes for new male students that are now springing up across UK universities.

And? Male students shouldn’t be taught that consent is not optional?

What impact must all this be having on boys and young men, who are themselves at one of the most vulnerable stages of their lives? Last year, insideMAN published findings of a focus group of young male students, which gave a disturbing glimpse into the ideological classroom climate faced by boys, this time told by young men themselves.

They told us that when it came to expressing any view that contradicted feminist orthodoxy, they were shouted at and publicly humiliated. They said their motives routinely came under immediate suspicion simply on account of their gender. And they said they wanted to be protected against fundamentalism by prominent and leading figures in the campaign for gender equality.

In other words they want to go on being dominant. Well people who have had a place high up in the hierarchy usually do want to go on having it, because there are a lot of perks attached to having it. Sadly for them, people lower down have their wants too. That’s life.

Dan Bell is the Features Editor at insideMAN magazine

Oh is he. I see what I’ll be doing for the next little while.

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

The imam simply smiled

Jul 19th, 2015 6:15 pm | By

The New Yorker ran a long piece on slavery in Mauritania last year, by Alexis Okeowo.

In 1981, Mauritania became the last country in the world to abolish slavery, while making no provision for punishing slave owners. In 2007, under international pressure, it passed a law that allowed slaveholders to be prosecuted. Yet slavery persists there, even as the government and religious leaders deny it. Although definitive numbers are difficult to find, the Global Slavery Index estimates that at least a hundred and forty thousand people are enslaved in Mauritania, out of a population of 3.8 million. Bruce Hall, a professor of African history at Duke University, said that people endure slavelike conditions in other countries in the region, but that the problem in Mauritania is unusually severe: “Some proximate form of slavery has continued to be a foundation of the social structure and the division of labor within households, so there are many more people who are willing to support it as an institution.” While Abeid was travelling, a well-known imam had given a televised interview. A journalist asked whether slavery existed in Mauritania, and the imam said no. Then why, the journalist asked, had the imam recently given the journalist’s boss a slave girl as a gift? The imam simply smiled.

But isn’t Islam all about the brotherhood of all believers? That’s what we’re told, at least.

Many Mauritanian slaves, isolated by illiteracy, poverty, and geography, do not recognize the possibility of a life outside servitude, and part of Abeid’s mission is to make them aware. The job is complicated. Slaves are tied to their masters by tradition, by economic necessity, and, Abeid argues, by a misinterpretation of Islam.

Mauritania is an avowedly Muslim country, and though the constitution endorses both secular and religious law, in civic matters Islamic precepts dominate. But the Koran is ambiguous on the essential question of whether slavery should exist. In much of the world, Muslim scholars argue that the only Islamic basis for slavery is in jihad: after conquering unbelievers, Muslim warriors may take them as slaves, provided that they treat them well.

Wait. There’s no such thing as “treating them well” while keeping them as slaves.

Also, I get to be “an unbeliever” meaning not a Muslim without being conquered and enslaved. My not believing in Islam does not equal an acceptable reason to enslave me.

And that’s the more generous interpretation.

In Mauritania, there is little consensus. Imams who defend slavery often refer to a set of interpretive texts that date back as far as the eighth century. One prominent example is a mukhtasar, or handbook of Islamic law, written by the fourteenth-century Egyptian scholar Khalil ibn Ishaq. According to its precepts, a slave cannot marry without her master’s permission, nor does she have any right to her children; a free man who murders a slave will not be punished by death, but a slave who murders a free man will be; slaves are whipped for fornicating, though a master may have sex with his slave girl; and slaves may not inherit property or give testimony in court.

Nice stuff. Slaves are just about as worthless as women, which means that slave women are worthless squared.

Biram Dah Abeid is working to improve the situation.

More later.

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

Obtaining the unpaid services of a child

Jul 19th, 2015 5:29 pm | By

Jakub Sobik reports at Anti-Slavery:

We have just received news of a verdict in one of our slavery cases in Mauritania – a 10-year-old boy called Issa who we’d been supporting through our UN-funded project.

The Criminal Court reclassified the slavery charge as ‘obtaining the unpaid services of a child’ which carries much smaller sentences. Slavery crimes are meant to carry sentences of 5-10 years in prison.

So the slave-owner was given a 3-month sentence, which he already served through the time he’d been in detention, and was consequently released.

Neither the child, the lawyer nor the guardian of the child [was] even informed that the ruling was due to take place so they weren’t present in court.

As our Mauritanian partners SOS Esclaves noted, “justice has again been manipulated to disguise slavery crimes, and the courts ultimately continue to protect slave-owners and deny the legitimate rights of the victims.”

