Notes and Comment Blog

Because the racists are the other guys

Apr 29th, 2016 10:38 am | By

Gaby Hinsliff at the Guardian has thoughts on how Ken Livingstone (and by extension much of Labour and much of the left) got away with it for so long.

He went on blithely to suggest that Jews have stopped voting Labour because they’re rich, and still didn’t really seem to see what the problem was; but then, he was surrounded by people who didn’t seem to want to see the problem either.

And that’s one explanation for how a politician as naturally gifted as Livingstone could ever think it a good idea to summon Hitler as a witness for the defence, when defending his party against allegations of antisemitism.

Perhaps he has simply lost sight of how it looks, outside the circles – once fringe, now mainstream in the Labour party – in which he moves. You could see today’s extraordinary day of bloodletting – which saw first the suspension of the Labour MP Naz Shah for pre-election Facebook posts suggesting Israel be forcibly transported to the US, and then that of Livingstone for only making matters worse – simply as payback for all the times someone got away with it. Fail to challenge dubious attitudes and they quickly seep into the mainstream.

But there is another possible explanation, and that’s the belief found close to many leftwing hearts that they, and they alone, are the good guys – the champions of equality and fairness – and therefore incapable of prejudice. They don’t need to question their assumptions, or take a long hard look in the mirror, because the racists are the other guys.

I think that’s probably right, and it’s probably inevitable given what “left” means. If “right” means, variously, pragmatic, pro-capitalist, libertarian, traditional, meritocratic, theocratic, communitarian, patriarchal – “left” means, variously, idealistic, socialist, rights-based, progressive, egalitarian, secular, individualistic, feminist. (The communitarian v individualistic opposition is tricky, but what I mean here is that the right tends to the view that Society or The Community matters more than the individual, while the left is protective of human rights. There’s a lot of overlap though.) The caring and compassion seems to be mostly on the left, while the emphasis on responsibility and discipline is mostly on the right. The left is the “nicer” side. If you think you’re on the nicer side, you’re more likely to assume that racism is for other people. It’s never a good idea to assume anything like that.

As Ken explained in injured tones to the BBC’s Martha Kearney today, real racism is when you’re rude to your neighbour’s face in Stoke Newington, which he’d never do. And anyway, racists would hardly be attracted to Labour, would they? To which one could almost hear his colleagues screaming at the radio; well if they weren’t before, mate, they might now.

Hinsliff says the signs have been piling up for a long time.

There were too many stories piling up; lurid although unproven allegations about Labour students using “Zio” as a routine term of abuse for Jews; a dismal string of councillors and activists peddling anti-Jewish conspiracy theories on social media; prominent Jewish leftwing figures saying they no longer felt comfortable in what the party had become. Ritual sacrifice was required.

But God, it’s depressing that it had to be Shah, on whom so many other women’s hopes were pinned after she famously survived a violent childhood, forced marriage at 15, the jailing of her mother for killing an abusive partner, and then a viciously dirty election campaign in order to reach parliament.

And defeat of another one of those glaring signs, George fucking Galloway. It’s so depressing.

But there was no alternative, for all the reasons the frontbencher Lisa Nandy gave when she broke ranks to call for the suspension. It can’t be one rule for obscure councillors and activists and another for popular MPs. And besides, the blunt truth is that having under-reacted for so long to this creeping cancer spreading through the party, nothing but radical surgery now will do.

Some will see in this a chilling of debate over the Middle East, a silencing of pro-Palestinian voices in the Labour party. But that’s a mirror image of the eternal rightwing grumble that they’re not “allowed” to talk about immigration any more thanks to political correctness, and about as well founded.

And guess what: Jews are not the one ethnic group it’s actually ok to demonize. There is no such ethnic group. There never will be. Deal with it.

A week

Apr 29th, 2016 9:52 am | By

A horrifying observation by Washington Post reporter Christopher Ingraham:

6 people have been shot by toddlers since last Thursday.

