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.


Oct 22nd, 2014 11:23 am | By

There’s been an attack inside the Parliament building in Ottawa, the CBC reports.

Parliament Hill came under attack today after a man with a rifle shot a soldier standing guard at the National War Memorial in downtown Ottawa,before seizing a car and driving to the doors of Parliament Hill’s Centre Block nearby.

MPs and other witnesses reported several shots fired inside Parliament, and a gunman has been confirmed dead inside the building, shot by the House of Commons Sergeant-at-Arms, according to MPs’ eyewitness accounts.

There’s perhaps another shooter at large in downtown Ottawa.

Ottawa police confirmed shots were also fired in three locations: the war memorial, inside Centre Block and near the Rideau Centre east of Parliament Hill, although earlier reports of shots inside the shopping mall have been denied by police. The downtown area remains in police lockdown.

Yikes. I’ve been there. I have friends in Ottawa.

The soldier shot at the War Memorial has died.

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

Serial acid attacks in Isfahan

Oct 22nd, 2014 10:59 am | By

Kaveh Mousavi alerted me to a news item that he discusses at Margin of Error:

It’s always good to see good news after a week of horrifying news. Last week we saw serial acid attacks against four women in the Iranian province of Isfahan. Today people have poured into streets in both Tehran and Isfahan to protest these heinous crimes.

I’m not sure I think that quite amounts to good news.* There are some kinds of good news that are so dependent on previous terrible news that it’s hard to see them as really good. “People protest the random torture of women” – well good, but better if people just didn’t randomly torture women.

Still. I know what he means, of course, and I point out that kind of “good news” all the time.

Via Al-Monitor:

Four individuals have been arrested in connection with a number of gruesome acid attacks on women that shocked and terrified the residents of Esfahan. [...] The first incident was reported Oct. 16. Men on motorcycles allegedly attacked women in their cars. Rumors immediately began to circulate that religious vigilante groups were targeting women with improper hijab. But as the acid attacks, which left the faces of their victims disfigured, increased, some Iranian media outlets reported that some of the victims were from religious families and were not improperly covered.

So for real just throwing acid on women because they are women. Yeah. Sometimes I wish we could have a complete species-overhaul.

Today Iranians took to the streets to protests. These photos are taken by the readers of BBC Persian and submitted to that website:



Their report doesn’t indicate how many people were there, but since Iran’s climate is very sensitive these days, the very fact that these protests were allowed to happen with no resistance from the regime is enough cause for celebration.

Well…maybe not quite celebration.

*Edited to add: Kaveh clarified that he meant that the fact that the demonstration was allowed to happen was the good news. Now there’s a bit of privilege-blindness for you – because I’m not up close and personal with life in a theocracy, I totally failed to think of that. [slaps self upside head]

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

Terms and conditions

Oct 22nd, 2014 10:51 am | By

Dawn reports that Chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) Maulana Mohammad Khan Sheerani has said a Muslim woman cannot object to the second or subsequent marriages of her husband.

Presiding over a meeting of the council here on Tuesday, he said a woman could not demand divorce if her husband married a second, third or fourth time.

He said Islam had given the women the right to separate from her husband, but another marriage could not be a valid ground for doing so.

So a married woman gets no choice and no say how she lives her life. If her husband decides there will be one or two or three more women living with them, she doesn’t get to say no and she doesn’t get to leave. She also, of course, doesn’t get to tell her husband there will be one or two or three more men living with them.

On March 10 this year, the council noted that the laws regarding second marriage by a man in the presence of the first wife were against Sharia.

“Sharia allows men to have more than one wife and we demanded the government to amend the relevant laws where a person has to seek prior permission from the existing wife / wives,” the CII chief had said in the meeting.

And this is Pakistan in 2014, so the government probably isn’t going to feel comfortable saying no.

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

Its necessary end?

Oct 22nd, 2014 9:56 am | By

Jessica Valenti is more optimistic than I am. She says GamerGate is the last gasp of the angry white guys. I wish.

As the cultural relevance of angry white men on the internet withers away and ends, their last words – muttered angrily at an empty room – will surely be“Gamer … gate”.

The recent uproar – said to be over ethics in journalism but focused mostly on targeting outspoken women who aren’t journalists at all – is just the last, desperate gasp of misogynists facing an unwelcoming future. But this particular bitter end, while long overdue, is loud, angry and extremely dangerous.

I wonder what gives her the idea that this is the last gasp and the bitter end. Why would it be? We’re not going to shut up, and Twitter and Facebook aren’t changing their rules and practices, and laws against campaigns of harassment don’t exist, so why would it be the last of anything? It’s a pleasant thought, but it’s nonsense.

Maybe that was just a rhetorical flourish and she didn’t notice that it’s not true, because she argues the opposite in the following paragraphs.

…despite assurances from Gamergate supporters that they have no problem with women, their de facto leaders are being outed as violent misogynists. (Sample tweets: “Fat/ugly women seek out dominant men to abuse them” and “Date rape doesn’t exist”.)

It’s tempting to believe that this online row – a toxic combination of misinformation, anger and anxious masculinity – is just about one specific technology industry’s subculture, or that it will blow over. But by labeling Gamergate a “gaming problem” and attaching a hashtag to it, we’re putting unnecessary boundaries around a broader but nebulous issue: threats and harassment are increasingly how straight white men deal with a world that no longer revolves exclusively around them.

Quite so, and they’re not about to stop.

When I spoke to her by phone in San Francisco on Sunday night, Sarkeesian saidGamergate is “absolutely” an issue that goes beyond gaming:

The harassment is becoming more intense towards women and other marginalized communities, and it seems to be happening more to women in male-dominated fields, and to women who speak out or make critiques.

Sarkeesian told me that the backlash in gaming – hardly a new problem – has gotten more vicious as the conversations about women’s representations in games and their role in the industry have gained steam. “This reaction, mostly from male gamers, is to protect the status quo,” she said. The same is true more broadly, and always has been when it comes to women’s progress: the more ground we gain, the worse men react.

