Notes and Comment Blog

Our short and pithy observations on the passing scene as it relates to the mission of Butterflies and Wheels. Woolly-headed or razor-sharp comments in the media, anti-rationalist rhetoric in books or magazines or overheard on the bus, it’s all grist to our mill. And sometimes we will hold forth on the basis of no inspiration at all beyond what happens to occur to us.

Senior Chief Inkosi Kachindamoto intervenes

Jul 8th, 2015 11:47 am | By

A better news story, for a change.

A Malawian traditional leader has taken it upon herself to discourage the prevalence of child marriages within her constituency.

Senior Chief Inkosi Kachindamoto annulled over 300 marriages, thereby applying the country’s new laws regarding child marriage. In April, President Peter Mutharika signed into a law a ban on child marriage, setting the minimum age requirement for marriage in the country at 18.

“I have terminated 330 marriages of which 175 were girl-wives and 155 were boy-fathers, I wanted them to go to school and that has worked,” she told Nyasa Times, “I don’t want youthful marriages, they must go to school…no child should be found loitering at home or doing household chores during school time.”

School first, marriage later – it’s a much better way. I could give you a hundred reasons, but maybe all you need is the fact that young girls have small pelvises. Female humans, tragically, go through puberty before their hips are wide enough to allow for birth.

Malawi has one of the highest incidents of child marriage in the world with 1 in 2 girls getting married before the age of 18. The practice is closely linked to poverty where, in the rural areas, girls are married off to improve their families’ financial situations.

But if they stay in school instead, they can ultimately improve their families’ financial situations a lot more.

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

Markers by the flag to explain the white supremacy

Jul 8th, 2015 11:24 am | By

A Florida county says hell no we’re not getting rid of the pro-slavery flag; it’s our history, dude.

Marion County, Fla. officials took down the Confederate flag that flies at the county government complex last week, temporarily replacing it with a flag bearing the county seal, News 13 reported. The County Commission unanimously approved a move to fly the flag again days later, saying members would meet with historians to discuss placing markers by the flag to “explain its historical significance.”

I can tell you its historical significance. I majored in history at an actual university, so I know. Its historical significance is that it stands for the confederation of southern states that seceded from the US in order to retain the institution of slavery. It’s a pro-slavery flag. It’s a white supremacist flag. That’s its historical significance.

One Confederate flag supporter told the station: “We live in America, and the last time I checked it was a democracy. So, here in Marion County, which has, what, 300,000 people, how can one man decide to take it off a flagpole?”

It’s a constitutional democracy. I say that as a history major, so you can take it to the bank.

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

Less shooting, more reading

Jul 8th, 2015 11:04 am | By

Malala Yousafzai was at an education summit in Oslo yesterday.

“If the world leaders decide to take one week and a day off from war and weapons, we can put every child in school,” Yousafzai told the Oslo Summit on Education for Development on Tuesday. “Books are a better investment in our future than bullets. Books, not bullets, will pave the path towards peace and prosperity.”

Yousafzai echoed the sentiment in a post on her Malala Fund Blog, urging people to use social media to advance her message of peace and education. “Post a photo of yourself holding up your favorite book now and share why YOU choose #booksnotbullets – and why world leaders should, too,” she wrote.

The activist got the ball rolling on the hashtag with a post on Instagram, featuring a picture of her holding a copy of Anne Frank’s “The Diary of a Young Girl.” Yousafzai wrote she chose the book “because the book reveals the courage and strength of a young girl living under war and conflict. It inspires me to believe that every child deserves the right to dream, the right to learn and the right to live in peace.”

I don’t have a single favorite book (by which I mean I have many, not that I have zero favorites). I’ll have to think about which one to brandish.

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

Ozymandias in Orlando

Jul 8th, 2015 9:38 am | By

Oh gosh, it’s almost as bad as having an honorary professorship withdrawn. Disney is removing a statue of Bill Cosby from one of its parks.

Disney will remove a statue of Bill Cosby from its Hollywood Studios theme park, a spokeswoman for the company said Tuesday, following revelations through court documents that support multiple allegations that the veteran comedian drugged multiple women before sexually assaulting them.

The bust of Cosby, located alongside representations of celebrities like Lucille Ball and Oprah Winfrey in Disney’s Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame Plaza, will be taken down after the park shuts at 10 p.m. on Tuesday, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

Are there cries of “witch hunt” and “lynch mob” yet? Are there open letters and petitions beseeching Disney to put it back? Has Richard Dawkins added his name?

Several companies and businesses are now trying to distance themselves from Cosby, following the release of documents showing that he admitted, during a sworn testimony in 2005, to buying Quaalude, a powerful sedative, with the intention of giving it to women before having sex with them.

Before raping them, that is.

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

Guest post: No jobs available today, sweeties

Jul 7th, 2015 6:11 pm | By

Originally a comment by iknlast on The endless supply of mother-in-law jokes.

I had a job about 15 years ago where sexist jokes were routinely e-mailed around the office, an office divided into (male) engineers and (female) clerical, with a handful of us (mostly female) in hard-to-define positions at the bottom of the echelon of professional positions, doing work that was essentially clerical, but with a “specialist” title that made it look like their highly educated, well skilled people were actually being utilized properly. The first day I was there, my e-mail was graced with a visual joke about a woman-only parking lot. It was a junkyard.

