Notes and Comment Blog

The idea of gendered brains

Sep 14th, 2016 11:25 am | By

Hm. Plates shifting just a bit. Maybe. Pink News reports:

The Green Party has hit out at a Science Museum quiz that tells kids they have a “male or female” brain.

Feminist campaigners hit out at London’s Science Museum on Twitter this week, after a woman was taken aback to see ‘girl’ brains coded in pink and ‘boy’ brains blue in the interactive exhibit.

Well yes. I was taken aback by that exhibit too, as were a lot of my friends. We’ve all been a good deal taken aback by this whole claim that there are “girl brains” and “boy brains” because it sounds so very identical to the pseudo-scientific justifications for the subordination of women we could have sworn feminism had been disputing for decades. I have to say that in a scream like the Duchess because how can I say it calmly?

The test, which cites its source as pop-up children’s psychology book ‘The Brain Pack’ by Ron Van Der Meer and A Dudink, claims to be able to tell the difference between the male and female brain.

It says: “Generally males and females are very similar to each other in the way they think. Psychologists have developed tests to show up some differences between the sex[es].”

But campaigners say it reinforces tired stereotypes.

Ya think?


Green Party’s equalities spokesperson Sarah Cope said: “It’s really disappointing to see the Science Museum reinforcing outdated gender stereotypes in this way.

“The idea of gendered brains is dubious science at best, and this kind of sexism – telling girls at a young age that they have feminine brains – is part of the reason why boys still dominate STEM subjects and less than 10% of engineers in the UK are women.”

This is what we keep saying.

Empowerment or objectification?

Sep 14th, 2016 10:53 am | By

The London Abused Women’s Centre [that’s London, Ontario] posted on Facebook Monday morning:

London Abused Women’s Centre withdraws support of the 2016 Take Back the Night

The London Abused Women’s Centre is withdrawing from the Take Back the Night march on September 15, 2016. We are withdrawing because we cannot tolerate an environment that condones violence against women.

Four days prior to Take Back the Night, the Women’s Events Committee posted a request on Facebook for consultation on possibly having a pole-fitness group attend the Take Back the Night gathering. This does not allow proper time for community feedback. Moreover, the consultation was framed in a way where pole-fitness was stated to be “body-positive” and “empowering.” No alternative viewpoint was provided.

Pole-fitness emerged from pole-dancing in strip clubs—where women, whether there by ‘choice’ or not, are sexually objectified by men. They are leered at and groped at by men who view them as objects for their own sexual gratification. Women and girls are also sex-trafficked into strip clubs and other areas of the sex-trade. Pole-fitness cannot be separated from this history and context. The symbol of the pole is one of sexual objectification and violence against women. Thus, while pole-fitness may be empowering for individual women, it is not empowering for women as a whole. It is a reminder that our primary role in this society has been delegated to one where we are an object to be used and abused as men, and others, see fit.

Because of this, hosting a pole-fitness demonstration at a Take Back the Night is antithetical to its purpose. Take Back the Night is supposed to be an event where women demand their right to be free from violence, including sexual violence. It is an event where girls and boys have the opportunity to learn what rights and freedoms girls should have. A pole-fitness demonstration reinforces the daily messages girls receive that their primary purpose is to be sexy and an object for the purpose of pleasing men. This is especially concerning given that young women are at high risk of being both sexually assaulted and sex-trafficked.

The London Abused Women’s Centre does not believe in colluding with messages that support the objectification of women’s bodies and violence against women and thus will not be participating in the 2016 Take Back the Night march.

The pole-dancing community is livid.

Yesterday the Centre posted a follow-up:

From the President of the Board:
The Board of Directors of the London Abused Women’s Centre (LAWC) provides direction to its staff regarding the values, beliefs and principles of the agency.

The Board is committed to ending men’s violence against women by addressing the underlying cause of it; patriarchy. In Canada 50% of girls born today will be abused after their 16th birthday; one in four women is abused by her intimate partner; and every six days a woman is murdered. There are more than 1,000 murdered and missing Aboriginal women and girls in Canada. Girls as young as 12 are recruited into the sex trade by pimps and traffickers. Globally, amongst other atrocities, women and girls face female genital
mutilation and forced underage marriage.

The London Abused Women’s Centre recognizes that personal empowerment is important. However, the goal of LAWC is to empower women as a group by ending the oppression they face in their daily lives. It is for this very reason that LAWC believes that no woman is free until all women are free.

The actions taken by the London Abused Women’s Centre are now, and have always been, consistent with benefiting our sisters across the world. As such, the LAWC team did exactly what was expected of them when they spoke out against pole fitness at the Take Back the Night event. It is unfortunate that the Women’s Events Committee chose to minimize our concern around the issue and publicly attack LAWC for its views. This backlash likely contributed to the fear some women feel when asked for input.

The Board of Directors continues to recognize the impact its staff has in shifting the culture for future generations.

The pole-dancing community is still livid.

Without permission

Sep 13th, 2016 6:26 pm | By

The Guardian published Shriver’s talk (uh oh will they get in trouble now?).