So this isn’t a last gasp at all; it’s probably much closer to a first gasp than to a last one.

That’s why right now is such a dangerous time for women: we’re in the midst of an unprecedented feminist moment that not all men are pleased about. Sexual consent is being radically reframed, but feminists are accused of trying to classify all men as rapists. Television and movies created by women are at an all-time high (though still nowhere near parity), but they’re derided as“peak vagina”. And while institutional coverups of violence against women – be it rape on college campuses, domestic violence in the National Football League or the international news mediaat large – are no longer publicly tolerated, women are still being blamed for their own assaults.

I’m a lot older than Valenti, so I don’t see any of this as unprecedented or new. It’s the same as it’s been all my adult life: feminism versus the more or less enraged opposition to it.

It would be easy to assume that the current online backlash that many women face from Gamergaters and beyond is simply the domain of a handful of trolls and a few harmless kids. But we’ve seen the violence that sexist men can do when they don’t get what they want. And even after authorities found a 140-page misogynist manifesto from the California shooter who killed six people this year, women were cautioned against calling the crime one of sexism.

By Jaclyn Glenn, for one.

What excuse will we use after the next inevitable act of violence? That we didn’t see the horror coming? Angry men are plainly telling us to expect it.

Even if the threats being bandied about now don’t come to real-life fruition, their chilling effect is real – Sarkeesian noted that women are already “being threatened out of the industry and out of their homes”. These are not small things.

Gamergate enthusiasts will continue to argue that the vitriol against women is coincidental – and they will likely never acknowledge their fear of irrelevance and accountability. That’s to be expected. But as the grip of angry white men on our cultural conversation arrives at its necessary end, it’s up to the rest of us to make sure that, as change comes, we take the anger from those men far more seriously. Ignoring “trolls” doesn’t work when they show up with a gun.

Hmm, back to claiming the bullying is arriving at its end. I don’t see it. It would be nice, but I don’t see it.


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

Top 10 reasons to ban Rebecca from Bay Area Science Festival

Oct 21st, 2014 4:14 pm | By

Rebecca has a post giving 10 good reasons to ban her from the Bay Area Science Festival.

Two weeks ago, PZ Myers pointed out that Dr. Eliza Sutton of the University of Washington in Seattle was the source of a rumor that PZ had contracted gonnorhea at SkepchickCon last year. Sutton posts on blogs and social media as “Skeptickle” or “Skeptixx,” where she has been open about her profession as a doctor, and has also previously declared her own name.

Obviously, a medical doctor diagnosing hated enemies with an STD is a gross breach of medical ethics, which is why a link to PZ’s post was Tweeted from the Skepchick Twitter feed, which we use occasionally for quick links that aren’t worth full posts.

I found her behavior so abhorrent that I retweeted the @Skepchicks Tweet. Obviously, this inspired someone to start a petition begging the Bay Area Science Festival to ban me from hosting my comedy science panel quiz show Quiz-o-Tron, which happens this Saturday, October 25, at the Castro Theatre. Advance tickets are only $10!

Obviously. It was fine for Dr Sutton to start a story that PZ had contracted gonnorhea at SkepchickCon last year and terrible for Rebecca to share a tweet about it. That’s all terrifically clear.

So she lists and explains the ten reasons.


Devin Fabricius: I really don't care what this lady said or did. I do not want to know either. I am here to take a stand against these tactics alone. The ends never justify these means.

Devin isn’t really sure what’s going on, but he knows he doesn’t like it! And that’s why he will not be attending my comedy science quiz show with “Survivor” contestant Yau-Man Chan this Saturday.

Number 3 is especially cogent.


Bruno Vinogradoff

I assume Bruno is referring to SJW’s, a new social-justice themed chain restaurant currently opening in Target shopping centers across the country. Though I do not own this chain, I am excited about their menu items, like delicious cheese-stuffed FriendZonis. This is absolutely a great reason to have me barred from hosting Quiz-o-Tron, the world’s best comedy science quiz show on October 25 in San Francisco.

And 1 is, I think, conclusive.


Obo Agboghidi: It's shameful that anyone would do this, to suppress opposing views. This isn't how a civilized socoiety works. If Rebecca wants to attack Dr. Sutton work, then attack her work with better proof. Doxxing should not be tolerated.

Obo is absolutely correct. In retrospect, I should have taken the time to fully examine Dr. Sutton’s important work on e-diagnosing people she hates with gonorrhea. What were her methods? Did she get a blood sample from PZ or any of the Skepchick bloggers? Did she access our medical records? These are the questions I should have asked, instead of retweeting that tweet linking to that blog post that pointed out that she said those things. In order to make up for this oversight on my part, I hereby offer to engage Dr. Sutton in a debate over whether PZ Myers has gonorrhea. She may choose the time, the date, the format, and the moderator.

I’m available any time except for October 25, when I’ll be hosting Quiz-o-Tron at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco as part of Bay Area Science Festival.

If I were in San Francisco I would so go to that.

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

A more nuanced look at the issue

Oct 21st, 2014 2:34 pm | By

Via several thoughtful and informed comments.

By quixote:

Childhood leukemia is one of the big recent success stories of clinical medicine. The girl’s chances would definitely be better in the hospital. About 90% better.


I’m a biologist. I’ve worked with scientists all my adult life. We’re human. Which means we’re only one tiny smidgen less susceptible to the Old Boy Net than your average curmudgeon in the street. Which means scientists are just as capable of ignoring the obvious in favor of dogma as anyone else.

Just one example. Plants with some kind of pharmacological activity are on the order of 1% in the Amazon rainforest. For plants in native pharamcopoeias that rises to 30%. So when Merck spent millions of dollars inventorying the Amazon for potential new drugs they started with plants used in the local ethnomedicine, right? No, because those people wear feathers. They started with a brute force inventory because that seemed more “scientific.” (An ethnobotanist at NY Botanical Garden tried to show them the more useful path, but I don’t know how that worked out.)

