Notes and Comment Blog

Najimuddin Samad

Apr 6th, 2016 3:25 pm | By

CFI reports there is a new horror:

The Center for Inquiry is saddened and outraged to learn that a university student in Bangladesh has been killed in an attack by suspected Islamic extremists. Najimuddin Samad, a 28-year-old law student at Jagannath University, was hacked to death and shot by several assailants as he was returning home from classes last night. CFI, which has been working to rescue secularists in Bangladesh who have been targeted for killing, demanded that the Bangladeshi government take affirmative steps to protect its people and their right to criticize Islam.

It has been reported that the killers chanted “Allahu Akbar” as they hacked Samad with machetes. CFI can confirm that Samad was an atheist, as well as an activist who advocated for secularism and criticized radical Islam…

“It is both heartbreaking and maddening to think that this bright and passionate young student, with his whole life ahead of him, was so brutally and callously murdered, almost certainly by Islamic extremists, all because he spoke out for secularism and reason. All of us at the Center for Inquiry extend our deepest condolences to his friends and family,” said Michael De Dora, CFI’s director of public policy and main representative to the United Nations.

Samad had been organizing campaigns for secularism on Facebook, and a day before the murder, Samad posted about his concerns over the “deterioration of law and order” in the country, calling it a “public disgrace.”

“The government of Bangladesh must do much more to protect its own people from marauding Islamist killers,” said De Dora. “These murders keep happening because they are allowed to happen, leaving writers and activists like Samad, Avijit, and the other victims as the only ones willing to stand up to those fomenting this violence. The Bangladesh government must publicly and forcefully defend the universal human rights to freedom of religion, belief, and expression, fully investigate and prosecute these crimes, and show that attacks on individuals based on their beliefs or expressions will not be tolerated.”

The eyes

Apr 6th, 2016 11:40 am | By

It’s great that all the silly old stereotypes have faded away.

Just kidding.

Test: Do you view the world through the eyes of a woman or a man?

Spirit truffles contain spirit dust

Apr 6th, 2016 11:28 am | By

Good grief – doesn’t Gwyneth Paltrow have any friends capable of convincing her that she doesn’t know enough to be giving out medical advice? That there really are compelling reasons for not telling the world what to put in or on or up its poor vulnerable body unless one has the relevant knowledge? Which she doesn’t?

Dean Burnett at the Guardian tells us about her dangerous hobby.

For someone of even the slightest scientific inclination, Goop is a veritable cornucopia of What-The-Fuck? There’s “spirit truffles”, which contain “spirit dust” which apparently “feeds harmony and extrasensory perception through pineal gland de-calcification and activation”. In fairness to Goop, those are definitely all real words. They’ve got us there.

There’s the “morning smoothie” which lists as an ingredient Cordyceps, the parasitic fungus which genuinely turns insects into zombies by infecting their brains. Gwyneth Paltrow is literally telling her fans to consume brain-controlling fungus!

Because zombie-brain erases wrinkles?

At least things have an actual physical presence. The less said about the products that work by being infused with positive vibes and good intentions, the better. Same goes for vaginal steaming.

Vaginal steaming was the item I thought of before reading on. It stays in the mind, rather.

And never let it be said that Gwyneth Paltrow isn’t personally willing to suffer for her beliefs, as she’s recently revealed her latest interest is apitherapy, specifically the practice of deliberately getting bees to sting her, to supposedly get rid of inflammation and scarring.

There’s a lot to question about this claim. Firstly, using bee stings to get rid of inflammation is like using petrol bombs to get rid of a house fire. Bee stings, like most insect venom, cause inflammation! If you’ve ever been stung by anything, you know this, as the sting site swells up like a small-but-angry red balloon.

Well…like cures like, or something. Or maybe if it hurts it must be doing you good. Or bees give us honey so the stings must be beneficial, like honey. Or no pain no gain. It’s one of those, or something else.

But it would be churlish to hold Gwyneth Paltrow solely responsible for this, as the issue is much bigger than her. The beauty industry regularly and openly misuses science when it comes to hawking their products to an unsuspecting population. Beauty products like to include just enough science-sounding words and phrases to seem credible (pentapeptides, anyone?) without actually having to do anything as hard as conforming to the rigorous rules of actual science.

In a society where women are constantly harassed to look their best but paradoxically criticised for attempting to do so, it’s hardly surprising that any claim from a powerful industry to be able to enhance or fix appearance with minimum effort is going to be seized upon by anyone unfortunate enough to be vulnerable to the laws of nature (i.e. everyone, except possibly Gwyneth Paltrow).

Paltrow’s latest claim is just another symptom of this, albeit an especially bizarre and surreal one. This again is hardly surprising, given how many high-profile figures end up developing their own egocentric model of how reality works, and such is the way the human mind works when it comes to successful, confident figures that they’ll always have their believers and supporters.

Those egocentric models of how the world works are going to ruin everything, I swear.

They prefer to hound fellow activists

Apr 5th, 2016 6:02 pm | By

Peter Tatchell has some sharp words for the purity-enforcing virtue-signaling pseudo-leftists who spend all their time and energy attacking other leftists for making an unauthorized departure from the Dogma Express. Mind you, Tatchell has done some of that himself, even recently, even very recently – distancing himself from Julie Bindel and Germaine Greer, for instance. Nevertheless his counterblast is refreshing.

