Notes and Comment Blog


Psychoanalysis and Hollywood

Jun 19th, 2016 12:38 pm | By

I’m reminded by a Facebook conversation that there are people who still believe in “repressed memory.” (I’m reminded – see what I did there?)

An interesting article from 2008 talks about it as a cultural phenomenon:

ARE SOME experiences so horrific that the human brain seals them away, only to recall them years later? The concept of “repressed memory,” known by the diagnostic term dissociative amnesia, has long fueled controversy in psychiatry. During the 1980s, claims of childhood sexual abuse based on recovered memories led to a spate of highly publicized court cases. A number of the supposed victims retracted their allegations in the early 1990s, admitting that they had been swayed by therapeutic techniques. Yet the scientific validity of dissociative amnesia has remained contested ground.

In a recent study, professor of psychiatry Harrison Pope, co-director of the Biological Psychiatry Lab at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital, put “repressed memory” to the test of time. He reasoned that if dissociative amnesia were an innate capability of the brain—akin to depression, hallucinations, anxiety, and dementia—it would appear in written works throughout history. In collaboration with associate professor of psychiatry James Hudson, Michael Parker, a professor of English at the U.S. Naval Academy, Michael Poliakoff, director of education programs at the National Endowment for the Humanities, and research assistant Matthew Boynes, Pope set out to find the earliest recorded example of a “repressed memory.”

They found quite a lot from the 19th century, but nothing before that.

The researchers then offered a $1,000 reward—posted in three languages on more than 30 Internet websites and discussion groups—to the first person to identify a case of dissociative amnesia in any work of fiction or nonfiction prior to 1800. They received more than 100 responses, but none met the “repressed memory” criteria. Although many early texts describe ordinary forgetfulness caused by natural biological processes, as well as instances of individuals forgetting happy memories and even their own identities, there were no accounts of an inability to recall a traumatic experience at one point and the subsequent recovery of that memory.

In a report of their findings published in Psychological Medicine, Pope and his colleagues concluded that the absence of dissociative amnesia in works prior to 1800 indicates that the phenomenon is not a natural neurological function, but rather a “culture-bound” syndrome rooted in the nineteenth century. They argued that dissociative amnesia falls into the diagnostic category “pseudo-neurological symptom” (or “conversion disorder”)—a condition that “lacks a recognizable medical or neurological basis.”

It makes such a compelling story.

 What, then, accounts for “repressed memory’s” appearance in the nineteenth century and its endurance today? Pope and his colleagues hope to answer these questions in the future. “Clearly the rise of Romanticism, at the end of the Enlightenment, created fertile soil for the idea that the mind could expunge a trauma from consciousness,” Pope says. He notes that other pseudo-neurological symptoms (such as the female “swoon”) emerged during this era, but faded relatively quickly. He suspects that two major factors helped solidify “repressed memory” in the twentieth-century imagination: psychoanalysis (with its theories of the unconscious) and Hollywood. “Film is a perfect medium for the idea of repressed memory,” he says. “Think of the ‘flashback,’ in which a whole childhood trauma is suddenly recalled. It’s an ideal dramatic device.”

That’s what I mean about compelling. Movies can show the memory as it’s recovered – that is, they can seem to show it, which for us open-mouthed watchers amounts to the same thing. Movies can be incredibly good at overwhelming our critical faculties.



Eine Frau kommentiert das Spiel?

Jun 19th, 2016 11:16 am | By

Ew, a woman. Deutsche Welle:

Social media users flooded German public broadcaster ZDF’s sites after Friday’s Italy-Sweden match, not to voice complaints about the game, but to bemoan the broadcaster’s female commentator.

Claudia Neumann, a reporter for German public broadcaster ZDF, became the first female play-by-play announcer for this year’s men’s European Championships in France.

But her role as the match’s main commentator enraged numerous soccer fans. Many of whom posted complaints about her “annoying voice” while others said women have no place doing sports commentary for men’s soccer. One Twitter user wrote: “Women shouldn’t commentate men’s soccer. It doesn’t fit. Annoying. Period.”

So true. And people who don’t commit murder shouldn’t report on murders, and people not in government shouldn’t report on government, and atheists shouldn’t report on religion, and…you see where this goes? Here’s the thing: journalism is journalism, it’s about reporting on stuff using the skills of the profession. Journalists report on subjects they don’t have personal experience of all the time. It often is useful to have lawyers reporting on legal issues, scientists reporting on science, and so on, but it’s not mandatory, and spectator sports are spectator sports, so they’re pretty open to generalists.

Her Euro 2016 debut was the June 11 match between Wales and Slovakia. Following that first game, users insulted and attacked her with misogynistic slogans about “the place of women” and even rape threats.