Five of the six are dead.


These are lemons

Apr 28th, 2016 5:26 pm | By

Via Science Moms:

41 THOUSAND doctors step up

Apr 28th, 2016 4:56 pm | By


41,000 Doctors to Join Lawsuit Against Catholic Hospital Over Denial of Care

It’s about fucking time.

Religious directives, written by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, forbid doctors at Catholic facilities [to provide] birth control and [perform] common reproductive health procedures.

Even when that could mean the death of the woman. An incomplete miscarriage with its risk of deadly infection? Too bad, must wait until there is no fetal pulse. If the woman develops a raging infection before the pulse stops, that’s just too damn bad, according to the loathsome USCCB. Bishops have ordered hospitals and medical conglomerates not to perform abortions in such circumstances. Not requested, not begged, but ordered.

California’s largest medical association will join a lawsuit against the state’s largest hospital system for using religious directives to deny basic reproductive health care to patients.

The 41,000-member California Medical Association (CMA) filed a motion Wednesday in state Superior Court to join an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawsuit against the Catholic hospital chain Dignity Health, the fifth largest health-care system in the country.

Oh yeah – that’s fantastic news. I’ve been waiting for that to happen.

The ACLU lawsuit stems from the case of a Dignity Health patient who was denied a tubal ligation. The patient’s physician agreed to perform the procedure during her cesarean section, but the hospital refused the doctor’s request, citing religious directives written by Catholic bishops that classify sterilization as “intrinsically evil.”

Notice how grotesque that is. Catholic bishops get to veto a medical decision and the patient’s wishes, because of a stupid empty theological boogieword.

The ACLU of Northern California and the law firm of Covington & Burling LLP in December filed the lawsuit on behalf of the patient, Rebecca Chamorro, and Physicians for Reproductive Health.

The plaintiffs argue that forcing doctors to deny basic health care on the basis of religious objections creates a conflict between the medical well-being of patients and the directives of the Catholic hospital system. They also contend that withholding medical care for reasons unrelated to medicine is illegal in California.

Many other states have that Nixon-era exemption, thanks to John Haldeman, a Christian scientist.

Dignity Health operates 29 hospitals across California. Nationally, ten of the 25 largest hospital systems are Catholic sponsored, according to a statement released by the ACLU. One in nine hospital beds is in a Catholic facility.

Which is terrifying. In Seattle they’re all Catholic except for University Hospital.

“Patients and their physicians, not hospital administrators following religious or any other non-medical directives, should be the primary decision-makers in each and every case to ensure each patients’ health care needs are met and the most appropriate, highest quality care is being provided,” Dr. Ruth Haskins, president-elect of the California Medical Association, said in a statement.

Absolutely they should Religion should have nothing to do with it.

Suspend all the things!

Apr 28th, 2016 1:48 pm | By

How useful: a petition to universities to “Suspend Social Justice Courses” – !

Social justice has become scientifically illiterate, logically unsound, deeply bigoted and openly supremacist. Social justice professors are indoctrinating young people into a pseudoscientific cult behind closed doors that is doing damage to their health, education and future.

Social justice has become a victim of its own good intentions and in the desperate attempt to make the world better for some it is creating a world better for none.  It has become another ideology fit only to pave the road to Hell, so it is time to turn around and choose another path that is concerned with reason, science and improving the lives of every human.

To clarify, we are calling for the teaching of social justice courses in universities to be temporarily suspended.  What follows is up for debate, but as it stands now, social justice is causing far more harm than good and it must be halted and reassessed.

This must have been drawn up by someone who spends way too much time on Twitter and therefore thinks the right-wing term of art “Social Justice” (also a left-wing term of art but it’s obviously not being used as such here) is universally understood as such. You have to be pretty Twitter-confined to think a phrase like “social justice is causing far more harm than good” is going to make any sense to most people.