This is all very typical and I should be used to it by now but it still never fails to amaze me how outrageously unfair the treatment of people in slavery get compared to the perpetrators. Just to be clear, we are talking about people who literally own other people from the moment they are born and have complete control over their lives, confining them to lifetimes of misery, exploitation and abuse.

This all stands in stark contrast to the rhetoric of ‘prioritising an end to slavery’ that the Mauritanian government keeps spinning in international circles, and unfortunately to some extent it succeeds.

They have more than thirty cases in the works right now, he says, and none of them is making any progress.

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


Jul 19th, 2015 3:43 pm | By


ITV News reports:

[Labour leadership contender] Liz Kendall told a Mail on Sunday journalist to “fuck off” when she was asked how much she weighed during an interview.

When she was asked what?? For what reason? Was the journalist planning to ship her somewhere? Is there an official weight limit for party leaders?

In the much-criticised article, journalist Simon Walters wrote: “In fact she looks the same weight as the Duchess – about 8st – though when I ask she slaps me down with a raucous ‘fuck off!’, adding quickly: ‘Don’t print that.’”

The Duchess? What duchess? The one in Alice in Wonderland? The one who was married to Andrew Windsor for awhile? The one who’s married to William Windsor? What does a duchess have to do anything? And how sweet of Simon Walters to goad Kendall with a stupid sexist question and then publish what she told him not to publish.

Reacting to the piece, Ms Kendall told BuzzFeed during a BBC Radio 5 Live segment:

I just think it’s unbelievable that in the 21st Century women still get asked such very, very different questions from men.

Can you imagine the Mail on Sunday asking the weight of the prime minister, George Osborne or any other leading politician?

Nope. It wouldn’t happen. (I suppose it could happen in a very particular kind of interview, a hair down, personal, backgrounder sort of interview that went into stuff about home life and exercise and do you jog yadda yadda. But it’s a stretch.)

Helen Lewis shared the relevant part of the article, saving me the misery of having to read the Mail:

Embedded image permalink

So f***ing patronizing.


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

Guest post: Off to America on a coffin ship

Jul 19th, 2015 12:52 pm | By

Originally a comment by Marcus Ranum on David Brooks tells Ta-Nehisi Coates to try some social mobility for a change.

For them, America was the antidote to the crushing restrictiveness of European life, to the pogroms. For them, the American dream was an uplifting spiritual creed that offered dignity, the chance to rise.

My ancestors came over because they faced near certain death in potato famines; they would have gone anywhere, except the landed class restricted the poor’s ability to relocate. So: off to America on a coffin ship; one more than half of the family made it, the rest were buried at sea. I started to read great great-grandpa’s journal, once, and couldn’t bear it.

Perhaps the famine was the “crushing restrictiveness of European life” though the pogroms were certainly nothing to sneeze at. I’m not sure what’s a dream of uplifting spirituality woven into “I hope the fucking neighbors don’t kill us this easter! let’s move to America!” Glad they made it. Europe has some fucking awful problems. Awful problems they exported to North America in the form of religious/ethnic cleansing of most of the extant population. That’s some fucking uplifting spiritual message, Europeans, right there.

The Chinese mined the guano and laid the track, and so did the Irish and Welsh and not a few Norwegians. Of course the Africans had it vastly vastly worse. The US would not exist without them, because Europeans didn’t have resistance to Malaria like many Africans (unfortunately, they get Sickle Cell in return; some tradeoff) The US economy was able to take advantage of slavery by force and slavery by necessity. When your choice is to surely starve in Ireland, New York City looks mighty fine. The entire American Dream is built – like all of the other wonders of the world – on the blood, sweat, and tears of slaves.

you reject the dream itself as flimflam. But a dream sullied is not a lie

What the dumbass doesn’t realize is this:
a dream shown to be a lie … is still a lie.

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

Panto dames and other drag queens on TV

Jul 19th, 2015 11:24 am | By

The day after Free Pride Glasgow issued its statement saying No to drag performances, Pink News ran a story about a Scottish broadcaster saying No to a drag queen. Uncomfortable timing eh?

Pride Glasgow has attacked Scottish broadcaster STV, for refusing to allow a drag queen to appear in its Pride coverage.

According to the Herald, the group were due to appear on the Riverside Show on the newly-launched STV Glasgow ahead of this week’s Pride event, but the show’s producer refused to allow drag queen Bee Fiarse Beaujambes to appear in the coverage.

Alastair Smith of Pride Glasgow said: “We had suggested to them that a drag queen come on the show to promote the gay pride event, but they said that they didn’t want young children asking what a drag queen is.