Despite expecting some criticism following the games, the head of ZDF’s sports department said he couldn’t believe the “harsh formulation” of comments that appeared on ZDF social media sites.

“I’m shocked,” said Dieter Gruschwitz on Saturday to sports news agency SID, calling some of the social media comments “asocial critique.”

In a post on the broadcaster’s Facebook site, ZDF editors said numerous “offensive” comments had been deleted.

Yeah well – there are a lot of men who will seize any pretext to talk shit to and at a woman. Any pretext at all.

H/t Stewart



Her father, mother and brother cut her throat

Jun 18th, 2016 5:29 pm | By

News from Lahore:

Relatives slit the throat of a young mother who was pregnant with her second child after she married against their will near Lahore, officials said Friday, the latest in a spate of so-called “honour killings”.

Muqaddas Bibi, 22, married Taufiq Ahmed three years ago in defiance of her family, who considered a marriage for love — rather than an arranged marriage — shameful, police investigator Mohammad Arshad told AFP.

Bibi’s ties with her family were severed after the marriage, Arshad said, but her mother and brother allegedly approached her at a clinic where she was having a check-up on Thursday and convinced her to come home, saying they accepted her decision.

Local police station chief Gohar Abbas said that when Bibi reached her parents’ house, her father, brother and mother cut her throat with a knife and she died on the spot.

Her mother, and her father, and her brother – three people who should love her.

What’s the point of marrying and having children if you’re not going to love your children enough to recoil in horror at the very idea of killing them? What’s the point of families at all if there’s no love involved? What’s the point of making it a rule that marriage should not involve love? A rule that in fact making marriage depend on love is a reason for killing your own daughter? The whole thing is so sick and anti-human it makes one despair.

Hundreds of women are murdered by their relatives in conservative Muslim Pakistan each year on the pretext of defending what is seen as family honour.

Last week sixteen year-old Zeenat Bibi was killed in Lahore by her mother for marrying a man of her own choice in a case that sparked condemnation throughout the country.

It was swiftly followed by another killing, of a couple in Lahore who married without their family’s consent.

On Sunday a young girl was killed by her brother for insisting on marrying the man of her choice in the city of Sialkot, also in Punjab.

Parents shouldn’t think of their children as like toasters or printers, that are things which are expected to do a job on command, and that get thrown out if they fail at that one duty. That shouldn’t be what having children is about. If you’re not going to love them don’t have them; skip that whole thing.



Facebook standards

Jun 18th, 2016 3:46 pm | By

Clementine Ford on Facebook:

Catherine Deveny has just been given a 30 day ban for posting this status. Something like this is removed while posts celebrating violence against women are just a laugh m8.

Maybe if Dev had made a horrible joke about rape or beating women, it would have been considered okay by the ‘community standards’.

Facebook Community Standards are a sour joke.



His name

Jun 18th, 2016 10:21 am | By

Thomas Mair has appeared in court.

The venue chosen for Thomas Mair’s first court appearance was the most important magistrate’s court in London. Deputy Chief Magistrate Emma Arbuthnot was presiding.

Reporters from the broadcasters and Sunday newspapers and from overseas packed the press seats at the back.

As is almost always the case, the hearing was brief, but it had a key moment of drama – the moment the man in the dock was asked his name.

He stood, as asked, for what is normally one of the most mundane parts of the proceedings. Not this time.

“My name is death to traitors, freedom for Britain,” he said.

Asked to repeat it, he said the same thing. Then he fell silent until he was taken from the dock and driven off to prison.

So that’s a guilty plea then.

(No, officially it’s not, of course, but it certainly is a declaration. And a hideous one at that – “traitor” – godalmighty.)



Yorkshire’s women

Jun 18th, 2016 10:16 am | By

Another heartbreaker about Jo Cox, by Kate Proctor at the Yorkshire Post.

On Tuesday night Yorkshire’s women of 2015 gathered on Jo Cox’s houseboat on the River Thames for a party. These feisty ladies from West Yorkshire were brought together by the MP for Batley and Spen to celebrate and reflect on their first year in Parliament.

I started my job as Westminster Correspondent for the Yorkshire Post at roughly the same time, and have got to know this particular band of women very well. They are a close bunch, all elected in May 2015, and they include the powerhouses of Holly Lynch MP for nearby Halifax and Paula Sherriff, MP for Dewsbury. They are all inspiring in their own way and mother-of-two Jo Cox shone brightly. Her working class roots, her Yorkshire accent, her warmth and her fierce intelligence made her an excellent MP. In just one short year in Parliament there has been much to celebrate and this party thrown by Jo for these fine Yorkshire women was well deserved.

