Tuesday, April 30, 2013

About That Thing In Steubenville, Ohio...

via science of relationships




























''It's really a sense of power that comes from specialness ... anyone who finds himself at the center of the world they're in has a sense of impunity.'' 
Ken Dryden, lawyer and Hall of Fame goalie for the Montreal Canadiens. 

It's the last day of April, the month which has been claimed by several causes to promote awareness. One of those topics which deserves raised awareness is the frightening persistence of sexual assault in society. I published the article below on Secular Woman earlier this month:

In a down-on-its-luck eastern Ohio town, the local high school's star football players were powerful people. As the town's pride and joy - its hope for the future - the young men in Steubenville enjoyed all the privileges of small town princelings, just like millions of young men in millions of small towns all over the world. One of the privileges of that power was that the football players had their "pick" of the town's unattached girls. For star athletes, the privilege of first pick of the most desirable girls is like selecting ripe melons at Kroger. The athlete gets to choose or discard, never the girl.

Adults treat them like heroes, students treat them like rock stars, and amidst classes, club meetings and exams, there exists a gutter economy where women become a form of currency. Dave Zirin, The Verdict: Steubenville Shows the Bond Between Jock Culture and Rape Culture, The Nation, March 18, 2013.


The moment that a person - usually a female-bodied person - becomes the object of a more powerful person's desire (whether for sex or some desire to exert control), her humanity ceases to matter. She becomes, literally, a thing - currency that the more powerful person feels entitled to spend. Human culture is patriarchal: heterosexual men are the only persons whose full humanity is never questioned, while women - and men who are suspected by other men of not being the right kind of heterosexual man - are treated by every society on earth as less than fully human. Their existence and worth is measured almost exclusively within the context of their relationships with and effect upon heterosexual men. Heterosexual men are persons whose living, thinking and taking action defines who they are, while women are men's accessories: their mothers, their girlfriends, the mothers of their children. It is the thing that they are to men which defines what women are.

Pick a girl melon, any melon girl,
young football princelings!
The young woman who was carted from party to party in Steubenville that August night was little more than a ripe melon - or a piece of meat - to those football players. They treated her like a plaything as if there was no human being inside that unconscious body because, on a deeply primitive level, for some young men there is no human being inside a female body. And when she somehow gathered the courage to press charges against the young men who raped her, she became the thing which her town raged could unfairly (!) ruin their princelings' lives. Having also grown up swimming in the rape culture that still permeates nearly every human society, the rape victim feared she would be blamed and vilified for reporting the crime or pressing charges and she was right.  She had to be persuaded to go forward with the case, but she finally did - courageously, and in the face of vicious condemnation from her former friends and neighbors.

(trigger warning for sexual assault)
The girl was completely naked on the floor, laying motionless on her side, not far from where she'd just puked out of the side of her mouth.
By her side was one of his teammates, Trent Mays, who Westlake testified was fully exposed and smacking his penis on the girl's hip. Laying behind her was another player, Ma'lik Richmond, whom Westlake testified he saw penetrating the girl with two fingers, "halfway to the knuckle."
"It wasn't what I expected to see," Westlake testified Friday at the Jefferson County Justice Center here in this old Eastern Ohio mill town, where Mays and Richmond stand trial for rape. "I wasn't really sure what to think."
Why didn't you stop it, special prosecutor Marianne Hemmeter asked?
"Well," Westlake said, "it wasn't violent. I didn't know exactly what rape was. I always pictured it as forcing yourself on someone."
Let's ignore the obvious point that you don't need to "force" yourself on a girl who is incapacitated by alcohol. Instead, let's simply ask what did Evan Westlake do?
"I said my goodbyes," he testified.
Goodbyes? And what exactly was the response from Mays and Richmond after having someone walk in on them in the middle of that moment – even if, as the defense is arguing, it actually was consensual?
"They said, 'I'll see you Monday at football,' " Westlake said. 
Prosecutors may get conviction in Steubenville rape trial, but it will come at a cost. Dan Wetzel, Yahoo Sports, March 16, 2013.

