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.

The very young ones they give to madrassas

Mar 25th, 2015 10:15 am | By

More hideous news from the Boko Haram front.

About 500 children aged 11 and under are missing from a Nigerian town recaptured from militants, a former resident of Damasak has told the BBC.

A trader in the north-eastern town told Reuters news agency that Boko Haram fighters took the children with them when they fled.

Five hundred.

The senator representing the north of Borno state, Maina Maaji Lawan, told the BBC’s Nigeria correspondent, Will Ross, that the case in Damasak was typical and many hundreds of children were missing.

He said: “The very young ones they give to madrassas [Islamic schools]… and male ones between 16 and 25, they conscript them and they indoctrinate them as supply channels for their horrible missions.”

Boko Haram caused international outrage in April 2014 after it abducted more than 200 girls from a boarding school in Chibok town in north-eastern Nigeria’s Borno state.

The group’s leader Abubakar Shekau has said the girls have been married off.

That’s another euphemism, like “fracas.” The girls have been enslaved. They’re not “married,” they’re enslaved. They’re not wives, they’re slaves. Kidnapping is not marriage.

Damasak businessman Malam Ali, whose brother is among those missing, told the BBC Hausa Service that young boys had been put in a madrassa by Boko Haram when they took over the town.

Following the recapture of the town, those boys had not been accounted for, he said.

Our correspondent says the conflict has torn many families apart.

So that’s life in Damasak right now.

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

The abuse contained the strongest expletives

Mar 25th, 2015 9:57 am | By

The BBC has finally sacked Jeremy Clarkson, and it tells us (up to a point) what the “fracas” was. (Note, by the way, the self-serving word. People do love to do that – use the passive voice with no agent [“what happened” “what was said”] and mild words in place of accurate ones. “Fracas” – it sounds like 18th century gents quarreling over ale in Sam Johnson’s sitting room. “Fracas” is cozy for “that time I punched and shouted at and threatened someone.” The word is “assault” at the very least.) (I’m well aware that millions of people must have already said all that. I wanted to say it anyway.)

In a statement from BBC Director General Tony Hall we’ve learned exactly what took place on that night in a North Yorkshire hotel.

A report has been published with blow-by-blow details of what happened in the now infamous “fracas” between Mr Clarkson and one [of] his producers, Oisin Tymon.

This is one time (and not the only time) when the famous BBC scare quotes are well chosen.

The scene is the patio of a hotel in North Yorkshire on the evening of a long day of shooting and travel.

  • The physical attack lasted around 30 seconds and was only halted by the intervention of a witness.
  • Mr Tymon did not retaliate.
  • The verbal abuse was directed at Mr Tymon more than once – both during the attack and subsequently inside the hotel.
  • The abuse contained the strongest expletives and threats to sack him.
  • The abuse was at such volume it could be heard in the dining room and the shouting was audible in a hotel bedroom.

The “strongest epithets” – well there’s only one really. It’s that one that we’re always told is in no way denigrating of women, because it’s what men call other men. Clarkson repeatedly called Tymon a cunt.

I suspect that Jeremy Clarkson isn’t a very nice man.

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

Tonight’s song

Mar 25th, 2015 9:21 am | By

A perfect Jesus and Mo today – “perfect” in the egocentric sense of “exactly what I’m thinking about myself right this second”…but also in the more usual sense.

a bit

Many thanks to Saudi Arabia for this week’s strip.


Support Jesus and Mo at Patreon

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

The reason women even exist

Mar 24th, 2015 3:02 pm | By

Explaining what women are for. (Some guy shared this link as he was trolling on Twitter, and I saw it.)

The Word of God (Hebrews 4:12-13) does not flatter women (nor men). He tells it like it is, and it is often not the way people think it is (Isaiah 55:8; Romans 1:18). Women are not the same as men. Some, it seems, have not noticed this simple fact. But, the reality is, the Creator made two different kinds of human beings, one male and one female, and He expects them to behave accordingly (e.g. Deuteronomy 22:5). The male was made out of the dust of the ground (Genesis 2:7). The female was made out of the male’s rib (Genesis 2:21-23). The male is the glory of God, but the female is the glory of man (1 Corinthians 11:7). They are similar, but not the same.