The future of progressive politics is under threat, again. But this time from the left. Historically, socialists and greens have made gains by building broad alliances around a common goal, such as the campaigns against the poll tax and the bombing of Syria. We united together diverse people who often disagreed on other issues. Through this unity and solidarity, we won. The government of the day was forced to back down.

Nowadays, we are witnessing a revival of far ‘left’ sectarian politics and it is infecting the Green Party too. Zealous activists, seemingly motivated by a desire to be more ‘left’ and pure than rivals, are putting huge energy into fighting and dragging down other campaigners. Corporate thieves and war criminals often get off scot-free by comparison.

The issues many of these sectarians highlight are not the mega crimes of mass murder in Syria and Yemen, fuel poverty, unaffordable housing, global hunger, climate destruction or transphobic and racist violence. They prefer to hound fellow activists.

Good people are being forced out of the progressive movement by hair-splitting, holier-than-thou ‘left-wing’ puritans. Their dirty tactics of smears and false accusations are borrowed from the far right, and have a whiff of McCarthyism.

That is correct. If you don’t agree that the word “women” should be dropped from all discussions of reproductive rights, you’re a terrible shunworthy person.

The often dishonest, poisonous, aggressive tone of the current wave of sectarian attacks is a total betrayal of the ethics of comradeship that are supposed to be green and left values. People’s good intentions and long radical commitments are dismissed, even ridiculed; often over minor disagreements and sometimes based on distortion and fabrication.

The far right rarely receives the hatchet jobs that sections of the ‘left’ do on their own people who fail to follow the ‘correct’ party line.

These tactics are not only cruel to the individuals who are targeted, they also weaken progressive politics and drive good people away, which strengthens the political right and the power elite. As a left-wing green committed to securing radical social change, this destructive behaviour concerns and disturbs me.

It’s not new behavior – but in the past there wasn’t the internet to amplify it and disseminate it into every inch of the world.

Many progressive people and organisations have been victims of this low politics, including the Iranian communist and feminist, Maryam Namazie and activists in student Atheist Secular and Humanist Societies, who have be falsely accused of racism, anti-Muslim prejudice, neo-colonialism and worse.

Yep. I’m friends with many of them as a result.

Then he gets to particulars: a pervasively inaccurate attack on him.

A classic example of this dirty ‘left’ politics is the article by Chris Jarvis (Bright Green, 21 February 2016).

Read Tatchell’s piece for the details. Toward the end he gets to the Fran Cowling shunning.

Jarvis resumes with further false narratives: “Tatchell’s controversy…(has continued) this time in relation to NUS LGBT+ Officer (Women’s Place) Fran Cowling’s decision not to share a platform with Tatchell at an event at Canterbury Christ Church University….Cowling is free to decide who she wishes to share a platform with and who not to. It is nobody’s God given right to expect people to wish to debate them.”

Who said otherwise? I never did. On Newsnight, RT, the Telegraph and elsewhere I did not say I was no-platformed and I defended Cowling’s right to not share a platform with me.

My objection was to Cowling’s false allegation that I am “racist” and “transphobic” and her equally false claim that she was acting on behalf of the NUS membership who, she dishonestly claimed, believe that I am racist and transphobic. The NUS membership never made any such ruling and I was not on the NUS no-platform list. For nearly three weeks, I privately contacted Cowling seeking dialogue and asking for evidence of her allegations. She ignored my request and refused to speak to me. That’s why I went public.

Jarvis then rebukes me for signing an Observer letter that defended free speech, including the free speech of people I strongly disagree agree with on trans issues and who I have repeatedly criticised, such as Julie Bindel and Germaine Greer (I’ve also been critical of Julie Burchill on these issues).

There, he does it again. He “criticizes” them in exactly the unfair way he objects to, recycling other people’s claims about them even though some or many of those claims are not true. These claims get passed around and around and around and around until it becomes impossible to remember which ones are true and which are bullshit – but that’s a reason to be very cautious about what claims you pass around. I’ve seen Tatchell do some careless echoing.

Then Jarvis claims: “Tatchell tacitly endorses the idea that people should not be able to collectively decide the people that they chose to invite to speak at events that they are organising in their own spaces.” More nonsense. I defend the right of people to invite or not invite who they choose. What I actually said is something very different: that if one group invites a speaker, another group should not have a right to veto that invitation – unless the speaker is guilty of threats, harassment or encouraging  violence – or demands discrimination such as forced gender segregation.

Well that’s such a subtle distinction it’s elitist to expect anyone to make it.

Jarvis carries on with more distortions: “Tatchell has continuously called for the stopping of ‘Islamists’ from speaking on campuses up and down the country for hate preaching.” Not true. I have not called for the banning of mere “hate” preachers. I have opposed platforms being given to Islamists who go beyond hate to endorse the killing of other human beings; specifically the killing of Muslims who turn away from their faith, people who blaspheme, women who have sex outside of marriage, LGBT people and Ahmadi’s and other minority followers of Islam. This is more than just hate. It is encouragement to murder. Endorsing violence is my red line.