How is it possible that a modern, educated teenager does not know what rape is? If inserting objects and body parts into the body of an unconscious person is not "forcing yourself on someone", then what is it?  How could it be that in a society which claims to abhor rape, a young man stood a few feet away while a rape was being committed, felt surprised but apparently undisturbed by what he was witnessing, then casually "said his good-nights" and walked away. He walked away without the slightest sense that a crime was being committed. The sight of an unconscious girl being casually violated by two young men aroused not a scintilla of basic human compassion in him. None at all. Three football teammates casually said, "see you Monday at football" while two of them were still raping an unconscious, vomit-spattered, urine-soaked girl and Evan Westlake was not sure what to think! How could he not know what to think about that?

One has to wonder: would Evan Westlake have known what to think had the unconscious victim been one of his male teammates? If his buddies casually said "good-night" to him as they shoved foreign objects and body parts into the anus and mouth of an unconscious 16-year-old boy lying naked on the floor right in front of him, would that have seemed a little more surprising to him? Disturbing, even? Would the nature of the criminal behavior have suddenly been a little easier to discern?

Although most people strongly protest that they would never condone rape, the reality is that most people actually do condone rape. Like Evan Westlake, they condone rape because they believe that most kinds of forced sex are not really rape as long as the recipient of the forced sex is female-bodiedMost people think that opportunistic or coerced sex, which is the modus operandi in the majority of sexual assaults, is normal, understandable or justifiable thanks to a culture which normalizes and excuses men who rape women. There may be a general rueful admission that "taking advantage" of a drunk woman or pressuring a date into sex may not exactly be polite, or the smoothest, coolest way to operate, but it is still after all just a guy doing what comes naturally when he wants something and that thing is apparently right there for the taking. If the object of his interest is incapacitated after drinking too much, her failure to say "no" can be taken for a "yes"- at his discretion. If the thing he wants is not 100% clear about her refusal (at least in his own mind - remember boys: no means maybe and maybe means yes!), then a guy feels justified in assuming that he has her consent and society backs him up on that. In essence, society hands over a woman's 'right to consent' to men, who are permitted - even encouraged - to apply it according to their own interpretation of reality, however influenced that may be by anger, alcohol or unreciprocated sexual arousal.

Consider the following rape apologia:
 "What did she expect to happen when she went out dressed like that?"
 "What did she expect would happen?" reasonable people ask, "If she didn't want to have sex, she ought not to have sent the wrong signal by getting drunk. If she has regrets in the morning, it was her own stupid fault."
 "If she didn't say "No', then she probably meant "Yes". She wasn't clear! How is a guy supposed to know, anyway?"
 "Why should some poor man go to jail because of some lying slut who only got what she was asking for?"
 "If something happened that she didn't really want, then she ought to have thought of that before going on that date/accepting that drink/asking him in for coffee/smiling and flirting/trying to enjoy full rights to free citizenship while being female..." - pick any scenario because they all lead to forced sex somewhere every day.
And of course, the ever-popular  "If men don't pursue women aggressively, the human race will go extinct!" which both excuses male aggression and denies normal, healthy female sexuality in one astonishing stroke.

These are common excuses given after a sexual assault. Some rapists may admit that it was not quite consensual sex, but they vehemently deny that it was rape. It does not matter if the woman did not want sex. Too many men feel that if the man wants sex - if he has interpreted anything about the woman from her style of dress to her behavior as some sort of sexual invitation - then he is entitled to force sex on her. In his mind, it is not forcing sex, though; he has been encouraged by rape culture to tell himself that she "asked" for it (even if she actually said "no"; even if the "invitation" was all in his own imagination).