I had just come there from a job where I was an intern who could expect nothing more because they didn’t offer full time jobs to women (they always did it in a way that made it hard to prove – no jobs available today, sweeties. As soon as the woman eligible for the full time position had moved on, they emptied her desk for the male they had just hired for the non-existent position). At that job, I was called a feminazi by my boss. I challenged him, and he “acknowledged” that I wasn’t really a feminazi, it was just a “joke”.

I have been subjected to sexist “jokes” my entire life, and yes, they did affect me. They created an environment that left me depressed and half-alive. They slowed me down in my path, because I internalized a lot of this hateful humor, and couldn’t find my path until I was already in my 30s and was able to clear the cobwebs out of my head enough (from the youthful conditioning) to realize that, hey, I was GOOD at science! I could actually be a scientist! When I think of how much time I wasted, and how much more I could have contributed, it makes me burn.

Then, I became a scientist and faced the situation mentioned above. Since moving on into academia, the sexism has been more subtle (at times), but is still very present in the dean who refers to female teachers as “Sunshine” (teachers with a doctorate degree in their field, highly competent professionals) and talks down to females, often without even realizing it. If told, he would deny that he is sexist or has ever done anything sexist. As would the people passing on these jokes, or denying jobs to women in subtle ways.

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


Jul 7th, 2015 2:27 pm | By

Janet Stemwedel did a Storify. Several of the sequences in it are ones that I RTd two or three days ago, wishing I could collect them all without having to go to the trouble of figuring out Storify.

While predictable, it is still frustrating that what started as a discussion of Tim Hunt, his comments to a luncheon of women scientists in Seoul, and what kind of impact those comments (whether intended as a joke or not) have on the climate for women in science, shifted into a discussion of whether those who pointed out the problem with his comments are claiming that he is a terrible human being who ought to be purged from the scientific community, whether the science journalists who reported the comments are lying liars who are just jealous and/or joyless harpies who delight in taking good men down.

In other words the subject got thoroughly changed. It would be nice if we could just talk about the way derogatory “humor” aka hostile jokes about subordinates contribute to a climate that is alienating to the subordinates who are the objects of the jokes, without having the subject changed, but we never seem to be able to. Noticing derogatory jokes is considered a high crime worthy of having the subject changed and changed and changed until all the parts fall off.

So, read that Storify.

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

The endless supply of mother-in-law jokes

Jul 7th, 2015 1:45 pm | By

Susan Brownmiller wrote a memoir of the women’s movement that was published in 1999.

At the beginning of the prologue…

Imagine a world – or summon it back into memory – in which the Help Wanted columns were divided into Male for the jobs with a future, and Female for the dead-end positions; …; when psychiatrists routinely located the cause of an unsatisfactory sex life in the frigid, castrating, ballbreaking female partner, when abortion was an illegal, back-alley procedure, when rape was the woman’s fault, when no one dared talk about the battery that went on behind closed doors, or could file a complaint about sexual harassment. And remember the hostile humor that reinforced the times: the endless supply of mother-in-law jokes, the farmer’s daughter, the little old lady in tennis shoes, the bored receptionist filing her nails, the dumb blond stenographer perched on her boss’s lap, the lecherous tycoon chasing his buxom secretary around the desk.

1999; long before Mad Men.

But my point is – sexist jokes are not not-sexist because they’re jokes. On the contrary. There’s always been hostile sexist humor. Jokes can be sexist. Jokes about distracting, emotional women addressed by an important man to a group of women colleagues are, indeed, sexist. Hostile humor is hostile humor.

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

The university backs away

Jul 7th, 2015 12:25 pm | By

According to Jessica Smith Cross at Metro Canada, the woo teacher is no longer on the staff at the University of Toronto and the course has been dropped.

Beth Landau-Halpern, a homeopath, came under fire last year when the source materials for her course on alternative medicine at U of T Scarborough were made public. They included YouTube links and other non-academic sources.

Landau-Halpern was cleared by an internal investigation and continued to teach her course this spring.

A spokesperson for the university confirmed on Monday that Landau-Halpern’s course will not be offered this summer or next year, and she is no longer on staff.

Now about that course in Magical Engineering…

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

Mr Cosby had fashioned himself as a moral guide

Jul 7th, 2015 12:02 pm | By

The New York Times is reporting the Cosby story.

The entertainer Bill Cosby testified 10 years ago that he had obtained Quaaludes in the 1970s to give to young women with whom he wanted to have sex, according to a court document unsealed on Monday.

That must be the wording of the court document, since all the outlets are reporting it that way, but damn it’s bad wording. You don’t “have sex with” someone you just sedated! Having sex with is, obviously, mutual – that’s what “with” means. He wanted to fuck them, not “have sex with” them. He wanted to rape them. If he’d wanted to have sex with them, he wouldn’t have sedated them.

It was an acknowledgment, the first to become public and in Mr. Cosby’s own words, that he viewed powerful, sedating drugs as a part of his sexual encounters with women.

It was an acknowledgment that he wanted them unable to resist.