The reason women even exist is not so that they can be independent entities. The reason they exist is so that they can help men.

For man is not from woman, but woman from man. Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man. (1 Corinthians 11:8-9)

The Lord created the woman for the man’s sake. As it is written,

And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.” (Genesis 2:18)

So, that’s what she’s for. That’s all she’s for. She’s not here to decide for herself what she wants to be for, and what she wants to do with her life. A man’s sweater can’t be an independent entity, can it? And neither can his hamburger? Or his car? So neither can a woman.



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

Saudi Arabia is “a beacon of light”

Mar 24th, 2015 2:47 pm | By

Oh, that’s how you want to play it, Saudi Arabia? It might backfire. I certainly hope it does.

Adam Taylor at the Washington Post blog.

You know how Margot Wallström was going to give a talk at the Arab League, a talk that included some praise for the idea of women’s rights, and how Saudi Arabia blocked her from giving that talk and recalled its ambassador and generally threw a huge tantrum.

The feud has sparked an intense domestic debate, with Sweden’s king even stepping in. Part of this is because of the considerable economic pressure Saudi Arabia is able to put on Sweden (Sweden exported $1.3 billion to Saudi Arabia last year). But perhaps even more powerful has been the rhetorical pressure — Saudi Arabia has succeeded in making the argument not about human rights, but about Islam.

From the start of the disagreement with Sweden, Saudi officials have emphasized that the attack isn’t just on their sovereignty, but on the entire concept of sharia law, which forms the basis of the Saudi legal system. For example, the Council of Senior Scholars, Saudi Arabia’s highest religious authority, dismissed Wallstrom’s comments as criticism of the Islamic legal system. “The Kingdom is proud of its Islamic laws, which protects human rights, dignity and private property,” said Sheik Fahad bin Saad al-Majed, secretary general of the council, according to Arab News. He added that Saudi Arabia was “a beacon of light” for Muslims around the world.

You want to go that way? You’re sure? You want to tie all of Islam to what you do with it? You want to make it all or nothing like that? You want to tell the world that Islam=Sauda Arabia and Saudi Arabia=Islam?

This framing caught on internationally, as well. “The ministers have voiced their condemnation and astonishment at the issuance of such statements that are incompatible with the fact that the Constitution of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is based on sharia,” Arab League foreign ministers said in a joint statement. “Sharia has guaranteed human rights and preserved people’s lives, possessions, honor and dignity.”

But it hasn’t, especially not women’s rights and gay rights and freedom of religion and the rights of foreign workers…There’s a very long list of the rights it has trampled into the dust as opposed to “guaranteeing.” If that’s the Sharia version of guaranteeing human rights, then Islam is a vision of hell.

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation also released a statement, saying Sweden needed to “not claim moral authority to pass one-sided judgments and moral categorizations of others.”

So anything goes? Apartheid is fine, genocide is fine, Boko Haram is fine, nobody can say anything to anyone?

I say that’s bullshit. Wallström on the other hand has been back-pedaling, which is very unfortunate.

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

Silly or trolling: pick one

Mar 24th, 2015 2:19 pm | By

Great. Another mobbing. NUS Women, the National Union of Students Women, are apparently having a conference and they tweeted a ludicrous and embarrassing tweet, so…of course they’re being Twitter-mobbed, because it’s Tuesday.

First the ludicrous tweet.

Embedded image permalink

Well jazz hands trigger my anxiety, so could we do a square dance instead? But wait, square dances trigger some people, so maybe we could meditate for 2 minutes instead? Yes that should work, and I can’t see any possible downside at all.

Ok fine, it’s a silly suggestion, but Twitter mobs are overkill for silliness. The hashtag is mob-city.

We can’t have any nice things!