With very rare exceptions, not quite consensual sex is seen as the inevitable result of mistakes made by women (leading men on, dressing like sluts, asking for it, needing to be put in their place, expecting to enjoy the freedom to go places and do things that men enjoy, etc) and not as rape committed by a man. When made by a very young girl or teenager (who is still assumed to be a virgin), these "mistakes" are considered foolish but innocently regrettable (though the sexual assault is still the girl's own fault), in the case of non-virgin women, the use of the word "mistakes" is a transparently insincere way of describing what is clearly believed by the culture to be calculated, provocative behavior on the part of a lying female who later regrets her own bad behavior but who inexplicably still wants to draw attention to it by accusing an innocent man of rape.

She must have led him on - how was he to know she only wanted to enjoy a flirtatious evening and then go home alone? Obviously, she didn't - she just changed her mind after the fact! 

Having internalized these attitudes thanks to the pervasive rape culture, most people are uncomfortable labeling such incidents "rapes".  It strikes people as somehow unfair to call a man who merely uses a woman's body without her explicit consent a rapist. Most of the time, people agree, women only get what they deserve!

Then, there is the myth which goes something like this: the only real rapists are monsters. When they are not leaping out of bushes to attack a woman with a weapon, rapist monters are hanging out at bars creepily stalking stupid women.  Even so, it isn't a crime to be a creepy guy - innocent nice guys are sometimes called creepy and just think of that slippery slope!  If women weren't so stupid, they would not provoke real creeps to stalk and/or attack them! But, the handsome, normal guy who won't take "no" for an answer after a date is nothing like those monstrous rapists. Maybe he paid for a nice dinner date and she's been smiling at him all night - so he can't be blamed for having expectations! and anyway his making a move is a natural red-blooded male reaction to female provocation. People ought to give him the benefit of the doubt because he is such a nice guy but they should have a healthy skepticism about the honesty of the girl or woman. A man should be thought innocent until proven guilty; a woman should be thought a liar until she proves she is telling the truth. Reasonable people should always be extremely cautious about casting doubt on a person's character - it could haunt him for life! - so trashing a woman's reputation instead is the only reasonable response to a rape accusation. The accused man is a person - a fully human being whose life could be ruined by the accusation that he is a rapist monster! - the accuser is merely a woman - just a female, and everyone knows how they lie...the question of whether her life might be ruined by whatever transpired is hardly worth asking. Females are, after all, made to be used by men, so why are feminists making such a big deal over this?

Another popular justification for rape apologia is the pretended even-handedness of criticizing young men for walking alone in unsafe places or getting drunk in situations where they might be assaulted and criticizing young women for walking alone in unsafe places (just about anywhere away from male protectors - and even then not so much, but that is for another post) or getting drunk in situations where they might be assaulted.

"Holding a girl responsible for her own stupidity is not victim-blaming! I'd criticize a guy, too, if he stupidly put himself in danger by getting drunk with the wrong crowd or hanging out on the dodgy side of town!"

But here is where this false equivalency breaks down: even if we accept the claim that society really does accuse young men of bringing crime on themselves because of their appearance or their behavior (something so rare that even a determined google search can find little evidence of it - with the notable exception of too many cases which are suspiciously limited to young men of color or other marginalized groups, but again, that's another post in itself), the difference is that no one ever suggests that because of a male victim's stupidity, his attackers should not be held accountable for their crimes.



















In no other assault scenarios are victims routinely blamed for inciting envy, fear, rage, a desire to hurt or control or any other emotion in their attackers. Only when girls or women are attacked - and in particular when they are sexually assaulted - is the onus for the crime placed upon the victim. It is not even sexual assault itself that is the exception but specifically sexual assault against women and girls which is reserved for this special 'victim-caused' category. Rapes of boys and men are not generally dismissed as "he was asking for it". One only has to point to the recent public hue and cry over the sexual crimes committed by priests in the Catholic Church to see that this is true.