In the good old days, aspirin in willow bark was used for fever by old wives. Real doctors at the time used leeches. The Europeans were ostracizing lepers when the tribes in the Burmese rainforest were using chaulmoogra to cure it. Etc., etc., etc.

I am NOT saying you’re wrong in this particular case. What I’m trying to say is that a less dogmatic (omg, skeptical?) approach would be better. Just because something does not come out of the medical establishment doesn’t mean it’s wrong. (Ack. I hope y’all can work your way through all those negatives.) Just because something comes out of aboriginal medicine doesn’t mean it’s wrong either. It’s the *evidence* that matters.

By MyaR:

‘Tradition’ and ‘culture’ trump knowledge and the value of human life.

Well, it’s what we’ve been doing to native and aboriginal peoples for centuries. Which also plays into this particular scenario — what reasons do they have to trust that the 90% is real? When they know their traditional medicine practitioners are part of their community and care about them, specifically, but the hospital medical staff don’t know them and don’t understand their culture. And there are plenty of cultural differences that don’t matter in terms of physical, emotional, mental well-being, but those have been (sometimes systematically) stomped on by OUR culture. That kind of systematic denigration skews your ability to assess evidence presented by a component of that very system.

BUT. These are arguments for treating families (whatever their cultural background) with sensitivity, finding a way to provide the information they need to make actual informed decisions, ensuring that staff have explicit training in how to treat people from non-dominant culture respectfully, providing reasonable accommodation for cultural practices, and, if necessary, bringing in child welfare authorities if it is deemed medically necessary for the child’s well-being. And no, culture shouldn’t trump life-saving medicine for children, and this justice made a terrible decision. (Adults can do as they wish, although hopefully with decent information.)

In short — I suspect the family, as people, were NOT treated respectfully, and I’m not talking about their beliefs. After all, they did start the chemo and did not immediately reject it.

Cultures and religions have no value when real human lives are at stake.

Well, no, but people (because what are cultures and religions without people?) do. And from a purely pragmatic perspective (i.e., trying to save the most lives) you have to take culture into account. When a child has a potentially fatal illness, the family if also part of the treatment, and we recognize this very well when the child is from the dominant culture. (I’ve been part of that family. The family’s beliefs and culture are often accommodated and integrated into the treatment as much as the staff can.)

My main point — treating people who make these incredibly bad decisions as if they’re just idiots is a PROBLEM. No one makes decisions for arbitrary reasons, and if you want to improve the way people analyze problems and consider their potential courses of action, you need to understand why they are making the decisions they are making. And when you’re talking about cultural practices, you have to take the cultural dynamics between the relevant cultures into consideration. I’m more interested in talking about why people may distrust what medical staff tell them than in condemning them for the decision they made.

I think we are all in agreement that the justice made a terrible decision, so what else is there to say? Quite a lot, if we want to find ways to stop these sorts of decisions from being made in the future.

Anthony K:

‘Tradition’ and ‘culture’ trump knowledge and the value of human life. And this horseshit is staggeringly common among people who THINK they’re ‘progressive.’


As someone who actually works with First Nations communities with health concerns, specifically cancer, it’s frustrating to deal with the resistance to what’s sometimes considered ‘white’ medicine and knowledge. Especially so because I’m government, and for reasons now completely lost to white history, First Nations people in Canada tend not to trust the government. Weird, I know. I mean, the last residential school in Canada closed in 1996. Ancient history.

Nonetheless, we’ve found strange resistance to barking numbers and rates at communities (and not just First Nations ones; lay people of all backgrounds, though they are perfectly capable of reading scientific literature, tend not to do so as often as might be helpful. Again, it’s mystifying.)

So the situation is unfortunately complex, and not really amenable, in my experience, with the new atheist/skeptic tendency to yell at everyone until they become scientifically literate.

What seems to have been successful, is lowering barriers to entry in medicine and related fields for First Nations people, so that they’re able to bridge some of those cultural gaps. And let them take the lead. For instance, there’s a semi-formal policy of guidance around aboriginal data even as it’s used for epidemiological purposes, called OCAP (ownership, control, access, and possession), which is often summarized as ‘Nothing about us, without us’, where ‘us’ refers to aboriginal Canadians. That concept is developed by aboriginal people, and we respect it. In turn, they’re happy to give us data.

Because the reality is that the relationship between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians is still fraught with tension, racism, suspicion, and distrust. That’s not solved by thrusting studies at people, nor by the backassward idea that paying credence to concepts of traditional knowledge (credence not being the same as complete deference) used by historically and currently oppressed people to empower themselves and their communities is ‘infantilizing’.

So I know, I’m one of those FAKE PROGRESSIVES john the drunkard likes to rail against, but I this stuff is part of my job, and I know what seems to work, and I know what sure as hell hasn’t.


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

Amy Goodman talks to Anita Sarkeesian

Oct 21st, 2014 10:59 am | By

Democracy Now did a segment on Anita Sarkeesian and #GamerGate yesterday.

Anita Sarkeesian, a prominent feminist critic of video games, was forced to cancel a speech at Utah State University last week after the school received an email threatening to carry out “the deadliest shooting in American history” at the event. The email sender wrote: “feminists have ruined my life and I will have my revenge.” The sender used the moniker Marc Lepine, the name of a man who killed 14 women, most of them female engineering students, in a mass shooting in Montreal in 1989. Sarkeesian canceled the talk after being told that under Utah law, campus police could not prevent people from bringing guns. We speak to Sarkeesian about the incident, the “Gamergate” controversy, and her campaign to expose misogyny, sexism and violence against female characters in video games despite repeated physical threats. “Online harassment, especially gendered online harassment, is an epidemic,” Sarkeesian says. “Women are being driven out, they’re being driven offline; this isn’t just in gaming, this is happening across the board online, especially with women who participate in or work in male-dominated industries.”

Sadly, or pathetically, the comments have filled up with the familiar misogynist dreck.


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

Just because they have a degree, that makes them more knowledgeable?