“It was really insulting. Basically they’re saying they want to do a feature on gay pride without actually mentioning anything gay. It was just a bit odd.”

Much the same way Free Pride’s exclusion of drag performances is just a bit odd, it seems to me.

“It’s just absolute nonsense, children who ask questions grow up to be the well-informed, open-minded adults of the future.

“They’re already used to seeing panto dames and other drag queens on TV, so I don’t understand what all the fuss was about.”

Right? Panto dames are a big thing in the UK, not to mention all the drag that Monty Python did. Mind you, there’s plenty of room for political analysis of that too, to point out that Monty Python could after all have included some women, but that’s another post. The point is just that drag is well familiar on the sacred family telly boxes of Britain, so what the hell, STV.

Beaujambes said in a Facebook post: “Those of you who know me will know that I am not the kind of person to feel rage, until today that is.

“After hearing that STV GLASGOW withdrew their request for me to be interviewed on the Riverside Show Tomorrow night to talk about Pride Glasgow because having a drag queen wouldn’t be ‘appropriate’ as ‘parents could be watching with their kids’..?!

“Anita Bryant and Brian Souter would be proud! Save the children!

“STV have shown themselves to be narrow minded and prejudiced. Pride was built on the stilettos of Drag Queens, they started the first one.”

I’m curious about what Pride Glasgow thinks about Free Pride Glasgow’s ban on drag performances.

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

Starvation and jaguars

Jul 18th, 2015 4:52 pm | By

Al Jazeera on slavery in Brazil.

Slavery is reported across the country, from farms in the wealthy south to five-star hotels in Rio de Janeiro and factories in São Paulo. But for decades, the heart of the problem has been this well-trodden route. It leads from northeastern states such as Maranhão and Piauí, known for their poverty and political corruption, to Pará, a vast state in northern Brazil encompassing much of the Amazon rain forest.

Former slave Elenilson de Conceição, whose furrowed face belies his 29 years, knows it intimately after he was himself enslaved to deforest the jungle. He was not paid a cent for three months of grueling labor and slept under the stars amid a forest filled with jaguars and deadly snakes. As he retraced the route with Al Jazeera America to highlight the problem, the raggle-taggle truck stops; the caged vans barely fit for animals; the shrill ferry horn, all brought back painful memories.

It’s estimated that nearly 5 million people were enslaved in Brazil.

Slavery was abolished in 1888, but land reforms forced the poor to continue to be exploited in terrible conditions on the same farms, historians say.

Oh gosh, you know what that sounds like? What happened here in the US. Slavery was replaced by a racist prison system that made a profit from contracting “prisoner” labor. Many of the prisoners were there on extremely fanciful charges. And then of course there was sharecropping…

Conceição, like many others, did not grow up understanding the concept of slavery. Instead, many of his parents’ generation understood themselves to be migrant workers. He, like those before him, was living in poverty when he was tempted by an unscrupulous agent — or gato — who lived locally and promised work. Conceição was trafficked to the Amazon and, amid death threats and violence, set to work without pay, days off, decent food, safety gear or bearable living conditions.

And no protections, because nobody had “bought” him with a large capital outlay.

Conceição said the bus finally stopped on the roadside near Santana do Araguaia, in Pará state. The men were ordered onto a cattle truck with a cage section on the back — a design that still gives him flashbacks when he sees it.

“The promise was that we would go to a farm, but actually when we arrived, there was no farm,” he said. “We simply walked into the Amazon forest. When we were in the middle of the forest, we stopped, and we were ordered to put up a canopy.”

The men’s mission was to deforest that part of the Amazon to create a ranch and sell the timber. Many others who are enslaved there are put to work on livestock farms, with others forced to do dangerous work in coalmines.

The 100-odd workers on the farm were woken at 4 a.m., when Barba would shout at them to get up. It would still be pitch black. There would be a long walk through the forest until work started at 5:30 a.m. It would not finish until 6 p.m. They never had a day off, and they had no idea how long they would be held before they were released. The food was white rice and uncooked black beans, with only dirty water to drink.

The men were left to fend for themselves in the middle of the jungle, sleeping in hammocks in the open under a leaking canopy.

“We spent most of the nights on our feet, since when it rained, the water would blow everywhere,” he said. “Most of our protection from the rain came from the trees above.”

There were snakes and jaguars and other animals around. They kept a fire going to scare the jaguars but found their paw prints in the mornings anyway.

The workers were not paid and were told they had a debt to their masters they would have to repay. “It turned out the bosses had everything we needed — food, water, work clothes, tools, medicine — but their intention was to sell it to us,” he said.

A debt to pay. For what? The gas it took to drive them there?