The real issue is much more than Jarvis’s article. What he wrote is indicative of a bigger, wider problem that is infecting and damaging left and green politics: the decline in civility and honesty, and the rise in sectarian attacks on other activists. We can never build a successful a mass movement to challenge the Tories, UKIP and the far right if people in our movement are attacking each other and obsessed with minute political purity. The sectarians say: better fewer but purer. I say: unite the many to defeat the few.

Well said…but that should apply to Bindel and Greer, too.

Guest post: The Abortion Act was considered “religiously sensitive”

Apr 5th, 2016 4:49 pm | By

Originally a comment by Bernard Hurley on Too bad for her she lived in Belfast.

While the influence of the Catholic Church needs to be taken into account the situation in Northern Ireland is far more complex than than you suggest. NI is a sort of dual-theocracy. Members of the NI parliament who wish to be part of government must declare themselves to be either Nationalist or Unionist – in practice code for Catholic or Protestant – and the NI cabinet balanced to make it contain equal numbers of each. The NI parliament is about 52% Unionist (Protestant), 40% Nationalist (Catholic) with the other 8% undeclared. But it gets a bit confusing because, for instance, the Progressive Unionist Party is non-sectarian and its members do not declare themselves to be Unionist.

While the Nationalists in the NI parliament would no doubt oppose repealing Section 58 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, the Unionists have a built in majority and could easily push through such legistlation if they wished. But they do not wish because most Unionist politicians are fundamentalists of some stripe and are also anti-abortion.

As I understand it the situation is as follows: Section 58 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 has not been repealed anywhere in the UK, however the Abortion Act 1967 takes precedence over it which has the same effect. But the Abortion Act was considered “religiously sensitive” and so, while it is part of English, Welsh and Scottish law, Northern Ireland was deliberately exempted from its provisions.

It gets even more bizarre than that, however. Section 58 of the Offences against the Person Act has been declared to contrary to the Human Rights Act by the UK Supreme Court. An outsider might be forgiven for thinking this would render it null and void, but it doesn’t. What this ruling does do is to make the issue the responsibility of the Westminter parliament, since according to the Good Friday agreement, this ruling gives the that parliament the right to strike down the legislation. This has not been done, presumably in deference to religious sensitivities, although politicians would probably plead lack of parliamentary time.

After 30 years of sectarian violence in Ulster in the last century, it is understandable that politicians might want to tiptoe around religious issues. But there is a price to be paid for this and it is people like this unfortunate young lady who end up paying the price.

If women aren’t people to you

Apr 5th, 2016 3:10 pm | By

Dr Jen Gunter on Ted Cruz on Fox News:

When asked about abortion, given Trump’s recent flip flops (I think he’s had six or is that seven positions this week?), Ted Cruz said “the people” should decide. And that Roe is so terrible because it took abortion “out of the control of the people”

Not the women people, the other people.

And women should carry their rapists baby to term.

His plan, which he somehow feels is very moderate and filled with empathy, appears to be get rid of Roe and then let the voters decide state by state. Women and doctors? Silly, they don’t know anything.

If the majority decides women shouldn’t be able to decide whether and when to have children, then there you go: that’s democracy. Democracy means the majority can take your rights away or refuse to grant them in the first place.

Not allowing women to decide on their own health care is punishment.

Making abortion unavailable in 15 states also punishes women. We know what happens, women take abortion into their own hands in the absence of legal, safe procedures. It’s already happening and women are being prosecuted for it. Cruz can let the states punish women through the legal system and take no responsibility. Women with money will have to pay a lot of money to travel. Also punishment.

And making a woman carry her rapists’ baby to term or making a woman wait for days with a dilated cervix and fetal feet hanging into the vagina risking infection for a fetus that has no hope of survival because it has cardiac activity? Punishment. Very, very cruel punishment.

But then again, if women aren’t people to you then none of this would come off as cruel or unusual.

If God wanted women to be able to end their pregnancies, God would have installed an on/off switch.

Going up

Apr 5th, 2016 2:52 pm | By

A NASA photo of a space shuttle leaving earth’s atmosphere:

Men complain based on religious beliefs, and women are forced to move

Apr 5th, 2016 11:55 am | By

Nick Little – director of legal affairs and VP at CFI – casts a cold eye on this business of airlines making women change their seats when men afflicted with religious misogyny refuse to sit next to women. He starts with Renee Rabinowitz, and then proceeds to the general.

This isn’t an isolated event. This scene is being played out repeatedly at multiple airports, and on multiple airlines. Men complain based on religious beliefs, and women are forced to move. When men are denied this “accommodation” they have protested, stood in the aisles, and refused to allow the plane to take off. So the airlines have kowtowed to their demands, and the men have gotten their way. The offending and offensive woman has been taken elsewhere in the plane, where, presumably, she should be grateful that she can sit without having curtains drawn around her.