The next line of the petition confirms the isolation of the petitioner:

For more information visit:

Yeahhhhhhhh universities are really going to check out a Sargon of Akkad video in order to decide whether or not to suspend “social justice courses.”

Most adverts for children’s toys reinforce “narrow and limiting” gender stereotypes

Apr 28th, 2016 12:42 pm | By

The Independent tells us that the advertising watchdog is going to look into the sexism issue.

The UK’s advertising watchdog has launched an inquiry into the prevalence of negative gender stereotyping in ads. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has announced they are commissioning new research on the topic and invited members of the public and interested organisations to contact them to share their views on the issue in a bid to gauge public opinion.

In the US that would set off agonized protests about free speech. I have some qualms about the state schooling advertisers on sexism, but I also have massive objections to routinely insulting and belittling sexism in advertising. Competing qualms here.

A spokesperson for the ASA said: “The objectification and sexualisation of women in ads, presenting an idealised or unrealistic body image, the mocking of women and men in non-stereotypical roles, the reinforcement of stereotyped views of gender roles, and gender-specific marketing to children are all issues that have gained considerable public interest.”

And all of that is done to serve the agenda of persuading people to spend money on a product. They should be able to do that without belittling women.

Adverts aimed at children have also subject to criticism. Last year, a study of adverts broadcast on UK television found the majority of adverts for children’s toys are “sexist” and reinforce “narrow and limiting” gender stereotypes.

The study by Let Toys Be Toys followed moves by retailers Toys R Us, Marks & Spencer, Tesco, Boots and Sainsbury’s to drop gender-based marketing.

Guy Parker, Chief Executive of the ASA, said: “We’re serious about making sure we’re alive to changing attitudes and behaviours. That’s why we’ve already been taking action to ban ads that we believe reinforce gender stereotypes and are likely to cause serious widespread offence, or harm.”

Do that. Gender stereotypes are useful to no one.

Anyone who wishes to submit evidence or comments on the issue is invited to email

Labour is facing a bus shortage

Apr 28th, 2016 11:22 am | By

So now Corbyn has suspended Ken Livingstone. The left is so brilliant at eating itself.

Jeremy Corbyn has denied Labour is in crisis after Ken Livingstone was suspended for comments made defending an MP accused of anti-Semitism.

The party leader said there were “grave concerns” about language used in a BBC interview by the former London mayor.

But he said: “There’s no crisis. Where there is any racism in the party… it will be rooted out.”

MP John Mann, who called Mr Livingstone a “Nazi apologist” in a public confrontation, has been reprimanded.

The Labour MP had been referring to comments Mr Livingstone made about Adolf Hitler.

Comments Livingstone made when he was defending Naz Shah on BBC Radio London and saying he had never heard anyone in the Labour Party say anything anti-Semitic.

He added: “When Hitler won his election in 1932 his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.”

Welllll…in a manner of speaking. He was supporting “get them the fuck out of Germany and out of Europe and far far away to somewhere hot and dry where we can forget about them. Madagascar, Israel, whatever, just get them out of here.” Not really Zionism properly understood.

Labour MP John Mann then accused Mr Livingstone of being a “Nazi apologist” in front of a media scrum as he arrived at Westminster’s media studios.

Asked about the confrontation on the BBC’s Daily Politics, Mr Livingstone said: “He (Mr Mann) went completely over the top… I have had that with John Mann before.”

But Mr Mann stood by his remarks, saying: “He is a Nazi apologist.”

Is he? Or is he more of an anti-Zionism apologist? And are there different flavors of anti-Zionism, some of which are antisemitic?

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said his longtime ally Mr Livingstone had been suspended amid “very grave concerns about the language he used in the interview this morning” and would face an investigation by the party.

He added, in an interview with BBC deputy political editor John Pienaar: “Anybody that thinks this party is not cracking down on anti-Semitism is simply wrong. We have suspended where appropriate, we have investigated all cases. We will not tolerate anti-Semitism in any form whatsoever in the party.”