I’m afraid the bramble of thorny issues that cluster around “identity politics” has got all too interesting, particularly for people pursuing the occupation I share with many gathered in this hall: fiction writing. Taken to their logical conclusion, ideologies recently come into vogue challenge our right to write fiction at all…

The author of Who Owns Culture? Appropriation and Authenticity in American Law, Susan Scafidi, a law professor at Fordham University who for the record is white, defines cultural appropriation as “taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else’s culture without permission. This can include unauthorised use of another culture’s dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, traditional medicine, religious symbols, etc.”

Hang on – what does that mean, “without permission”? It doesn’t mean anything, because how on earth does anyone know whom to ask for “permission” of that kind? Who is in a position to give such “permission”? No one. The fact that Scafidi is a law professor makes that phrase especially absurd. If there’s anything lawyers hate it’s a dangling meaningless requirement like that. (That’s me appropriating the experience of lawyers. I don’t actually know that that’s their top hate. I made that up.)

What does “unauthorised use” mean there? Again, nothing, because how can it? Authorised by whom? Who has the job of authorising people to use “another culture’s cuisine”? Absolutely no one has that job, and the claim is grotesque. We don’t need authorisation or permission to go to a Thai or Ethiopian or Brazilian restaurant to eat some fabulous interesting food. We don’t need authorisation or permission to listen to foreign music (and nearly all music is foreign to all of us, because all cultures have music) or wear foreign clothes or dance foreign dances. That claim is ridiculous and hideously xenophobic, though it doesn’t intend the latter. People in Delhi don’t need my permission to eat McDonald’s french fries, and I don’t need theirs to eat chole masala.

We get closer by sharing.

I do think people get to look askance at appropriation of their religious stuff, because that’s a different kind of thing. There are probably other kinds I’d agree should be done with care and tact if at all. But a sweeping taboo like the one from Susan Scafidi? Forget it.

Under the guise of fiction

Sep 13th, 2016 5:37 pm | By

It sounds so familiar.

Officials in charge of an Australian writers festival were so upset with the address by their keynote speaker, the American novelist Lionel Shriver, that they censored her on the festival website and publicly disavowed her remarks.

Yikes! What did she say? Was it a Trump-style rant against everyone she could think of? Holocaust denial? A claim that vaccines cause autism?

The event, the Brisbane Writers Festival, which ended Sunday, also hurriedly organized counterprogramming, billed as a “right of reply” for critics of Ms. Shriver, whose speech had belittled the movement against cultural appropriation. They scheduled the rebuttal opposite a session Saturday afternoon in which Ms. Shriver was promoting her new novel, “The Mandibles.”

Oh. She belittled the movement against cultural appropriation. And for that the festival publicly disavowed her remarks. That’s what sounds so familiar – that rush to disavow, to throw under the bus and then drive the bus back and forth over the body a few times…and over what should be a reasonable disagreement.

In the middle of Ms. Shriver’s speech on Thursday night, an Australian writer of Sudanese and Egyptian origin, Yassmin Abdel-Magied, got up and walked out, making live posts on Twitter about her dismay at what she described as “a poisoned package wrapped up in arrogance and delivered with condescension.”

“I have never walked out of a speech,” Ms. Abdel-Magied wrote in a post published on and But Ms. Shriver’s, she added, “became a celebration of the unfettered exploitation of the experiences of others, under the guise of fiction.”

But fiction is about the experiences of others. That’s what it does. The result can be obnoxious, it can be incompetent, or it can be brilliant – but it’s not just an Obvious Truth that it should never ever be attempted. I do get why people object to it – it’s the same sort of reason as my reason for loathing James Joyce’s version of the female mind in the last chapter of Ulysses: he hasn’t a clue, yet critics called that chapter the best depiction of the female mind ever yadda yadda. That kind of thing can be infuriating and damaging. But that doesn’t mean it’s Holy Writ that no one is allowed to do it, or that people should be punished for defending it.

The festival’s director, the poet Julie Beveridge, responded to the outrage by organizing the “right of reply” session, inviting as speakers Ms. Abdel-Magied, as well as the Korean-American author Suki Kim, whose best-selling book “Without You, There Is No Us,” was based on her six months working undercover as an English teacher in North Korea.

Ms. Kim complained that books by white male writers on North Korea were better received in some quarters than books like her own. Adam Johnson’s “The Orphan Master’s Son” won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2013, though Mr. Johnson did not speak Korean and had spent only three days in North Korea, Ms. Kim said. She attributed that acclaim at least partly to racism from institutions dominated by white men.

“The reality is that those from marginalized groups, even today, do not get the luxury of defining their own place in a norm that is profoundly white, straight and, often, patriarchal,” Ms. Abdel-Magied said in her criticism of Ms. Shriver.

There’s a lot of truth in that. (I don’t think it’s wholly true, because it’s easy to think of counter-examples.) But there’s also a danger in ruling out all forms of “appropriation,” such as walling people off from each other into stifling little enclaves.

Ms. Beveridge wrote on the festival’s website, after links to Ms. Shriver’s speech were taken down, “As a festival of writers and thinkers, we take seriously the role we play in providing a platform for meaningful exchange and debate.”