Oct 21st, 2014 10:25 am | By

From the National Post:

For Laurie Hill, resident of Canada’s largest aboriginal community, it’s just wrong to suggest that modern medicine is the only way to treat cancer and other serious diseases.

She stands firmly behind the Six Nations neighbours who took their 11-year-old daughter with leukemia out of chemotherapy, and are treating her with traditional, but unproven, native methods and other alternative health-care instead.

“Unproven” is a bit of a euphemism. Surely it’s more a matter of having abundant reasons to think traditional methods and alternative health-care aren’t effective against leukemia.

“There’s a fear of [aboriginal remedies] or denial of it. If things can’t be quantified or qualified, to them it’s irrelevant,” said Ms. Hill, as she shopped at Ancestral Voices Healing Centre Thursday. “Who are they [doctors] to say she will make it with their treatments. Just because they have a degree, that makes them more knowledgeable?”

Well…yes, probably. On this particular subject, if they have the relevant degree, then yes, that does – other things being equal – make them more knowledgeable. It’s possible that Laurie Hill’s neighbors are equally knowledgeable thanks to self-education, but it’s not terribly likely. For one thing, few people want to go to all the trouble of getting a medical education if they’re not going to get a degree.

Also, I bet the doctors aren’t saying she will make it with their treatments; I bet they’re saying her chances of making it are much better with their treatments than without them. And who they are to say that is people who know something about the stats.

As an extraordinary court case in nearby Brantford moved toward an end, a lawyer for McMaster Children’s Hospital argued that child-welfare authorities should have used their power to require the young woman to stay in treatment. With chemo, childhood leukemia now has a survival rate in the range of 90%, and remains a likely death sentence without it, experts say.

But Justice Gethin Edward of the Ontario Court of Justice suggested physicians essentially want to “impose our world view on First Nation culture.” The idea of a cancer treatment being judged on the basis of statistics that quantify patients’ five-year survival rate is “completely foreign” to aboriginal ways, he said.

Oh please. That’s insulting. It assumes that people can’t learn anything new.

“Even if we say there is not one child who has been cured of acute lymphoblastic leukemia by traditional methods, is that a reason to invoke child protection?” asked Justice Edward, noting that the girl’s mother believes she is doing what is best for her daughter.

Yes, yes it is. Of course it is. You know what else is? We can say there is not one child who has survived being locked in a basement with no water or food for a month, and that that is indeed a reason to invoke child protection if a child is being held in a basement with no water or food. If a child has meningitis and the parents want to pray over her instead of taking her to a hospital, that is a reason to invoke child protection. Yes.

“Are we to second guess her and say ‘You know what, we don’t care?’ … Maybe First Nations culture doesn’t require every child to be treated with chemotherapy and to survive for that culture to have value.”


The judge said the culture will still have value, so let the child die.


There is also an issue of medical consent, but the child is 11, and if her parents have been telling her the traditional “treatments” are just as good, she’s probably not in a position to make an informed decision.

Back at Six Nations, meanwhile, Ancestral Voices employee Hayley Doxtater said aboriginal remedies are becoming increasingly popular. She pointed to a cancer treatment — a collection of herbs including slippery elm and turkey rhubarb root ­ — that she said one customer has repeatedly traveled an hour from Toronto to buy for a sick friend.

“We have people come in here who are so happy that something works,” she said. “They’ll say ‘That stuff is amazing.’ “

Ah, the one hour drive evidence that the treatment is effective.


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

Very far away

Oct 21st, 2014 9:42 am | By

People at schools in various parts of the US are freaking out about Ebola because of a very flawed knowledge of geography, basic geography, as in, Africa is bigger than Rhode Island.

For instance, at a school in New Burlington, New Jersey, two Rwandan students are staying at home due to other parents’ fear that they will infect other children with Ebola. Rwanda is as close to the Ebola outbreak as New York City is to Seattle.

In Hazlehurst, Mississippi, a school principal’s recent visit to Zambia has led to a lot of parents choosing to keep their kids at home. But Zambia is in Southern Africa, over 3,000 miles away from the Ebola outbreak — the same distance between New Hampshire and Los Angeles.

I think people think distance shrinks internal distances – not from the perspective of the beholder, but literally. Africa is Far from Here so therefore it’s just a small thing like a magazine cover so therefore the virus can hop from one side to the other without even trying hard.

But in reality, Africa is a very big continent.

Africa is the world’s second largest continent. But it’s not unusual for Americans to classify it as a single entity, ignoring the many cultural, economic and geographic differences between its 47 countries. If three countries in Africa are going through an Ebola epidemic, the other 44 must be too, right?

Yeah, see, that’s what I mean. We don’t know much about it so we shrink it in our heads.

Wikimedia Commons


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

Sommers v “hardline feminism”

Oct 20th, 2014 5:22 pm | By

More provocations by former philosopher Christina Hoff Sommers. She obviously does them to provoke, because she knows it teases, so I’m being very kind and generous to her by calling attention to them. Or, if you prefer, I’m taking her bait like a damn fool. Whichever. But I just keep being fascinated by the trashiness of it all.

There are two sides, she says.

Christina H. Sommers @CHSommers · 21 minutes ago
Why is Wash Post taking sides rather than offering readers honest account of both sides of #Gamergate? @caitlindewey …

Feminism is dangerous.

Little evidence that video games cause harm. But overexposure to hardline feminism appears to cause personal & social harm. Studies needed.

Nanananana, feminism is a big poopyhead.

It’s an odd way for an intelligent woman to make a living, relentlessly attacking feminism. Lots of women have done it in the past, but it seems odd nevertheless.

Jessica Valenti wrote about that glorious history last July.

As for all those rights won by so many feminists on behalf of so many more American women, the sad truth is that they fought other women every step of the way. Indeed, we live in a country with a long history of anti-feminist women: Before we had women like Christina Hoff Sommers and Katie Roiphe arguing that feminism was hurting men and that date rape wasn’t real, respectively, women were leaders in in the anti-suffrage movement of the early 1900s. And it was a woman - Phyllis Schlafly – who led the charge against the Equal Rights Amendment in the ’70s. Schreiber points out that some of the debates against the ERA were about “masculinity run amok”: “Phyllis Schlafly said if we were are treated as equals, then men will shirk their responsibilities,” she notes.