Stephen Law is hosting an energetic discussion on Facebook of the suspension as a free speech issue. I’m not sure it’s a genuine free speech issue, since political parties have to have criteria for membership and thus get to treat some claims as incompatible with party membership. On the other hand Stephen points out that this is also a party factional matter and the Blairites have their agenda too. It’s complicated.

You’re fired

Apr 27th, 2016 5:23 pm | By

So have some Georgia O’Keefe:

The Red List

Georgia O'Keeffe

The Whitney

Georgia O'Keeffe

The Whitney

To explain historical interpretations of Georgia O’Keefe’s paintings

Apr 27th, 2016 5:15 pm | By

A Michigan news outlet reports that a substitute teacher was fired a few days ago for uttering the word “vagina” in an art history class while talking about interpretations of Georgia O’Keefe paintings. (The vagina interpretation is pretty hard to miss.)

If you ask Allison Wint why she was fired from Harper Creek Middle School, she will tell you it’s because she uttered the word ‘vagina.’

“Yes, I did say that word however I was saying it in the context of art history; I wasn’t being vulgar,” she said.

Well you know when it’s a matter of being vulgar, “vagina” isn’t the word of choice. You’ve got cunt, twat, pussy, snatch, gash, minge, to name a few – vagina just isn’t the best one for purposes of vulgarity.

The substitute art teacher claims she said it to a room full of 8th graders trying to explain historical interpretations of Georgia O’Keefe’s paintings. But to school officials, Wint crossed the line–and violated school policy.

“I did not know about this policy, they were entirely within their right to remove me, however I was not aware of this policy beforehand; if I had known about this policy, I would have never done it without approval,” Wint said.

Are they? Are they within their rights? Can they fire her for saying elbow, tibia, eyebrow, incisor, spine, collar bone? Can they fire her for saying breast? Can they fire her for saying penis, testicles, ovaries, uterus?

No, sorry, I’m not convinced they are within their rights, assuming it’s a public school. If she had called a kid a big stupid vagina, that’s one thing, but if she pointed out the resemblance between many of O’Keefe’s flower paintings and vaginas, it’s another.

After clearing out her classroom and packing all her artwork into her car, Wint says losing her students hurts more than losing her job and she will not fight her termination.

“I harbor no ill will against them,” she said.

Wint was a longtime substitute, placed at Harper Creek through an outside agency.

She says she now plans to look for work somewhere else.

I hope she gets a good job, and I hope the Michigan ACLU files suit against the school.

The antisemitism problem that is growing in the party

Apr 27th, 2016 4:00 pm | By

Naz Shah has been suspended by the Labour party pending an investigation. Earlier today Corbyn said he had accepted her apology, but it turned out that his acceptance wasn’t the only issue.

But later in the day, Labour announced that the Bradford West MP had been suspended, “by mutual agreement,” while claims against her were investigated by the compliance committee of Labour’s national executive committee.

The allegations centre around a 2014 Facebook post, in which Shah shared a graphic of Israel’s outline superimposed on a map of the US under the headline “Solution for Israel-Palestine Conflict – Relocate Israel into United States”, with the comment: “Problem solved.”

And Buzzfeed said its article about the party’s drastic editing of Shah’s apology was all wrong.

Sources close to Corbyn denied that they had edited an article in Jewish News, in which Shah apologised. It was alleged in an article on Buzzfeed that the article had been changed, to remove references to the wider challenge of antisemitism on the left but senior party sources insisted that was “categorically not the case”, and the only changes had been stylistic. Buzzfeed later accepted that this was the case and that “nobody in Jeremy Corbyn’s office or Labour HQ saw or edited the draft referred to in our [Buzzfeed’s] original story”.

Later, Shah issued a statement, by email, saying: “The statement referred to by Buzzfeed was neither drafted by me nor approved by me. This was a very personal issue which I felt required a very personal response.