The rape of a child or teenager - or indeed any person who is in a subordinate position to an authority figure - is unconscionable and deserves to be prosecuted vigorously. However, the deliberately vague term "child rape" that is always used to describe these clerical crimes obscures the fact that most of those victims were not just "children" but specifically underage boys.  The stark truth is that it is because the majority of these crimes were committed against boys and young men that society is as horrified as it is by them, and it is because this fact is obfuscated by the coy usage of "child" instead of "boy" that society can continue to pretend that it treats all rapes - of both male and female victims - as equally terrible. The truth, however, is that similar abuses have been visited upon girls and women in far greater numbers for all of human history - at least 1 in 4 girls and women are raped in their lifetime by clerics, teachers, family members, neighbors, boyfriends, employers, husbands and sometimes even strangers - but this ugly feminine reality has never elicited universal societal condemnation like the outrage over the recently uncovered sexual abuse of boys by priests. On the contrary, rape, forced pregnancy, assault and battery of girls and women has been protected all over the world for most of human history by patriarchal social mores and laws, often justified by 'respect" for religious freedom. Rape and male oppression is accepted as the way things are for women. Boys and men, on the other hand, are never supposed to be the targets of this kind of abuse. When it happens, it is considered an intolerable blight in society.

In first world countries, most women gained citizenship, the right to vote and legal recognition of their human rights over the last century. Nevertheless, most societies still do not accept that the majority of rape claims by women are really rapes. The hyper-vigilance over "false accusations" is not because assaults have not occurred, but because society denies that those alleged sexual assaults are equivalent to 'forcible rape'. There is always a justification, always an excuse for why it was understandable for that man to force that woman into a sexual act.

The Rape Culture that pervades all human societies ensures that women are still considered less than fully human - even in the first world - so that abuse of their autonomy and consent is tolerated and condoned even by the justice system. By and large, the reality in most societies is that while there may be laws on the books criminalizing rape, society actually refuses to recognize most forms of sexual assault on women as legitimate rape, and in practice most societies regard nearly all women as unrapable. When the fault lies with the alleged victim, there can have been no crime committed. Rape culture reinforces the idea that women, by their very existence, are always sexually tempting men, always at fault, always to blame. Women make men force sex on them, so it is never rape.

In many parts of the world, rape is accepted as an everyday occurrence, and even a male prerogative. In 1991, at a coed boarding school in Kenya, seventy-one girls were raped by their male classmates, and nineteen died in the ensuing panic. The deputy principal reassured the public: "The boys never meant any harm against the girls. They just wanted to rape." Michael Parenti, "The Global Rape Culture", The Culture Struggle, 2005.

Rape culture serves up a double whammy to women - it not only dismisses the assault of women and girls as justifiable based upon the feelings of their attackers, but it also holds the victims responsible for those feelings. Young men raised in rape culture are accustomed to judging the morality of their behavior toward women according to their own emotions and desires - how they feel around a woman justifies their behavior toward her - and at the same time they are encouraged by rape culture to hold women responsible for how they, men, feel. Rape culture tells men that they are entitled to satisfy their own urges at a woman's expense. Many, if not most, men who assault women believe that what they feel has been deliberately caused by the women they target and therefore the women are responsible for whatever "happens". Surprisingly frequently, especially if charges are laid against him, a rapist will actually claim (and actually believe) that he is the victim in the situation. Plenty of evidence supports the contention that society - steeped in rape culture misogyny - usually agrees with him.

via parenting teens
Rape Culture is an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture.  Rape culture is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence, thereby creating a society that disregards women’s rights and safety.
  Rape Culture affects every woman.  The rape of one woman is a degradation, terror, and limitation to all women. Most women and girls limit their behavior because of the existence of rape. Most women and girls live in fear of rape. Men, in general, do not. That’s how rape functions as a powerful means by which the whole female population is held in a subordinate position to the whole male population, even though many men don’t rape, and many women are never victims of rape.  This cycle of fear is the legacy of Rape Culture. (Rape Culture, Marshall University Women's Center.)