They take seriously the role they play in providing a platform for meaningful exchange and debate, so that’s why they took links to Shriver’s speech down. Hmmmm.

Links to the rebuttal remained in place. Beveridge didn’t respond to the Times’s questions.

Shriver described the festival’s response as “not very professional,” and, at a later appearance at the festival, said she was disturbed by how many of those on the political left had become what she described as censorious and totalitarian in their treatment of artists with whom they disagreed.

Yeah. Again: familiar. All too familiar.

Blood in the streets

Sep 13th, 2016 11:53 am | By

It’s been raining in Dhaka, and it’s Eid, so the streets are full of rainwater mixed with blood and animal waste.

The holy Eid-ul-Azha, the second largest religious festival of Muslims, is being celebrated in Dhaka and elsewhere across the country amid light to moderate rains in the capital and at different places in the country.

The continuous downpour has caused waterlogging at different areas in the capital, resulting in the animal blood and wastes being spread in the water, submerging the streets.

Bulbul Ahsan posted some photos he took:

Not good.


Spilling over into the real world

Sep 13th, 2016 11:32 am | By

The Guardian reports that police in various bits of England and Wales are considering the creation of a category of misogynist hate crime.

The initial success of Nottingham’s crackdown against sexist abuse has drawn national interest after the city’s police revealed that they investigated a case of misogyny every three days during July and August, the first months to see specially trained officers targeting behaviour ranging from street harassment to unwanted physical approaches.

Dave Alton, the hate crime manager for Nottingham police, said: “The number of reports we are receiving is comparable with other, more established, categories of hate crime. We have received numerous reports and have been able to provide a service to women in Nottinghamshire who perhaps wouldn’t have approached us six months ago. The reality is that all of the reports so far have required some form of police action.”

Incidents reported by Nottingham women ranged from verbal harassment to sexual assault. Initial claims from sections of the media that wolf-whistling would be reported by women have proved unfounded. So far, two men have been arrested for public order offences and actual bodily harm in incidents classified as misogynist.

It’s tricky. There are good reasons to resist making everything a crime…but at the same time, relentless street harassment can make life hellish for women.

The force defines misogyny hate crime as “incidents against women that are motivated by an attitude of a man towards a woman and includes behaviour targeted towards a woman by men simply because they are a woman”.

The new classification means women can report incidents that might not be considered a crime and the police will investigate.

Last week it was revealed that prosecutions relating to violence against women and girls in England and Wales have reached record levels amid warnings that the increasing use of social media is fuelling the rise. Campaigners believe misogyny is spilling over from the virtual world of the internet into the real world.

It would be very odd if it weren’t. Internet misogyny trains a great many men and boys to have contempt and loathing for women, and there’s no obvious reason that wouldn’t spill over into the real world.

Only one part

Sep 13th, 2016 10:45 am | By

Classics of Mansplaining, entry #whateveritisnow.

You are missing the point.

Walter Holt ‏@walcarpit 24 hours ago Northern Ireland, United Kingdom
Methinks you are missing the point @boodleoops @OpheliaBenson Sure women do gestation & labour, but they are only one part of conception.

Very classic, you must admit. A man solemnly telling two adult women that women don’t conceive all by themselves. You don’t say!

Also classic in that it was out of nowhere, i.e. not part of an ongoing conversation but a cold-reply to a tweet. Also classic in that in fact we hadn’t missed the point at all, we were addressing the point.

For refreshment, have Christiane Amanpour on sexism in the coverage of Clinton:

Channel 4 has bought a tent

Sep 13th, 2016 10:17 am | By

Pop culture interlude.

Well phooey. I only just discovered The Great British Bake Off last fall, and now they’re leaving the BBC for Channel 4, plus the two presenters are leaving as a result, and I liked them.

Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc will step down as hosts of The Great British Bake Off when it moves to Channel 4.

The duo have fronted the show since it began on BBC Two in 2010, alongside judges Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood.

They said in a statement: “We made no secret of our desire for the show to remain where it was… we’re not going with the dough.”

The statement continued: “The BBC nurtured the show from its infancy and helped give it its distinctive warmth and charm, growing it from an audience of two million to nearly 15 [million] at its peak.

“We’ve had the most amazing time on Bake Off, and have loved seeing it rise and rise like a pair of yeasted Latvian baps.

“We’re not going with the dough. We wish all the future bakers every success.”

The production company that makes it demanded more money than the Beeb wants to pay.

On the news that Giedroyc and Perkins were leaving, former contestant Kate Henry, who was on the show in 2014, told the BBC News channel: “I’m quite sad that future contestants won’t get to experience the joy of Mel and Sue in the tent.

“They really make it a fun experience rather than painfully stressful.”

She said it would be an “utterly different show” if Berry and Hollywood were also to leave.

Richard Burr, a finalist on series five back in 2004, tweeted: “Without Mel and Sue it just isn’t Bake Off. @Channel4 has just bought a tent.”

Also? Channel 4 is a commercial station. Guess what that means.

It is not yet clear what time slot the show will have on Channel 4 or whether it will be cut or extended in length.