“I had caused the offence, it was right that I wrote my own apology. I sent my final statement to the Labour party for information. At no point was it changed by my party.”

People are saying it’s about time Labour did something about antisemitism in the party.

John Woodcock, MP and former chair of the Labour Friends of Israel, said: “The handling of this has been a mess. But the most important thing is that the Labour leadership properly acknowledges now the scale of the antisemitism problem that is growing in the party.”

“This is abhorrent to our values as a party. It ought to transcend views on the leadership and wider party direction but unless and until it is gripped by everyone from Jeremy downwards it is going to fester and undermine everything we do.”

Shah’s suspension was the latest in a series of incidents which have raised questions about antisemitism in the Labour party. Former parliamentary candidate Vicki Kirby was recently suspended, after being re-admitted to the party following anti-semitic Tweets, including comments about Jews having “big noses”.

The latest involved the suspension of Khadim Hussain, a Labour councillor and former lord mayor of Bradford, who was put under investigation for sharing a Facebook post that complained “your school education system only tells you about Anne Frank and the six million Zionists that were killed by Hitler”. He has now quit the party.

There’s one more general paragraph about antisemitism in the party, and that’s it. Nowhere in the article is the likely source of much (or all?) of this antisemitism mentioned. Why would Khadim Hussain say a thing like that?

What a mess.

Party discipline

Apr 27th, 2016 11:03 am | By

The Labour Party doesn’t want Naz Shah to go overboard in apologizing, according to BuzzFeed.

Labour MP Naz Shah’s apology was edited by the party’s HQ to remove all mentions of the term “anti-Semitic”, along with references to wider problems of anti-Semitism in left-wing politics, after it was submitted for approval, BuzzFeed News has learned.

On Wednesday, Shah released a statement billed as a “full apology” to Jewish News.

But BuzzFeed News has seen the draft of the statement written by Shah’s team and sent to the party for approval, in which she went much further than the version that eventually was released.

For instance, the original draft included this admission by Shah: “I helped promote anti-Semitic tropes. This was totally wrong.”

But the line was dropped for the version approved by the Labour press office, along with another mention of “anti-Semitism”.

Is that normal practice? To send statements to the party for approval? Is it required practice? Are MPs required to accept the party’s edits?

The original statement – in which Shah talked at length about her personal shame regarding the comments and pledged her full commitment to fighting prejudice – also included a passage in which she said she wanted to take part in “an intersectional struggle, one where the concerns of Jewish individuals and communities are taken seriously and anti-Semitism is not dismissed out of hand or ignored”. This did not appear in the final version.

Other sentences deleted from the draft after it was sent to Labour HQ include an apparent admission by Shah of a widespread problem of anti-Semitism among left-wing campaigners and deep concerns about the spread of “toxic conspiracy theories, group-blame and stereotyping”.

So the party changed the substance of what she said…and not for the better (except possibly from their point of view, narrowly conceived).

A reference to “Nazi Germany” was also changed to “Hitler”, prompting mockery from the editor of the Jewish Chronicle.

“I accept that referencing Israel in a comparison to Nazi Germany was not only wrong, but totally inaccurate,” said Shah in the original draft statement. “My other social media posts were also deeply offensive to Jewish people.”

In the final version this appeared as “I understand that referring to Israel and Hitler as I did is deeply offensive to Jewish people, for which I apologise.”

No wonder the editor mocked – the party changed a clear statement to a meaningless garble. “Referring to Israel and Hitler” is not at all the same as comparing Israel to Nazi Germany, now is it.

The Labour party stopped Shah from publishing a full apology on Tuesday night, according to sources with knowledge of the discussions, meaning she could not get her defence across in overnight editions of newspapers.

Also meaning the apology was delayed, which is not good.

What a dog’s breakfast.