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

A reassessment

Mar 24th, 2015 12:37 pm | By

Deep rifts? Between the US administration and Netanyahu?

The White House issued a passionate call for eventual Palestinian statehood on Monday as it stepped up criticism of the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, for appearing to question a two-state solution to Middle East peace.

“An occupation that has lasted for almost 50 years must end,” Barack Obama’s chief of staff, Denis McDonough, told a conference of liberal activists in Washington. “Israel cannot maintain military control of another people indefinitely,” he added.

“A ‘one-state solution’ would effectively end Israel’s nature as a Jewish and democratic state,” he added. “Unilateral annexation of the West Bank territories would be both wrong and illegal. The United States would never support it, and it’s unlikely Israel’s other friends would either. It would only contribute to Israel’s isolation.”

At the UN, too.

The United States will not take the floor at the United Nations Human Rights Council on Monday as it debates human rights violations committed in the Palestinian territories, a US spokesman told Reuters.

The step is unprecedented at the 47-member state forum, where Washington has unfailingly defended Israel since US President Barack Obama became president in 2009.

The decision not to appear follows signals that the Obama administration is undertaking a “reassessment” of relations with the Jewish state.

Not before time.

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

Even after adjusting for factors such as

Mar 24th, 2015 12:19 pm | By

Jeez, you’d think at least nursing would pay women as much as men. But no.

Even though nine out of 10 nurses are women, men in the profession earn higher salaries, and the pay gap has remained constant over the past quarter century, a study finds.

The typical salary gap has consistently been about $5,000 even after adjusting for factors such as experience, education, work hours, clinical specialty, and marital and parental status, according to a report in JAMA, the journal of the American Medical Association.

Well boo.

Muench and colleagues used two large U.S. data sets to examine earnings over time. One, the National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses, provided responses from nearly 88,000 participants from 1988 to 2008. The other, the American Community Survey, offered responses from nearly 206,000 registered nurses from 2001 to 2013.

Every year, each of the data sets found men earned more than women; the unadjusted pay gap ranged from $10,243 to $11,306 in one survey and from $9,163 to $9,961 in the other.


While the study didn’t address the reasons for persistent gaps in pay, it’s possible that men are better at negotiating raises and promotions or that they are less likely than women to take extended breaks from the labor force to care for young children or aging parents, said Patricia Davidson, dean of the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing in Baltimore, Maryland.

Um…hello? To repeat, with emphasis added –

The typical salary gap has consistently been about $5,000 even after adjusting for factors such as experience, education, work hours, clinical specialty, and marital and parental status

Next up –

It’s also possible that the study exposed a gender difference in career choices, rather than a genuine lack of equal pay for equal work, said Linda Aiken, a nursing and health policy researcher at the University of Pennsylvania.


The typical salary gap has consistently been about $5,000 even after adjusting for factors such as experience, education, work hours, clinical specialty, and marital and parental status

Are the words “even after adjusting” simply invisible to some people? Is this a new disorder, should we call it Sommers Syndrome?

H/t Janet Factor

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

Seeing that freedom under fire

Mar 24th, 2015 11:33 am | By

This one is so dense I can’t see how anyone can believe it.

A Republican congressman has introduced legislation that would force cadets at the Air Force’s Academy to say “so help me God” during their oaths every school year. He said the legislation is necessary because Americans don’t have “freedom from religion.”

Yes we do. Freedom of religion includes freedom from [requirements to adhere to] religion. Of course it does.

He said the bill would protect the freedom of Our Sojers.

“Our Constitution’s very First Amendment protects every individual’s freedom of religion. But our servicemen and women who protect our county with their lives are seeing that freedom under fire,” he said in a statement.

The U.S. Air Force Academy announced in 2013 that cadets would not be required to say “so help me God” while reciting the Honor Oath.

Cadets are not required to say it, so that’s freedom of (and from). They’re not required not to say it. Rep. Sam Johnson is talking as if not being required to is being required not to. He can’t really be that dense.