That’s an admission of rape, if you ask me.

The name of the woman Mr. Cosby cites in his testimony is redacted in the paperwork, but the discussion in the court record closely tracks an incident recounted by Therese Serignese, who says she was sexually assaulted by Mr. Cosby in a Las Vegas hotel after one of his performances in 1976.

Joseph Cammarata, a lawyer for Ms. Serignese, said the account in Mr. Cosby’s testimony of the Las Vegas encounter with a woman and Ms. Serignese’s story of her encounter with Mr. Cosby were one and the same. “It’s Therese,” he said. “It’s the same case.”

Ms. Serignese, then 19, has said in interviews that Mr. Cosby gave her pills in a backstage room and that she took them because he was an authority figure and she felt compelled. Her next memory, she said, was of feeling drugged and being sexually assaulted by him without her consent.

But everybody thought he was such a nice guy!

This next bit is fascinating in relation to that:

The records from the Constand case were released in response to a request by The Associated Press, which Mr. Cosby and his legal team had fought. “It would be terribly embarrassing for this material to come out,” his lawyer, George M. Gowen III, argued last month.

In deciding to release the documents, Judge Eduardo Robreno of United States District Court said he was guided by the sense that Mr. Cosby had fashioned himself as a moral guide with pronouncements that offered “his views on, among other things, child-rearing, family life, education and crime.”

“The stark contrast between Bill Cosby, the public moralist, and Bill Cosby, the subject of serious allegations concerning improper (and perhaps criminal) conduct is a matter as to which The A.P. — and by extension the public — has a significant interest,” the judge wrote in a memorandum issued on Monday.

Yes it is.

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

The course is taught by a homeopath

Jul 7th, 2015 10:35 am | By

Apparently the University of Toronto thinks it’s fine to teach medical woo at a university, not as a meta subject but just plain as a subject. Jen Gunter is not amused.

Earlier this year, two groups of academics at the University of Toronto wrote letters of concern to the President of the University to protest an Alternative health course that fostered distrust of vaccines, cited Andrew Wakefield, and completely mis-applied Quantum Mechanics to explain a bevy of bizarre health claims. This week, the school finally addressed their claims; and the university’s response is both wholly inadequate and totally baffling.

The course, Alternative Health: Practice and Theory is taught by Beth Landau-Halpern, a homeopath. During week 9 of her curriculum, she addresses: “Vaccination — The King of Controversy.”

No medical, nursing, or basic biology/immunology textbooks or articles are referenced in the required reading, nor is any information from Health Canada or the World Health Organization. Instead, the required reading and additional information for the students includes Andrew Wakefield (who lost his medical license for falsifying data in a now beyond-infamous retracted study) and anti-vaccine propaganda sites.

Not for the purpose of analysis and criticism, but for the purpose of digestion and retention. Not “say what’s wrong with this” but “learn this.”

Regarding the use of Quantum Mechanics, scientists at the University of Toronto had issues with the following paragraph in the curriculum as well as the required reading:

We will delve into a quantum physics’ understanding of disease and alternative medicine to provide a scientific hypothesis of how these modalities may work. Quantum physics is a branch of physics that understands the interrelationship between matter and energy. This science offers clear explanations as to why homeopathic remedies with seemingly no chemical trace of the original substance are able to resolve chronic diseases, why acupuncture can offer patients enough pain relief to undergo surgery without anesthesia, why meditation alone can, in some instances, reduce the size of cancerous tumors.

Maybe Deepak Chopra is the department head?

The university has said there’s no problem. Jen Gunter is gobsmacked.

In my opinion, the response basically boils down to: “Oh give her a break, she’s new and it all sounds a bit new age and that’s really what people want, but we’ll have her make it a little more sciencey next time” when it should have been a “thank you for bringing this to our attention, we share your concerns and they will be addressed immediately. This instructor is now on probation and all course material related to medicine and science will need to be approved by a faculty member in the appropriate field.” Remember, this isn’t misquoting a study, a new field where there is little published work, or a published academic having an unpopular but scientifically plausible opinion in a field. The material presented about Quantum Mechanics and immunizations is wrong. It’s the equivalent of an “alternative geology” course teaching that the world is flat, with references from 1300.

Maybe the university figures we’re heading back to the technology of 1300 – once all the oil is gone – so we might as well prepare intellectually.

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

His real subject

Jul 7th, 2015 8:39 am | By

Because of a stupid time-wasting SIWOTI argument I’m having with a tedious prolix humorless commenter in an earlier thread about Howard Jacobson’s reactionary rant about Tim Hunt in the Independent, I want to make clear how strongly Jacobson did imply that Hunt was “hounded out of a job.”

He starts with three paragraphs riffing on personal grooming with a specific focus on nose hair, claiming to be deeply concerned with it himself in contrast to other sorts of people who are not so concerned.

We shouldn’t be too hard on vanity. It can be a mark of respect for the world. The day I don’t attend to my nostrils is the day I will have forsworn that world and become a different person. Someone otherwise preoccupied. Someone who couldn’t care less what anyone thinks of his appearance, someone for whom the material life has lost its appeal. I will have retreated into myself, to that place where eccentricity and maybe even madness reside. Science, perhaps.