Beyond even the ridiculous notion that sitting next to a woman on a flight, be she 18 or 81, should somehow tempt you into sin, there’s what is to me a stunning problem in this story. HE had the problem with his seat assignment, yet the airline’s policy was to ask HER to move to a different seat. If it’s his problem, if he is seeking the special treatment, why shouldn’t he be the one to move? Yet the default solution is that where a man is unhappy with the actions (or existence) of a woman, it should be up to the woman to change. The problem is no longer his irrational fear of sitting next to her, it is her very existence in a seat next to him.

Making the woman move just accepts that idea, and also makes her deal with the inconvenience of it. Doing that just endorses the idea that women are a contaminant and a nuisance, and get to share public facilities only on sufferance. Oh all right, you can fly on airplanes if you insist, but you can’t force anyone to sit next to you. If anyone doesn’t want to sit next to you, you have to move. Bitch.

The airline has multiple choices in this situation. It could, at the very least, require the adjustment to be made by the complaining male passenger. It could (and should) require any seat requests to be made in advance of boarding, when the ticket is purchased. That way a woman is not publicly accused of being unclean, and unfit to share a row of seats with a pious man.

Good line? Round of applause?

But El Al, and other airlines do none of these. They bow to the pressure, and they require women to bear the burden, and to make the change

The airlines concerned aren’t the only villains of this story. The United States government regulates air travel and airports in this country. It strikes me as inconceivable that an airline would be permitted to operate in the United States if it treated people of color in this fashion – if a white passenger was allowed to complain that he didn’t feel like sitting next to a black person, and that the airline should move the black person to a different part of the plane. For that reason, on behalf of CFI, I wrote today to Michael Huerta of the Federal Aviation Administration, asking what the policy of the government is on this issue, and how women’s rights to respect and equal treatment can be protected in U.S. airports. You can find the text of the letter here. I’ll let you know what response I get.

It’s a terrific letter. I’m looking forward to the response (unless it’s a “thank you for concern now fuck off” response).

Oxymoron in chief

Apr 5th, 2016 11:07 am | By

So this is one of the funnier headlines I’ve seen in some time:

The President of Transparency International Chile Resigns After Being Named in the Panama Papers


The head of global corruption watchdog Transparency International’s Chile branch resigned on Monday, after his name appeared in a data leak from a Panamanian law firm detailing thousands of offshore companies — now being dubbed the Panama Papers.

“Gonzalo Delaveau resigned as President of Transparency Chile, which has been accepted by the board of directors,” the agency said on Twitter.

Although Delaveau has not directly been accused of unlawful practices, Reuters reports that he was linked to at least five offshore firms by the leak.

See, “unlawful” is not the only issue here. Transparency is not solely a legal issue, and the problems with offshore corporations are not solely legal issues. The law doesn’t cover all of morality, to put it mildly.


Apr 5th, 2016 9:54 am | By

Georgina Kenyon at the BBC magazine on Robert Proctor and agnotology.

She starts with the well-known tobacco industry memo that said “Doubt is our product.”

In one of the paper’s most revealing sections, it looks at how to market cigarettes to the mass public: “Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the mind of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy.”

This revelation piqued the interest of Robert Proctor, a science historian from Stanford University, who started delving into the practices of tobacco firms and how they had spread confusion about whether smoking caused cancer.

Proctor had found that the cigarette industry did not want consumers to know the harms of its product, and it spent billions obscuring the facts of the health effects of smoking. This search led him to create a word for the study of deliberate propagation of ignorance: agnotology.

I do think there should be a special kind of hell for people who do that – a figurative hell, to be sure, but one with very nasty figurative tortures, like being forced to watch deceitful advertisements for several hundred years without a break.

“I was exploring how powerful industries could promote ignorance to sell their wares. Ignorance is power… and agnotology is about the deliberate creation of ignorance.

“In looking into agnotology, I discovered the secret world of classified science, and thought historians should be giving this more attention.”

The 1969 memo and the tactics used by the tobacco industry became the perfect example of agnotology, Proctor says. “Ignorance is not just the not-yet-known, it’s also a political ploy, a deliberate creation by powerful agents who want you ‘not to know’.”

And they want you not to know so that you will spend money on their product and make them richer, while you make yourself both poorer and more ignorant. Special kind of hell, I tell you.

Agnotology is as important today as it was back when Proctor studied the tobacco industry’s obfuscation of facts about cancer and smoking. For example, politically motivated doubt was sown over US President Barack Obama’s nationality for many months by opponents until he revealed his birth certificate in 2011. In another case, some political commentators in Australia attempted to stoke panic by likening the country’s credit rating to that of Greece, despite readily available public information from ratings agencies showing the two economies are very different.

And there’s Holocaust denial. Deborah Lipstadt and Richard Evans have done brilliant work on this branch of agnotology. For Irving’s libel suit against Lipstadt and Penguin, Evans researched Irving’s work and was able to document a massive amount of systematic falsification of evidence. That there is agnotology.

“We live in a world of radical ignorance, and the marvel is that any kind of truth cuts through the noise,” says Proctor. Even though knowledge is ‘accessible’, it does not mean it is accessed, he warns.

“Although for most things this is trivial – like, for example, the boiling point of mercury – but for bigger questions of political and philosophical import, the knowledge people have often comes from faith or tradition, or propaganda, more than anywhere else.”