Remind me: Who are the man-haters again?

Between the last presidential election and the next one, between the feminist social media explosion and even Beyoncé coming out in our corner, right now is one of the most exciting times for feminism in decades. Yet here we have female anti-feminists – emboldened by Sarah Palin’s faux-feminist movement – raining on our progress parade. And it is especially irritating given that they’re using their gender as part of their organizing strategy. “It’s an identity politics angle that they criticize but often invoke,” Schreiber says.

Women stopping the progress of other women – especially those who don’t have the power and prestige to work for DC think-tanks or pen anti-feminist books – stings much more than when men do it.

Irritates, rather than stings – but maybe that’s just me.

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

Pioneering work

Oct 20th, 2014 4:02 pm | By

Here is Efua Dorkenoo’s page at Equality Now.

Efua Dorkenoo

Efua Dorkenoo became the Senior Advisor to Equality Now on the issue of female genital mutilation (FGM) in February 2014, after having served as the Advocacy Director, FGM programme in Equality Now’s London office. She is also a trained  bio-social scientist in public health and an honorary Senior Research Fellow at the School of Health Sciences at City University, London. Starting in the early 1980s, her pioneering work on FGM has contributed to the international recognition of FGM as a public health and a human rights issue. From 1995-2001, she worked as the WHO’s first technical expert at their Geneva headquarters and assisted the organization in introducing FGM onto the agendas of the Ministries of Health of WHO Member States. Ms. Dorkenoo was awarded the British State Honours – OBE (Order of the British Empire) by the British Queen in recognition of her work as the founder of the UK NGO FORWARD in 1983 and for her campaigning work against FGM. In 2000, along with Gloria Steinem, she received Equality Now’s international human rights award for her lifelong activism on the issue of women’s rights. Ms. Dorkenoo’s  book, Cutting the Rose: Female Genital Mutilation, The Practice and its Prevention (Minority Rights Publications 1994), was considered a first on FGM and was selected by an international jury for inclusion on the 2002 prestigious book list, “Africa 100 Best Books for the 20th Century.”

Someone to think of when we’re feeling pessimistic.

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

Efua Dorkenoo

Oct 20th, 2014 3:28 pm | By

Another big loss.

Efua Dorkenoo, widely seen as the mother of the global movement to end female genital mutilation, has died after undergoing treatment for cancer, her family have confirmed. She was 65. Dorkenoo – known affectionately to many as “mama Efua” – was a leading light in the movement to bring an end to FGM for more than 30 years, campaigning against the practice since the 1980s.

The girls’ and women’s rights campaigner saw the progression of the movement to end FGM go from a minority, often ignored, issue to a key policy priority for governments across the world. Proof of this arrived with the launch of The Girl Generation on October 10 – a major Africa-led campaign to tackle FGM across the globe, run by a consortium of charities and organisations and funded by the department for international development. Dorkenoo – the natural choice to lead the consortium, wrote simply on the day of its launch: “ Finally, The Girl Generation: Together to End FGM is here, and I hope you like it.” A week later she died in hospital.

Well I’m glad she lived long enough to know about the launch.

She was born in Ghana and moved to London when she was 19 and worked as a nurse.

Working with African women in the UK, she became aware of the health and mental complications that result from FGM and began campaigning against the practice with the human rights organisation Minority Rights Group.

She went on to gain a masters degree from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicineand was an honorary senior research fellow at the School of Health Sciences at City University, London.

In 1983 she co-founded FORWARD (The Foundation for Women’s Health, Research and Development), which became a leading organisation in the battle to raise awareness about FGM. The procedure, which still affects more than 125 million girls and women worldwide and is widely practised in 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East, was outlawed in the UK in 1985. She published a seminal text on FGM – Cutting the Rose: Female Genital Mutilation: The Practice and Prevention, in 1994.

Dorkenoo was instrumental in getting FGM on the agenda in ministries of health while working at the World Health Organisation from 1995-2001, and went on to become the advocacy director and then senior advisor on FGM at the human rights organisation Equality Now. She was awarded an OBE in recognition of her campaigning work against FGM.

She was an inspiration to young women.

Leyla Hussein, co-founder of Daughters of Evewith Ali, said the formation of an African-led movement against FGM was Dorkenoo’s lifelong dream and despite ill-health her last months were spent visiting everyone from politicians to village leaders across the world. “The Girl Generation was Efua’s baby and she had been trying to make it happen for 30 years,” she said. “Last week Efua gave birth to it, with every last breath she had she worked to make that happen. She was an incredible African female warrior and she never gave up.”

Yet another everyday hero.

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

Between a bad thing and another bad thing

Oct 20th, 2014 12:28 pm | By

Pragna Patel on the difficulty of human rights work between conservative views of economics and law on the one hand and religious fundamentalism on the other.

First, we are compelled to challenge the state for removing legal aid from a huge range of civil and criminal matters which impact not only on individual rights but also on our demands for institutional accountability in the face of abuses of power that seem to be growing rather than diminishing. The government’s ‘reforms’ on legal aid are strongly located in a fiscal context that reiterate some of the key overarching aims of the present government: localism, alternative dispute resolution strategies, deficit reduction and deregulation. Taken together these measures are destroying one of the great pillars of the welfare state.

They have forced SBS into leading or supporting legal and political challenges against various legal aid cuts.

This development is directly linked to the challenges that we face on the second front: increasing privatisation of justice and state adoption of a ‘faith based’ approach to address minority issues. This has meant amongst other things, challenging religious fundamentalists and ‘moderates’ alike who are using the vacuum created to influence and shape law and social policy by reference to a regressive religious identity that they have come to define.

That’s something I don’t think I’ve paid enough attention to – the fact that it’s just plain cheaper for the government to outsource dispute resolution to theocrats. Cheaper but worse, as cheaper so often is.