Johnson said the Air Force’s Academy only made the end of the oath optional “because of one radical atheist group’s demands!”

“Let me be clear: Americans have the freedom of religion – but not freedom from religion. That’s why I am introducing legislation that requires Congressional approval before any change would be made to military oaths,” he continued.

“The moral foundation of our country is in serious danger if we allow radical groups to dictate whether or not we can freely express our religious beliefs! It’s time to take a stand.”

Making a religious oath optional ≠ making a religious oath forbidden. Making it mandatory is what interferes with people’s freedom of religion. Some religious people think oaths are blasphemous, or a trivialization of god.

But I suppose I should be grateful he’s not running around hitting people in the face with bricks.

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

They smashed a brick in her face and called her “Rushdie’s bitch”

Mar 24th, 2015 11:04 am | By

An open letter from PEN South Africa:

The savage attack on Zainub Dala shows the terror of the freedom to use words, and the desire to obliterate them.

On Wednesday March 18 author, Zainub Priya Dala was violently attacked as she left her hotel during the Time of the Writer Festival in Durban. A woman driving alone, she was harassed by three men who forced her off the road, cornered her, held a knife at her throat, smashed a brick in her face, and called her “Rushdie’s bitch”. The day before she had been asked about writers she admired: Salman Rushdie’s name had figured on a long list of others. People walked out in protest.

Writers do not fear difference of opinion. On the contrary, we thrive on difficulty, on complexity, on posing vexed questions and exploring unresolved ideas.

We sketch characters with conflicting emotions, fraught relationships with their families, their lovers and their gods, we place them in troubled circumstances, sometimes offer them redemption. This is the stuff of good drama, of engaged fiction. We gravitate towards, not away from, debate and nuance, knowing that the more considered the idea the better the text.

But what we do not thrive on, and what we will not tolerate, is violent intimidation. Like us, Dala is a writer. She is a reader. She is both a consumer of and producer of words. She would not have avoided a conversation; she would not have shut down a debate. But debate, conversation and engagement are not possible in the face of violence.

And this type of violence – cowardly, sinister, designed to create fear in the moment and silence in the future – is the sort that simultaneously demonstrates its terror of words and its desire to obliterate them. In South Africa, our freedom of speech and movement is a fundamental right. Our Constitution insists on them. It is the same Constitution that protects the rights of those uncomfortable with or offended by Rushdie’s work.

The question of freedom of expression, of speech, has occupied South African writers for decades and is one that has changed shape over the years as we’ve moved from repression to democracy and into the troubling era of the “secrecy Bill”. As South Africans, as writers, we have not always experienced freedom but we have always known what we were fighting for, sometimes at a fatal cost.

We have always known that freedom of expression is, at its deepest, most profound level, the right to speak without fear. It is the knowledge that sharing an opinion with the public should at best be met with passionate engagement, at worst with disinterested dismissal. It is, in its simplest form, the right to speak. It is also the right to listen and to be heard.

There is no glory to be had in attacking an unarmed woman alone. There is nothing heroic about attempting to intimidate people into silence. This was an unconscionable and shameful act. Above all, it was criminal.

As writers, as South Africans, we wish to make this plain: we will not be silenced and intimidated by brutish thuggery. We stand in solidarity with Dala. She is one of us, and in the tradition of our country’s resistance and resilience, we say clearly and unanimously that an injury to one is an injury to all.

PEN South Africa, the local chapter of PEN International, a worldwide association of writers; Njabulo Ndebele, Nadia Davids, NoViolet Bulawayo, Rustum Kozain, Mandla Langa, Margie Orford, Phillippa Yaa de Villiers, Imraan Coovadia, Gabeba Baderoon, Fourie Botha, Imran Garda, Kirsten Miller, Thando Mgqolozana, Ben Williams, Tshifhiwa Given Mukwevho, Dilman Dila, Siphiwo Mahala, Fiona Snyckers Helen Moffett, Nthikeng Mohlele, Percy Zvomuya, Jacob Dlamini, Zakes Mda, Ivan Vladislavic, Elinor Sisulu, Rachel Zadok.