Or from Twitter.

Too bad for her she lived in Belfast

Apr 4th, 2016 5:29 pm | By

Northern Ireland as a little outpost of Catholic woman-hatred, even though it’s officially not Catholic as it’s part of the UK.

A woman bought drugs for a home abortion after failing to raise enough money to travel to England for a termination, a court heard on Monday.

A barrister for the woman told Belfast Crown Court that had his client lived in any other region of the UK, she would “not have found herself before the courts”.

She was in court because she was on trial, because Northern Ireland isn’t as free of Catholic dogma as it might like you to think.

She bought drugs online and then miscarried, in July 2014. She was 19 then.

The male foetus, which was between 10 and 12 weeks, was later found in the bin of a house she shared with two other people.

She appeared in court today where she pleaded guilty to two charges – namely procuring her own abortion by using a poison, and of supplying a poison with intent to procure a miscarriage.

Handing the woman a three-month prison sentence, which was suspended for two years, Judge David McFarland spoke of the difference in legislation surrounding abortion in Northern Ireland, compared to England, Scotland and Wales.

A very large difference, clearly.

Crown prosecutor Kate McKay said that on July 20, 2014 police were contacted by the woman’s housemates and were made aware that she had bought drugs online which had induced a miscarriage on July 12.

When officers arrived at the rented accommodation in south Belfast, they conducted a search and located various items – including a foetus which was located in a black bag in the household bin.

A subsequent post-mortem confirmed that the male foetus was between ten to 12 weeks and was the woman’s biological son.

Mrs McKay said that when the woman moved into the house in May 2014, she told her two housemates that she was pregnant but that she was trying to raise the money to travel to England for a termination.

She clearly wasn’t expecting them to call the police.

The day after she miscarried

her housemates found both blood-stained items and the foetus in the bin. One housemate described the foetus as a “wee baby” around four inches long.

Mrs McKay said at this point the housemates were in a dilemma about what to do and were “taken aback by the seemingly blase attitude” adopted by the woman. Around a week later, they contacted the PSNI.

That will teach her to be “blasé” about terminating a pregnancy at ten weeks. Good thing she had roommates to rat her out.

Acknowledging that as a UK citizen the woman could legally have travelled to England for a termination, Judge McFarland said that the advice given by the clinic “without knowledge of her background and details was perhaps inappropriate”.

He also said that while there are agencies in Northern Ireland that give advice on such issues “unfortunately they are part of a polarised debate that can be part of a more toxic debate”.

What a nasty mess.

Attacks with acid were also common

Apr 4th, 2016 4:48 pm | By

The BBC says “honor” murders are on the rise in Pakistan.

Nearly 1,100 women were killed in Pakistan last year by relatives who believed they had dishonoured their families, the country’s independent Human Rights Commission says.

In its annual report the commission said 900 more women suffered sexual violence and nearly 800 took, or tried to take, their own lives.

Of course those are the ones they know about. It’s very unlikely that they know about all the ones there are.

“The predominant causes of these killings in 2015 were domestic disputes, alleged illicit relations and exercising the right of choice in marriage,” the report said.

Most of the 1,096 victims were shot, the report said, but attacks with acid were also common.

The primary cause is the fact that women aren’t considered full human beings with all the rights that full human beings should have. Women wouldn’t be slaughtered for such footling reasons if they were seen as valuable.

In February, Punjab, the country’s largest province, passed a landmark lawcriminalising all forms of violence against women.

However, more than 30 religious groups, including all the mainstream Islamic political parties, have threatened to launch protests if the law is not repealed.

In other words they want women killed for stupid trivial reasons. They overvalue Allah and Allah’s prophet, and they undervalue women. That’s what religion can do to people.

Religious groups have equated women’s rights campaigns with promotion of obscenity. They say the new Punjab law will increase the divorce rate and destroy the country’s traditional family system.

The one that allows the murder of girls and women by their fathers and uncles and brothers.

“I could only see her eyes but they were full of rage”

Apr 4th, 2016 4:30 pm | By

Meet Hibo Wardere:

Hibo Wardere, 46, who fled Somalia’s civil war at the age of 18 having suffered FGM aged six, has made it her life’s work to educate and speak frankly about the brutal surgery which affects 200 million women in 30 countries.

Mrs Wardere, a teaching assistant who visits [London] schools to educate children about the procedure, has written a book about her one-woman fight to wipe out FGM in her lifetime.


But the Somalian’s outspoken approach and refusal to sugar-coat the  topic with young children has made her the target of attacks.

She said: “I had a scary confrontation on the 257 bus in Walthamstow. A woman with a full niqab recognised me and ran at me screaming my name and snarling, ‘You came to my child’s school, you told her FGM was abuse.’

“I could only see her eyes but they were full of rage. She was so angry she had to be dragged off the bus, but I was jumping for joy inside because that meant a child had confronted their parent.”

She’s brave.

Cut: One Woman’s Fight against FGM in Britain Today comes out on Thursday.