He’s joking, of course. Novelists aren’t generally considered worldly and respectable in contrast to those zany scientists.

Then there’s the next paragraph, the fourth:

The astute reader will by now have worked out that in truth nostril hair is only my sub-theme, and that my real subject is Tim Hunt, the Nobel Prize-winning scientist who recently made a joking reference to the lachrymosity (were there such a word) of women, in punishment for which University College London expeditiously removed him from the honorary post he held there.

His real subject is Tim Hunt.

Then we get four paragraphs on eccentricity in dress and the academic life.

Then we get two paragraphs in which he makes the transition from eccentricity in dress to eccentricity in opinion:

So what right did we have to expect modern attitudes from them? Of course they were sexists, racists, pederasts, colonialists, anti-Semites. Of course they made jokes which not another living soul found funny. Bigotry was expected and even required of them. There have to be places where people let nostril hair run wild, think differently from the rest of us, implicitly call into question and even deride everything we have made up our minds about, find wisdom through unconventionality, and say a lot of foolish things along the way. Universities are such places. Correction: universities should be such places.

Show me a university which is a hotbed of thin-skinned offence-taking, where every unacceptable idea is policed and every person who happens to hold one is hounded out of a job, and I will show you a university that isn’t a university but an ideological prison camp and indoctrination centre.

He’s already told us his real subject is Tim Hunt, so yes, “every person who happens to hold one is hounded out of a job” is meant to apply to Tim Hunt even though he didn’t name him in that sentence.

He does name him in the next sentence though.

Reaffirming the college’s pusillanimous decision to show Tim Hunt the door, the Provost of University College London said: “Our commitment to gender equality and our support for women in science was and is the ultimate concern.”

Jacobson said the college decided to “show Tim Hunt the door” – i.e. to throw him out, i.e. to sack him from his job.

I don’t know how intentional all this implication was. I don’t know if Jacobson deliberately worded those passages to create the impression that Hunt was sacked from a job, or if he just lost track while writing – but he decidedly did write that piece in such a way as to create the impression in the unwary reader that Tim Hunt was sacked from a job.

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

The yacht has nothing to do with it

Jul 6th, 2015 6:10 pm | By


Rebecca Carroll at the Guardian explains how feminist Rihanna’s video is.

Helen Lewis of the New Statesman wrote that the video is not feminist “because it is not very feminist to torture women. Even if they are white. Even if they are rich. Even if you are a woman yourself.” By those standards, I have a thing or two to say about a whole history of white women who abused black women both because they were black and because they were women, and yet, somehow, are still considered feminists – many regarded as pioneers. Women from Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who did not believe black women deserved any such rights as white women, to Miley Cyrus, who has used black women as stage props.

Then say it. Say what they did was very un-feminist. Say they weren’t feminists at all if you want to. That doesn’t make it feminist to torture women or to make videos about torturing women.

[W]hat really has white feminists upset is that in the video Rihanna, a black woman, puts her own needs before a white woman’s needs. And it’s clear that when those needs involve money, social class and privilege (say, lounging on a yacht), there is no room for perspective. White women will fight to obtain food stamps for black women, but don’t let us have a yacht, pretty clothes or – God forbid – payment of money we are owed.

Horse shit. Complete, unmitigated horse shit, and blatant deflection besides. It’s not about yachts and it’s not about getting money owed, it’s about torture of a bystander.

To be sure, the video is vividly violent – an unabashed revenge fantasy – but here’s what didn’t occur to me: is it anti-feminist? Feminist? Misogynistic? Why would it? Rihanna is a grown woman who makes life and career choices for herself with the expectation and understanding that she is as free to do that as her male peers are. How is that not feminist?

Wut? Grown women make life and career choices all the time, and some of them are bad, and we can and do say so. If a grown woman makes the career choice to murder someone, I don’t consider that a feminist act. Freedom to make the choice to torture and murder isn’t what feminism is about.

The obsession over what constitutes feminism in mainstream media and popular culture strikes me as resolutely anti-feminist. As for the misogyny – really? That’s just dumb, shortsighted and so deeply patronising. Because the assumption here is that Rihanna isn’t smart enough to anticipate the various interpretations of her work. She knows. She doesn’t care. I don’t either. What I care about is that Rihanna has the agency to create her music and direct her career on her own terms.

Agency shmagency. Mere “agency” is not enough. Agency is necessary for feminism but it is so very far from sufficient.

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

If you disagree, just delete everything

Jul 6th, 2015 5:44 pm | By

This from the NSS is alarming.

The Manchester Free Speech and Secular Society’s website has been deleted, shortly after the group received a message warning they would “feel remorse” if they didn’t stop criticising Islamic fundamentalism.

The Free Speech and Secular Society (FSS) was sent a message, from an IP address in Saudi Arabia, which warned: “Please stop mocking Muslims otherwise you will feel remorse.”

I thought that meant the Society had closed the website down, but no.

A spokesperson for the Society said that on the same day the sinister message was received, “someone tried to get access to the website, as multiple accounts received password reset prompts that weren’t initiated by the account holders.”

