Notes and Comment Blog


When many of the women collapsed

May 14th, 2016 6:19 pm | By

More from the piece on prostitution in Germany by Manuela Schon at Feminist Current. There’s a section on…prostitution in the educational system.

Pro Familia, a member of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), is an organization that advises schools in their sex education materials. Among the material they recommended for teenagers is a book called, “Sexualpädagogik der Vielfalt (which loosely translates to “Sexual Pedagogy of Diversity”). This text includes suggestions and material for projects in which students are asked to name sex positions and to “modernize a brothel.” In small groups they are to discuss what “services” a “Freudenhaus der sexuellen Lebenslust” (which  loosely translates to “pleasure house of sexual lust for life”) should offer.

Those who protested this kind of content being introduced into curriculum were accused of being “reactionary,” “conservative,” and “prudish.

Members of the teachers’ union (GEW) in the state of Hessen were offered advanced teacher training courses between 2006 and 2015, taught by a pro-decriminalization lobby group called “Dona Carmen.” Teachers could collect professional training credits by participating. (Last year, the general assembly decided to eliminate these courses from the education program.)

The normalization of prostitution in Germany, even among school-aged children, has lead to young men celebrating their high school graduation (called “Abitur”) together in brothels. Here, it’s no big deal that boys as young as 16 go to their local prostitution apartment to buy sex (something I see on a regular basis in my own neighbourhood).

This isn’t liberated sex education, please notice, all about mutual pleasure and consent – it’s about prostitution in brothels. It’s pleasure for the john, and no one else.

The next section is about the hunt for bargains.

“Geiz ist geil” is a phrase commonly used in German ads and marketing campaigns, meaning, “greed is hot” or “greed is good.” Unsurprisingly, this idea — that the public should try to get everything as cheaply as possible — is transferred to the prostitution market as well. Women are sold as products, so, as products, they should be as cheap as possible. Brothel owners fall over themselves trying to offer the best bargain:

"New girls in the Caligula brothel in Berlin. The absolute sex killer offer."

Attention, K-Mart shoppers: you can poke her for 20 minutes for 20 Euro. It’s cheaper than going to the movies!

A flat-rate brothel chain called “Pussy Club” made headlines when, on its opening day on June 5, 2009, 1,700 men lined up to get in. The long lineups outside women’s rooms lasted until closing time when many of the women collapsed from exhaustion, pain, injuries, and infections, including painful rashes and fungal infections that spread from their genitals down their legs. It was shut down a year later for human trafficking.

Flat-rate brothels are very common in Germany, as well as “tabuslos,” meaning “no taboos.” In practice, this translates to “everything without any protection.” As a result, STDs are on the rise in Germany (HIV rates have gone up after several years of stagnation), and it’s common for married men to infect their wives.

Competing for customers means that brothel chains like the Pascha in Cologne offer gambling games with the chance of winning a free hookup. A brothel in Berlin gives customers a “collection card” like coffee shops do — five visits will grant you a 50 per cent rebate, and your 11th visit is free.

Women as cut-price meat. This is the glorious utopia of decriminalizing the sex trade.



Things he wouldn’t have said to a man

May 14th, 2016 5:22 pm | By

The New York Times reports on the feminist side of Donald Trump.

Hahahahaha no just kidding, of course.

Mr. Trump was not just fixated on the appearance of the women around him. He possessed an almost compulsive need to talk about it.

Inside the Trump Organization, the company that manages his various businesses, he occasionally interrupted routine discussions of business to opine on women’s figures. Ms. Res, his construction executive, remembered a meeting in which she and Mr. Trump interviewed an architect for a project in the Los Angeles area. Out of the blue, she said, Mr. Trump evaluated the fitness of women in Marina del Rey, Calif. “They take care of their asses,” he said.

“The architect and I didn’t know where he was coming from,” Ms. Res said. Years later, after she had gained a significant amount of weight, Ms. Res endured a stinging workplace observation about her own body from Mr. Trump. “ ‘You like your candy,’ ” she recalled him telling her. “It was him reminding me that I was overweight.”

Mr. Trump frequently sought assurances — at times from strangers — that the women in his life were beautiful. During the 1997 Miss Teen USA pageant, he sat in the audience as his teenage daughter, Ivanka, helped to host the event from onstage. He turned to Brook Antoinette Mahealani Lee, Miss Universe at the time, and asked for her opinion of his daughter’s body.

“ ‘Don’t you think my daughter’s hot? She’s hot, right?’ ” Ms. Lee recalled him saying. ‘I was like, ‘Really?’ That’s just weird. She was 16. That’s creepy.”



Empowerment

May 14th, 2016 12:44 pm | By

From Feminist Current, legalized pimping in Germany:

A flat-rate brothel chain called “Pussy Club” made headlines when, on its opening day on June 5, 2009, 1,700 men lined up to get in. The long lineups outside women’s rooms lasted until closing time when many of the women collapsed from exhaustion, pain, injuries, and infections, including painful rashes and fungal infections that spread from their genitals down their legs. It was shut down a year later for human trafficking.