Muslim fundamentalists have mounted what can be described as a two pronged pincer like manoeuvre based ostensibly on the demand for religious tolerance, but which is in reality a bid for power in which the control of female sexuality is central. On the one hand they seek to ensure that personal religious codes are normalised within the legal system, and on the other they seek to formalise a parallel legal system through the establishment of alternative religious forums for dispute resolution in family matters. This process – a sort of ‘shariafication by stealth’ of the legal apparatus – involves making state law and policy ‘Sharia’ compliant. If successful, we have no doubt that it will lead other religions to demand the same level of accommodation.

She talks about examples we’re familiar with – gender segregation at UK universities and the Law Society’s guidance on “sharia-compliant” wills.

Support for parallel legal systems come not only from male religious leaderships and the state, but also alarmingly from within feminism itself. For instance, in feminist discussions on intersectional frameworks for understanding violence against women it has become fashionable to talk of the intersection of religion and gender, and to refer to the need to develop a feminist response that is sensitive to the growth of religious values, especially post 9/11 and the rise of anti-Muslim racism. This has amounted to support for the accommodation of religious legal codes. Yet few if any acknowledge the fact that wherever parallel legal systems operate they generally suppress dissent, and seek to remove women from public spaces metaphorically speaking and to impede their fundamental freedoms in the private sphere.

Oh shit, has it? If that’s intersectionalism, I say it’s spinach and I say the hell with it.

What we see at work here is clearly an attempt to impede the development of secular, progressive, political resistance by de-legitimising and locating our struggles for access to justice, outside of so called community, anti-racist and feminist concerns. These struggles are now taking place on many fronts as both religious right forces and the state mount an assault on secular human rights values in pursuit of power without accountability.

This article is an extended version of a presentation given by the author at theSecularism 2014 Conference held in London last weekend

That’s Maryam’s amazing conference.

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

Dr Stella Ameyo Adadevoh

Oct 20th, 2014 11:52 am | By

Tolu Ogunlesi reports on another everyday hero.

Last month, the Nigerian government released the 2014 National Honours award list: more than 300 people, many of them serving government officials, seemingly recognised simply because of the public office they hold, not for anything particularly honourable or heroic. An outcry followed, largely due to the absence of one name: Dr Stella Ameyo Adadevoh. A government spokesman was forced to explain that the awards are never given posthumously.

The public’s indignation was understandable: Adadevoh was the Nigerian doctor who oversaw the treatment of Patrick Sawyer, the Liberian national who brought the Ebola virus to Nigeria. She died of the virus on 19 August, one of eight fatalities out of 20 cases (each linked to Sawyer) in the country. Without her dedication, it is quite possible that the World Health Organisation would not have declared Nigeria – the most populous country in Africa – Ebola-free on Monday. The significance of her actions, and those of her hospital colleagues, cannot be overstated.

It’s heartbreaking.

In a fine tribute, Nigerian journalist Simon Kolawole explained and convincingly that Adadevoh was only doing her job as a medical professional. He wrote: “There were various options in front of her when she discovered Sawyer had Ebola: one, quietly say ‘e no concern me’ and discharge him quickly to avoid contaminating the hospital; two, refer him to [Lagos University Teaching hospital], not minding the bigger consequences for the rest of Nigeria; three, act responsibly in line with the ethics of the medical profession and ‘detain’ him because of the peculiarity of the disease.”

That this needed to be pointed out at all is perhaps testimony to how unused Nigeria has become to the idea of people doing their jobs as they should. It is precisely the reason Adadevoh needs to be honoured: as a reminder that heroism can be attained as much in everyday work clothes as it can in superhero capes.

We in the US need that kind of reminder too: that heroism can be attained as much in everyday work clothes as it can in football uniforms or banker suits or movie star glamor clothes.

Her name should become famous along with Malala’s.

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

His only crime is being a free voice

Oct 20th, 2014 11:31 am | By

Raif Badawy’s wife Ensaf Haidar writes about what Saudi Arabia is doing to her husband.

In May, his sentence was reduced to 10 years in prison, a fine of $100,000 and 1,000 lashes. He is to be lashed 50 times each Friday after prayers until it reaches 1,000 lashes.

Ra’if is not a criminal. He is not a murderer or a rapist. He is a blogger. That’s it. His only crime is being a free voice in a country that has no tolerance nor understanding for freedom.

He’s a blogger. I’m a blogger. I try to imagine being lashed 50 times to punish me for that. I try to imagine spending ten years in prison for that. I can’t.

Two years have passed since Ra’if was arrested and I still face a burning emptiness and a series of insomnia-inducing questions: When is he coming back? And in what state? Am I going to hug him? Kiss him? Will I cry?

These are our allies.

I arrived in Canada after escaping Saudi Arabia via Cairo and Beirut. We will settle here and attempt to have a normal life, but always await Ra’if’s return.

I am unable to thank every person who supported me and Ra’if. Amnesty International especially spared no effort to advocate for my husband’s release. I also must thank Ra’if, who taught me how to endure the impossible, stay strong and fight tirelessly to get him back.

Perhaps he won’t return soon, but I will get him back some day. He promised me that he would come back no matter what. Ra’if should be free, filling the world with happiness, love and his fighting spirit.

The government of Saudi Arabia is evil.


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

What counts as plagiarism?

Oct 20th, 2014 10:20 am | By

I’m not sure what to think about this.

There’s this C J Werleman guy, who has been accused of plagiarism. I’ve been seeing mutterings about it in passing for a few days, without following them up, because he’s not someone I’ve been aware of. But PZ has a post about the subject today and I read that, so then I read his source, which is Godless Spellchecker.


But he has done the unforgivable: serial plagiarism, and when caught out, has apologized, but simultaneously belittled the seriousness of the offense and blamed it on a campaign by our little neo-conservative atheist cabal of Harris and Boghossian.

I agree that they are wrong about so much else, but when they’re right, they’re right, galling as it is. This is a situation that requires much more reflection and far greater amends than Werleman has given it. He has also effectively written himself out of any of the debates, internal or external, about atheism.