And everyone else is a mixed bag of broken biscuits

Apr 4th, 2016 10:41 am | By

Samantha Rea on why it’s not cool to erase women:

Last week on Twitter, a representative for the Green Party gave a shout-out for the Young Greens Women Twitter account, directing “non-male” members to give them a follow.

I – along with many others – objected to this phrasing, on the grounds that women exist in their own right, not in relation to men. Referring to women as “non-male,” positions men as the defining group, and women as “other.” It’s like saying that men are Coca Cola and women are the supermarket budget brand – or men are filet steak and women are a bargain bag of offal.

Or men are normal and women are some bizarre aberration, or men are the majority and women are some weird tiny minority exception.

When she expressed her dissent on Twitter, kind people explained to her.

“Maybe they were trying to be non-binary,” suggested one. Another proposed that: “Maybe they were trying to take gender fluidity into account – non-males might be a wider group than just women.”

Without meaning to, their explanations simply reiterated the binary I was objecting to in the first place: “male” juxtaposed with “non-male”; male presented as the polished paradigm of the human species, and everyone else lumped together as “other.” It’s like saying men are a box of Duchy Originals, and everyone else is a mixed bag of broken biscuits.

Plus there’s the fact that if we stop talking about women, that’s the end of feminism, and we’d rather feminism didn’t end yet, thanks.

But this wasn’t the only aspect of the responses that bothered me. It was the implication that there are “women” and there are “non-binary people” (who can be chucked together with women, in the broken biscuits bag). There seems to be a lot of confusion at the moment surrounding words like sex, gender, and non-binary – so, armed with a handy MSc in Gender, let me see if I can help clear this up.

Sex is biology. Gender is culture.

Gender is an idea of how men and women should behave. It’s a stereotype that’s dictated by society, and it bears no innate relation to sex (biology). In other words, it’s a cultural construction.

If someone identifies as non-binary, it generally means they reject the gender stereotype that’s associated with their sex. But actually, by this definition, we’re all prone to being non-binary, because none of us rigidly adheres to the stereotypes associated with our sex.

Me? I swear like a navvy who’s tarmacked his testicles, and when I blow my nose, it sounds like an elephant’s calling for back-up. I wear a dress maybe 10 per cent of the time, and I have never cleaned my oven. I handed back the only engagement ring anyone gave me, and I’ve never bought Cosmo. Do I identify as non-binary? No, I’m a woman – and like most women (and men) I simply don’t conform to all the stereotypes associated with my sex.

That, exactly. I don’t identify as non-binary either, even though I am de facto non-binary – but then as Samantha says, who isn’t? I don’t identify that way because I am in fact a woman and I simply don’t conform to all the stereotypes associated with my sex, and I really don’t think we should be plucking out all such women from the category “women” because then how could we possibly unite and fight?

The suggestion that there are ‘women’ and ‘non-binaries’ implies that while non-binary people reject these gender stereotypes, women (and men) happily accept and adhere to them.

And we don’t. We don’t, we don’t, we don’t. The stereotypes are not our doing, and we reject them – and we’re still women.

It’s important to remember that when women were denied the vote, they were denied it because they were biologically women – regardless of their gender identity or whether they were gender-conforming.

So political parties, please: if you want women to support you, don’t refer to us as “non-male.”

Women fought for the vote – we’ve had it less than a hundred years, and it wasn’t easily won. The women in the suffrage movement didn’t go on hunger strike for today’s political parties to sweep us aside as “non-male.” They fought for “Votes for Women.”

Remember when the cool non-conforming thing was to be Goth? So sweet, so innocent, so healthy. I miss that.

Go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor

Apr 4th, 2016 9:47 am | By

There’s a cardinal at the Vatican who is making a nice little racket out of being a cardinal at the Vatican. Barry Duke at the Freethinker has details:

Funds designated for sick children were allegedly diverted to pay for costly renovations to the apartment of the Vatican’s former Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, 81.

Children’s hospital cash funded cardinal’s plush apartment

I do like to see a cardinal in shades, don’t you? It’s so Pythonesque, with a dash of Mafioso.

According to estimates published in the Italian press, each of the bedrooms has its own private bathroom, and the kitchen facilities are befitting a banquet hall. Bertone spent $22,000 on eight independent sharable audio programmes and audio controls with LCD display for each environment.

Let me guess – the kitchen has granite or marble countertops, and a restaurant-quality stove with six burners, and a fridge the size of a garage, and two dishwashers. There’s a standard in these things.

Bertone – who served in the Vatican’s No 2 position as Secretary of State from 2006 until Pope Francis retired him in 2013 – decided to combine two vacant Vatican-owned rooftop apartments for himself and his three service nuns at an estimated cost of around half a million euro, which was discounted by 50 percent, according to official estimates published by the Italian newspaper Il Tempo.

But despite the considerable savings, the renovations were apparently paid for twice, meaning the discount was likely down to creative – or corrupt – accounting, which is being investigated by a Vatican Tribunal that opened a criminal dossier into the matter last week.

I’m sure he’s doing all this nest-lining at someone else’s expense in a very spiritual way. Amen, etc etc.