Flat-rate brothels are very common in Germany, as well as “tabuslos,” meaning “no taboos.” In practice, this translates to “everything without any protection.” As a result, STDs are on the rise in Germany (HIV rates have gone up after several years of stagnation), and it’s common for married men to infect their wives.

Competing for customers means that brothel chains like the Pascha in Cologne offer gambling games with the chance of winning a free hookup. A brothel in Berlin gives customers a “collection card” like coffee shops do — five visits will grant you a 50 per cent rebate, and your 11th visit is free.

Sounds like a paradise of female empowerment, doesn’t it?

Check out the advertising:

That one’s on a freeway overpass. There are lots more in the post.

 



The risks

May 14th, 2016 12:35 pm | By

From Science Daily a year ago:

New research from the University of Alabama at Birmingham shows that high-heeled-shoe-related injuries doubled between 2002 and 2012. The findings were published online May 12 in the Journal of Foot and Ankle Injuries, and the frequency and severity of those injuries were sufficient to make the investigators suggest that wearing the appropriate shoes for the appropriate occasion and being aware of one’s surroundings are good ideas.

“Although high-heeled shoes might be stylish, from a health standpoint, it would be worthwhile for those interested in wearing high-heeled shoes to understand the risks and the potential harm that precarious activities in high-heeled shoes can cause,” said lead investigator Gerald McGwin, Ph.D., vice chair and professor of the Department of Epidemiology in the UAB School of Public Health.

In addition to discomfort in the lower leg, ankle and foot, research has indicated that walking in high-heeled shoes has been shown to significantly reduce ankle muscle movement, step length, total range of movement and balance control. Many studies have documented that the long-term use of high heels alters the neuromechanics of walking and places greater strain on the muscles and tendons of the lower legs, which can lead to musculoskeletal disorders later in life.

McGwin’s team looked at data from the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s National Electronic Injury Surveillance System of injuries associated with wearing high heels seen in hospital emergency departments between 2002 and 2012. There were 123,355 high-heel-related injuries seen during that period. The peak year for injuries was 2011, with more than 19,000. People between the ages of 20 and 29 were most likely to suffer an injury, followed by the 30-39 age group.

“Some historians suggest that high-heeled shoes have been around for nearly 300 years, and that medical professionals have been warning wearers about the dangers of such shoes for the same amount of time,” McGwin said. “While previous studies have confirmed that high heels are associated with lower extremity discomfort and musculoskeletal issues, there is very little information on the nature and frequency of these injuries, or which age groups were most affected.”

The vast majority of the injuries — more than 80 percent — were to the ankle or foot, with just under 20 percent involving the knee, trunk, shoulder, or head and neck. More than half were strains or sprains, with fractures accounting for 19 percent of all injuries. While white females as a group had the largest number of heel-related injuries, the rate of injury for black females was twice that of whites.

“Our findings also suggest that high-heel-related injuries have increased over time, with the rate of injury nearly doubling from 2002 to 2012,” McGwin said. “We also noted that nearly half the injuries occurred in the home, which really supports the idea of wearing the right footwear for the right occasion and setting. Also, to reduce the time of exposure, we recommend that those wearing heels be aware of how often and for how long they wear them.”

Co-authors on the study are Justin Xavier Moore, MPH, Department of Surgery; Brice Lambert, MSPH, departments of Epidemiology and Emergency Medicine; and Gabrielle P. Jenkins, MSPH, Department of Epidemiology.

No one should ever be required to wear them.



Topiary

May 14th, 2016 12:04 pm | By

It’s Saturday, so have a treat. Art and colors on Facebook:



He is reducing being a woman down to make-up and sparkly shoes

May 14th, 2016 11:30 am | By

Janice Turner wrote a piece at the Times titled The trans lobby peddles a pink and blue world. I expect that will get her added to The Index if she’s not there already, but it’s true.

A friend of hers commented that he thought she was gender fluid, and she was taken aback.

I’d never thought about my gender identity before. It hadn’t occurred to me that not being a “girly” girl meant I wasn’t 100 per cent woman. The point, I’ve always believed, is to expand the categories “man” and “woman”, to tear down pink and blue prisons. So a little girl can like trucks, spacemen, getting dirty and still be a girl; a boy can put on nail polish, play with dolls and be no less a boy.

Same here – and I still see this as the progressive approach. Why? Because it makes more room for everyone, men as well as women. Prisons are prisons; nobody wants to live in them.

We should, Turner says, oppose “a view of gender, spun off the trans movement, that is as conservative as the Mad Men 1950s.” Eddie Izzard used to say “These aren’t women’s clothes, they’re my clothes.” Now he says, “Being a transgender guy, I do like my nails.”

Men, I’ve found, can’t understand why this enrages women. Why are feminist ladies so mean to Eddie? Well, because he’s no longer saying “I’m a bloke who likes pretty nails”. He has declared: “Because I like pretty nails I am female.” He is reducing being a woman down to make-up and sparkly shoes.

And guess what: we don’t like being reduced down to that.

At heart the trans lobby upholds the same nonsense that underpins porn and men’s mags and the Tea Party right: that men are muscly hunks and women are passive pink fem-bots. To feel you are neither doesn’t make you gender fluid — or any of the other 72 crazy gender categories on Facebook — it just makes you human.