Ok, but then when I read Godless Spellchecker’s examples, I had doubts. That’s because much journalism, in magazines and in books, does what Werleman seems to have done: draw on the work of other people without full citation.

The conventions in non-scholarly magazines and books just aren’t the same as the conventions in scholarly journals and books. It’s surprising and disconcerting, actually, to notice how loose they are, but they are in fact that loose.

The place I first recall noticing how different the conventions are is a long article by Claudia Roth Pierpont in The New Yorker, about Franz Boas. It was published in 2004 so that makes a lot of sense, because guess what I was doing in 2004: writing Why Truth Matters [with a co-author] for an academic publisher. I had naturally developed a heightened awareness of When You Need to Cite Your Source, so reading that obviously very researched article that was citation-free caused me to realize for the first time how radically different the conventions are. I puzzled over it. It felt very odd and wrong, to be using so much material without sourcing it, but at the same time I realized it was wholly conventional.

The fact that it’s conventional doesn’t make it right, and people who write books do chafe at the use sometimes made of their work without due credit. More than one person has objected to Christopher Hitchens’s habits in this area – his Mother Teresa book in particular was apparently heavily based on the work of other people, without proper citation.

But if it is conventional it probably doesn’t really qualify as plagiarism, right?

I’m honestly not sure. I have no stake, because as I mentioned, I’m not familiar with Werleman. I’m somewhat puzzled about the whole thing.

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

Also helped fuel the haters

Oct 19th, 2014 5:31 pm | By

Mother Jones has a big story on #GamerGate. As it goes on it tells me some things I didn’t know.

Sarkeesian noted recently that she has been “subjected to the worst harassment I’ve ever faced” as part of a convoluted conflict known as #Gamergate, which has been roiling the gaming industry since August. Playing out primarily on social media, #Gamergate centers around several women who work in the industry and have criticized its dominant macho culture and frequent sexualization of women. Their critique has met with intense harassment and bullying. The FBI is currently investigating the threats against Sarkeesian and others, according to Vice.

Note, again, how familiar that is – their critique has met with intense harassment and bullying. Our critique always is. It’s become normal and routine – greeting feminist criticism of macho culture and frequent sexualization of women with organized campaigns of intense harassment and bullying. It’s almost as if we’re just plain not allowed to say some things should change.

Most of the viciousness comes from anonymous trolls. However, a couple of particular players have helped inflame the situation:

Adam Baldwin, perhaps best known for portraying paranoid mercenary Jayne Cobb in Firefly and for voicing strident political views on social media, chimed in:

Someone else who has helped inflame the situation is, shamingly, the former academic Christina Hoff Sommers.

Milo Yiannopoulos, associate editor at, also helped fuel the haters with a blog post in which he declared “an army of sociopathic feminist programmers and campaigners, abetted by achingly politically correct American tech bloggers, are terrorising the entire community.”


Though #Gamergate first caught fire on 4chan, it exploded on more mainstream social media outlets such as Reddit and Twitter, which have been criticized for providing a platform for its worst elements. On Saturday, for example, developer Brianna Wu left her home after a Twitter user sent her a string of threats including a pledge to choke her to death with her husband’s penis. Though Twitter has suspended those accounts, critics argue it could do much more by, say, actively detecting hostile behavior, limiting fake accounts, and making it easier to block users. Twitter spokesman Nu Wexler referred Mother Jones to the company’s user rules banning targeted abuse. He declined to say how many accounts have been suspended in relation to #Gamergate or if any have been referred to law enforcement.

That’s insulting. The company’s “user rules banning targeted abuse” are a joke, because the company acts as if they’re not there. Targeted abuse is what many people use Twitter for. It’s full of targeted abuse; targeted abuse is the air it breathes. Spokesman Nu Wexler showing Mother Jones the rules is just a contemptuous evasion.

On Reddit, a group devoted to #Gamergate has more than 11,000 subscribers. Many of the comments in these threads are misogynistic, and Zoe Quinn has produced logs of Reddit chatrooms that show gamers planning to hack her personal accounts. Even so, Reddit’s moderators haven’t shut down its main #Gamergate page. (In contrast, a #Gamergate forum on Github has been disabledby the site’s staff.) “We received a number of contacts related to this issue,” Reddit spokeswoman Victoria Taylor wrote in response to questions from Mother Jones. “Anything that we found or that was reported to us that broke our rules was removed and the user banned.” But it seems that the fallout from #Gamergate hasn’t prompted much concern or soul searching at Reddit: “We do not plan on changing any site policies due to the occurrence of this event.”

Of course not. It’s just bullying of women; it doesn’t matter; nobody gives a shit.

Pushback on the nastiness from the world of gaming journalism has included comments from Stephen Totilo, the editor in chief of Kotaku (and #Gamergate’sjournalistic enemy No. 1), who published a piece criticizing the movement and its tactics:

“All of us at Kotaku condemn the sort of harassment that’s being carried out against critics, developers, journalists, and other members of the gaming community. If you’re someone who harasses people online, you’re not a part of the community we want to foster at Kotaku, and you’re actively hurting people and driving important voices away from the video game scene. Enough.”

But Christina Hoff Sommers is still cheering them on.

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

Not a good idea to irritate my buddy Gamer here

Oct 19th, 2014 4:40 pm | By

There’s further mainstream media coverage of #GamerGate, while Christina Hoff Sommers continues to tweet in support of the brave rebels.

Christina H. Sommers @CHSommers · 7 hours ago
Not a good idea to irritate hundreds of thousands of gamers. @Gawker #GamerGate Ht:@lizzyf620 …

Media has maligned & defamed millions of innocent gamers. Big mistake. You have awakened a sleeping giant. @Gawker #GamerGate

#Gamergate is not about misogyny.It’s a consumer rebellion against media bullies & shallow ideologies. & these r consumers who
like to win.

If you missed this Spike article, pease read it now! #Gamergate …

Gamers are one of the most diverse & welcoming groups I have ever known.But in the face of unfair attacks,they react.