“A lot of viewers have been asking if it will be reduced to 42 minutes long with 18 minutes of adverts, or could be extended to one hour and 20 minutes long to make room for advertising,” Bryan said.

“I don’t think they could squeeze everything that happens in an hour into 40 minutes. They could take some things out, like the history bits or some analysis, but they would still have to cut a challenge or scale one of them down quite significantly.”

Hey, so they lose 18 minutes of content for the sake of advertising, so what? So everything, that’s what.

Ah well, I have a lot of back episodes to watch.


Sep 13th, 2016 9:55 am | By

The gall of that man.

With Clinton resting, Trump launched some of his sharpest attacks yet against her. He said in a speech Monday in Baltimore that her “deplorables” comment “disqualifies” her from being president — and that if she does not retract it, “I don’t see how she can credibly campaign any further.”

That disqualifies her – that one word, said one time – but the constant repetition of “Pocahontas” doesn’t disqualify  him? “Mexicans are rapists” doesn’t? “Blood from her wherever” doesn’t? The bankruptcies don’t? The unpaid contractors don’t? The unpaid workers don’t?

Meanwhile, over the weekend the very right-wing governor of Kentucky said some things:

When conservative Christians gathered in Washington, DC, this past weekend for the annual Values Voter Summit, prominent Republicans, including Donald Trump and Mike Pence, delivered a series of tirades against transgender and abortion rights and pledged to defend Christian values from a Hillary Clinton presidency. But it was a speech by Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, in which he stated that bloodshed might be necessary if Clinton is elected, that emerged as perhaps the most shocking address from the weekend event.

“Whose blood will be shed?” Bevin said. “It may be that of those in this room. It might be that of our children and grandchildren. I have nine children. It breaks my heart to think that it might be their blood that is needed to redeem something, to reclaim something, that we through our apathy and our indifference have given away.”

Onward Christian soldiers.

Not playing

Sep 13th, 2016 9:29 am | By

A moment at a protest march against same-sex marriage in Ceyela, Mexico.

“At first I thought the child was only playing,” says photographer and journalist Manuel Rodriquez, who captured the exact moment a 12-year-old boy leapt in front of a crowd of 11,000 people protesting the proposed same-sex marriage law in Mexico.

Talking to Regeneración, Rodriquez explains that when he asked the anonymous boy what he was doing, the child responded, “I have an uncle who is gay. And I hate that people hate.”

A 12 year old boy faces down with 11,000 homophobic protestors during a march against marriage equality in Celaya, Mexico.

Just because it’s going to be a dumpster fire

Sep 12th, 2016 5:09 pm | By

GQ talked to five voters who have somehow managed not to decide which is worse, Trump or Clinton. Anonymous “Politics reporter, 42, Washington, D.C.:

I’ve struggled with this the entire election season. Some days I’m really tortured by it, and some days it’s, like, laughable. But I’ve never really felt this way as an adult human. And it’s really—it’s messing with me.

I cannot stomach Hillary Clinton. I just can’t get with her. Maybe because I know too much. I find so much of her world hypocritical, reprehensible. I think the rest of the country sort of gives her a pass, like, “Oh, she’s always been attacked by Republicans, it’s not that big a deal, email shmemail!” But I’m like, “WHAT! This is a huge deal.”

The rest of the country? Apart from the huge segment that has always detested Hillary Clinton, mostly for bad reasons, you mean? If the rest of the country gives her a pass, why has there been so much time wasted on the emails? Why did Matt Lauer burn up half her time talking about the fucking emails and then interrupt her to tell her to hurry up for the whole rest of the interview?

And no, it’s not a huge deal, especially given the fact that Trump has lied and stolen and cheated his way through life.

But he’s not too sure about Trump either. He likes his “blow everything up” approach, but not so much his “saying, “What do you have to lose?” to African-Americans. Like, WHAT? What?”

He wants to vote for him though – because he’ll be so much more fun.

I think I would just have to sort of give in to my chaos theory of Trump and just hope that he surrounds himself with the right people enough that it’s not a total disaster? Or Hillary would have to do a really convincing and honest come-to-Jesus with the media. A real press conference.

I cover this stuff every day. So for me, four years of Trump, selfishly, sounds a lot more enticing, just because it’s going to be a dumpster fire. And a Clinton administration would be more of what we’re seeing now, which is carefully orchestrated speeches, behind-the-scenes Wealthy McWealthysons going in and out of the White House, and really horrible transparency with the press.

So Trump would not be rich people in the White House? Or really horrible transparency with the press? I’ll give him the “carefully orchestrated speeches” part – I agree that Trump’s speeches would not be carefully orchestrated, or thoughtful, or intelligent, however many clever people he found to write them. What I don’t agree with, though, is the idea that ignorant chaotic speeches are preferable to “carefully orchestrated” ones.

I also, of course, disagree sharply with his longing for the dumpster fire.

Guest post: A very narrow set of options at the end of it

Sep 12th, 2016 4:15 pm | By

Guest post by Maureen Brian, originally a reply to a question I asked on a Facebook post of hers about the fact that “we have set up the [UK] education system so that, essentially, you have to fail and fail visibly at the academic curriculum before you are allowed to do something else.”