For more information click here.

We stand in solidarity with Dala.

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

Hit in the face with a brick

Mar 24th, 2015 10:01 am | By

A South African author was hit in the face with a brick last week for daring to say she likes the writing style of Salman Rushdie. The Hindustan Times reports:

An Indian-origin author in South Africa was brutally assaulted and verbally abused after she praised controversial writer Salman Rushdie whose work has angered Muslims around the world.

No. That bad phrasing again. Some theocratic Muslims decided to make an issue of one of Salman Rushdie’s novels, and worked up other Muslims to join in. His work did not just straightforwardly “anger Muslims around the world.”

Zainub Priya Dala was hit in the face with a brick last week after she praised Rushdie’s writing at a school in Durban, a city on the country’s east coast.

Dala had been due to launch her novel What About Meera in the city on Saturday, which was ironically Human Rights Day in South Africa, but had to postpone it after being injured.

That is ironic, isn’t it.

The allegation is that three men forced her car off the road as she was leaving the festival.

When she stopped her vehicle, two of the men came to the car, one allegedly putting a knife to her throat while the other struck her in the face with a brick as he verbally abused her.

Dala said she believed the attack occurred as a result of a comment she made during a writing forum for schools earlier in the week, when she and two other authors were asked to comment on their favourite authors.

She replied that she liked the styles of Rushdie and Indian author Arundhati Roy, which led to a number of teachers and students attending the workshop walking out in protest.

Godalmighty how squalid.

Steve Connolly, managing director of Random House and her publisher, said: “We condemn completely the brutish attack on author ZP Dala.” “Have we reached such a state of intolerance that we cannot listen to one writer profess admiration for another without wanting to attack her with a brick and a knife?

“It is ironic that at a time when the communities of Durban are welcoming writers, some elements are attacking those writers who hold different views. We must not let this shameful and violent bigotry prevail,” Connolly said.

Men, this is. Using a knife and a brick. Three men with weapons attacking one woman with no weapons – because she uttered an opinion about literary style. The squalor is unfathomable in every sense.

Thanks to Kausik for telling me about it.

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

You don’t say?

Mar 24th, 2015 9:21 am | By

There’s a program at Duke, the You Don’t Say? campaign, in which student athletes say why it’s not cool to use a particular slur.

One sample:

You Don’t Say? Campaign

I had to look through a lot of them to find it, but there is one for “cunt.”


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

We’re not doing too badly

Mar 23rd, 2015 5:36 pm | By

Humphrey and the boys agree that in principle they’re all in favor. Oh yes certainly. We’re all thoroughly in favor of equal rights for the ladies.

As Sir Humphrey says…

And speaking as an ardent feminist myself -


H/t Cassidy McJones

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

Mustn’t be greedy

Mar 23rd, 2015 5:09 pm | By

Via Musawahin India the Supreme Court ruled against polygamy.

In a historic decision last month, the Supreme Court denied a Muslim man the right to have more than one wife and upheld his termination from employment for committing bigamy. The court observed that polygamy was not integral to Islam and the practice was not mandated by religion simply because it was permitted. Similarly, in 2005, the SC had boldly acknowledged that, despite codification and the introduction of monogamy, too many Hindu marriages, like Muslim marriages, continue to be bigamous. This latest SC decision is in line with the reform of Muslim personal law that it initiated three decades ago in the Shah Bano case.

In a catena of cases, the SC has held that the freedom of religion protects only those practices that constitute an “essential and integral part of religion”. Therefore, Muslim personal law can claim the protection of Article 25 only if it is established that marriage, inheritance and the other areas it covers are “essential and integral parts” of Islam. The bench was of the view that a Muslim [man] who wants to take more than one wife is engaged in neither professing and practising nor promoting and propagating his religion. Thus the SC rightly upheld service rules that mandated that an [male] employee can have only one wife. There is substance in the argument that though the basic source of Muslim law is the Quran and the traditions of the Prophet, the relations it regulates are not religious. They are, on the contrary, social relations well within the province of the state. Therefore, Muslim polygamy has no religious motivation.