It’s not special, it’s not trans-anything, it’s just human.



Guest post: Where religion comes in to it

May 14th, 2016 10:47 am | By

Originally a comment by Steamshovelmama on Faithful and regular worshippers, a post about a council-funded bus service that refused to pick up a student because he’s not Catholic.

OK, I’ve found some more out about this.

The parents of the boy in question have chosen to send him to Holy Trinity Academy (yes, bloody academy status, thank you David Cameron) rather than to one of the geographically nearest schools. Because that has been their choice, the local council expects the parents to arrange and fund school journeys. Where the geographically nearest school has been accepted it is the local council’s role to ensure that journey is safe and affordable – for instance some pupils may be eligible for a free bus pass and the council must ensure there are safe road crossing places etc.

Where religion comes in to it – and I really don’t agree with this at all – is that if a parent wishes their child to go to a school of their faith and the nearest one of those is not the nearest school then a local council may have a policy that accepts the right of the parent to have faith appropriate education and will then subsidise transport. Apparently Telford and Wrekin local council do indeed have this policy.

The central government Equality Act requires that local authorities do not discriminate on grounds of belief but this act, apparently, does not apply to school transport. And there was a Joint Committee on Human Rights that actually scrutinised this legislation and who warned that this kind of issue might occur. (Headed by MP Harriet Harman, 4 Labour MPs, 6 Conservative, 1 Liberal Democrat and 1 cross bench – 6 from the Lords and 6 from the Commons).

Time to lobby my local MP – who is, unfortunately, a socially conservative (Labour Party) old duffer who has been in his safe seat for years. Last time I lobbied him was on the gay marriage question and I was distinctly unimpressed by his answer…



It’s about demonstrating who is in charge in that space

May 14th, 2016 9:37 am | By

Rose Hackman writes in the Guardian that a major part of the emotional labor women are forced to do is the de-escalation of incidents of harassment.

Years later, I realized the abuse was less in the act I had been subjected to, and more in my learned silence. De-escalation had been my trick, to the detriment of my agency.

A blog entry from last fall put this into words for me. It made me realise [w]hat women around me had been doing for years: de-escalating situations caused by men, with the burden of minimising incidents being placed squarely on our shoulders.

Occurrences could be as mundane as a street catcall, as infuriating as a sexist comment at work, or as troubling as an unwelcome physical touch. Occurrences also include compliments we have to decipher (just nice, or suggesting an expression of male ownership over our bodies?).

To the initial weight of having to deal with those acts of dominance is the added mental drain of having to evaluate how best to deal with it and not risk a violent backlash. De-escalating is just another form of the “emotional work” women provide with little recognition of its ongoing exertion and toll.

That time the surly guy angrily told me to smile as I was walking past his house with my mind elsewhere? It occurs to me that was an act of rebellion against that duty of de-escalation thing. I knew that at the time. There was a little pause where I debated whether to ignore him or to do what I wanted to do, which was to demand why the fuck he had said that. The normal thing to do would have been to ignore it. I’d ignored it many times, all my life. I doubtless would have ignored it that time too if he’d been “friendly” or “jokey” as opposed to aggressive and hostile. His hostility did me the favor of making the dominance unmistakable, and worth rejecting.

For Hanna Rusin, a 29-year-old fashion industry worker based in New York, gendered micro- and macro-aggressions are a “vast, vast” part of her everyday life.

She recalls, off the top of her head, scarring incidents including being stalked by a man who was her neighbor for six years and being followed home by a policeman after he asked to see her ID on the subway. She also remembers unwelcome attention growing up – comments and physical contact in private settings – but being taught to dismiss it.

“In a more intimate setting, it’s more subtle. If you say something, you’re a troublemaker,” Rusin says. “If you would go to your mother, they would just say, ‘This is how they are, they’re just drunk old men, ignore them.’ Women don’t even notice that it’s happening to them until they hear someone else talk about it. And then they are like, wait, is this what this is?”

Ignore them. Ignore it. Ignore ignore ignore. That will be easier in the moment, and nothing will ever change.

Nichole Thomas, a 26-year-old attorney, says the sexism she feels in her male-dominated law office is understated but very real. When she was at an office outing recently, she noticed every time a junior male colleague spoke, his point was uplifted and highlighted by other men, including higher-ranking men. Women did not receive the same treatment.

The way in which Thomas has decided to deal with what she is sure are expressions of sexism at work? De-escalating by taking it in her stride and not letting it affect her work performance. “I would never say anything at all to anybody. I notice it in that moment and then I forget about it. I try and not think about it every day.”

It’s everyday sexism, that happens every day, but it’s crucial to avoid thinking about it every day.

When [another woman] tries to explain the toll of such experiences to men, she says it is so exhausting she feels “it’s not even worth the effort half the time”.

“They don’t get it. It’s just not a reality for them.”

Hardikar, the health worker, adds: “There is a construct within masculinity that teaches them that they have the right to exert power over any space … It’s about demonstrating who is in charge in that space. I am sure that it’s subconscious, but it is learned and it is taught.”