On Monday night.

When she stood up in Parliament to talk about foreign affairs and international relations people listen because she has rare first hand experience in the Middle East. She spent time in Gaza and that was deeply respected. I once saw her follow Labour MP Hilary Benn during one of the many debates on Syria, and thought she held her own and the attention of the room with much of the same skill as her party senior.

Notice the poignant mix of tenses.

During her time at Oxfam she met her husband Brendan, who is now working for the UN. They spent New Years running a camp for orphans and families connected to the Srebrenica massacre. The spirit of the Bosnian people had a lasting impact and the couple named their daughter Lejla, a Bosnian girls name. She was just two-years-old when I spoke to Jo at Christmas.

I saw this story via Lejla Kurić on Facebook. Proctor spelled the name Leija but Lejla silently corrected it, and I figure she probably knows. Anyway, I find that a touching detail – just one of so many in this horror. Now Lejla Cox age 2 1/2 has to grow up without her mother.



Jo Cox on Saudi Arabia and Yemen

Jun 17th, 2016 5:32 pm | By

Jo Cox wrote a public Facebook post on Tuesday.

If, as the foreign secretary claims, “close relations with Gulf countries are vital in keeping Britain safe”, isn’t it also time to use our close relationship with Saudi Arabia to end the slaughter of Yemeni children?

Fifteen months ago the Yemeni conflict escalated, when the Saudi led-coalition launched a military operation in support of the government against Houthi opposition forces. Half of Yemen’s population now lack access to the most basic items – food, water and medicine. And with violence rife across the country, the death toll continues to rise.

Life for children in Yemen has always been tough but the recent conflict has made it unbearable. Children represent one third of civilian casualties and on average six children have been killed and injured every day since March last year. Children have also been raped, abducted and recruited as child soldiers. And as in Syria, even places that should be safe, such as schools and hospitals, are under continuous attack. There is nowhere to hide.

In 2015 the UN attributed 60 per cent of child casualties and 48 per cent of attacks on schools and hospitals to Saudi-led coalition airstrikes. And last week the UN secretary-general’s annual report on Children and Armed Conflict for the first time put the coalition on the “list of shame” for the killing and maiming of children. They joined other state armed forces and non-state armed groups known for their appalling record of grave violations against children, including the South Sudanese and Syrian governments as well as Isis and Boko Haram. The Houthis were also listed, as they have been for the past several years.

However, in an unprecedented and deeply shocking move, on Monday night the secretary-general temporarily removed the Saudi-led coalition from the list after heavy lobbying from the Saudis and their allies. The removal is meant to be temporary pending a joint review of the UN and Saudi-led coalition, but Saudi Arabia’s permanent representative to the UN has already declared the decision “irreversible and unconditional”.

This sets an extremely damaging and dangerous precedent, weakens the report’s credibility and substantially undermines one of the only concrete international mechanisms for monitoring abuse against children in war. It also ignores the now overwhelming evidence of international humanitarian law violations in Yemen – some of which may even constitute as war crimes.

In light of this, the government’s position is indefensible and they must act with urgency to deliver on three asks. First, they should use all their influence – including our membership of the UN Security Council working group on children and armed conflict – to get the Saudis back where they belong on the “list of shame”.

Second, it’s time to stop dithering and work with the international community to set up an independent investigation into alleged violations of international humanitarian law by all parties to the conflict.

And finally, the government should immediately suspend arm sales to any party that risks using them in violation of international law. The UK is one of the largest suppliers of arms to Saudi Arabia with sales reaching £6 billion last year. If the government continues to sell weapons to the Kingdom who then use them to cause indiscriminate and disproportionate damage to civilians and infrastructure, then they are doing so illegally according to domestic, EU and international law.

We heard again from the government this week that only by working with Saudi Arabia can we influence them. I accept this. But it is surely now time for the government to prove that this influence can help Yemen’s children, as well as keep Britain safe.

Tonight, children in Yemen will go to sleep in fear of today, and hoping for a better tomorrow. These children desperately need the UK government to deliver on the three asks. We cannot continue to let them down.

It would be nice if they honored her by doing that.



The negative symbiosis between Islamist and far right extremism

Jun 17th, 2016 4:27 pm | By

Quilliam on Jo Cox:

With the research emerging overnight that Jo Cox MP’s murderer Tommy Mair was a supporter of various extreme right wing groups and the three eyewitness accounts that he shouted “Britain first”, it is looking increasingly likely that this was an act of nationalist far right terrorism.