Despite not thinking much of the initial apparent threat or the attempts to hack into the website, by the 27 June the Society found that their website had been deleted entirely. The hacker “deleted everything that could be deleted,” according to the FSS. “No message was left on the site.”

They talked to their webhost, who said it was not their doing, nor a technical problem.

They want to run us all, these fuckers – they want to force us all to obey the rules of their horrible stupid pinch-minded little god.

The FSS said that they had “some articles critical of Islamic fundamentalism” on their website, and also commentary about their Student Union’s decision to ban the FSS from displaying the ‘survivors’ edition’ of Charlie Hebdo published after the attack on their Paris office.

I posted about that here at the time. I remember doing it.

The Society writes that their focus is on “free speech and secularism” and that they have been “hacked and threatened for supporting free speech”.

The historian Tom Holland said the society had been “menaced” by “enemies of free speech”.

Ben Jones, the National Secular Society’s communications officer, commented: “This appears to be a particularly sinister attempt to stop debate, criticism and commentary about and around Islam. We hope the Manchester Free Speech and Secular Society have their website restored soon and can recover from the attack quickly. We offer our solidarity and support. No-one group or individual should be left to face the danger of defending free speech alone.

“Threats to freedom of expression are coming thick and fast and from all quarters. Whether it is student unions censoring student comedy shows for ‘blasphemy’, or university administrators cancelling events about Islam to avoid causing ‘offence’ or on other spurious grounds, or the invidious prosecution of Christian preachers for criticising Islamic beliefs, the right to freedom of expression must be defended.

“There are concerted attempts to establish global blasphemy laws coming from the OIC, who still long for a global law against the ‘defamation of religion'; from terrorists using violent jihad; moves by complicit student unions and universities to indirectly support these efforts in the interest of ‘cohesion'; and in this case from hackers and what the FSS call ‘cyber-jihadists’. No matter what form the attack comes in, free speech must be defended.”

Their horrible stupid pinch-minded little god can go swim with the ducks.

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

He was just helping them have a nice nap

Jul 6th, 2015 5:17 pm | By

There it is.

Bill Cosby admitted in 2005 that he got quaaludes with the intent of giving them to young women he wanted to have sex with, and that he gave the sedative to at least one woman and “other people,” according to documents obtained Monday by The Associated Press.

“Have sex with” isn’t quite the right way of putting what he wanted to do to the luded women.

The AP had gone to court to compel the release of the documents from the deposition in a sexual abuse lawsuit filed by former Temple University employee Andrea Constand — the first of a cascade of sexual abuse lawsuits against him. Cosby’s lawyers had objected on the grounds that it would embarrass their client.

Cosby settled that lawsuit under confidential terms in 2006.

So…there could be more lawsuits in his future?

Cosby, 77, has been accused by more than two dozen women of sexual misconduct, including allegations by many that he drugged and raped them in incidents dating back more than four decades. Cosby has never been criminally charged, and most of the accusations are barred by statutes of limitations.

Criminal accusations; that doesn’t mean civil suits are barred.

Cosby, giving sworn testimony in the lawsuit accusing him of sexual assaulting Constand at his home in Pennsylvania in 2005, said he got seven quaalude prescriptions in the 1970s. The lawyer for Constand asked if he had kept the sedatives through the 1990s — after they were banned — but was frustrated by objections from Cosby’s lawyer.

“When you got the quaaludes, was it in your mind that you were going to use these quaaludes for young women that you wanted to have sex with?” lawyer Dolores M. Troiani asked.

“Yes,” Cosby answered on Sept. 29, 2005.

But it was just a “joke.” There must be no witch hunt.

Cosby resigned in December from the board of trustees at Temple, where he was the popular face of the Philadelphia school in advertisements, fundraising campaigns and commencement speeches.

Witch hunt! Lynch mob! Fired from his job over a joke!

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


Jul 6th, 2015 4:20 pm | By

The other day I recommended David Oshinsky’s book Worse Than Slavery to a friend; he’s finding it painful to read. I’ve read it more than once, and read a chunk of it again after recommending it. It’s a horrific and brutal story – and one that every American should know inside out.

From a review at H-net by Robert M. Goldman (Virginia Union University):

The Parchman Farm story begins with the Reconstruction era. Determined to overthrow Republican regimes, Mississipians devised what would become the model for Democratic redemption elsewhere, the so-called “Mississippi Plan.” It elements were straightforward enough. Use whatever means necessary, from fraud to murderous violence, to regain political control. It worked, and by 1875 Democratic legislatures were back in control and immediately set out to resolve what they considered to be two key problems: a shortage of labor, and the need to restore white supremacy. Criminal statutes were enacted such as the “Pig Law” in which theft of a farm animal worth more than ten dollars was punishable by up to five years in prison. Along with laws such as these, which were almost always aimed at the thousands of poor freedmen, was the “Leasing Act.” This statute allowed convicts to be leased out if their sentences were less than ten years. Since whites were usually only charged and convicted for the most serious of crimes, their sentences entitled them to the relative safety of the state penitentiary at Jackson.