“In the evenings, we just kept talking and thinking, ‘How are we going to get away?’” he said. “Barba heard us and told us the bosses would find us and kill us.”

“I do not think I could have escaped. I had no money. I had left what I had at home. We could not have gotten away from there. There’s nowhere to go on foot. They took us to a place that you cannot walk, return, return on foot at all,” Conceição said.

So many crimes here. Fraud, kidnapping, unlawful imprisonment, extortion, theft, menacing…

Then after three months, the men were suddenly released and put on a bus to Monsenhor Gil. “In those three months I did not receive a single cent,” he said.

The decision to release the workers came in the aftermath of a raid by inspectors from Brazil’s Ministry of Labor on a neighboring farm, in which 78 slaves were rescued. Conceição was given $77 to cover his trip home, but unlike the slaves rescued by the government, does not have a right to claim compensation. The owner of the raided farm was not arrested but was eventually ordered to pay $257 to $322 to each worker after a civil case brought by the Land Pastoral Commission.

For three months of hard work in horrific conditions.

I suppose David Brooks would tell them to look on the bright side.

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

Glasgow Pride says no drag

Jul 18th, 2015 3:49 pm | By

Free Pride Glasgow says no drag performances.

At Free Pride we hope to create a safe space for all people within the LGBTQIA+ community. We understand that sometimes this will disappoint some people within the community, however our priority is always to put the needs of the most marginalised groups within our community first.

Sometimes it will disappoint some people within the community? Why? Do some people within the community want an unsafe space?

Or maybe it’s that “a safe space” isn’t exactly the right thing to hope to create, or at least not exclusively. For a lot of people “a safe space” is one that has only straight people in it, after all. Gay pride has always been rowdy and raunchy and Dionsyian, proudly so – that’s always been part of the point. I’m not sure wanting to create “a safe space” is compatible with that.

This is why, after much discussion, the trans and non binary caucus decided not to have drag acts perform at the event. This does not mean that people of any gender can’t wear what they want to the event, we simply won’t be having any self-described drag acts perform at our Free Pride Event on the 22nd August.

Um…so no more playing around with gender, now it’s either trans or cis?

Is that really a good idea?

The decision was taken by transgender individuals who were uncomfortable with having drag performances at the event. It was felt that it would make some of those who were transgender or questioning their gender uncomfortable. It was felt by the group within the Trans/Non Binary Caucus that some drag performance, particularly cis drag, hinges on the social view of gender and making it into a joke, however transgender individuals do not feel as though their gender identity is a joke.

So there you go then. The answer is yes: no more playing around with gender. No more mocking it, no more teasing it, no more parodying it.

Is that really a good idea?

We would like to reaffirm that this is not to say that we do not want gender expression, which we do encourage, at our event. We encourage everyone to wear what they want and express their gender however they please! There will be no policing of peoples gender identity.

Except for no drag. There will be no frivolous performance of gender, there will be only serious expression of gender.

Safety first eh.

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

Apocalypse on the freeway

Jul 18th, 2015 1:47 pm | By

You’re riding along in a car on the freeway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas on a hot sunny afternoon, and the traffic slows, and then you see some weeds on fire next to the freeway, and then in the distance a car bursts into flames. And no it’s not a movie.

The fire, which erupted just after 2:30 p.m. and quickly grew to 3,500 acres, shut down the highway in both directions. By evening, it had destroyed 20 vehicles and at least four homes, and was bearing down on mountain communities. Most lanes of the 15 were open by Saturday morning, but hundreds of firefighters were still on the lines.

In a region where brush fires are a way of life, the scene on the main route to Las Vegas was surreal.

Many of those who fled their vehicles panicked, unsure of where to find safety as they watched the land around them burn. Cars, trucks and even a boat went up in flames on the freeway. Helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft made dramatic drops of water and flame retardant.

Once they could. They were delayed because there were drones in the area.

Officials said heavy winds mixed with dry chaparral and grass created a dangerous combination.

Shortly before the fast-moving blaze jumped the freeway and the cars caught fire, officials had to halt water drops because of a recreational drone flying nearby. It was the third time in recent weeks that firefighters were grounded because of drones. The devices could collide with aircraft that fly at low altitudes, authorities say.

It was not a movie.

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

David Brooks tells Ta-Nehisi Coates to try some social mobility for a change

Jul 18th, 2015 11:21 am | By

Via PZ, and various people on Twitter, I read David Brooks’s infuriatingly smug and defensive commentary on Ta-Nehisi Coates.

But the disturbing challenge of your book is your rejection of the American dream. My ancestors chose to come here. For them, America was the antidote to the crushing restrictiveness of European life, to the pogroms. For them, the American dream was an uplifting spiritual creed that offered dignity, the chance to rise.