Quilliam condemns this repulsive act and remembers the wonderful life of Jo Cox, an MP, a mother of two, a tireless campaigner for refugees, the chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group ‘Friends of Syria’ and the former Head of Policy at Oxfam. Our thoughts are with her friends and family on this dark day for British politics.

The terrorist Tommy Mair was a long standing member of the neo nazi direct action group, the National Alliance and the pro apartheid group White Rhino before carrying out his act of terror yesterday.

We call on the media to treat this act as it would any act of suspected jihadist terrorism. We call on society to expose, isolate and challenge all extremist ideologies and narratives for what they are. And we call on states to continue tackling extremism of all kinds, with consistency and urgency.

Within a week of the jihadist terrorist attack in Orlando, we must remember the negative symbiosis between Islamist and far right extremism, and the atmosphere that both extremisms create which is conducive to terrorism of any kind. Social polarisation, intolerance and acts of violence are rising across the world and cannot be seen in isolation from the predominant extremist ideologies and narratives.

Quilliam’s Managing Director Haras Rafiq says:

“For many years now, Quilliam has been raising awareness about the negative symbiosis between Islamist extremism and Far-Right extremism. These two are set to rise if we do not consistently call out both. build bridges and more importantly – allow for difficult conversations.The Far-Right and Islamist extremism share the same characteristics and emotional triggers – the same pathways in and out of extremism.”

From all of us at Quilliam, we remember Jo and take inspiration from the bright horizon and vision of the future that she painted for us, free from the hate and extremism that threatens us all. And we call on our nation to unite to prevent such future tragedies.



Britain’s enduring fascist heritage

Jun 17th, 2016 4:04 pm | By

Juliet Samuel at the Telegraph – yes really – says the murder of Jo Cox is far-right terrorism.

The Quilliam Foundation, one of Britain’s foremost anti-extremism think tanks, has been the first major organisation to call this dreadful event by its name: an act of nationalist far-Right terrorism.

Why does it matter what we call it?

Because calling it by its name shakes us out of our complacency and it helps us to understand how we should react. There’s a tendency to think of Britain as a moderate, sensible, reasonable place. Until yesterday, we had been spared the horrifying extremist attacks that have recently been taking place in other western countries. And Britain is mostly a safe and moderate place.

No you hadn’t, not entirely. She must have forgotten the London bombings, and the foiled plan to bomb a London nightclub, and the attack on Glasgow airport, and the slaughter of Lee Rigby…Or she’s defining “recently” as the last couple of years or so.

But our society is not immune from extremist hatred, whether it’s Islamist or fascist. There is an ongoing and energetic discussion about Islamic extremism. There is very little discussion of our enduring fascist heritage. Yet Britain has been home to fascist groups for decades. There was a strong vein of support for Adolf Hitler in this country before the Second World War. The first lists of banned speakers drawn up by university student unions were populated by hateful fascists, not Islamist hate preachers or mildly controversial Right-wingers.

Those lists still don’t include Islamist hate preachers. Those are mostly welcomed and fêted.

Mr Mair might be a mentally ill loner. But he is also a loner who took inspiration from neo-Nazism, just as other mentally ill loners have been inspired by Isil propaganda. It seems increasingly clear that Mr Mair belongs to a vile tradition of the murderous far-Right that includes Anders Breivik and Timothy McVeigh.

It’s interesting how much they have in common with the Islamist brand.



“She got what she deserved”

Jun 17th, 2016 11:24 am | By

Never mind. Apparently the “source” is a “satire” site although I’m damned if I can find any confirmation of that. I was misled by the fact that it cited Breitbart – not because Breitbart is reliable but because it doesn’t consider itself satire.

Oh god oh god oh god.

Sarah Palin.

Sarah Palin, former governor of Alaska, commented on the tragedy in her own, provocative style, saying that “it’s no use trying to teach people that pacifism doesn’t work when you have things like these happening almost every day. A woman who had a family, a husband and two young children, was shot dead in the middle of the street like a beggar. Who should we be upset with? The murderer for being insane enough to do something like this or the woman herself, for failing to take precautions to save her own life?”

“I know I’m going to cause a lot of different comments by saying this, but I’m furious with that late, stupid woman,” Palin told Breitbart News. “I know she was a lefty and I know that means she was against guns, but if she were able to somehow miraculously come back to life now, what do you think she’d say about it? Do you think she’d change her mind about guns? I bet she would. She’d never leave the house without a 12-gauge shotgun by her side. And that’s why I’ve made a habit of doing that, as well.”

“But no, she had to go off and try to prove a point,” she added. “And now what? Her children will be motherless and her husband a widower. As a matter of fact, you know something? That woman had a million opportunities to bring along protection. And she failed to do that. And now she’s dead. So you know what? She got what she deserved, if you ask me.”