I look back nearly seventy years and I remember the early years of school and that most of it seemed to be just fun. I realise, though, that I learned a hell of a lot then and was better taught than at some stages of secondary.

Now they have to learn, say, to read by this age and be taught by this method, currently phonics but fashions change. Even tiny ones are expected to sit at desks and labour away until they get whatever it is right. So the teachers sit up half the night compiling statistics while the kids have the idea that they might be failures implanted early. No 6 year old should have any concept of being a failure, let alone be applying that to themselves!

And so it goes. By 10 they’ll be spending far too much time practicing for tests – more non-teaching work for teachers – over and again because they must pass the test. No argument, they must pass it.

At secondary from 11, if they can cope with the academic subjects at all then that’s what they must do. Because! Choosing GCSE and later A Levels is governed by the idea that if you have a hope in hell of passing an academic subject then that’s what you must do. The school’s future depends upon getting the right and an increasing proportion of its kids through the academic syllabus.

The brighter you are the more you miss out on, seen across a lifetime. There were elements of this at my secondary school but nowhere near what happens today.

Revolutionary ideas like encouraging a person who wants to be a carpenter but has a keen interest in history, or a dozen similar variants are verboten. You either succeed or fail and success means a prescribed set of academic subjects with a very narrow set of options at the end of it. If you only just made it through those GCSEs then you come out of school with high anxiety and real difficulty getting a decent, rewarding job. You’re in limbo.

While we have been moving in this direction over decades not only have practical and rewarding subjects been eased out at school, as Mike says below, but the 16-19 colleges have been under-funded with their sometimes amazing tutors paid as semi-skilled casual labour and their ability to plan hamstrung by uncertainty about funding even a year ahead.

There are any number of reports festering in Whitehall and in the universities about breadth in education, about parity of esteem for practical subjects, about tailoring what happens to the child’s needs and rate of development, about the need to emphasise social skills and things like financial literacy. And there they rot because if it ain’t immediately quantifiable then it don’t count.

It is very sad. Teachers, brilliant teachers, fight back but things are stacked against them.

The above-mentioned comment by Mike McCauley:

The trades education in the US is a shadow of what it once was. Between good high school programs and unions, that used to be an acceptable, honorable, and well defined path to take. But now, all kids are encouraged to go to university so they will all be “winners”. Only thing is, we’re far short of plumbers, electricians, all tradespeople. And too many college graduates are working at poorly paid service sector jobs, if they’re working at all.

I graduated from university, but I soon discovered that was not the ticket to nirvana that it’s too often represented to be. I’m very glad I had that experience, that at a time when an undergraduate degree from a decent US university was a broad education, not upscale job training as it is too often thought of today. Getting out of the so-called “white collar” workplace was the right thing for me to do, and the severe shortage of skilled people clearly indicates that it should be thought of as a viable path for others as well.

Trump is redefining the concept of a gaffe out of existence

Sep 12th, 2016 4:04 pm | By

Matt Yglesias points out that a non-fascist politician saying the kind of thing Trump says once would be big news, while Trump’s saying it all the time is just normal. He’s made us numb to how horrifying he is.

(Up to a point. Just a few hours ago I thought of the fact that he calls Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas” and was appalled all over again.)

Donald Trump went on CNBC this morning, and, over the course of a wide-ranging interview, once again reminded the world of the most fundamental fact about his candidacy — he doesn’t really seem to understand any aspect of American public policy.

Benefitting as he often does from a cable news format, he was allowed to ramble and dissemble across a variety of topics — including who sets interest rates, how monetary policy impacts the economy, and how his own money is invested, finding time for a racist personal attack against a rival politician.

I still have trouble believing this is happening. He’s so ignorant and so unqualified and so bad – he’s such a bad, mean, cheating, lying, thieving, exploiting, bullying ratbag, as well as a racist and sexist. If you drew up a list of pros and cons it would be literally all cons. I don’t know of one single thing there is to admire or like about him.

Seriously. Stop. Take a breath. Now imagine if Mitt Romney had run exactly Mitt Romney’s campaign but then suddenly in mid-September went on television and called Elizabeth Warren Pocahontas for no reason. It would have been huge.

This year, basically nothing. Trump being kinda racist is a dog-bites-man story. After all, just yesterday Donald Trump Jr. shared a white nationalist meme on Instagram. Trump lies all the time, so that’s not a big deal. In fact, he lies frequently about the essential core of his foreign policy, and his business dealings pose such obvious and flagrant conflicts of interest and ethics problems that lying about his stock holdings doesn’t seem like a big deal. And of course Trump doesn’t understand what he’s saying when it comes to monetary policy — monetary policy is complicated and obscure and Trump doesn’t know what he’s talking about on any other issue either.

Yet NPR, for example, is reporting on him as if he were an ordinary candidate.

[T]he truly scary thing is that Trump is redefining the concept of a gaffe out of existence. It turns out that if you just boldly repeat something often enough, it goes away as a story. We’ve become numb, as a society, to what Trump is doing. In the process we’ve normalized casual racism [and] intense personal insults as an approach to politics, and completely decentered the idea that elected officials should grapple with difficult policy questions. Half the crazy things Trump says or does barely merit a mention on Twitter, much less the front-page coverage they would have merited in previous campaigns.