What is the point of saying that? It’s not as if Ta-Nehisi Coates doesn’t know that. It’s not even as if Brooks thinks Ta-Nehisi Coates doesn’t know that. For many white people, America was a dream of escape and opportunity. Yes we know that.

Your ancestors came in chains. In your book the dream of the comfortable suburban life is a “fairy tale.” For you, slavery is the original American sin, from which there is no redemption. America is Egypt without the possibility of the Exodus. African-American men are caught in a crushing logic, determined by the past, from which there is no escape.

And David Brooks wants to explain to him why he’s wrong.

I read this all like a slap and a revelation. I suppose the first obligation is to sit with it, to make sure the testimony is respected and sinks in. But I have to ask, Am I displaying my privilege if I disagree? Is my job just to respect your experience and accept your conclusions? Does a white person have standing to respond?

Actually he doesn’t have to ask. He doesn’t have to make it about him, just for one thing. He doesn’t have to get all “can a white person even speak??” about it. He doesn’t have to do any of this. He chose to do it, just as his ancestors chose to come here – and he gets a fat paycheck for doing it.

If I do have standing, I find the causation between the legacy of lynching and some guy’s decision to commit a crime inadequate to the complexity of most individual choices.

I think you distort American history. This country, like each person in it, is a mixture of glory and shame. There’s a Lincoln for every Jefferson Davis and a Harlem Children’s Zone for every K.K.K. — and usually vastly more than one. Violence is embedded in America, but it is not close to the totality of America.

Oh blah blah blah. No kidding; things are complicated; there’s not a straight line between lynching and one person’s commission of a crime; there’s good and bad; the good cancels out the bad, let’s all go watch football.

The point is not that violence is “the totality of America,” whatever that silly phrase would even mean. The point is that the structural arrangements of racism stayed in place for decade after decade after decade after the passage of the 13th and 14th Amendments, and that most of them are still in place. Now, today, in a neighborhood near you. This isn’t some fuzzy mumbling about the totality of anything, it’s literal as fuck. Pointing out that there are some good things somewhere is wholly beside the point.

In your anger at the tone of innocence some people adopt to describe the American dream, you reject the dream itself as flimflam. But a dream sullied is not a lie. The American dream of equal opportunity, social mobility and ever more perfect democracy cherishes the future more than the past. It abandons old wrongs and transcends old sins for the sake of a better tomorrow.

Oh no no no no no. That is something Brooks does not get to say. Yes, because he’s white; suck it up. He does not get to say that because he is not the one who would have to “abandon” the “old wrongs” that are still having their effects today. It’s very easy for him to value the future more than the past and to abandon old wrongs that weren’t done to him.

This dream is a secular faith that has unified people across every known divide. It has unleashed ennobling energies and mobilized heroic social reform movements. By dissolving the dream under the acid of an excessive realism, you trap generations in the past and destroy the guiding star that points to a better future.

It’s not Coates’s realism that traps people. It’s generations of residential segregation, neglected schools and infrastructure, and a massive wealth gap. What kind of “dream” does David Brooks suppose can come out of all that? What kind of “guiding star” does he think is even detectable from there?

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

The figure could easily have been as high as 1,250,000

Jul 18th, 2015 10:12 am | By

You know that experience of finding out about some large significant bit of history that you knew nothing about? Especially the kind that involves misery and death for a great many people? Especially the kind where the misery and death are at the hands of other people?

Martin Robbins just pointed out one in comments on a public Facebook post so I went away to Google and found an informative BBC article from 2011.

The fishermen and coastal dwellers of 17th-century Britain lived in terror of being kidnapped by pirates and sold into slavery in North Africa. Hundreds of thousands across Europe met wretched deaths on the Barbary Coast in this way. Professor Robert Davis investigates.

Hundreds of thousands?? I did not know that. How did I not know that?

In the first half of the 1600s, Barbary corsairs – pirates from the Barbary Coast of North Africa, authorised by their governments to attack the shipping of Christian countries – ranged all around Britain’s shores. In their lanteen-rigged xebecs (a type of ship) and oared galleys, they grabbed ships and sailors, and sold the sailors into slavery. Admiralty records show that during this time the corsairs plundered British shipping pretty much at will, taking no fewer than 466 vessels between 1609 and 1616, and 27 more vessels from near Plymouth in 1625.