I have no words.



Guest post: A seething morass of racial animosity

Jun 17th, 2016 11:16 am | By

Originally a comment by Claire on A noxious brew.

When I moved from the UK to the US, several years ago, I was genuinely shocked at the amount of open racism I saw from just people on the street right up through the rhetoric of politicians. I was appalled and admittedly a little complacent – I didn’t think the UK was some racism-free utopia, but it seemed considerably better by comparison.

The EU referendum campaign has opened my eyes to a seething morass of racial animosity that apparently was right there beneath the surface the whole time. It’s horrifying – what has happened to my country of birth in the years since I moved away? I hadn’t even planned to vote in the referendum since I’m living in the US permanently and have no plans to return to the UK to live. So it seemed perhaps I should just let the people who actually do live there to make that decision.

The campaign changed my mind, and I have now voted Remain. I actually do think we are better off in Europe than out. But even if I did not, I could not stand idly by and let racists and demagogues annex and corrupt democracy into an exercise in beating up Johnny Foreigner.

Maybe I feel it acutely because I myself am a foreigner now, and know something of the challenges that face a person who decides to emigrate. And I’m ‘lucky’ to be white and come from a country my adopted nation has a very favorable view of, so I don’t face the kind of crap that some immigrants encounter.

Maybe the Donald Trump effect has thrown it all into sharp relief. But I barely recognize the Britain where an MP can be assassinated in the street, where campaigners can stand up and say blatantly racist things or where images of refugees fleeing for their lives can be turned into a fear-baiting poster about intra-European movement of people.



Only a matter of time before we take it to the next level

Jun 17th, 2016 10:54 am | By

The Guardian is live updating coverage of the murder of Jo Cox. The newest item is terrifying:

In a further indication of far right reaction to the murder of Jo Cox, the Observer’s home affairs editor Mark Townsend reports that another Yorkshire MP received a death threat for sympathising with refugees the day before Jo Cox was murdered.

Notts Casual Infidels, a far right group belonging to the extremist Infidels network, posted an image of York Central Labour MP Rachael Maskell addressing a “refugees welcome rally” at 9:39am on Thursday June 15 with the warning: “This bitch needs to disappear.”

Hours after Cox’s death later that day, the same group said in a Facebook post: “We knew it was only a matter of time before we take it to the next level. We have been mugged off for Far to (sic) long.” The post was later deleted.

There are far too many people who think various “bitches” need to disappear.



She had to somehow stand for both

Jun 17th, 2016 10:41 am | By

Julian Borger had a conversation with Jo Cox on Tuesday.

On Tuesday in Westminster, she talked for an hour about trolling, Brexit, Labour in the north, Syria and humanitarian intervention, life as an MP and the struggle to make a difference. We were supposed to meet on Wednesday, but it was brought forward because she had to go to her Yorkshire constituency a day early in an attempt to shore up the remain vote. That was what she was doing when she was killed.

The overwhelming majority of Labour members in Batley and Spen oppose her position on the EU referendum, and she conceded Labour had failed to connect with its supporters on immigration. A dispassionate debate on the issue was becoming impossible anyway. She felt she was pushing against the tabloid press and daily scare stories such as the supposedly imminent invasion of Turkish migrants across the Channel.

“I hear that repeated back to me on the doorsteps. Whatever was on the front page of the tabs that day. It’s getting through,” she said.

She believed passionately that it was possible to stand up for the pummelled working class of northern England, and at the same time strive to protect Syrians from bombing or at least help to care for the orphans of that war.

It’s a difficult balance…or perhaps an impossible one. I very much like the idealism of being welcoming to immigrants…but what about the idealism of welcoming huge numbers of religious conservatives? That doesn’t sound so appealing, whatever religion the newcomers adhere to.

It was not an easy or popular stance in a country at an inward-looking point in its history, and she was becoming accustomed to high levels of trolling from right and left.

Being a woman with an unpopular position invited particular levels of bile. She noted that when she wrote a critique of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership in the Guardian last month, she received 10 times more internet hate mail than her male co-author. Her defence of immigration also drew fury. She did not mention on Tuesday that she had referred some direct threats to the police, or that a man had been arrested in connection with those threats in March.

10 times more internet hate mail than her male co-author, and more bullets and stabs and death. She got trolling, and hate mail, and threats, and murdered.

As a daughter of the working-class north, but also a former aid worker and human rights advocate in war zones abroad, she said she could not betray one part of that identity for another. She had to somehow stand for both. She described blank stares from constituents when she talked about Syria and the scale of the suffering there, but said she would go on talking about the war and mass killing in other foreign fields regardless.