And it is performed, and it is noticed or ignored, every every day.



By this point, the baby had sunken eyes

May 13th, 2016 5:39 pm | By

A horror story from the Sydney Morning Herald: a woman got advice from a “naturopath” on how to treat her infant’s eczema.

Over the next two months, police allege Ms Bodnar convinced the mother she could cure her baby’s eczema and made her feel guilty for using steroid creams for her son’s condition.

Ms Bodnar, a former nurse and midwife, convinced the mother it was best to use nothing to allow the baby’s skin to breathe.

She also advised her to go on a “raw only diet” to alkaline her milk to her breast-feeding baby, which would “help heal him faster by eliminating the toxins out of his body”, police allege.

Yeah that’s not a thing, it’s just word salad.

The mother stopped going to the dermatologist and ate nothing but raw fruits, vegetables and seeds.

The baby boy came down with a fever in May 2015, and Ms Bodnar told the mother to go on a water only diet, police allege.

“You’re not allowed to eat anything if you want to see him better,” she allegedly advised the mother.

Police say that the mother was feeling pressure and could not just drink water, so she ate only watermelon for three days.

She felt guilty as she thought she was poisoning her child but felt constantly tired.

When both mother and baby started losing weight, Ms Bodnar assured them it was normal and the baby was fat and needed to lose some weight.

The mother noticed the baby was getting lethargic.

Ms Bodnar allegedly made the mother feel guilty that she didn’t care about his health and was giving up too easily by wanting to give him solid food.

When the baby started vomiting, Ms Bodnar told the mother to stay on a water-only diet and “increased temperature means increased vitality”.

The mother took the baby to hospital after going to a doctor in May 2015.

By this point, the baby had sunken eyes, infected eczema, dehydration and severe failure to thrive.

The baby would have died in a few days had he not been taken to hospital, police said.

Police alleged that, as a result of Ms Bodnar’s treatment, the baby nearly died and might have long-term developmental problems.

All because a “naturopath” was playing at being a real doctor.

It’s enough to make you scream.

H/t Kausik



Being and becoming

May 13th, 2016 3:46 pm | By

Chris has an epiphany.



An individual Bishop in his diocese

May 13th, 2016 3:24 pm | By

About Sister Carol Keehan again, the President and CEO of the Catholic Health Association who put out an evasive (to put it politely) statement on the ACLU / MergerWatch report on the mess of Catholic hospitals. I did a follow-up post about her pointing out she’s not all bad, because she supported the health care bill despite opposition from the bishops. But a reader reminded us I’d been harsh about her before, which prompted me to look it up, and here’s the press release dated January 31, 2011:

WASHINGTON (January 31, 2011)—In response to questions raised about the authority of the local bishop in the interpretation and implementation of the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (ERDs), conversations have taken place among Sister Carol Keehan, DC, president of the Catholic Health Association (CHA); Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Florida, who is a member of the CHA Board of Directors. Bishop Kevin Vann of Fort Worth, episcopal liaison to the CHA, was also part of the consultation. Following those conversations, Sister Keehan and Archbishop Dolan exchanged letters to underscore the agreement evident in their conversations.

In her January 18 letter, Sister Keehan affirmed to Archbishop Dolan CHA’s acknowledgement of the role of the local bishop as the authoritative interpreter of the ERDs in such Catholic facilities. In a January 26 response, Archbishop Dolan thanked Sister Keehan for making clear that CHA and the bishops share this understanding of the Church’s teaching.

In other words she affirmed the right of Catholic bishops to meddle in health care. She did so in the context of the bishop of Phoenix’s effort to get a hospital and the network of hospitals it belonged to to agree in writing never again to perform an abortion like the one performed at St Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix to save the life of a pregnant woman. So, in short, she affirmed the right of bishops to tell hospitals not to save the lives of women.

Here’s her letter to the horrible Timothy Dolan:

Dear Archbishop Dolan:

Thank you again for taking the time to talk with Bishop Lynch and me about CHA’s position regarding the ethical and religious directives. I was pleased to hear of your appreciation of the role of Catholic hospitals in providing the healing ministry of Jesus to our country.

I was happy to have the opportunity to assure you that publicly and privately, CHA has always said to sponsors, governing board members, manager and clinicians that an individual Bishop in his diocese is the authoritative interpreter of the ERDs. We explain that a Bishop has a right to interpret the ERDs and also to develop his own ethical and religious directives if he chooses.

CHA has a sincere desire to work with the Church and individual Bishops to understand as clearly as possible, clinical issues and bring the majesty of the Church’s teaching to that. We are absolutely convinced that the teaching of the Church, in combination with a clear understanding of the clinical situation serves the people of God very well. CHA has consistently worked to help its members and others have a general understanding of the ethical and religious directives, while at the same time, noting that the local bishop is the authoritative interpreter in that diocese of the directives.

Thank you for your efforts and your support of Catholic healthcare.

Sincerely,
Sister Carol Keehan, DC
President and Chief Executive Officer

Lots of nice pious words, in which to agree among themselves that a pregnant woman who goes to one of their hospitals and needs an abortion because her pregnancy is killing her is shit out of luck.