Many women unwittingly support rape culture by taking comfort in the mistaken belief that rape only happens to a certain kind of woman and they themselves can avoid it by living properly (whatever they think that means). What they fail to realize is that by promulgating rape myths, they actually strengthen the rape culture that makes them more likely to be victimized. Rape myths provide cover for those who actually commit the majority of rapes: seemingly ordinary men who also believe the myths of rape culture and who thus believe that in many situations the consent of a woman can be considered implicit based upon how he interprets her behavior. If he feels that what she is wearing or where she is or how much she has drunk or how much she has flirted is an invitation to him, then it is an invitation to him regardless of whether the woman ever had any thought of issuing an invitation. What she thinks or feels simply does not matter because the possibility that she actually has real thoughts and honest feelings like he - a fully human person - does, simply does not exist. Many rapists have so thoroughly absorbed the poison of rape culture that they truly believe that they are entitled to take what they tell themselves women are offering and therefore whatever they have done, it is not rape.

Thanks to the warped view that rape culture propagates of what is normal sex, many men feel genuinely threatened by the idea that any non-consensual sex might be called  'rape'. Most of these very concerned men consider themselves nice guys but some are uncomfortably aware that they may have skated over the consent line at times. Defensively, they insist that there are grey areas in the mating landscape.

Women are hard to read! Sometimes 'maybe' can mean 'yes', not "no" Why should any red-blooded man accept that ambivalence is a form of "no" and be forced to hope lamely that on another occasion she will give enthusiastic consent? Why should women get to have the upper hand in sexual matters?

They argue that parsing the meaning of a woman's "It's getting late", "I'd like to go home now" or "It's not a good time" is a complex problem and that consent is a very vexing and elusive concept.

Women jerk men around! Why would she say 'maybe' if she means 'no'? Maybe 'maybe' means 'yes'! Why shouldn't a guy interpret her ambivalence as 'yes'? Everyone knows women want to be swept away. But if she doesn't want that, then she should be clear about it. Who can blame a guy for pressing the issue? If he doesn't press, he might never have sex! 

They worry that to criminalize all nonconsensual sex is a slippery slope which could unfairly bring innocent men down with the (very, very few!) guilty ones.

Consent can be very ambiguous and difficult to determine! When she accepted the date/flirted/drank too much, who can blame a guy for thinking she was giving tacit consent to more? How dare she cry rape in the morning just because she regrets her slutty behavior of the night before!

Ignoring for now the constant underlying thread of misogyny that runs through all rape apologia (which can be boiled down to: women lie, they lie constantly and they enjoy lying just to hurt an innocent man for the evil pleasure of it), there is an interesting inconsistency highlighted by this claim that sexual consent is difficult to decipher.

At least one study has shown that human beings are perfectly capable of recognizing both verbal and non-verbal refusals, even when the word "No" is not used at all.  In every other sphere of human interaction, human signals for 'no' - for refusal - are widely understood by both men and women and yet men who rape persist in special pleading that it is difficult to be sure in just one specific situation: when a woman is saying 'No' to sex. Rapists prefer the emphasis to be on whether a woman said "No" clearly enough because they know that there will be wiggle room for them to pretend that most forms of verbal and nonverbal "no" secretly mean "yes" when it comes to female sexual responses and, unfortunately, society allows them to make - and win - that argument.

It really is very simple.
"Did she say 'yes'?
"No."
"Then your answer was 'No'."
"But she said, 'Maybe'!"
"But, did she say 'yes'?"
"No."
"Then your answer was 'No'."
"But she seemed like she was not sure, maybe she wanted to consent!"
"Did she say 'Yes'?"
"No."
"Then your answer was - undeniably, unambiguously - 'No'."

In spite of the best efforts of women's groups working to reduce sexual assault, no large-scale social movement to accept a working definition of consent such as "Only an unequivocal 'Yes' means 'Yes'" has been forthcoming. Many men - who definitely do not see themselves as rapists - prefer the pliable, male-interpreted "No" because it would be much harder for those Nice Guys to kid themselves about their own opportunistic behavior - and harder for society to excuse them, too - if the only acceptable green light for sex was an unequivocal "yes". "'No' means 'No'" (except when Nice Guys™ think it means 'Yes' to them) has been massaged by the rape culture to suggest the possibility of ambiguity and that leaves the door open for not-so-nice-guys to cash in on the sexual aggressiveness of a few men.