It’s empowering to brush your teeth

Apr 3rd, 2016 5:57 pm | By

No, it’s not “empowering” in the 21st century US for women to post selfies of themselves. The default situation isn’t that women aren’t allowed to post selfies of themselves. The default situation isn’t that they’re locked up in harems with no phones to take selfies with and no internet to share the selfies with. Women aren’t lying on their backs thrashing their arms and legs helplessly like June bugs.

The “power” to post selfies on the internet isn’t in and of itself a power that will get women anywhere. Women in the US aren’t in such a helpless, restricted, spied on, imprisoned state that the ability to post a selfie is a triumphant access to power and freedom. It’s ludicrous to say it is.

Granted for a minority of women it can be – women in Quiverfull or right-wing Muslim families, who really are restricted and spied on. But for most women, the “power” to post selfies is like the “power” to go to Safeway for orange juice. It’s trivial, and it’s rather insulting to call it “empowering.”

I guess I could look at that as reason for optimism. Feminism is very far from having won the battle, but at least we’re not in such a pathetic state that being able to post selfies qualifies as genuine empowerment. You might as well tell us it’s empowering to be able to put our own shoes on.

The Panama Papers

Apr 3rd, 2016 5:10 pm | By

We’ll be learning some details of how rich people avoid taxes by using offshore tax havens, via the Panama Papers. The Guardian is one of a group of news outlets that have access to the papers.

The hidden wealth of some of the world’s most prominent leaders, politicians and celebrities has been revealed by an unprecedented leak of millions of documents that show the myriad ways in which the rich can exploit secretive offshore tax regimes.

The Guardian, working with global partners, will set out details from the first tranche of what are being called “the Panama Papers”. Journalists from more than 80 countries have been reviewing 11.5m files leaked from the database of Mossack Fonseca, the world’s fourth biggest offshore law firm.

The records were obtained from an anonymous source by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists with the Guardian and the BBC.

Though there is nothing unlawful about using offshore companies, the files raise fundamental questions about the ethics of such tax havens – and the revelations are likely to provoke urgent calls for reforms of a system that critics say is arcane and open to abuse.

Why isn’t it illegal? Why are tax havens legal? I’ve never understood it.

What we need to know:

What is Mossack Fonseca?
It is a Panama-based law firm whose services include incorporating companies in offshore jurisdictions such as the British Virgin Islands. It administers offshore firms for a yearly fee. Other services include wealth management.
Where is it based?
The firm is Panamanian but runs a worldwide operation. Its website boasts of a global network with 600 people working in 42 countries. It has franchises around the world, where separately owned affiliates sign up new customers and have exclusive rights to use its brand. Mossack Fonseca operates in tax havensincluding Switzerland, Cyprus and the British Virgin Islands, and in the British crown dependencies Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man.

It gets to that why question:

Are all people who use offshore structures crooks?
No. Using offshore structures is entirely legal. There are many legitimate reasons for doing so. Business people in countries such as Russia and Ukraine typically put their assets offshore to defend them from “raids” by criminals, and to get around hard currency restrictions. Others use offshore for reasons of inheritance and estate planning.

Oh, well, as long as they’re used to get around hard currency restrictions, that’s fine then. Eh?

Are some people who use offshore structures crooks?
Yes. In a speech last year in Singapore, David Cameron said “the corrupt, criminals and money launderers” take advantage of anonymous company structures. The government is trying to do something about this. It wants to set up a central register that will reveal the beneficial owners of offshore companies. From June, UK companies will have to reveal their “significant” owners for the first time.

This should run for awhile.

You can hear people screaming

Apr 3rd, 2016 4:08 pm | By

A horror in Molenbeek yesterday:

Shocking footage has emerged of a woman being mown down by a car in the Brussels district of Molenbeek during a far-right rally. Police later arrested the driver, who is said to be a local man.

In the footage, a white Audi A1 that had broken through a police roadblock hits the woman, who appears to be wearing a black Muslim headscarf, while she is crossing the road. She rolls across the bonnet of the vehicle and falls onto the floor, while the vehicle speeds down the street.

The woman suffered multiple fractures and head injuries.

Police arrested two suspected far-right activists carrying Molotov cocktails and weapons in the district of Saturday, as they struggled to close down an anti-Islam protest that had been banned by authorities, reported RBTF. Minor clashes between police and local youths were also reported. Anti-fascist protesters were also arrested in the city’s Place de la Bourse.

The fascists are rubbing their hands with glee.


Threats from fanatics

Apr 3rd, 2016 3:34 pm | By

In the no good deed goes unpunished department

A prominent human rights lawyer has said he received death threats after calling for unity within Scotland’s Muslim community. Aamer Anwar said he was taking the threats from “fanatics” extremely seriously and that police were investigating.

Anwar chaired an event at Glasgow central mosque last week calling for unity and condemning violence and extremism after the killing of the shopkeeper Asad Shah and the terrorist attacks in Brussels and Lahore.

So naturally he got death threats, because what could be more horrifying and terrible than condemning violence and saying let’s not kill each other?

Anwar said: “Having been a campaigner for human rights for over 25 years, I have grown used to the bile and hatred directed at me, sadly that is par for the course.

“On occasion when I have had my life seriously threatened, I have informed the police but have always chosen to keep it private. On this occasion I could no longer remain silent, because of a small minority who believe they can silence me by creating a climate of fear.”