Not content with attacking ships and sailors, the corsairs also sometimes raided coastal settlements, generally running their craft onto unguarded beaches, and creeping up on villages in the dark to snatch their victims and retreat before the alarm could be sounded. Almost all the inhabitants of the village of Baltimore, in Ireland, were taken in this way in 1631, and other attacks were launched against coastal villages in Devon and Cornwall. Samuel Pepys gives a vivid account of an encounter with two men who’d been taken into slavery, in his diary of 8 February 1661.

‘…to the Fleece tavern to drink and there we spent till 4 a-clock telling stories of Algier and the manner of the life of Slaves there; and truly, Captain Mootham and Mr Dawes (who have been both slaves there) did make me full acquainted with their condition there. As, how they eat nothing but bread and water…. How they are beat upon the soles of the feet and bellies at the Liberty of their Padron. How they are all night called into their master’s Bagnard, and there they lie.’

Here is the whole entry.

Back to Robert Davis in the BBC article:

According to observers of the late 1500s and early 1600s, there were around 35,000 European Christian slaves held throughout this time on the Barbary Coast – many in Tripoli, Tunis, and various Moroccan towns, but most of all in Algiers. The greatest number were sailors, taken with their ships, but a good many were fishermen and coastal villagers. Out of all these, the British captives were mostly sailors, and although they were numerous there were relatively fewer of them than of people from lands close to Africa, especially Spain and Italy. The unfortunate southerners were sometimes taken by the thousands, by slavers who raided the coasts of Valencia, Andalusia, Calabria and Sicily so often that eventually it was said that ‘there was no one left to capture any longer’.

here are no records of how many men, women and children were enslaved, but it is possible to calculate roughly the number of fresh captives that would have been needed to keep populations steady and replace those slaves who died, escaped, were ransomed, or converted to Islam. On this basis it is thought that around 8,500 new slaves were needed annually to replenish numbers – about 850,000 captives over the century from 1580 to 1680.

By extension, for the 250 years between 1530 and 1780, the figure could easily have been as high as 1,250,000 – this is only just over a tenth of the Africans taken as slaves to the Americas from 1500 to 1800, but a considerable figure nevertheless. White slaves in Barbary were generally from impoverished families, and had almost as little hope of buying back their freedom as the Africans taken to the Americas: most would end their days as slaves in North Africa, dying of starvation, disease, or maltreatment.

I just plain didn’t know this. I knew about the Muslim slave trade within Africa, and I knew Barbary pirates existed, and I knew Christians were taken prisoner during the various wars, but I had no idea that Barbary pirates enslaved people on this scale.

It’s startling.

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

Stereotype 1, stereotype 2, stereotype 3

Jul 17th, 2015 4:44 pm | By

Dorothy Bishop in the Times Higher on the trouble with jokes about girls.

Personally, I think we should be allowed to criticise the policies of our institutions and to debate robustly with those whose beliefs are at odds with our basic values. However, when we are talking about the fundamental biological characteristics of the individual, it is a different matter.

If we say derogatory comments are acceptable in the context of a joke, this basically allows anything, because anything can be construed as a joke post hoc. Suppose someone said: “Let me tell you about my trouble with blacks. Three things happen when they’re in the lab: (stereotype 1), (stereotype 2), (stereotype 3).” I think most educated people would regard this as unacceptable, even if the speaker subsequently argues that they were being ironic. However, substitute “girls” for “blacks” and for many people it becomes OK.

So very many people.

I also think that academic institutions have the right to dissociate themselves from someone who brings them into disrepute by using racist or sexist language. Gender equality is very much on the agenda of academic institutions and funding bodies. Many universities with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) departments have seriously engaged with the Athena SWAN initiatives to address gender inequality in the workplace; the Royal Society and the European Research Council have come under fire for the low success rates of female grant applicants, and both organisations have taken this criticism seriously and are examining ways to ensure their processes are transparent and fair. Having a high-profile figure make a sexist joke in a public forum undermines such initiatives, and places the organisations in a difficult position whereby they either appear to condone sexism or risk being attacked for political correctness. Sexist language, however jokey, shows an insensitivity to gender issues that is at odds with the core values of most academic institutions. Calling this out is an indication of a commitment to women’s right to fair treatment and not a threat to academic freedom.

That seems reasonable enough, doesn’t it?

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

The need to believe

Jul 17th, 2015 4:19 pm | By

Turn everything on its head time. People who take climate change seriously are in denial!!! Says the Federalist.

I, a (distinguished) gray-haired, middle-aged man, was a speaker at the conference. My topic was “The Need To Believe In The ‘Solution’ To Global Warming.” I don’t know if Johnson took note, but it was folks like him that I had in mind. Lot of people who aren’t up on, say, radiative-transfer physics and model-cloud parameterizations, to name just two of dozens upon dozens of need-to-know subjects, are convinced the world is going to end in heat death, because why? Because they desperately desire the proposed solutions—even in the absence of a problem. And what are the solutions? The usual: increased size and scope of government and furthering corporate cronyism.