That’s an interesting distinction. I think it’s a good one, but it’s one that I think judges in the US would shy away from making…because it would entangle them in theological judgments that aren’t their province. That tends to mean that religious people have a lot of latitude to claim that this thing they want to do is a core religious belief. We’ve seen how that plays out.

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

River day

Mar 23rd, 2015 4:51 pm | By

More river graphics.

The Missouri has such an eccentric course. Poor Lewis and Clark, thinking it was just going to flow tidily west into the Pacific and be a super-useful transportation route.

Missouri river basin (Wikimedia Commons)

Missouri river basin (Wikimedia Commons)

West! North! West! North north north north! Westnorthwestnorthwest west west west SOUTH!

And then it breaks into three smaller ones and the Pacific is still way over on the other side of a lot of mountains.

And then look at the comparative volumes. I had NO idea the Ohio was 20 times the size of the other two.


H/t Alex

The Mississippi is really the Ohio. Who knew??

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


Mar 23rd, 2015 4:20 pm | By

I got curious, for some reason I don’t remember, about what causes one river to flow into another, so I did some Google-work and found a big ol’ source on rivers in Virginia. I love this one graphic:

Virginia rivers

(Source: USGS National Atlas)

Rivers rivers everywhere!

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

The greatest threats to women, in his view

Mar 23rd, 2015 1:22 pm | By

Here’s the thing. If you have a conspicuous history of complaining about “American women” objecting to what you consider trivial problems like sexual harassment, it’s silly for you to insist that you’re an “ardent feminist.” You can’t do both, as the saying goes. You can take constant potshots at feminism, or you can be an ardent feminist, but you can’t do both. You can claim you’re an ardent feminist while taking constant potshots at feminism, but it won’t be an honest claim.

Just last November – such a short time ago – Kimberly Winston made clear what a yawning gap there is between the claims to be a passionate feminist and the reality.

Bottom line: He stands by everything he has said — including comments that one form of rape or pedophilia is “worse” than another, and that a drunken woman who is raped might be responsible for her fate.

“I don’t take back anything that I’ve said,” Dawkins said from a shady spot in the leafy backyard of one of his Bay Area supporters. “I would not say it again, however, because I am now accustomed to being misunderstood…”

It isn’t misunderstanding.

Dawkins, however, disagrees. He is, he said, not a misogynist, as some critics have called him, but “a passionate feminist.” The greatest threats to women, in his view, are Islamism and jihadism — and his concern over that sometimes leads him to speak off-the-cuff.

“I concentrate my attention on that menace and I confess I occasionally get a little impatient with American women who complain of being inappropriately touched by the water cooler or invited for coffee or something which I think is, by comparison, relatively trivial,” he said.

That right there – that’s what rules out being a passionate or ardent feminist. A man who “gets impatient” with women mildly objecting to unwanted sexual invitations is not an ardent feminist, however convinced he is that he fits the description, and however often he tweets that he is he is he IS.

“And so I occasionally wax a little sarcastic, and I when I have done that, I then have subsequently discovered some truly horrific things, which is that some of the women who were the butt of my sarcasm then became the butt of really horrible or serious threats, which is totally disgusting and I know how horrible that is and that, of course, I absolutely abominate and absolutely repudiate and abhor.”

Years too late.

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

El Rhazoui’s “relative position of power”

Mar 23rd, 2015 12:47 pm | By

Shulevitz ends that op-ed with a story that needs separate treatment, because it’s a whole other issue, and one I have very strong feelings about.

A few weeks ago, Zineb El Rhazoui, a journalist at Charlie Hebdo, spoke at the University of Chicago, protected by the security guards she has traveled with since supporters of the Islamic State issued death threats against her. During the question-and-answer period, a Muslim student stood up to object to the newspaper’s apparent disrespect for Muslims and to express her dislike of the phrase “I am Charlie.”