The woman in Phoenix, never forget, had three small children.



At the peak of the siege of Burns

May 13th, 2016 2:13 pm | By

Peter Walker on Facebook:

Editorial opinion: Judge Steve Grasty is a hero. At the peak of the siege of Burns, when the Bundys invaded the town hall meeting (Jan. 19), Judge Grasty looked Ammon Bundy straight in eye and told him he’d personally drive Bundy to safety outside the county. But Grasty insisted that Bundy leave. Bundy’s men were armed and had taken up tactical positions in each corner of the high school gym (Ritzheimer was right behind me). It was one of the most courageous things I’ve ever seen. Even those who don’t agree with Judge Grasty ought to acknowledge he has served his county with exemplary courage, and allow him the rest of his term in peace.

This photo chills my blood. Judge Grasty is in the yellow shirt. Bundy’s men are unmistakable.

Another photo:

Ammon Bundy (you know which one…) looked stone-faced while Judge Grasty told him to go.

This happened:

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) – A recall petition has been filed against a Harney County official who did not support the armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

Petitioners say they have gathered 566 signatures, more than enough to compel Judge Steve Grasty to resign or face a recall election.

Peter Walker’s commentary on the news item:

For those who haven’t followed it as obsessively as I do: this is a hangover from the Bundy occupation– in short the occupiers demanded that Sheriff Ward and Judge Grasty shield the Hammonds from federal arrest, in effect declaring the supremacy of county rule over federal law. In their view of the constitution, county officials who refuse to do that “duty” have to be removed. Who gave them authority to decide what the constitution means isn’t clear…

The politics of bullies.



Ubi solitudinem faciunt

May 13th, 2016 12:06 pm | By

CNN reported last month:

A United Nations official is headed to the Central African Republic after reports that over 100 women, girls and boys were raped and abused — many by U.N. peacekeepers.

Jane Holl Lute, a senior U.N. official tasked with leading efforts to curb peacekeeper abuse, was en route to the country Wednesday, U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said.

Allegations of sexual abuse by foreign and local forces have plagued the Central African Republic since the United Nations sent forces to the country two years ago. But they’re still just as shocking as ever.

[M]ore than 100 victims said they were sexually abused by U.N. peacekeepers and non-U.N. forces, a U.N. official said Tuesday.

“Tragically, the vast majority of the victims are children,” said Edmond Mulet, the U.N. chief of staff on sexual exploitation and abuse.

There were more, and more horrifying, allegations at the end of March.

At the meeting Tuesday, Atul Khare, the U.N.’s under-secretary-general for field support, called on the countries that sent those accused to discipline them and carry out “criminal sanctions warranted under their national laws.”

Khare also said new legislation should be proposed if current law would not cover prosecution of these alleged crimes.

The United Nations has also said that implicated troops must remain confined to their camp, “except for essential operational tasks and increasing the presence of military police at affected locations.”

Khare said officials are working with children’s agency UNICEF to ensure services and extra funds are available to help affected communities.

He said the number of allegations is expected to rise.

They made a wilderness and called it peace.



Nondiscrimination on the basis of sex

May 13th, 2016 11:14 am | By

It’s not always possible to do everything at once. You patch the leak in one place and it pops up in another.

Like trying to figure out this matter of “gender identity” for instance, and how it coheres with nondiscrimination on the basis of sex.

The Obama administration is planning to issue a sweeping directive telling every public school district in the country to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms that match their gender identity.

I’m leaning toward doing away with the whole sex segregation thing when it comes to restrooms and just having neutral rooms with floor-to-ceiling stalls. Privacy for all, and no need to fret about who is what.

Also, HB2 sucks.

But “gender identity” is a very iffy concept, and I don’t think the government should be treating it as settled fact when it is in fact hotly contested. The gov gets itself into a tangle by doing so:

A school’s obligation under federal law “to ensure nondiscrimination on the basis of sex requires schools to provide transgender students equal access to educational programs and activities even in circumstances in which other students, parents, or community members raise objections or concerns,” the letter states. “As is consistently recognized in civil rights cases, the desire to accommodate others’ discomfort cannot justify a policy that singles out and disadvantages a particular class of students.”

As soon as a child’s parent or legal guardian asserts a gender identity for the student that “differs from previous representations or records,” the letter says, the child is to be treated accordingly — without any requirement for a medical diagnosis or birth certificate to be produced.

Ok, so if a school’s obligation under federal law to ensure nondiscrimination on the basis of sex requires schools to provide transgender students equal access to educational programs and activities, then that means a student whose “gender identity” is female can play on the girls’ basketball team even if the student is a foot taller and 50 lbs heavier than the girls who don’t have any “gender identity” but are just plain old garden variety girls? Is that what the Obama administration is saying? If so is that a good plan?



The full extent of the problem

May 13th, 2016 10:24 am | By

Shaheen Hashmat in the New Statesman on police failures to do anything about “honour” violence.