People who take climate change seriously desperately desire the solutions? The hell we do. The solutions are horrible. What we desire is to avoid destroying the climate needed for humans and other animals to go on living on this planet. That’s it.

This brings us to the crucial question: how do we reach educators like Johnson? We can’t do it with reality. Temperatures aren’t increasing, storms are down in number and strength, sea levels aren’t chasing folks from beaches, droughts are not increasing, parts of the world are growing greener.

I don’t have the answer. Do you?

Did anybody ever say that all parts of the world would turn brown because of climate change? I don’t think the fact that parts of the world are growing greener is very decisive.


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

A treat

Jul 17th, 2015 3:42 pm | By

Amy Schumer’s parody of 12 Angry Men, in which the twelve dudely jurors argue over whether Amy Schumer is not enough to be on tv.

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

Guest post: People who aren’t making the distinction between belief and reality

Jul 17th, 2015 12:23 pm | By

Originally a comment by PatrickG on “Like I actually had a tail”.

Let me try again, since apparently I was unclear (not an unusual experience for me):

1) I consider magical thinking to be harmful in and of itself, whether it be sincerely believing in drinking the blood of Zombie Jesus or sincerely believing that one is not really human. So when you say:

There is no woo in describing how you feel regardless of reality if a person knows that their feelings and reality are not consistent.

We’re in agreement there, but that’s clearly not the case for people who sincerely believe they aren’t actually human, which is the group I’m addressing. Not just “feeling” non-human, to be very clear. If you don’t think that is woo, you might as well just stop reading this comment, because we don’t live in the same world.

2) I am not claiming the non-existence of feelings or sincerely held beliefs, I am arguing against the subsequent claims (e.g. woo-pagan animal spirituality and reincarnation) that are based on those feelings. The fact that someone asserts something is essential to their identity may be a sincerely held belief, but doesn’t obligate me to take it seriously in the absence of compelling evidence or argument. The feeling that someone is not human does not make them non-human, and claiming such deserves no respect. One does not get to hand-wave away basic biological fact on the basis of sincerely held belief (well, unless you’re a Republican Supreme Court justice lying about birth control, but that’s a different topic entirely).

3) When you say:

Because of that society misses the people who meet diagnostic criteria and do just fine with the associated characteristics that we call conditions and illnesses. Many people with Tourette’s Syndrome, ADHD, autism and more are happy to be what they are and are not hurting anyone else beyond giving other people funny feelings that they use for mockery and “jokes” at best. You are taking a very negative stance with respect to people who do not appear to be harming you in the slightest.

I’ll address the TS/ADHD/autism reference in the next point.

The failure of medical science to properly categorize and (if appropriate) treat a specific phenomenon does not automatically mean I have to treat audio-visual hallucinations or similar phenomenon as just part of normal human variation (“No biggie!”). When I read accounts of people who, if I take them at their word, are actually experiencing AV episodes, and wave it off with “but it’s ok, because animals”, I’m appalled. That’s not a good response! When you say:

So apparently most people with audio hallucinations function just fine with them. They might even make reality more interesting.

I’m genuinely shocked at how casually you treat this topic. Sure, this is probably true for certain definitions of “function”, “fine”, “reality”, and “interesting”, but I find this proposition extremely dubious, given our society’s predisposition to miss diagnosable conditions, poor access to evidence-based medicine, and a very attractive network of woo that leads people to homeopathy, psychics, and Dr. Oz. That is what I find so harmful — believing that a possible psychiatric condition can be explained away because of freakin’ mythical animals.

I want to reiterate that I am speaking of people who aren’t making the distinction between belief and reality. Does that mean every Otherkin is in this category? No — but then, most people who use crystal healing or acupuncture aren’t typically suffering from serious medical complaints either, and we all recognize the harm there.

4) Here is the passage that really leads me to believe that I failed to make my point clearly:

MANY cultures around the world have actual respected and celebrated social roles for people whose minds do not function like the norm. You will lose this fight because we are not going anywhere and some of us are even psychologically advantaged when it comes to expressing criticism. I’m perfectly willing to use that in defense of other people like me and the only one that needs to celebrate that for it to mean anything is me.

I’m not talking about people whose minds do not function like the norm — that would be rather silly, since I’m one of those people. I’m talking about people who turn to woo to explain/celebrate their atypical status. This is the difference between the true-believer Otherkin described above and people with TS/ADHD/autism, and comparing the two is ludicrous.