Ms. El Rhazoui replied, somewhat irritably, “Being Charlie Hebdo means to die because of a drawing,” and not everyone has the guts to do that (although she didn’t use the word guts). She lives under constant threat, Ms. El Rhazoui said. The student answered that she felt threatened, too.

A few days later, a guest editorialist in the student newspaper took Ms. El Rhazoui to task. She had failed to ensure “that others felt safe enough to express dissenting opinions.” Ms. El Rhazoui’s “relative position of power,” the writer continued, had granted her a “free pass to make condescending attacks on a member of the university.” In a letter to the editor, the president and the vice president of the University of Chicago French Club, which had sponsored the talk, shot back, saying, “El Rhazoui is an immigrant, a woman, Arab, a human-rights activist who has known exile, and a journalist living in very real fear of death. She was invited to speak precisely because her right to do so is, quite literally, under threat.”

The response of the student in the audience makes me want to punch a wall. She does not “feel threatened, too” – not in the sense that Zineb El Rhazoui does. A number of El Rhazoui’s colleagues and friends were murdered just a few weeks ago, and allies of the murderers have made death threats against her on social media. Zineb El Rhazoui is an ex-Muslim, an apostate, an unbeliever – when she says she lives under constant threat she doesn’t mean people disputing her ideas, she means people who would be happy to shoot her with machine guns.

Those students don’t know they’re born.

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

And a video of frolicking puppies

Mar 23rd, 2015 12:01 pm | By

I saw an oped by Judith Shulevitz being passed around by a lot of AntiSocialJusticeWarriors yesterday, so I’m reading it. It’s about safe spaces and avoiding scary ideas and all that – a familiar enough subject.

If her account is accurate there is some very silly stuff out there, but it’s not clear whether it’s just some patches of eccentricity or a pervasive trend. Still…let’s look at a patch or trend, whichever it is. There was a debate on rape culture at Brown University, for instance.

Meanwhile, student volunteers put up posters advertising that a “safe space” would be available for anyone who found the debate too upsetting.

The safe space, Ms. Byron explained, was intended to give people who might find comments “troubling” or “triggering,” a place to recuperate. The room was equipped with cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies, as well as students and staff members trained to deal with trauma.

What? What? These are college students, not toddlers. Bubbles? Play-Doh? Blankets? PUPPIES?

Keep in mind this is presumably provided mostly for female students. Is it not just a tad problematic to infantilize women in that way? It certainly seems problematic to me. If Shulevitz is not exaggerating, that “safe space” seems more like a grotesque insult.

But other examples are more dubious. There was that all-boy debate about rape for example.

At Oxford University’s Christ Church college in November, the college censors (a “censor” being more or less the Oxford equivalent of an undergraduate dean) canceled a debate on abortion after campus feminists threatened to disrupt it because both would-be debaters were men. “I’m relieved the censors have made this decision,” said the treasurer of Christ Church’s student union, who had pressed for the cancellation. “It clearly makes the most sense for the safety — both physical and mental — of the students who live and work in Christ Church.”

That’s at the very least a selective way to report on that incident. I don’t think it was mostly talked about in terms of “safety.” I don’t think the debate should have been canceled once it was scheduled, because bad precedent blah blah, but I do think it was a crappy idea in the first place, and not for reasons of “safety.”

But then there’s the Kaminer one.

Last fall, the president of Smith College, Kathleen McCartney, apologized for causing students and faculty to be “hurt” when she failed to object to a racial epithet uttered by a fellow panel member at an alumnae event in New York. The offender was the free-speech advocate Wendy Kaminer, who had been arguing against the use of the euphemism “the n-word” when teaching American history or “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” In the uproar that followed, the Student Government Association wrote a letter declaring that “if Smith is unsafe for one student, it is unsafe for all students.”