Wrong.There are different kinds of giants.The video game community is gentle giant that uses polemics for weapons. Not howitzers. @MiahSaint

Here’s the GamerGate Manifesto (yes, there is one) and a translation of it by somewhat_brave on Reddit

Do you notice how very, very familiar it all is? How exactly it resembles what we’ve been seeing ad nauseam for the past 3.5 years?


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

Whimsy at the University of Sydney

Oct 19th, 2014 3:56 pm | By

Strange doings at the University of Sydney.

The University of Sydney has suspended Prof Barry Spurr over emails in which he called the prime minister, Tony Abbott, an “Abo lover”, Indigenous Australians “human rubbish tips” and Nelson Mandela as a “darky”.

Don’t tell me let me guess – he was using those insults “ironically” – right? He didn’t mean them literally, it was just a performance, a many-layered meta-joke. Right?

Spurr, a poetry expert, was a specialist consultant to the federal government’s national curriculum review looking at English from foundation to year 12.

The emails, first obtained by website New Matilda, have seriously damaged the review’s findings, with Labor calling them “tainted” and the Australian Education Union saying the review had been exposed as “an ideological waste of time from the start”.

In a series of emails over two years sent to senior academics and officials within the university, Spurr wrote that Abbott would have to be surgically separated from his “Siamese twin”, Australian of the Year and AFL star Adam Goodes, who is Aboriginal.

He said the university’s chancellor, Belinda Hutchinson, was an “appalling minx”,’ while other women were described as “whores”. He used terms such as “mussies” and “chinky-poos”.

Ironically. Obviously he’s far too sophisticated to use them non-ironically. Right?

The national curriculum review, released this month, largely accepted Spurr’s recommendations regarding the teaching of English. He had asserted in his report to the review that “the impact of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on literature in English in Australia has been minimal” and advised a greater emphasis on the western literary canon.

Spurr had not responded on Friday, but has said previously the emails were part of a “whimsical” game with another person to outdo each other in extreme statements and were not meant to be taken seriously.

Aha! – there it is. Toldja.

Spurr was a well-known conservative critic of the national curriculum before his appointment to review English. In 2010 he contributed to a critique published by the the libertarian think tank the Institute of Public Affairs.

In his chapter, Spurr was scathing about the curriculum proposed by the former Labor government. “An empty generosity is proposed, bloated with ramifying detail and long on windy rhetoric, an obesity of the mind: short on nourishing, intellectually-bracing substance. It is the educational equivalent of fast food.”

Spurr’s expert advice to the national curriculum was influential, with most of his recommendations accepted in the final report. He criticised the emphasis on Aboriginal texts, saying the “the impact of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on literature in English in Australia has been minimal and is vastly outweighed by the impact of global literature in English, and especially that from Britain, on our literary culture”.

Could that be partly because people have always said global literature in English is more important so let’s just ignore Aboriginal literature? It’s a bit circular you know. “We can’t have more women involved because look around you, there are no women here, so obviously women don’t participate, so we can’t ask them.” Repeat repeat repeat, and apply to all other kinds of people you also don’t want to invite.

H/t Omar.


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

One hour and six minutes

Oct 19th, 2014 11:19 am | By

Pacific Standard reports on an exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum called Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe.

I think high heels are one of the weirdest and most perverse customs we have over here in the putatively developed world. They’re temporary foot-binding, and if they’re worn long enough the damage becomes permanent. They don’t damage the feet as much as foot-binding did, but that’s not much of a distinction.

Now, they’re also “a choice,” and feminism is all about choice, and yadda yadda. But for one thing, they’re not a completely free choice, given all the contexts in which they’re more or less obligatory, and for another thing, I flatly reject the idea that all choices made by a woman are feminist simply because they’re choices.

“Fashion is a form of material culture that can reveal quite a bit about the personal, social, and cultural concerns of the era it comes from,” Lisa Small, the museum’s curator of exhibitions, told Forbes.

While all this may be true, heels also imply pain. In a sense, it’s kind of amazing that an item that exemplifies the fashion-over-function ethos so fully has lasted for so long. Indeed, research suggests that long-term high heel use can both “compromise muscle efficiency” and “increase the risk of strain injuries.” A recent survey conducted by the U.K.’s College of Podiatry found that, when in stilettos, most women’s feet tend to start hurting after just one hour and six minutes. Furthermore, one in three women admit to walking home shoeless due to the relentless throbbing.

Yes, fashion can reveal quite a bit about the personal, social, and cultural concerns of the era it comes from, and the fashion for grotesquely high heels reveal that for some reason we still think it’s ok and sexy and cool for women to be – temporarily or permanently – crippled by shoes. We cringe in horror at foot-binding but we take heels for granted. It’s bizarre – and revolting.

Despite all the suffering and creative lengths some entrepreneurs go to relieve it, the Wall Street Journal reports that in 2011 women spent $38.5 billion on shoes in the U.S., with more than half of those sales going toward stilettos over three inches high.

“You could just as easily ask men why they wear neckties, which aren’t particularly comfortable,” Small told the Daily Beast when discussing the complicated act of willfully wearing something that brings about infliction.

No. Ties are uncomfortable, and they are unsuitable for vigorous physical activity, but they don’t actually deform and lame their wearers.

“The necktie has a universal currency of power whereas the high heel doesn’t. It’s too bound up in sexualization and objectification. Yet many women enjoy wearing them because they want to look conventionally sexy or because they like the confidence that comes with extra height.”

And they live in a culture where shoes like that are coded as sexy and beautiful, and where being sexy and beautiful is at the top of the list of things women are expected to be.

So when and why did women start donning the accessory? Elizabeth Semmelhack, author of Heights of Fashion: A History of the Elevated Shoe and senior curator at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, believes the answer lies in mid-19th-century pornography, which used the recent invention of photography to disseminate images of naked women in heels. While this convergence of events infused the shoe with its erotic aura and modern feminine identity, these women didn’t have to stand in a pair of stilettos for very long or move around that much.

Which is apparently how we still like our women.

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