A review carried out in 2015 by HMIC into the effectiveness of police responses to “honour”-based violence (HBV) found that only three out of the 43 forces across England and Wales are prepared in all essential areas to deal with such crimes. Ten years on from the horrific murder of Banaz Mahmod, who approached the police no less than five times before she was brutally raped, murdered and buried in a back garden in Birmingham, it’s clear that lessons still haven’t been learned.

She says the necessary expertise is no longer an issue.

Detective Sergeant Pal Singh has worked on some of the most high-profile “honour” killings in Britain to date, gaining a Metropolitan Police Service award for “Outstanding Individual Contribution to Victim Care” during HBV investigations. He is one of only a handful of people that I believe are truly able to understand the challenges we face and provide the real, practical solutions needed to tackle “honour” crime in all its forms. After spending many years bearing witness to the fatal consequences of inappropriate police responses to HBV, Singh has some important ideas on how to tackle the issue, which have yet to be acted upon.

He suggests that, to begin with, a specialist HBV unit covering the whole of London should be set up as a priority, which makes sense given that most recorded incidents take place there. Other high-risk areas include the West Midlands, West Yorkshire, Lancashire and Manchester.

She points out that this would be a big improvement on reliance on “faith leaders” – who are likely to be complicit in the abuse.

Data obtained by the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation (IKWRO) show that despite under-reporting, there are over 2,000 cases of “honour” crime recorded by UK police forces each year, and it’s clear that these figures do not reflect the full extent of the problem.

How could they? Most victims of “honour” crime are too cowed or terrified or battered to report the crimes.

While development of a national standard of best practice is a worthwhile and important end-goal, we cannot rely solely on this in the short term, and we are certainly unable to accept the inevitability of more deaths and serious abuse as a consequence of police incompetency in the meantime. How many more people have to die before we start listening to the experts?

Shaheen Hashmat is a writer and campaigner against “honour”-based violence in all its forms, and she is the founding editor of Double Bind, an online platform featuring the voices of women with Muslim heritage working to promote secular values based on fundamental human rights for all. She tweets @tartantantrum.



Stamping out the neurosexism

May 12th, 2016 5:43 pm | By

A talk next week at Coventry Skeptics in the Pub: Blame the Brain: How Neurononsense joined Psychobabble to Keep Women in Their Place.

Gina Rippon

Wednesday, May 18 at 7:30PM

Twisted Barrel Ale Brewery and Tap House
Unit 5,
Fargo Village,
Far Gosford Street,
Coventry,
CV1 5ED

There is a long history of debate about biological sex differences and their part in determining gender roles, with the ‘biology is destiny’ mantra being used to legitimise imbalances in these roles. The tradition is continuing, with new brain imaging techniques being hailed as sources of evidence of the ‘essential’ differences between men and women, and the concept of ‘hardwiring’ sneaking into popular parlance as a brain-based explanation for all kinds of gender gaps.

But the field is littered with many problems. Some are the product of ill-informed popular science writing ( neurotrash)  based on the misunderstanding or misrepresentation of what brain imaging can tell us. Some, unfortunately involve poor science, with scientists using outdated and disproved stereotypes to design and interpret their research (neurosexism).

These problems obscure or ignore the ‘neuronews’, the breakthroughs in our understanding of how plastic and permeable our brains are, and how the concept of ‘hard-wiring’ should be condemned to the dustbin of neurohistory.

This talk aims to offer ways of rooting out the neurotrash, stamping out the neurosexism and making way for neuronews.

Gina Rippon is Professor of Cognitive NeuroImaging in the Aston Brain Centre at Aston University. She has a background in psychology and physiology and uses brain imaging techniques such as Magnetoencephalography (MEG), functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and electroencephalography (EEG) to investigate the relationship between patterns of brain activation and human sensory, cognitive and affective processes. Most recently her work has been in the field of developmental disorders such as autism.  She has served as President of the British Psychophysiology Society (now the British Association of Cognitive Neuroscience).

She also writes and speaks on the use of neuroimaging techniques In the study of sex/gender differences, recently featured in the BBC  Horizon programme “Is your Brain Male or Female?”.  She is additionally involved in activities around the public communication of science, particularly in challenging the misuse of neuroscience to support gender stereotypes, and in work to correct the under-representation of women in STEM subjects. She has recently been appointed as an Honorary Fellow of the British Science Association.

I wish I could go to that.

 



Reason enough

May 12th, 2016 4:44 pm | By

To the surprise of no one, Saudi Arabia uses armored vehicles against its own people, the Globe and Mail reports.

Footage analyzed by The Globe and Mail shows Saudi Arabia using armoured vehicles against minority Shia Muslim dissidents in the Mideast country’s Eastern Province, raising serious questions about Riyadh’s tendency to use these military goods against its own citizens.

Copies of the videos, which date from 2012 and 2015, were supplied by Saudi human-rights activists who want Canada to suspend shipments of combat vehicles to Riyadh in a $15-billion deal between Canada and the ruling House of Saud.

The Trudeau government in April approved export permits for the bulk of these vehicle shipments in what Ottawa calls the largest advanced manufacturing export contract in Canadian history. The vehicles, made in London, Ont., are expected to ship over four years, and will have machine guns and anti-tank cannons.