I admire that. It really is hard standing for both.

She was not optimistic about her political future or that of her party. She felt the EU referendum had “made it OK somehow for Labour people to switch to Ukip.” Neither had she gone into politics to remain a backbencher for the foreseeable future. “I came in to make a difference, to be a minister, to make policy,” she said. She clearly possessed many of the attributes of a potential party leader – female, northern, working class roots, eloquent and photogenic – but she insisted she was not cut out for the top spot.

She was torn, she said. Part of her wanted to stay on and “fight to save the Labour party” in the political turmoil that might follow a Brexit vote. Part of her wanted to get out of politics if she could not make policy, and look at other ways of making a difference in the world. She spoke enthusiastically of the work her husband, Brendan, was doing in researching how to fight negative stereotypes of immigrants in the public consciousness, caricatures that increasingly dominated public debate in Britain.

And then she talked about life on a houseboat, and then she left to get ready for her trip north.



The bullying was an accident

Jun 17th, 2016 10:08 am | By

Speaking of ugly climates…there’s this private school in Texas

The parents of a 12-year-old black girl have sued her Texas school after a group of white classmates allegedly wrapped a rope around her neck and “violently jerked” her to the ground, leaving burns in her skin that are documented in graphic photos included in the complaint.

The incident, which reportedly left the girl with a “severe and painful” rope cut on her neck, has brought national attention to Live Oak classical school, a largely white private school in Waco, Texas, that has been accused of having a history of bullying problems.

The lawsuit filed this week – which seeks damages of $3m for medical bills, physical pain, disfigurement and suffering – alleges that the school was negligent in its failure to protect the girl and in its response to the injuries.

The school has denied the allegations, arguing that the incident was an accident.

White male classmates – they were all boys.

Such a strange accident, a group of boys putting a rope around a girl’s neck and yanking her to the ground.

The suit also claims that a series of bullying incidents precipitated the rope injury.

Starting in the fall, the suit alleges, KP “began to come home with disturbing reports that her classmates did not accept her, would not talk with her, and even physically bullied her”.

One boy pushed her to the ground in the cubby room and kicked and shoved her during a class assignment when a teacher was not looking, according to the complaint. That boy was involved in the rope incident, the suit says.

When the girl’s mother asked Live Oak for help last fall, the “school’s response was that the bullying had been an ‘accident,’ and the boy had not meant to push KP to the ground”, the suit says.

I suppose it was KP’s fault for tipping over so easily.

Other families have come forward to raise concerns about bullying since the story went public, according to the complaint.

Imagine my surprise.



A noxious brew

Jun 17th, 2016 9:52 am | By

Polly Toynbee on the ugly climate in the UK right now:

There are many decent people involved in the campaign to secure Britain’s withdrawal from the EU, many who respect the referendum as the exercise in democracy that it is. But there are others whose recklessness has been open and shocking. I believe they bear responsibility, not for the attack itself, but for the current mood: for the inflammatory language, for the finger-jabbing, the dogwhistling and the overt racism.

It’s been part of a noxious brew, with a dangerous anti-politics and anti-MP stereotypes fomented by leave and their media backers mixed in. Only an hour before this shooting Nigel Farage unveiled a huge poster showing Syrian refugees fleeing to Slovenia last year, nothing to do with EU free movement – and none arriving here. Leave’s poster read: “Breaking Point. We must break free from the EU and take control of our borders.” Nicola Sturgeon, Caroline Lucas and many others condemned it as “disgusting”, and so it is.

Nigel Farage and the leavers there, Donald Trump and his fans here. It’s a bad time.

Rude, crude, Nazi-style extremism is mercifully rare. But the leavers have lifted several stones. How recklessly the decades of careful work and anti-racist laws to make those sentiments unacceptable have been overturned.

This campaign has stirred up anti-migrant sentiment that used to be confined to outbursts from the far fringes of British politics. The justice minister, Michael Gove, and the leader of the house, Chris Grayling – together with former London mayor Boris Johnson – have allied themselves to divisive anti-foreigner sentiment ramped up to a level unprecedented in our lifetime. Ted Heath expelled Enoch Powell from the Tory front ranks for it. Oswald Mosley was ejected from his party for it. Gove and Grayling remain in the cabinet.

When politicians from a mainstream party use immigration as their main weapon in a hotly fought campaign, they unleash something dark and hateful that in all countries always lurks not far beneath the surface.

It’s not Godzilla or T Rex or witches or zombies. It’s just humans, being humans.



The only platform they can safely use

Jun 17th, 2016 8:57 am | By

Ayman El Kaissi reports on Facebook’s censorship of atheist groups and the resistance to same.