“It’s amazing to me that they can’t distinguish between racist speech and speech about racist speech, between racism and discussions of racism,” Ms. Kaminer said in an email.

I agree with Kaminer. It’s use v attribution. Yes the full word should be used (that is, attributed) in such discussions. I never say “the c-word” when I’m talking about the use of “cunt” as an epithet for women. The reasons to object to hate-mongering epithets have nothing to do with squeamishness, so yes, skip the euphemisms.

Shulevitz says it’s a small patch but then goes back to treating it as a trend.

Only a few of the students want stronger anti-hate-speech codes. Mostly they ask for things like mandatory training sessions and stricter enforcement of existing rules. Still, it’s disconcerting to see students clamor for a kind of intrusive supervision that would have outraged students a few generations ago. But those were hardier souls. Now students’ needs are anticipated by a small army of service professionals — mental health counselors, student-life deans and the like.

Maybe, or maybe it’s just one of those seat-of-the-pants things, one of those patterns we detect without really having any idea how pervasive they are or aren’t.

Universities are in a double bind. They’re required by two civil-rights statutes, Title VII and Title IX, to ensure that their campuses don’t create a “hostile environment” for women and other groups subject to harassment. However, universities are not supposed to go too far in suppressing free speech, either. If a university cancels a talk or punishes a professor and a lawsuit ensues, history suggests that the university will lose. But if officials don’t censure or don’t prevent speech that may inflict psychological damage on a member of a protected class, they risk fostering a hostile environment and prompting an investigation. As a result, students who say they feel unsafe are more likely to be heard than students who demand censorship on other grounds.

The theory that vulnerable students should be guaranteed psychological security has roots in a body of legal thought elaborated in the 1980s and 1990s and still read today. Feminist and anti-racist legal scholars argued that the First Amendment should not safeguard language that inflicted emotional injury through racist or sexist stigmatization.

She neglects to mention the issue of stereotype threat, and how the whole “hostile environment” thing feeds into that. It’s tricky, probably insolubly tricky, but there is an issue. People who face constant belittlement from birth to death don’t just rise above that. It would be nice to think they do, but they don’t. You can tell them to try harder, but the trouble is, the trying harder is the threat. The effort expended in trying harder is effort taken away from doing the actual task, so that is a handicap. That’s a reason to try to do away with hostile environments that really has nothing to do with Play-Doh or fluffy feefees.

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

She was accused

Mar 23rd, 2015 11:12 am | By

In Kabul last week:

An Afghan woman who was lynched after being falsely accused of burning the Koran was killed for tackling superstitious practices, witnesses say.

Farkhunda, who was beaten to death by a Kabul mob last week, had been arguing with a mullah about his practice of selling charms to women at a shrine.

In the course of the argument she was accused of burning the Koran and a crowd overheard and beat her to death.

Some people murdered a woman over a single copy of a particular book. She wouldn’t have burned “the Koran,” by the way, even if she’d done it, which she didn’t. She would at most have burned a Koran. It’s not a scarce book.

Farkhunda, 28, was beaten, hit by bats, stamped on, driven over, and her body dragged by a car before being set on fire.

A policeman who witnessed the incident on Thursday told AP news agency that Farkhunda was arguing with a local mullah. Her father said she had complained about women being encouraged to waste money on the amulets peddled by the mullahs at the shrine.

“Based on their lies, people decided Farkhunda was not a Muslim and beat her to death,” Mohammed Nadir told AP.

That’s not a reason to beat someone to death. That’s not even a reason to rebuke someone, let alone commit any kind of violence against her.

Shukria, a woman visiting the shrine on Monday, told the BBC that the attack was “not just an attack on Farkhunda, but on all Afghan women. They have killed us all”.

Demonstrators have called for justice and planted a commemorative tree.

The New York Times said she was mentally ill in its March 20 story, but the BBC says

Initial claims that the woman was mentally ill have been contradicted by both a relative and a neighbour, who said she was training to be a teacher.

So that’s one more teacher Afghanistan doesn’t have.

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