Thanks to the fact that women live in fear of sexual assault, less sexually aggressive men can still benefit from the rape culture which provides cover for more blatant rapists. By pretending to be confused by "mixed signals", a so-called Nice Guy can pressure a woman into sex she doesn't want by telling her that she made him think she had promised him something. More aggressive males pave the way for the Nice Guys because a woman's fear of male anger if she refuses to honor this bogus "promise" seals the deal. By shaming women for being reluctant to trust that their intentions are honorable (even when they are not), Nice Guys often succeed in coercing women to engage in unwanted sex. By accusing women of teasing because they have interpreted a sexual invitation from a little light-hearted flirting, Nice Guys can and do frighten women into agreeing to unwanted sex because women have learned to fear the consequences of being labeled a "tease" (a "tease" can either put out what she has been "promising", or have it taken from her forcibly, which society will judge she deserves). Nice Guys never do anything overtly aggressive, but they trade on the fear of male aggressiveness to manipulate and coerce women into unwanted sex. In other words, Nice Guys do rape, too.

The patriarchal culture which teaches men to view women as simultaneously both lying temptresses and sexually submissive subordinates ensures that self-aware rapists know they need not fear any negative social consequences as they continue to victimize women and girls. It will always be the woman's fault. Meanwhile the self-deluding "nice guys" observe society's acceptance and normalization of male aggression toward females, admire what they see not as rape but as other mens' sexual conquests and regard their own sexual opportunism as perfectly normal and reasonable within that context. This is the reason why many men sincerely believe that false rape accusations are a real thing. If they - normal, nice guys! - have felt and done these things (or think it's OK to do these things), then it cannot be rape! Only monsters commit rape and these nice guys are not monsters!

The Steubenville case, the Rehtaeh Parsons case, the UCLA water polo player case and countless other sexual assault cases, both reported and unreported,  starkly illustrate how rape culture ensures that many young men and women really do not believe that forcing sex on a woman without her consent is always rape, especially if she was initially flirting or drinking at a party or has had sex before. A rape victim's recovery from sexual violation is horrendous enough, but rape culture ensures that the society which is supposed to protect her will victimize her again through victim-blaming, slut-shaming, sympathy for the perpetrator and even erasing the victim from discussion of the impact of the crime which is viewed - like almost everything else in patriarchal culture - not from the female victim's perspective but from the male's. Isn't it time that we took concrete, effective steps to dismantle Rape Culture once and for all? We've tried the ridiculously ineffective tactic of urging women not to get themselves raped. Perhaps, at long last, we can begin to urge men not to rape.

The first step is to raise young men who understand and respect that women are human beings whose feelings and wishes are as important as mens'. A man's feeling of entitlement to use a woman's body because he felt that she was offering it does not trump her feelings or her right to refuse consent or even to withdraw consent at any time if she becomes uncomfortable with the man. We need to change the sad reality that, because of our rape culture, men's sense of superior entitlement is protected at the expense of women's humanity. His feelings are of paramount importance, while it is often barely acknowledged that she has any legitimate feelings at all. She is a thing that causes uncomfortable feelings in a man. When rape happens it is deemed justifiable by society because of however the man felt (he felt he was led on, he misunderstood her "mixed signals", he felt she had provoked him, etc) while the woman is held responsible both for whatever he was feeling and for the consequences when he decided not to exercise any self-control over those feelings.
Only men can stop rape.

Obviously, rape culture creates a win-win situation for would-be rapists. Unfortunately, it also creates an environment where the dehumanization of women is so normalized that even some nice, decent men ultimately perceive virtually every woman as "unrapable" in most contexts. In other words, because of the constant stream of misogynist rape apologia in our culture, too many boys and men unconsciously form the belief that almost nothing that they can do to a woman can ever be called rape - even though they still honestly believe that they consider 'real rape' a heinous crime.