In the middle of April, Facebook removed more than six Arabic-speaking atheist pages due to “violations” of Community Standards. This is not the first time that Facebook has censored atheists and freethinkers in the MENA region. In response, the Atheist Alliance – Middle-East and North Africa (AA-MENA) has decided to speak out, demanding that Facebook change the way it addresses violation reports, so as to preserve members’ freedom of speech.

In February 2016, ten of the largest Arabic-speaking atheist groups, with a total of about 100,000 members, have been deactivated for the same reason: heavy reporting campaigns that are organized by “cyber jihadist” fundamentalist Islamic groups, especially for the removal of any anti-Islamic group or page. In such coordinated campaigns, very large numbers of people, and possibly automated scripts, simultaneously file reports falsely claiming that a page, group, or personal account has violated Community Standards.

There’s a petition and a campaign to get Zuckerberg to do better.

AA-MENA has adopted #FacebookVSFreeSpeech as the hashtag of its Facebook event, Atheism: Campaigning to regain the right to free speech within Facebook Pages. The campaign’s goal is to rally atheists and freethinkers of the MENA region and to attract the attention of relevant nongovernmental organizations and irreligious social media activists to their cause.

But this attack on free speech spilled out of Facebook and resulted into a cold-blooded murder. On April 22, 2016, Yemeni activist Omar Bataweel was abducted in front of his home in the city of Aden. Police reports stated that he was shot and left to die on the street; locals discovered his body the next morning. Omar had received death threats prior to his execution for posting criticism of Islamic clergy and heritage on Facebook and was accused of apostasy and atheism. His case remains open and no suspects have been apprehended till now.

(I think by “till now” he means as of now, i.e. so far or yet.)

For irreligious people of the MENA region, social media outlets—especially Facebook—have become the only platform that they can safely use to express their thoughts and opinions, share their stories, and come together without feeling threatened. In most Arab countries, the demographic majority is Muslim; many regimes are actual theocracies while the others are very deeply influenced by Islamic religious authorities at all levels of public life.

Freethinkers, atheists, and freedom activists in the MENA region live under such oppressive regimes and communities. Most of them cannot express their religious, political, cultural, or social views and thoughts freely. This ever-growing segment of people living in the Arab World is still operating with a “low profile” and with minuscule traditional media coverage. This is the main reason for their enormous investments in social media platforms, such as Facebook, which are viewed by them as the last resort for freedom of thought and expression.

It’s deeply ironic that this thing that started out as Zuckerberg’s tool for ranking female Harvard students according to degree of hotness is now a last resort for freedom of thought and expression in oppressive theocratic countries, but there it is.



What nobler vision can there be?

Jun 16th, 2016 6:04 pm | By

I’ve seen many people praising the Guardian’s editorial on the murder of Jo Cox, and rightly so.

Jo Cox, however, was not just any MP doing her duty. She was also an MP who was driven by an ideal. The former charity worker explained what that ideal was as eloquently as anyone could in her maiden speech last year. “Our communities have been deeply enhanced by immigration,” she insisted, “be it of Irish Catholics across the constituency or of Muslims from Gujarat in India or from Pakistan, principally from Kashmir. While we celebrate our diversity, what surprises me time and time again as I travel around the constituency is that we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.”

What nobler vision can there be than that of a society where people can be comfortable in their difference? And what more fundamental tenet of decency is there than to put first and to cherish all that makes us human, as opposed to what divides one group from another? These are ideals that are often maligned when they are described as multiculturalism, but they are precious nonetheless. They are the ideals which led Ms Cox to campaign tirelessly for the brutalised and displaced people of Syria, and – the most painful thought – ideals for which she may now have died.

That is what makes it so hideously tragic – she was a generous person doing generous work.

We are in the midst of what risks becoming a plebiscite on immigration and immigrants. The tone is divisive and nasty. Nigel Farage on Thursday unveiled a poster of unprecedented repugnance. The backdrop was a long and thronging line of displaced people in flight. The message: “The EU has failed us all.” The headline: “Breaking point.” The time for imagining that the Europhobes can be engaged on the basis of facts – such as the reality that a refugee crisis that started in Syria and north Africa can hardly be blamed on the EU, or the inconvenient detail that obligations under the refugee convention do not depend on EU membership – has passed. One might have still hoped, however, that even merchants of post-truth politics might hold back from the sort of entirely post-moral politics that is involved in taking the great humanitarian crisis of our time, and then whipping up hostility to the victims as a means of chivvying voters into turning their backs on the world.

The idealism of Ms Cox was the very antithesis of such brutal cynicism. Honour her memory. Because the values and the commitment that she embodied are all that we have to keep barbarism at bay.