He said “abuse and hatred” had been whipped up on social media over the last few weeks, and that he had received calls in the middle of the night.

Because he campaigns for human rights.

“It is a terrifying and deeply lonely place to be when you say goodbye to your children and wonder if it is for the last time, but the death of Asad Shah should be a wakeup call to our community that we must not be silenced.

“Our so-called community leaders must do much more. They have avoided tacking hatred to preserve their status and that is deeply shameful and hypocritical.”

Anwar has taken on a number of high-profile cases, including representing the families of the Fife man Sheku Bayoh, who died in police custody, and the murdered Indian waiter Surjit Singh Chhokar.

He does good things, so he gets death threats. That’s the world we live in.

They are not about female inclusion. They are about female exclusion.

Apr 3rd, 2016 12:15 pm | By

A friend brought my attention to an article at Mamamia about Kim Kardashian and “empowerment.”

Kim Kardashian and Emily Ratajkowski posted a joint topless nude selfie on Instagram this morning and we’re all meant to sit back, have a look at the black stripe over their boobs, their middle fingers in the air and that omnipresent bathroom mirror and say, “Oh, Thank God for female empowerment. How empowering. Just look at those two women empower. I need to get me some of these empowerment black strip things. Thank you Kimmy, you have made me see the empowerment light.”

Last time Kim K did this she tweeted that, “It’s so important that we let women express their sexuality and share their bodies.”

If it has to do with a woman and we put the words empowering, liberation and control in there, it’s all totally okay. Don’t go putting shade on that empowering female parade by “judging” Kimmy for getting her gear off.

If you dare judge a woman who is exercising her God given nude empowerment you simply don’t get it. Just look at what Kim K said to Bette Midler when she questioned the last nude selfie:

It was rude, ageist and probably worst of all humorless, but totally okay because Kim has better boobs than Bette. And Kim’s boobs are empowered. And Kim is nude so she definitely knows what she is talking about.

That’s the thing, isn’t it, or at least one of them. Kim Kardashian posting selfies of herself looking gorgeous is not so much “empowering” as it is competitive. “Empowering” would be average women, in all our dumpiness or scrawniness or bulgyness or flatness, posting selfies. Gorgeous women saying look how gorgeous I am is just more of the same old thing – women treating themselves as commodities for inspection because that’s the way the larger world treats them, and triumphing over other women in the process. I suppose you can call that “empowering” if you want to, but it seems pretty silly.

In this Instagram snap are two international celebrities who have both got a lot of things to sell – products, movies, themselves mainly. They have had $100,000s of dollars invested into the way they look (from cosmetic and surgical procedures to stylists, clothes, hair, eyebrows, everything and anything). And the way they look is largely dictated to by what men find attractive. So all that control over their bodies? Men are pulling the levers at the very start of the chain. They have personal trainers and dietitians, they starve their bodies and pump certain parts up, maybe because it makes them feel good, but most probably because their bodies need to look a certain way so they can market themselves and earn more money.

Which works for them, but that’s no reason for the rest of us to treat it as a branch of feminism because “empowering.”

Yeah, that equals empowerment to me. Two privileged women in LA (BTW: who have more clothes than some department stores) whose life success has been based on what they look like, topless in a bathroom, with nothing to wear, giving the world the finger.

Send them to gender studies at Oxford University STAT. They have so much to contribute to the discourse. Or, more importantly for gender studies and feminism, let’s send them into the bedrooms of young women across the world to talk about the power of their bodies. The power of all sorts of different shaped, differently used, amazing bodies that will never be perfect but could get you on a basketball team or to work, the beach, to a party with really, really good friends where you laugh and talk even though you are four whole kilograms bigger than you think you should be and your eyebrows aren’t perfect, and your skin isn’t flawless and your stomach isn’t flat and your arms don’t look good without sleeves.

Oh, that’s right, they are in their bedrooms already. Telling our daughters how empowering it is to look exactly like they do and take a nude selfie while you are at it.

Kim’s nude selfies are not about feminism. They are not about liberation or empowerment. They are not about female inclusion. They are about female exclusion. They are about selling the Kardashians. They are about celebrating the “right” type of body – thin, flat stomachs, big boobs kind of like a blow up Barbie.

Of course they are. They’re saying “Don’t you wish you looked like us? You poor sad flabby ordinary women?” What’s “empowering” about that?

They are about screwing with the minds of young women who look at them (because they can’t help but look, they are everywhere, all the time) and think so that is what female liberation looks like.

Kim K’s nude selfie will get attention, it will get clicks, it will allow the Kardashians to keep charging advertisers $200,000 to $400,000 for one Instagram post alone.  It will keep a woman’s value stuck in that awfully fragile and mean and energy sucking world of how they look, not who they are as people.

Vive la Kardashians. They are taking women, one “empowering” selfie at a time, to the very worst place inside herself.

That’s not empowerment. That’s two, very privileged, mean girls in a bathroom taking pictures of themselves and giving the world the finger.

Wait, aren’t they giving the finger to patriarchy?

Hahahahaha just kidding.