The second step is to make men understand that the behavior that many of them do not consider "rapey" is, in fact, rape. That the women whom some men tell themselves were "asking for it" or whose consent some men believe they can assume because of how they, men, are feeling are not there simply for them to take.  That when a man decides that because a woman has put herself in one situation willingly (a party, date or whatever) therefore it is perfectly reasonable for him to presume she has given her consent for anything else he expects the evening to lead to - even if he has to push it a little - that is rape.

Below is an ad aired in the UK which addresses Rape Culture in a gut-wrenching, all-too-common scenario: a party, drinking, the initial trust of the young woman, the expectations of the young man, and the eventual rape. This ad underlines the truth that rape occurs whenever one person coerces another person into sexual activity against the second person's wishes. The only thing that will prevent rape is if rapists stop raping.

Teaching men how not to rape: Hey, it's so crazy, it just might work!

Indeed, it is the only thing that will work.

TRIGGER WARNING!  Please be aware that this ad portrays a common scenario where a rape occurs, and though very well-done, it may be painfully triggering to some viewers.



Further Reading:

How a victim-blaming system excuses rape, Jen Roesch, socialistworker.org, January 7, 2013.

Sexual Assault and Rape Resource Guide, R. Graham, Carolina Women's Center, UNC Chapel Hill, Spring 2003.

Acquaintance Rape of College Students, Rana Sampson, USDOJ, COPS Problem-Oriented Guides For Police, no.17.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Thorsday Tonic - Happy Little Clouds!

                                                                                                                                                 painting by Bob Ross via kalenart























For many NiftyReaders (not to mention, yours truly), it's been an almost endless winter. Some of us are contending with raw, wet, cold days and some are even still dealing with snow. The garden looks so sad, like it's mid-January not nearing the end of April.

I toyed with the idea of reposting the wonderful remix The Garden of Your Mind featuring wonderful classic video of Mr. (Fred) Rogers, but then I found another wonderful offering that I think makes the perfect Thorsday Tonic for the weary reader.

This is a remix that features another TV personality, Bob Ross, the beloved PBS artist who gently invited a generation of viewers to explore their inner artist.  The soft-spoken painter honed his craft of quick painting while in the Air Force. During that period in his life, Ross promised himself that if he ever got out of the military, he would never yell or scream again - and by all accounts he kept that promise.

This autotune captures the essence of a gentle man and an artist, and I think it inspires any kind of creativity. Whether you dream of painting, writing or making music - or any other creative endeavor from dreaming up new mathematical theorems to designing cool toys - I think Bob's words are meant for you:  "Believe that you can do it...'cause you can do it."



via pbsdigitalstudios                                    remix by melodysheep

Happy Little Clouds

I believe...I believe...
every day's a good day when you paint.
I believe...I believe...
it'll bring a lot of good thoughts to your heart.

Let's build a happy little cloud.
Let's build some happy little trees.
There are no limits here.
You start out by believing here.

You can almost paint with anything;
all you have to do is practice.
There are no limits here.
You start by believing here.

This is your world...you're the creator.
Find freedom on this canvas.
Believe that you can do it...'cause you can do it.

Give it a little touch; give it a little push,
make love to the canvas
give it a little touch; give it a little push,
caress it very gently,
grab it, lift it, fluff it,
you can go on and on and on,
back and forth, back and forth,
layer after layer after layer.

Relax. Let it flow.
Think like water.
Relax. Let it flow.
You can go on and on and on.

We don't make mistakes,
we just have happy accidents.
You can do anything that you want to do.
Total power.
Sing along. Have a good time.

This is your world. You're the creator.
Find freedom on this canvas.
Believe that you can do it...'cause you can do it.
I believe...I believe...
every day's a good day when you paint.
I believe...I believe...
it'll bring a lot of good thoughts to your heart.