So yeah, the claim that someone is really non-human deserves the same respect from me as the claim that someone speaks to Jesus, regardless of normal/non-normal function, which is a completely different issue.

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

People in advantaged countries like to think of themselves as especially complex, colorful, and special

Jul 17th, 2015 12:02 pm | By

So I look around for more on “the otherkin community.” I find a piece by Gavia Baker-Whitelaw from a few months ago. I read.

When she was 9 or 10 years old, Jessie read a book that would change her life forever: Julie of the Wolves, a story about a young girl who bonds with a wolf pack to survive in the Alaskan tundra. It precipitated Jessie’s realization that she identified as a wolf herself.

“I could certainly see a case being made that I latched on to wolves because of some difficult times in my life,” Jessie told me. “I saw family in them, I saw protection and familiarity, and I saw an escape from what I was dealing with in my life.”

Plenty of kids are obsessive, but for Jessie, her love of wolves became a lifestyle and a spiritual experience, including “phantom shifts,” or episodes where she felt the physical characteristics of being a wolf.

“I would prowl my room late at night as a wolf, usually when I was restless or agitated. This was comforting to put myself into another place. Whether this is mental or spiritual, I don’t really know. I still do a version of this to this day, and I know it’s felt like both. I’m diagnosed with depression and generalized anxiety, and there are many days where putting myself in ‘wolf mind’ helps to relax me.”

Now, see, all of that is consistent with its being fantasy, and I’m all for fantasy. I was hugely into fantasy as a child, and I’ve always felt slightly sorry for kids who weren’t into it.

But actually “identifying as” another species goes beyond fantasy, and yes I think it’s risible in adults.

If you truly believe that you’re not human, people on the Internet will probably be the first to know. That’s where the term “otherkin” first sprang up in the early ’90s, in quiet little online culs-de-sac dedicated to those who believed they were dragons and elves. To someone who thinks of him- or herself as otherkin, the issue is one not of mental illness but of freedom of expression.

There’s ambiguity there. Truly believing you’re not human is not quite the same as thinking of oneself as not human – “thinking of oneself as” is the same as pretending.

But hey – it’s not harmful, it’s just first world special snowflakeism.

You don’t come to the conclusion that you’re a dragon without a certain amount of self-examination. Many otherkin are aware that some outsiders think they’re delusional. The psychiatric professionals I contacted for this story, however, were surprisingly forgiving.

Dr. Marc D. Feldman, clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Alabama and inventor of the term “Munchausen by Internet,” told me that otherkin didn’t seem like a good fit for mental health treatment.

“People in advantaged countries like to think of themselves as especially complex, colorful, and special,” he wrote in an email. “The otherkin phenomenon certainly reflects this first-world preoccupation. But it isn’t illegal, doesn’t victimize other people, and isn’t a form of mental illness (unless people become delusional about it), so I don’t see a particular need for ‘treatment.’”

Just so. As I said, I’m all for fantasy…but that doesn’t mean I can’t find some fantasies funny.

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

The Plutester

Jul 17th, 2015 11:21 am | By

Want more Pluto snaps? Of course you do.

NASA ‏@NASA 36 minutes ago
Frozen, craterless plains discovered in heart of Pluto’s ‘heart’ @NASANewHorizons #PlutoFlyby

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NASA ‏@NASA22 hours ago
Pluto moon Charon’s ‘Mountain in a Moat’ is a preview of future close-up images: #PlutoFlyby

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Can you find the snow leopard?

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

To separate the inhabitants of Paradise from the inhabitants of Hellfire

Jul 17th, 2015 11:08 am | By

The LA Times has been reading the journal of Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez. They found the predictable.

On Abdulazeez’s blog, there were a number of entries dealing with Islam and jihad.

“Every one of them [the Companions of the Prophet Mohammad] fought Jihad for the sake of Allah,” reads one recent post. “Every one of them had to make sacrifices in their lives and some even left all their wealth to make hijrah to Medina.”

Says another recent post: “This life we are living is nothing more than a test of our faith and patience. It was designed to separate the inhabitants of Paradise from the inhabitants of Hellfire, and to rank amongst them the best of the best and worst of the worst. Don’t let the society we live in deviate you from the task at hand.”

That’s the kind of thinking that makes religion so lethal – that idea that “this life we are living is nothing more than” some test or practical joke or punishment by a magical unavailable god, and that it’s the job of believers to help that god “rank” people and sort the good from the bad – and destroy the bad. That’s probably the single worst idea humans have come up with.

“Brothers and sisters don’t be fooled by your desires, this life is short and bitter and the opportunity to submit to allah may pass you by,” another post notes.

Bad. Bad idea. Bad thought.

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