Ok…why? Why do Canada and the US and the UK help Saudi Arabia arm itself? It’s not because of “shared values.”

The combat vehicles in the videos are not Canadian-made, but they demonstrate the regime’s inclination to use such military assets against its own people in a region that is very difficult for Canada to monitor. It also casts doubt on the Liberal government’s assurances that the massive arms sale to Saudi Arabia presents no risks for the country’s civilians.

Ali Adubisi, director of the Berlin-based European-Saudi Organization for Human Rights, says Saudi authorities have deployed armoured vehicles against Shia civilians in Eastern Province more than 15 times since 2011.

He says this should be reason enough to strike Saudi Arabia from Canada’s list of arms buyers.

The Saudi government is not a friend.



In a pool of blood in a mango grove

May 12th, 2016 1:43 pm | By

Another one:

A Sufi Muslim leader has been found hacked to death in Bangladesh in a suspected Islamist killing, police said Saturday, two weeks after the Islamic State group claimed the murder of a liberal professor in the same northwestern district.

Mohammad Shahidullah, 65, had been missing since leaving home on Friday morning before villagers last night found his body in a pool of blood in a mango grove in Rajshahi.

This time it’s a religious person rather than an atheist person, but if it is another Islamist killing, it’s pretty much the same thing – religious fanatics hacking to death anyone who isn’t a religious fanatic in exactly the way they are.

It comes amid a troubling rise in violence against religious minorities, liberal activists and foreigners in Bangladesh, with six murders since the start of last month alone.”He was not a famous Sufi. But there could be a possibility that he was killed by Islamist militants,” Rajshahi district police chief Nisharul Arif told AFP.

The police officer said the killing of the self-proclaimed Sufi master was “similar” to other recent hacking deaths of religious minorities carried out by attackers with machetes or cleavers.

Religious minorities, you see – in other words not the correct kind of believer, and not a fanatic in the True Orthodox Narrow way approved by the machete-wielders.

Sufi Islam is a mystical form of Islam popular in rural Bangladesh but considered deviant by many of the country’s majority Sunni Muslims.

They include the Saudi Arabia-inspired Salafis and Wahabis, who are gaining strength in the country.

Suspected Islamists have been blamed for or claimed dozens of murders of atheist bloggers, liberal voices and religious minorities in recent years including Sufi, Shiite and Ahmadi Muslims, Hindus, Christians and foreigners.

In the past five weeks, two gay activists, a liberal professor, an atheist activist and a Hindu tailor who allegedly made derogatory remarks about the Prophet Mohammed were hacked to death.

I think one of Salman Rushdie’s grandfathers was a Sufi mystic, as well as a wonderful human being.

The machete-wielders are not wonderful human beings.



A fourfold increase in the jail population

May 12th, 2016 12:11 pm | By

Yesterday on Fresh Air Nancy Fishman, a project director at the Vera Institute, told us about the mess that is the jail system in the US. I knew bits and pieces of what she said but not all of them and not the totality they make.

According to a report by the Vera Institute for Justice, there are more than 3,000 local jails in America, holding more than 730,000 people on any given day. Nancy Fishman, a project director at the Vera Institute, tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross that jails “have impacted a huge number of Americans … many more than are impacted by state prisons.”

The Vera Institute’s report documents that there are almost 12 million admissions to local jails each year, representing about 9 million people. Most of those jailed, she says, are being held for low-level offenses, such as drug misdemeanors, traffic offenses or nonviolent property crimes. And, she adds, the majority are poor.

Because if they’re not poor, they can make bail. The people there are mostly being held pre-trial. Their poverty can end up trapping them there, because they get charged fees – yes, charged fees for being in jail pre-trial – and they can end up with big debts.

FISHMAN: Well, I think that, you know, the one thing that we know about people in jail versus people who get, for example, arrested or stopped by the police who don’t end up in jail is that the people who are in jail don’t have the money to pay bail. So most of the folks passing through jail, most of the admissions to jail, are for low-level offenses. They’re not for serious and violent offenses.

There are people in jail who are being held for more serious crimes. But the vast majority are for nonviolent, property, sometimes drug misdemeanors, local-level violations. People end up in jail, primarily- and stay in jail primarily because they don’t have the money to pay bail.

GROSS: Let’s talk about the function bail is supposed to serve.

FISHMAN: Sure.

GROSS: So yeah, what is that function?

FISHMAN: The irony of bail is that its initial purpose was to make it possible for people to get out of jail – right? – that you couldn’t be held in jail without a finding of guilt or prior to a finding of guilt without having an opportunity to get out. But the irony is that now bail really functions to hold people in. And in places where bail is – in a lot of jurisdictions, it’s mandatory that bail be set. But if they don’t want you to get out, they set, you know, multimillion-dollar bail.

But the challenge is this means that if you have money to pay bail, you can get out no matter how dangerous you are. Whereas, if you’re poor and all you’ve committed is a traffic violation, which is one of the biggest drivers, frankly, of jail admissions in most places, you’re going to sit in jail because $500 is a lot of money to you. And I think that that’s one of the great travesties, frankly, of jail admissions right now, is that we have people sitting in jail for long periods simply because they can’t afford to pay.