As it developed in Mississippi, convict leasing successfully replaced racial bondage with a system of racial castes while at the same time fueling the economic development of the late 19th century “New South.” The use of convicts for everything from raising cotton, to building railroads, to extracting turpentine gum spread rapidly. It solved the problem of high fixed labor costs, since minimal expenses for food, clothing, and shelter were necessary. Moreover, there was always a ready supply of replacement labor, so incentives against the mistreatment of convict workers were non-existent. Olshinsky catalogs the horrors that awaited a leasee–from ubiquitous lash to the use of metal spurs riveted to the feet to prevent escape. The mortality rate was high, and the system encompassed all ages. The state penal code made no distinction between juvenile and adult offenders, so that by 1880 “at least one convict in four was an adolescent” (pp. 46-47).

Goldman puts that rather mildly, but what Oshinsky details is a horror of overwork in terrible conditions, with torture for anyone who fell behind or screwed up in any way. It was worse than slavery because there was no incentive to keep the prisoners alive. It was profitable, and there was no dainty reluctance to arrest black people for the most ludicrous of reasons.

From a review by Ken Wytsma:

Convict leasing, something I knew little about, was a way of exploiting and profiting off of black powerlessness in Jim Crow South.  For two generations, convicts would be leased out, worked harder and treated worse than slaves had been prior to the Civil War.  These black convicts (the few white male prisoners, usually in jail for heinous crimes such as murder, were kept behind prison walls instead of being placed in convict leasing work details) would die at the mind numbing rate of 15-40% per year.

That’s right.

There was a time in America when convicts – held for such things as petty crimes, stealing food or not being able to pay court fees – were being worked to death at 15-40% per year!

Additionally, when new contracts came up, young black men would be rounded up and incarcerated on trumped up charges (loitering, disrespect, gambling, ‘insinuation’ etc.) simply to fill work ranks.  These young men, victims of racial and criminal injustice, would then die at the rate of 15-40% per year.  Can you imagine?

The criminal justice system under Jim Crow also began the disturbing trend of large scale African American male incarceration that continues till today.

We Americans live in a country with a hideous history…more hideous than the Nazi interlude in many ways, since it went on for so much longer.

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

A position different from all other subject classes

Jul 6th, 2015 2:27 pm | By

How about some John Stuart Mill.

[excitedly] Yes, please! What shall we have?

The Subjection of Women.

All causes, social and natural, combine to make it unlikely that women should be collectively rebellious to the power of men. They are so far in a position different from all other subject classes, that their masters require something more from them than actual service. Men do not want solely the obedience of women, they want their sentiments. All men, except the most brutish, desire to have, in the woman most nearly connected with them, not a forced slave but a willing one, not a slave merely, but a favourite. They have therefore put everything in practice to enslave their minds.

The masters of all other slaves rely, for maintaining obedience, on fear; either fear of themselves, or religious fears. The masters of women wanted more than simple obedience, and they turned the whole force of education to effect their purpose. All women are brought up from the very earliest years in the belief that their ideal of character is the very opposite to that of men; not self will, and government by self-control, but submission, and yielding to the control of other. All the moralities tell them that it is the duty of women, and all the current sentimentalities that it is their nature, to live for others; to make complete abnegation of themselves, and to have no life but in their affections. And by their affections are meant the only ones they are allowed to have — those to the men with whom they are connected, or to the children who constitute an additional and indefeasible tie between them and a man. When we put together three things — first, the natural attraction between opposite sexes; secondly, the wife’s entire dependence on the husband, every privilege or pleasure she has being either his gift, or depending entirely on his will; and lastly, that the principal object of human pursuit, consideration, and all objects of social ambition, can in general be sought or obtained by her only through him, it would be a miracle if the object of being attractive to men had not become the polar star of feminine education and formation of character. And, this great means of influence over the minds of women having been acquired, an instinct of selfishness made men avail themselves of it to the utmost as a means of holding women in subjection, by representing to them meekness, submissiveness, and resignation of all individual will into the hands of a man, as an essential part of sexual attractiveness.

He wrote that awhile ago. Some things have changed…but not as many as we might like.

Outside Quiverfull and other fundamentalist movements we don’t exactly represent meekness as an essential part of sexual attractiveness for women any more, not in the sense of saying “you’d be more attractive if you were meeker”…but by god we certainly do let women know that we’ll punish and degrade the bejeezis out of them if they’re “too” – blunt, mouthy, outspoken, critical, challenging, argumentative, opinionated, independent, ambitious, clever, tough, competent, knowledgeable…

You get the idea.

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

Droning on about their fetishes

Jul 6th, 2015 11:44 am | By

Another one from The Onion: S&M Couple Won’t Stop Droning On About Their Fetishes.

According to friends of Jason Roder and Gina Von Poppel, the sexually adventurous couple won’t stop droning on about spanking, caning, ball gags, erotic photography, fetish parties, leather, rubber, PVC, latex, whips, floggers, and countless other S&M-related objects and activities.

“When Jason first told me about his and Gina’s kinky sex life, I was amazed. I wanted to hear all about it,” said Stan Pritchard, Roder’s best friend. “But around the 15th time I heard about how great it is to be tied to a chair, I was, like, ‘Yeah, I know. The chair. The whip. Being straddled. Got it, thanks.'”

How sex-negative of him.

Meredith Engler, a close friend and former college roommate of Von Poppel’s, said she has frequently found herself subjected to hours-long accounts of the couple’s S&M exploits.