We’re doomed.


They didn’t hold it for long

Sep 12th, 2016 3:42 pm | By

Martin Luther King Jr.’s children called the National Museum of African American History and Culture. They had something they knew the museuem wanted, so they invited curator Rex Ellis to Atlanta to take a look at King’s traveling bible. Geoff Edgers in the Washington Post:

“It was heavier than I thought it would be,” remembers Ellis, the museum’s associate director of curatorial affairs. “Not only was it the weight of the object itself but the weight of what it was. You’re holding it like it’s a baby. I was uncomfortable holding it for long.”

Ellis and his colleagues didn’t hold it for long. The half-hour meeting with Martin III ended without a loan, a gift or any other promises. The Bible and a second key item, the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to King in 1964, were placed back into a bank vault.

When the museum opens Sept. 24, no major artifacts from the civil rights icon will be on display.

For the same reason Selma didn’t include any of King’s actual speeches or anything else he said. His children have the copyright and they want it to make them rich.

“It’s outrageous,” said Clarence Jones, the former King attorney who filed the copyright for his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963. “This is the Smithsonian. This is not just another party. This is one of the most important institutions now in the 21st century. And this is probably the greatest civil rights leader in the 20th century. I find it shameful and I’m sad.”

Jones doesn’t blame the museum’s curators, instead focusing on the widely known obstacle historians, filmmakers and others have faced for years: King’s children, Bernice, Martin III and Dexter.

For years, the siblings have blocked media outlets from using King’s words or image without paying what some have described as exorbitant licensing fees. The nonprofit foundation that built the monument to King on the Mall, finished in 2011, paid $800,000. The estate also has sued when they think they are not being sufficiently compensated.

So tawdry.

Item 1 should be a deal-breaker all by itself

Sep 12th, 2016 3:24 pm | By

Daniel Dale tweets a list of things Trump said in one interview today.


As if we were compelled to march in step

Sep 12th, 2016 11:49 am | By

Paul Braterman doesn’t like being told what he can say. I know the feeling.

(Mind you, there are some things I think people shouldn’t say. I think most people think that, whether they admit it or not. I frown on personal insults. But I also know the feeling when people try to exercise close-up control of what I say.)

I’m an atheist, and I’m feeling insulted

Insulted by Greta Christina’s article, “9 Answers to Common Questions for Atheists – So You Don’t Insult Us By Asking.” Insulted by the condescending and preachy answers offered on my behalf. Insulted that the author presumes to speak on my behalf at all, as if she were the privileged custodian of some kind of atheist credo. But above all, insulted by the suggestion that I am so intellectually fragile as to find the questions insulting.

I’ve never liked Greta’s air of being a privileged custodian of all the subjects she’s taken under her wing (or into custody, so to speak). I never voted for her for that role.

Ok, then, here are the questions to which Christina objects (I think it’s fair use in a review like this to just copy them), which she doesn’t want to hear again because she believes she has answered them once and for all, and, for what they’re worth, my own answers, which I promise you are a lot shorter than hers:

  1. How can you be moral without believing in God?
  2. How do you have any meaning in your life?
  3. Doesn’t it take just as much faith to be an atheist as it does to be a believer?
  4. Isn’t atheism just a religion?
  5. What’s the point of atheist groups? How can you have a community for something you don’t believe in?
  6. Why do you hate God? (Or ‘Aren’t you just angry at God?’)
  7. But have you read the Bible, or some other Holy Book, heard about some supposed miracle, etc?
  8. What if you’re wrong?
  9. Why are you atheists so angry?

Some of them are very well-worn, of course, and answering them doesn’t seem to make any difference to anything, so if you spend a lot of time arguing for atheism you get tired of them. It doesn’t follow however that any one answer is definitive, not even if it’s Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris uttering it. Actually especially not, because they share that unfortunate habit of acting like privileged custodians of some kind of atheist credo.

Braterman gives his own, non-custodial, non-definitive answers to the questions.

Saving the worst till last

But maybe you could do a little Googling before you start asking us questions that we’ve not only fielded a hundred times before, but that have bigotry and dehumanization and religious privilege embedded in the very asking.

No, I do not expect people to do an online search before I condescend to talk to them about my beliefs, or the lack of them. Perhaps, after all, they want a conversation, are interested in seeing how an actual person responds, want to get to know me better, or simply want to spend time over a pint. And I detest the collective “we”; it should be obvious from the above examples that the way I field these questions is very different from the way someone else might. We are, after all, discussing questions about how we as individuals view the world, rather than questions about how the world is. So it is the height of arrogance for any of us to speak for the atheist community, as if we were compelled to march in step.

Well guess what, bub, we are compelled to march in step!

Hahaha just kidding, but there are those who think we are. I prefer the other kind.