Russian Girl 500

Apr 27th, 2016 10:32 am | By

Jonah Mix on Facebook:

A sign outside a Hong Kong brothel, advertising (likely trafficked) women to white male travelers on a race-based pay scale, with indigenous women at the bottom and white women at the top.

Prostitution is an industry based on colonialism, white supremacy, and male violence.

China Girl 250

Hong Kong Girl 250

Malay Girl 180

Philippine Girl 200

Russian Girl 500

No further comment needed, I think.


Apr 26th, 2016 4:01 pm | By

The New Statesman has disappointing news:

Naz Shah resigns from Labour frontbench

The Bradford West MP has stepped down following the emergence of remarks made prior to her election as an MP.

Damn. I was so happy when she trounced Galloway.

Shah has resigned as parliamentary private secretary to John McDonnell, after the political website Guido Fawkes revealed that, prior to becoming an MP, she argued that Israelis should be relocated to the United States.

Or Madagascar or Poland? That’s not fair, but…Damn, this is disappointing.

Shah released the following statement on Monday afternoon: “I deeply regret the hurt I have caused by comments made on social media before I was elected as an MP. I made these posts at the height of the Gaza conflict in 2014, when emotions were running high around the Middle East conflict. But that is no excuse for the offence I have given, for which I unreservedly apologise.

“In recognition of that offence I have stepped down from my role as PPS to the Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell. I will be seeking to expand my existing engagement and dialogue with Jewish community organisations, and will be stepping up my efforts to combat all forms of racism, including anti-semitism.”

The worst copsplaining ever

Apr 26th, 2016 3:35 pm | By

From the You have got to be kidding department:

The head of a Cleveland police union said the family of a 12-year-old black boy shot dead by a white police officer while playing with a pellet gun should use money from a $6 million settlement to educate children about the dangers of handling real and replica firearms, while an attorney representing the boy’s family blasted the comments.

You cannot be serious.

A Cleveland cop killed Tamir Rice, not out of malice but out of grossly reckless incompetence, and the police union chief thinks it’s a good idea to tell his family how to spend the settlement money? And not only that but to imply in the “advice” that the kid or his family or both did something wrong? And not only that but to put the onus of educating kids about how not to get killed by cops in parks on the surviving victims? And not only that but none too subtly hint that the Cleveland police are in no way at fault in the death of Tamir Rice?

Good grief.

“Something positive must come from this tragic loss,” said Steve Loomis, president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association. “That would be educating youth of the dangers of possessing a real or replica firearm,” he said.

At the expense of the very people left mourning their dead boy. Something positive must come from the reckless way the cop opened fire seconds after they drove up, and it’s the family who has to make that happen – not the people who did the killing, but the family of the boy who was killed.

Are you serious??

H/t Cam

De lange arm van Erdoğan

Apr 26th, 2016 12:31 pm | By

My column for the Freethinker this month is an invitation to Erdoğan to arrest me for insulting him.

RT reports on a Dutch cartoon that does the same thing.

A front-page caricature went public in a popular Dutch daily De Telegraaf, showing Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdogan as a sinister ape squashing freedom of speech in Europe.

The cartoon illustrates a brawny ape with President Erdogan’s face – turned red and puffy – squashing a slim woman resembling Dutch columnist Ebru Umar.

The Dutch cartoon is a reflection on the latest developments in Ankara’s crackdown on freedom of speech in Turkey and beyond.

Umar’s case appears to be the most recent in the growing log of media crackdowns in Turkey. She was arrested on Saturday over tweets Ankara said“insulted” Erdogan, and released on Sunday on condition she stays in Turkey and reports to the police.

Erdoğan is a head of state. Cartoons go with the territory.

You can’t arrest us all, Mr Erdoğan.

Guest post: How inferential science works and why it matters

Apr 26th, 2016 11:25 am | By

Guest post by James Garnett.

How inferential science works, episode one: the null hypothesis.