GROSS: And does that create a kind of spiral of debt?

FISHMAN: Yeah. I mean, I think a lot of places, particularly in some of the smaller jurisdictions, there’s a huge network or a huge burden, frankly, of fines and fees that are associated with a jail stay or with any passage through the court system. This is something that’s relatively new and has grown and grown in a lot of places.

So people, in addition to having to pay bail, they also – they’re assessed a cost for their housing. So it’s as if they’re in a hotel, so there’s a daily rate that they are responsible for. They will have to pay the cost of any lab tests associated with their case. They will have to pay the cost of drug testing.

If they apply for a public defender, a lot of places actually have a fee. You have to actually pay money to apply for a public defender who you get because you can’t afford to be represented. There are other costs. People get referred into programs – drug treatment programs – or they’re required to be drug tested when they’re out. They have to pay for those.

They will often have to pay for the cost of probation supervision. And so you’re talking about people who often come in in fragile economic situations and end up that much worse by the time they get out.

GROSS: Well, while you’re paying your room and board at the jail, you’re also having to pay your mortgage or your rent.

FISHMAN: Right.

GROSS: So your expenses have just gone up because you’re being incarcerated. You said a lot of these fees are fairly new. How new and what is the rationale behind charging people basically for room and board while they’re being incarcerated?

FISHMAN: There’s been tremendous growth over the past 40-45 years in the size of our criminal justice system – particular growth in the number of jails and the size of the jails. We’ve seen a fourfold increase in the jail population for the past 45 years, and along with that have been the construction of new and bigger jails.

And the reality is a lot of the communities that have built these jails don’t have the funds to support them. They’re not supported by state tax revenue, by federal tax revenue. They’re supported by local community budgets, and a lot of these places are not wealthy. They don’t have a lot of money to cover it. And so the solution has been to try to get that money from the people who pass through the system. But the challenge is most of the people who are passing through that system don’t have the money either.

And so what we see is that people get assessed fines and fees – all of these fines and fees – they can’t pay them. And that can end up driving them back into jail, which only increases the pressure on the jail system and the justice system overall and makes it more costly. So it’s ultimately kind of a vicious circle.

And even if they get out, they still have that debt.

The US punishes people harshly for being poor.



“Why do you dress her like a boy?”

May 12th, 2016 10:53 am | By

This is a bit of gender-enforcement that I hadn’t heard of before – “gender reveal” ceremonies. Say what?

Slate writer Jessica Winter has a toddler, and stranger’s get worked up about her Gender Status.

“Why do you dress her like a boy?” demanded a man in the jewelry section of H&M while my kid—in a red sweatshirt, jeans, and gray-and-purple sneakers—rummaged through a pile of tassled earrings. The man was trying to be polite, but he also seemed affronted by his own confusion—and affronted by me, I suppose, for causing his confusion. “She looks like a boy!” he insisted, repeatedly. The only response I could think of was the shrugging one I gave: “She looks like herself.”

Girls and women have been routinely wearing jeans and sweatshirts for decades, yet still some people think those are clothes for males only?

I offer this anecdote partly as a disclosure that I’m not the intended audience for gender-reveal announcements. This is a genre of prenatal celebration that reached a spectacular apotheosis last week when a Florida couple went viral for firing a rifle at a target packed with explosives and colored chalk, sending up a plume of powder intended to reveal the baby’s sex—blue for boy, in this case. The phenomenon more typically takes form as a gender-reveal party, where the festive theme might be Guns or Glitter? or Rifles or Ruffles? or, because big sticks can take many forms, Baseball or Bows?

On the one hand, decades of feminism; on the other hand, a level of frantic anxiety about Female or Male that is rising to panic levels.

The centerpiece of a gender-reveal party is, of course, a gender-reveal cake, which involves slipping a piece of paper to a trusted baker who will then drop the right food coloring in the batter; at the appointed moment, celebrants cut the cake to find out if it’s blue or pink, i.e., Pistols or Pearls? Gender-reveal cakes can be cute, imaginative, even beautiful, as this PopSugar slideshow attests. Another parenting site, the Stir,has a slideshow of “15 Outrageously Inappropriate Gender-Reveal Cakes,” although if you spend enough time in the gender-reveal universe, these creations might strike you not as outrageous so much as just aggressively direct about the zero-sum nature of the gender binary. Stick or No Stick is the exemplum of the bunch, making barely submerged subtext into carrot-shaped text: A boy has a something, and a girl has a nothing. A boy has a gun, and a girl has a hole. A boy does, and a girl is done to. A boy is an active actor with useful equipment, and a girl is a void with embellishments. It would sound so tiresomely gender studies 101 if these weren’t actual people having actual children right here on my Pinterest boards in 2016.

Ah well that explains it; I don’t do Pinterest so that’s why I’m not aware of this bizarro trend.

A gender reveal will tell a future baby’s loved ones precisely nothing about what is actually important about her first months and years on Earth: her temperament, her response to food, the ease with which she sleeps and self-soothes and explores her expanding world.

And also about her later months and years on earth. Gender is not personality. Sex is not personality. “Gender” just isn’t all that interesting.