Solely focused on the person with the uterus

Sep 12th, 2016 10:56 am | By

Jesse Singal tweeted:

Singal’s linked article is about pinning down the numbers on how many trans youth need pregnancy services. Within that is the exchange with Saewyc:

During an email exchange with Science of Us, Elizabeth Saewyc, a youth-health researcher at the University of British Columbia and a co-author on the study, said that she was about to head off on a trip and wasn’t able to break down the pregnancy numbers by natal sex for me in time for this post, but pointed out that in the broader survey from which these numbers were drawn, about 75 percent of the sample was female at birth, and that she thought it likely the percentage would be about the same in her subsample (Veale, the paper’s lead author, echoed this in an email). But she also said she didn’t think this was particularly important: “I’ve been a public health professional and researcher involved in sexual and reproductive health issues both clinically and from a public health perspective for 20 years, but I’m not sure what the public health issue is that would require a focus only on those who become pregnant, as opposed to any of those involved in pregnancy, either becoming pregnant or causing someone else to become pregnant.” More broadly, Saewyc had “always been curious as to why people put so much emphasis on pregnancy-related research and monitoring that is solely focused on the person with the uterus, when, at least for this age group, there are always two people involved in creating a pregnancy, whose lives and decisions are often affected by this reproductive moment, and who may be further involved in parenting, if the pregnancy leads to a birth.”

She isn’t sure what the public health issue is that would require a focus only on those who become pregnant, as opposed to any of those involved in pregnancy, either becoming pregnant or causing someone else to become pregnant.

She’s in the nursing department at UBC. She’s in the nursing department, and she isn’t sure what the public health issue is that would require a focus only on those who become pregnant? She isn’t sure why the focus isn’t equally on the people causing someone else to become pregnant?

I know why. I have no medical training, but I know why. Pregnancy happens inside bodies, and it causes huge changes to those bodies, and some of those changes are very uncomfortable, and some can be dangerous. Also, the future baby that the pregnancy is gestating may have some medical needs during the pregnancy. Also, the future baby that the pregnancy is gestating will do better if the pregnancy-haver does certain things and avoids doing certain things. That’s why. None of that applies to the people causing someone else to become pregnant.

She’s a nurse, and she has always been curious as to why people put so much emphasis on pregnancy-related research and monitoring that is solely focused on the person with the uterus, when, at least for this age group, there are always two people involved in creating a pregnancy? It’s for all the above-mentioned reasons. Pregnancy is internal to one body, and that body is what needs medical attention. The body can, with luck, do the whole thing by itself, but pre-natal care improves the odds and the comfort of the pregnancy-haver enormously, so that’s the reason for the emphasis that Saewyc claims to find so mystifying.

The people causing someone else to become pregnant may well need all kinds of social help and support, but they don’t need any medical support connected to the pregnancy. I hope most nurses have a firm grasp on this point.

Saint Cruelty

Sep 12th, 2016 10:01 am | By

Annie Laurie Gaylor on Agnes Gonxhe Bojaxhiu:

The pompous and self-congratulatory pageantry over the canonization of Mother Teresa (Agnes Gonxhe Bojaxhiu), positively wallowing in credulity, has dominated TV news and social media all week. Sainthood is dependent on supposedly proving that Bojaxhiu was involved in posthumous “miracles.” How ironic the Church requires superstitious claims to supposedly be backed up by “scientific evidence” before it will accept their validity.

My primary objection to the fawning adulation Bojaxhiu received during her lifetime and after her death is rooted in her opportunistic use of almost every public occasion — notably including her acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize — to attack women’s rights. She not only went after abortion, but, in the time-honored tradition of Catholic bishops, contraception. I’ll never forget her gratuitous tirade against abortion during her Nobel acceptance:

Many people are very, very concerned with the children in India, with the children in Africa where quite a number die, maybe of malnutrition, of hunger and so on, but millions are dying deliberately by the will of the mother. And this is what is the greatest destroyer of peace today.

So much for compassion. What a minimization of human suffering by someone credited as the apotheosis of saintliness!

It appears the “saint” wanted those babies to be born so that they could really experience dying of malnutrition and hunger.

Call upon the Turkish government

Sep 11th, 2016 4:53 pm | By

Orhan Pamuk, JM Coetzee, Elena Ferrante and others protest the Turkish government’s attack on thinkers and writers:

We the undersigned call upon democrats throughout the world, as well as those who care about the future of Turkey and the region in which it exerts a leading role, to protest the vendetta the government is waging against its brightest thinkers and writers who may not share their point of view.

The background to this letter is the coup attempt on 15 July 2016, which mercifully failed and was quickly subdued. Had the Turkish people themselves not resisted this assault on their institutions, the result would have been years of misery.

In the aftermath of that coup, it is understandable that the government would have imposed a temporary state of emergency. However, the failed coup should not be a pretext for a McCarthy-style witch-hunt nor should that state of emergency be conducted with scant regard for basic rights, rules of evidence or even common sense.

We as writers, academics and defenders of freedom of expression are particularly disturbed to see colleagues we know and respect being imprisoned under emergency regulations. Journalists such as Şahin Alpay and Nazlı Ilıcak and the novelist Aslı Erdoğan have been outspoken defenders of democracy and opponents of militarism and tyranny of any sort.