Ever wonder what things like medical studies are actually showing, and why they are sometimes (often?) disproved?

Inferential studies attempt to demonstrate a correlation between two things, generally speaking. That correlation is stated in a way that can be tested, through what is called a null hypothesis. Think of it as the default assumption. For example, in simple (aka not rigorous) terms: “the amount of cholesterol in the food that a person consumes is correlated to the amount of cholesterol present in their blood”. A statement of that nature can be tested, and disproved.

But null hypotheses cannot be proved. There are simply too many factors at play. It’s sort of like jury trials in the USA: we don’t prove someone innocent, we prove them “not guilty”. You can never prove innocence, you can only show that you don’t have evidence to prove guilt.

Moreover, a proper null hypothesis can be very hard to formulate. The example that I used above is a bad one, for example, because there are different types of cholesterol (among other reasons).

So a lot of studies start out with improper null hypotheses, and review plus later studies show their results to be unreliable. (Plus there is this problem of pressure to show positive results, rather than negative ones. Nobody cares if a scientist shows that bird feathers don’t cause prostate cancer, to indulge in a bit of hyperbole. But negative results matter.)

This is why the idea that “GMO’s are bad” is a faulty starting point. Which GMO’s? What methods of engineering? You have to be specific. If you’re not being specific, you’re reacting upon emotion and intuition—that is not science. It may be a starting point for science, but it’s not conclusive or reasonable in and of itself. You may believe that corn seed variety X that is GMO is bad, but what does that say about the oil from GMO olives? Nothing. Specificity matters.

This is one of the major reasons why GMO labeling is a bad idea, and why it keeps losing when brought up during popular election initiatives. The labels don’t tell you anything of value—they only play upon your fears.

And yes, I’ve been called a “shill for Monsanto” for stating this kind of opinion in the past! Still waiting for my first Shill Royalty Check, though.

And sometimes it’s just for the money

Apr 26th, 2016 11:13 am | By

You get your ideological beheadings, and then you get your cash beheadings. A Canadian man who was beheaded yesterday represents a failed transaction.

The Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has condemned the beheading of a Canadian hostage kidnapped by Islamist militants in the Philippines.

John Ridsdel, 68, was taken from a tourist resort with three others by the Abu Sayyaf group in September 2015.

In November, the Islamist militants released a video showing Mr Ridsdel and three other captives, and demanded a ransom of $80m (£55m).

Now, ideology gets a look-in too, since it was Islamists demanding the cash to buy back John Ridsdel, but it’s still a matter of no-pay no-return.

A Philippines army spokesman said Mr Ridsdel’s severed head was found on the remote island of Jolo, hours after the Abu Sayyaf ransom deadline expired.

They have to pay for the guns and machetes somehow.

Tell the family

Apr 25th, 2016 11:58 am | By

Sarah Ditum and Julie Bindel were on Victoria Derbyshire’s chat show this morning to talk about free speech and no platforming. Behold a clip:

I haven’t seen the rest of what they say yet, assuming Derbyshire kept her promise to return to Julie after the news, but this on its own is worth discussing.

There are people, there are people who are incredibly vunnerable [sic] who do feel very specific types of harm. Tell the family of trans people, the families of queer people who have committed suicide because of the likes of people who have invalidated their identities – Julie Bindel.

That claim is contemptible moral blackmail. No, feminist women talking about gender do not cause trans people to commit suicide, and it’s sheer bullying to claim they do. No, people don’t get to silence feminist women who need to talk about gender more than anyone by accusing them of causing suicides. No, trans activists don’t get to declare a monopoly on talking about gender while women are still viewed as and treated as the subordinate, stupid, frivolous sex.

Two more chopped to death in Dhaka

Apr 25th, 2016 10:48 am | By

The BBC reports:

Police in Bangladesh say two people including a leading gay rights activist and editor at Bangladesh’s only LGBT magazine have been hacked to death.