 The slaughter in Charleston was almost exactly a year ago. The murdered nine were a generous bunch of people too. It breaks my damn heart.


When you shout BREAKING POINT over and over again

Jun 16th, 2016 5:23 pm | By

Alex Massie in the Spectator on a day of infamy. (The actual Roosevelt phrase is “a day that will live in infamy.”)

The poster unveiled by Nigel Farage this morning marked a new low, even for him.

The mask – the pawky, gin o’clock, you know what I mean, mask – didn’t slip because there was no mask at all. BREAKING POINT, it screamed above a queue of dusky-hued refugees waiting to cross a border. The message was not very subtle: Vote Leave, Britain, or be over-run by brown people. Take control. Take back our country. You know what I mean, don’t you: If you want a Turk – or a Syrian – for a neighbour, vote Remain. Simple. Common sense. Innit?

This poster:

The Nazis gave us this one:

Back to Alex Massie:

Nigel Farage isn’t responsible for Jo Cox’s murder. And nor is the Leave campaign. But they are responsible for the manner in which they have pressed their argument. They weren’t to know something like this was going to happen, of course, and they will be just as shocked and horrified by it as anyone else.

But, still. Look. When you encourage rage you cannot then feign surprise when people become enraged. You cannot turn around and say, ‘Mate, you weren’t supposed to take it so seriously. It’s just a game, just a ploy, a strategy for winning votes.’

When you shout BREAKING POINT over and over again, you don’t get to be surprised when someone breaks. When you present politics as a matter of life and death, as a question of national survival, don’t be surprised if someone takes you at your word. You didn’t make them do it, no, but you didn’t do much to stop it either.

Sometimes rhetoric has consequences. If you spend days, weeks, months, years telling people they are under threat, that their country has been stolen from them, that they have been betrayed and sold down the river, that their birthright has been pilfered, that their problem is they’re too slow to realise any of this is happening, that their problem is they’re not sufficiently mad as hell, then at some point, in some place, something or someone is going to snap. And then something terrible is going to happen.

And it does happen, it keeps happening.



Guest post: Lies wrapped in emotional appeal

Jun 16th, 2016 4:32 pm | By

Guest post by Jen Phillips, originally on Facebook and posted here by permission.

The movie ‘Vaxxed’ is showing at the David Minor Theater in Eugene this week. It’s billed as a documentary, but, like many other films claiming that genre, it’s chock full of inaccuracies and spin. For a ‘reality based’ gal like me, most of the time I just find that annoying, but in the case of ‘Vaxxed’, I find it dangerous and infuriating.

Why dangerous? Because lying about vaccine safety scares a significant number of parents into opting out of vaccines for their children. That puts the children and their communities at risk for serious diseases. “Lying” isn’t a term I throw around lightly, but that’s exactly what this is: lies wrapped in emotional appeal. William Thompson, the so-called CDC Whistleblower, was taped without his knowledge, and the filmmakers spliced his words together to fabricate meaning that was not in his original statements. What does Dr. Thompson actually say about vaccines? Here is a direct quote:

I want to be absolutely clear that I believe vaccines have saved and continue to save countless lives. I would never suggest that any parent avoid vaccinating children of any race. Vaccines prevent serious diseases, and the risks associated with their administration are vastly outweighed by their individual and societal benefits.

Vaccines do not cause autism. The MMR vaccine (the focus of this movie) does not cause autism, or make children more susceptible to autism, or have any influence whatsoever on the manifestation of autistic characteristics. Andrew Wakefield is a disgraced and defrocked former physician who has gotten rich by fearmongering to vulnerable parents. He is not a reliable source of information on vaccine safety OR autism.

Why infuriating? So many reasons. It’s infuriating that this misinformation puts the health of so many vulnerable people at risk. It makes me fidget with frustration that this is STILL being debated, when mountains of research and population level studies all over the world have shown that it is a non-issue. Mostly, though, it’s that the filmmakers and many of their associated anti-vaccination activists demonize autism as a fate worse than death. Presenting the possibility of death or serious disability from vaccine preventable disease as preferable to autism is as harmful as it is heartbreaking. Depicting people on the spectrum as ‘damaged’ or ‘ruined’ in some way is a standard tactic with which to scare parents into not vaccinating, and it’s disgusting.

If you choose to see this movie, please, please, go in with your eyes open and be aware that it is so far from factual that Andrew Wakefield might as well be beaming in his commentary from a space station orbiting Sirius.

If you have questions about vaccine safety or autism prevalence, I would be more than happy to provide evidence-based, accessible information if you reach out to me.



Parliament Square

Jun 16th, 2016 11:35 am | By