We are particularly disturbed to see the prominent novelist Ahmet Altan, and his brother, Mehmet Altan, a writer and distinguished professor of economics, being detained in a dawn raid on 10 September 2016. The pair stands accused of somehow giving subliminal messages to rally coup supporters on a television panel show broadcast 14 July, the night before the coup attempt.

altan brotehrs

Ahmet Altan is one of Turkey’s most important writers, whose novels appear in translation and sell in the millions. He was also editor-in-chief for five years of the liberal daily newspaper Taraf. The paper championed the public’s right to know. He has been prosecuted many times over his career – in the 1990s for trying to get a Turkish readership to empathize with the country’s Kurds and more recently for trying to force an apology from the prime minister for the 2011 Roboski massacre in which 34 villagers were bombed. He appeared in court as recently as 2 September, charged with handling state secrets based on an indictment that was in large part copy-pasted from two entirely different cases.

Mehmet Altan is a professor at Istanbul University, a columnist whose numerous books campaigned to rebuild Turkey’s identity not on race or religion but respect for human rights. Like his brother and others now in jail, his crime is not supporting a coup but the effectiveness of his criticism of the current government, whose initial progress in broadening democracy is now jammed in reverse gear.

We therefore call upon the Turkish government to cease its persecution of prominent writers and to speed the release of Ahmet and Mehmet Altan as well as so many of their colleagues wrongly accused.

For a full list of the signatories, click here.

No preconceived views

Sep 11th, 2016 4:37 pm | By

Catherine Bennett on Keith Vaz and that home affairs select committee report:

The first fact mentioned in the new report on prostitution by the home affairs select committee is that “around 11% of British men aged 16–74 have paid for sex on at least one occasion”. The home affairs select committee is composed of eight men and three women. Given the men’s ages, their resources and arguably enhanced opportunities, as MPs, to conclude such transactions, maybe it is not so remarkable that at least one of the parliamentarians deciding on the future legality of prostitution may also have been a sex buyer.

It’s more surprising, really, that no one on the committee, principally its chairman, Keith Vaz, seems to have questioned whether, with that level of gender imbalance, it was the ideal investigator of the overwhelmingly gendered issue of prostitution. During its second hearing, an entirely male committee would question two women, both former sex workers. Vaz assured witnesses that he approached the hearings with no “preconceived views”, as required. “After we have completed our inquiry, parliament probably will not look at this again for many years.”

No preconceived views…except of course the view that men are entitled to buy access to women. But what relevance could that view possibly have to an inquiry on prostitution?

For his supporters, of course, none of this, any more than his alleged unsafe sex or companions’ use of cocaine (and poppers), has a bearing on the Vaz prostitution report. We would not, Peter Tatchell argued, “demand that MPs who drink and smoke declare an interest when they discuss legislation affecting the alcohol and cigarette industries”.

So Peter Tatchell thinks that prostitutes are commodities just the way alcohol and cigarettes are.

I’m sure he would say he didn’t, if you asked him, but that certainly is the implication of that silly argument.

Long before leading the inquiry, he advertised, in a 2009 debate, his opposition to interfering with paying sexual transactions. To be fair, a tender concern for prostitutes, or fallen women as they used to be known, is something of a parliamentary tradition, dating at least back to Gladstone. “Ministers have used the phrase, ‘Let us tackle the demand for sex,’” Vaz objected. “We cannot just say to people, ‘Do not have sex’, or, ‘Do not have sex in these circumstances’; governments should not be involved, in my view, in making such statements.”

Presumably this very clear position changed at some point before he assumed command of a government inquiry set up to, among other things, examine the “demand which drives commercial sexual exploitation”. Anyway, full disclosure: I was recently a member of a commission that supported the introduction in Britain of “Nordic model” legislation that aims, precisely in the way once unacceptable to Vaz, to reduce demand for prostitution by penalising the buyers and not, as now, the sellers of sex. Introduced in Sweden in 1999, and now enacted, with variations, in four more countries, including France, the legislation proceeds from the principle, endorsed by the European parliament and many women’s organisations (and opposed by an equally vehement lobby), that prostitution amounts to acutely gendered exploitation, with horrifying costs to the many of the women and girls whose bodies are thus commodified.

To take just one figure that emerged in the Vaz hearings, when assistant chief constable Nikki Holland wanted to illustrate prostituted women’s vulnerability: “We have had 153 murders since 1990, which is probably the highest group of murders in any one category, so that gives the police cause for concern.”

But murders, such as those of five women in Ipswich, and a recent homicide in Leeds, did not appear to worry Mr Vaz overmuch.

Because it’s not his problem, is it. He’s not a worker, he’s a buyer. He’s not motivated to protect the workers, he’s motivated to protect the buyers.

If Vaz’s interim report is not dismissed as fatally compromised, family guy now buys sex with the official blessing of the home affairs committee. Sceptical of most research, it is airy about trafficking, artful in describing rights-based arguments as quaintly “moral” and wilfully obtuse about the power imbalance between sex buyers and sellers. In what, on the evidence of his hearings, may well be the authentic voice of Vaz, it denies any connection between sexual exploitation and “prostitution between consenting adults”. Maybe that’s his way of declaring an interest.

Listen to the sex buyers.