The US ambassador to Bangladesh condemned the killing of Xulhaz Mannan, who also worked at the US embassy.

Another person was also injured when the attackers entered a Dhaka flat.

People who like violence and murder have that advantage over people who like better things.

BBC Bengali Service editor Sabir Mustafa said staff at Roopbaan, which had not been condemned by the government and received some support from foreign embassies, had been careful to protect their identities but had not believed their lives were at risk.

Suspected extremists in Bangladesh are gaining a sense of security that they can carry out killings with impunity, he says.

A British photographer who knew Mr Mannan and the other victim, known as “Tonoy” and named in Bangladeshi media as Tanay Mojumdar, said they and other friends had set up Roopbaan with the aim of spreading tolerance.

And tolerance is seen as a deadly enemy by fanatics. If there is tolerance, then fanatics are not in charge, and fanatics think that fanatics must be in charge.

Both men were openly gay and believed that if more gay Bangladeshis came out then the country would have to accept them, the photographer said.

Which I think is broadly true, if other conditions are right – if there is tolerance and peace and a general rejection of violence. That of course does not describe Bangladesh right now.

They were also were behind the annual “Rainbow Rally”, held on Bengali New Year, 14 April, since 2014. This year’s rally was banned by police as part of widespread security measures.

“Both were extremely gentle, non-violent and aware that being openly gay and active in their work was a personal danger,” the photographer said.

Fanatics don’t like gentle and non-violent – except in so much as it makes it easy for them to pick off the gentle and non-violent with their machetes.

Meanwhile Bangladesh’s best known blogger said he had received a death threat on Sunday.

Imran Sarker, who led major protests by secular activists in 2013 against Islamist leaders, said he had received a phone call warning that he would be killed “very soon”.

And that’s not a joke. Could someone invite him to London or Stockholm today please?

Embedding hatred

Apr 24th, 2016 5:39 pm | By

The BBC has more details on Erdoğan’s way with dissenters.

Turkey’s hard line on insults:

  • Between August 2014 and March 2015, 236 people investigated for “insulting the head of state”; 105 indicted; eight formally arrested
  • Between July and December 2014 (Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s presidency), Turkey filed 477 requests to Twitter for removal of content, over five times more than any other country and an increase of 156% on the first half of the year
  • Reporters Without Borders places Turkey 149th of 180 countries in the press freedom index
  • During Mr Erdogan’s time in office (Prime Minister 2003-14, President from 2014), 63 journalists have been sentenced to a total of 32 years in prison, with collective fines of $128,000
  • Article 299 of the Turkish penal code states that anybody who insults the president of the republic can face a prison term of up to four years. This sentence can be increased by a sixth if committed publicly; and a third if committed by press or media

It’s pretty staggering.

A wide range of people have been hit by the charge, from writers to artists, journalists to protesters.

A 16-year-old boy was indicted earlier this year for calling the president a thief during a demonstration. He could be jailed for up to four years if convicted.

Even a former Miss Turkey has faced the charge, for posting a poem deemed to insult the president on her Instagram account.

And as for a working journalist…

Those targeted for their tweets include a former television journalist, Sedef Kabas. In one, she made reference to a massive corruption probe against the political establishment, including Mr Erdogan, which had been shelved by a government-appointed judge.

“Never forget the name of the judge who dropped the investigation,” she wrote on Twitter.

The following day, police turned up at her house, confiscated her laptop and phone, and she was charged.

She could face a sentence of up to five years for her tweet and another four years for making police wait at her front door.

“Those who back the governing party are free to insult and use defamatory language, while those critical of what’s happening are suffering,” she tells me.

“They’re trying to polarise people as religious and non-religious, pro- and anti-Erdogan – and are embedding hatred in people. He’s passing the message to his supporters: if you hate them, you’ll support me more adamantly. War is being used as a tool to receive more support.”

The Beeb asked to talk to the AK party but were told no.