“Gina and Jason have a pretty open-minded group of friends and, at first, we all thought it was cool that they were being so frank about sex,” Engler said. “That was our mistake–giving them an opening.”

As Roder and Von Poppel delved deeper into sadomasochism, they began dominating nearly every party and social event with endless talk of fetishes, secret fantasies, and forays into bondage and discipline.

Well when you say “dominating” – you mean they take over the conversation? But what if that’s their kink? You’re just being sex-negative by objecting, aren’t you? Not wanting to hear every detail of other people’s sexual activity means you hate sex.

The couple’s friends try to avoid topics that might inadvertently lead to discussions of S&M, but the subject always manages to come up.

“It’s amazing what will prompt Jason and Gina to talk about sex,” Pritchard said. “We had a barbecue last weekend, and I said, ‘Pass me the tongs.’ So Jason and Gina exchange a knowing look and, before you know it, we’re off on an hour-long discussion of how you should put your metal sex toys in the freezer for a few hours before using them.”

It’s because Gina and Jason are sex-positive. They’re showing you the way! They’re doing you a favor! You’d be grateful, if you weren’t so goddam sex-negative.

After many unsuccessful attempts to subtly communicate her irritation to Roder and Von Poppel, Engler determined that she needed to be more direct.

“Last Friday, Gina was blathering on and on about domination, and I couldn’t help but say, ‘Well, you’re certainly good at conversation domination,'” Engler said. “I can’t help but wonder if this S&M thing is all a cover-up for their real fetish: talking to people about fetishes.”

Talking to people about fetishes against their will – that’s the really sexy part. If you object, you’re sex-negative…which is great, because that’s the really sexy part. Keep objecting! Louder! Louder!!

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

Tell the lie again and again

Jul 6th, 2015 11:30 am | By

The Big Lie is repeated yet again. The Washington Examiner this time. In the second sentence of the very first paragraph, so that readers will have the story wrong from the outset. Yay journalism.

Professor Sir Tim Hunt had won every honor in his field, from Fellowship of the Royal Society to the Nobel Prize. But last month, the pioneering biochemist was dismissed from his post at University College, London (UCL).

From “his post,” the one that didn’t exist. UCL has never employed Tim Hunt. Tim Hunt has never worked for UCL.

The second paragraph introduces the lynch mob – instigated by a black woman, for extra points.

One of the women present, a lecturer called Connie St Louis, complained on Twitter about his “sexism”, triggering the usual lynch mob. By the time the professor had returned to London, his career lay about him in broken shards.

No, it didn’t. His career remains. The post-retirement portion of it got messed up, but the career itself remains. He’s still a Fellow of the Royal Society and still an emeritus at the Crick Institute.

Then the writer – Dan Hannan, a British Conservative MEP – goes on to say what’s all this fuss about the confederate flag. Lynch mob!!

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

The militants that never were

Jul 6th, 2015 10:30 am | By

Chris Moos writes about the rise of the university faith warrior at The Freethinker.

British universities might not seem to be the most fertile ground for the faith warrior. After all, most of them have been built on secular principles. And yet, it is in British academia that a new breed of faith warrior is pushing for power. Ideologically and financially, they are propelled by the various strands of the international religious far-right and their allies on the post-modernist left. And their influence is growing.

The star among them is Craig Calhoun, Director of the London School of Economics, whom we read about via the NSS yesterday. Chris’s article was the source of the NSS piece.

Calhoun has just published a paper with the Leadership in Higher Education Foundation. The thrust of his argument is that in our “postsecular society”, “religion needs attention in scholarship, research and teaching because it is important in the world”.

Of course, it is the hallmark of religious privilege to demand a share of the public space simply by reason of self-ascribed importance, while failing to provide any convincing argument for this demand.

It is, isn’t it. That’s very neatly put. Of course faith warriors would say they do provide convincing arguments, but…well they would say that, wouldn’t they.

[Calhoun ] wants religion to be a frame of reference in everything a university does, as a remedy against “repressive secularism”.

That’s reminiscent of the “naked public square” nonsense that’s been so popular over here for so long. Secularism isn’t the space where people can meet as equals no matter what their religion or non-religion – it’s “repression” by demonic unbelievers.

Then Chris gets to Calhoun’s distorted account of the Jesus and Mo T shirts at LSE.

It is only when it comes to the question of non-believers that Calhoun provides a clear assessment:

Atheists have recently grown more active – even militant – within universities, often making free speech an issue as they seek to challenge the faith and beliefs of religious students […] [making] a point of mocking religious convictions and symbols. […]

The LSE experienced its own small episode of this in 2013 when members of the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society approached Muslim students at Freshers’ Fair wearing T-shirts taken to mock Jesus and Mohammed, and were asked by [sic!] general secretary of the Students Union either to cover the offending T-shirts or to leave.

Except that they didn’t. Just like the people shouting that Tim Hunt was sacked from his job, Calhoun makes his case via a misrepresentation of what happened. Chris and Abhishek did not “approach Muslim students.”

Of course, we never approached Muslim students with our t-shirts. We were standing behind our stall, and Muslim students actually approached us in good spirits. We had friendly chats, exchanged invitations, and discussed possible joint events.

Nobody even mentioned our clothing – until the Students’ Union officials barged in, ripped down our posters and demanded that we “cover up”. Later, we would ask for evidence of complaints from LSE. We never received any. Neither was there any mention of us having “approached” Muslim students with our t-shirts in the subsequent exchanges between us and LSE. But of course, drawing a picture of us harassing our fellow students makes for a much better case for riling about “militant atheists”.

It must be especially nice when it’s the Director of your own university misrepresenting you that way. Ah well, Chris has his PhD now, so he can snap his fingers under Calhoun’s nose.

That does not mean to say that there was no grave case of harassment. The Students’ Union did indeed ask us to cover the t-shirts. But this is not what caused the internationally reported outrage. What did cause outrage was that, over the course of two days, we were surrounded, intimidated, humiliated and harassed by Director Calhoun’s security guards and eventually forced to cover up our t-shirts under threat of physical expulsion, disciplinary procedures and allegations of infringements of the law.

Yet Calhoun is calling secularism “repressive.” You couldn’t make it up.

Read the rest, including the comments.

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

Guest post: Because that’s not what the vanilla partner originally signed up for

Jul 5th, 2015 4:38 pm | By

Originally a comment by Marcus Ranum on About the boyfriend who wanted to choke them.

I recently was asked to watch “50 shades of gray” by a friend, who is exploring BDSM and wanted to know what I thought of the representation of D/S in the movie. For starters, it was wrong in every possible way and was badly acted and the dialogue was terrible, besides. But there is a thing that it almost kinda sorta gets right* namely that the two protagonists utterly “do not get it” through the entire movie. He is so intensely focused on his desire to be a “dominant”** that he utterly fails to see that there’s another person involved. She’s so, uh, well, she’s such a cardboard cut-out that perhaps he’s right that there really isn’t anothe person involved. But the one little slice of “getting it right” the movie manages to accomplish is at the end, when he finally gets sadistic on her*** and she freaks out and leaves. OK, that was great: utter failure to understand her other than as part of a relentless effort to manipulate coupled with utter failure to understand him as part of being beglamoured by wealth and attractiveness****

The reason it’s relevant to this discussion is that there are (as Dr Carrier says) people who legitimately like to play on both sides of erotic power exchange. But it’s a textbook example of what happens when someone who is kinky tries to forcibly introduce someone “vanilla” to kink. Vanilla relationships take a lot of communication. Kinky relationships take a lot more, especially if they involve any kind of edge-play. Putting your hands on someone’s throat is edge-play. If some idiot watches a bunch of BDSM porn and decides it looks fun and they try to introduce their vanilla partner to it, they are flat-out wrong. Because that’s not what the vanilla partner originally signed up for. This applies to BDSM, or threesomes or moresomes, or pretty much anything else in a relationship. If I’m into ballroom dance competition and I get into a relationship with someone and somehow neglect to mention that fact, it is going to affect our lives together: my partner either learns to dance with me, or expects me to be gone a lot. It’s a matter of violating the initial expectations you establish when you are forming a relationship. It’s nightmarish when it happens. It’s like falling in love with someone and forgetting to find out that they are a Republican, or a racist, and then you have this great big WTF that both of you have to deal with. Cue me up a gender-neutral version of Paul Simon’s “50 ways to leave your lover” at that point.

There are powerful critiques that can and should be levelled at porn, and the question of how much consent counter-balances them; often when I think about this issue I am minded of the brain-washed individuals who claim that wearing a burqua is their choice. I know several sex workers and porn performers and they’d all say they are happy with their jobs, etc. The economic/patriarchy critique of porn is powerful and relevant and I don’t want to even pretend to have anything to say about it. 50.S.O.G. appears to address that critique by the simple expedient of making both characters utterly thoughtless shallow chucklefucks who are thereby excused from attempting to unpack the vast power-differential between them until he exceeds her limits*****. In the BDSM communities I’ve hung out with, the 50.S.O.G. scenario or the “watches porn now wants to choke” scenario would have triggered at least some sad head-shaking or some sotto voce advice to either or both parties.

Tl;dr of the above: in scenarios where you are seeking consent for things that are beyond the edge of “normal” consent, you need to communicate a whole lot more and brain a bit harder. I would file this not as a porn problem, though there are plenty of problems with porn, but more as a didn’t talk enough/didn’t listen enough/didn’t think enough problem that should be addressed with improving understanding of consent and expectations in a situations not just in edge-play.

(* I am pretty sure that the sequel, if there is one, will un-right it)
(** Actually, he’s an ‘asshole’ who mistakes himself for a ‘dominant’. Picture what being in a ‘relationship’ with Vox Day must be like: you’re an inflateable accessory)
(*** He’s a “sadist in denial” not a ‘dominant'; there are a lot of them in the BDSM community)
(**** Other than that, he appears to have no personality except ‘asshole’ and ‘control freak’)
(***** Prior to that the majority of the movie appears to be about him trying to gain written blanket consent to do whatever he wants, which someone who was experienced in BDSM relationships would take as a Big Red Flag unless there was solid reason to believe there was no danger)

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