Friday, April 19, 2013

Day Of Silence




























To mark this Day of Silence,  Cyndi Lauper's anthem True Colors

True Colors

You with the sad eyes
Don't be discouraged
Oh, I realize
It's hard to take courage
In a world full of people
You can lose sight of it all
And the darkness inside you
Can make you feel so small

But I see your true colors
Shining through
I see your true colors
And that's why I love you
So don't be afraid to let them show
Your true colors
True colors
Are beautiful like a rainbow

Show me a smile then,
Don't be unhappy
Can't remember when
I last saw you laughing
If this world makes you crazy
And you've taken all you can bear
You call me up
Because you know I'll be there

And I'll see your true colors
Shining through
I see your true colors
And that's why I love you
So don't be afraid to let them show
Your true colors
Your true colors
Are beautiful like a rainbow

(Can't remember when I last saw you laughing)

If this world makes you crazy
And you've taken all you can bear
You call me up
Because you know I'll be there

And I'll see your true colors
Shining through
I see your true colors
And that's why I love you
So don't be afraid to let them show
Your true colors
True colors
True colors are shining through

I see your true colors
And that's why I love you
So don't be afraid to let them show
Your true colors
True colors
Are beautiful like a rainbow

Songwriters: Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly




Wednesday, April 17, 2013

In The Eye of the Beholder - You Are Beautiful






















The video below may be the best thing you see today. Please take 3 minutes out of your busy day to watch it. If you are a NiftyWoman, you may want to have a hanky handy!

Sure, it's an ad campaign, but this is the best kind of use of corporate clout writ large. These Dove campaigns give wide exposure to crushing toxic notions of femininity that feminist groups have been struggling - and failing - to overcome for decades.

Harmful, demeaning cultural pressure on women to conform to an impossible fantasy of beauty is propped up by the constant barrage of media objectification of women and an unquestioned beauty culture. Girls soak up that poison early, too, so that self-criticism will usually fill in on the rare occasions when another person might try to reassure her that she is beautiful just as she is - that her beauty is in her humanity and all that makes her her, not in whether she wears a certain dress size or has a certain set of facial characteristics.

Just as rape continues to be epidemic even in so-called egalitarian, progressive societies because few powerful voices challenge the notion that most rape is not really rape, so the toxic beauty culture persists because few powerful voices challenge it either. One such powerful voice could be a large corporation with a robust advertising budget.

I think these promotions may and should pay off for this company. They have invested in ideas that matter. They have given corporate sponsorship to a recognition of the value of humanity - of women - beyond the superficial. And, as we have learned, well-funded campaigns really do change societal opinions and  bring meaningful shifts in cultural norms.

Someone at Dove decided to pair corporate self-interest with a social conscience. I call that a win-win.

What a NiftyIdea!




via doveunitedstates

Monday, April 15, 2013

101st Anniversary of Titanic Sinking and The Myth of "Women and Children First!"






















One hundred and one years ago, late on the evening of April 14, 1912, the RMS Titanic entered an icefield near the island of Newfoundland, off the northeastern coast of North America. That night, disaster struck and in the early hours of the morning of April 15, the Titanic sank, taking over 1500 people to a watery grave.

The "unsinkable" Titanic was built to withstand both head-on and side collisions, because of it's steel skin and the system of separate water-tight chambers which ringed the vessel's hull. Engineers imagined dangers from head on collisions, and even the possibility of the ship being rammed midship by another vessel, and they believed that their remarkable new design would allow the ship to withstand such accidents without sinking.

What no one seemed to have anticipated was that a ship running alongside an iceberg - or even the deceptively flat-looking fields of pack ice commonly found in the north Atlantic in spring - could possibly experience more than a single glancing blow or even a direct impact in just one section of the ship. The vastness of underwater ice from which the saying "that's just the tip of the iceberg" is derived, poses a much graver risk to vessels.

What we call an iceberg is merely
the tip of an iceberg.
What brought down the Titanic was not a single devastating point of collision with an iceberg. The ill-fated ship entered the icefield at speed, heedless of the danger lurking below the surface of the water. She may not have even been close enough to collide with the part of the iceberg which was visible above the surface of the sea - but the great spreading hulk of ice below the water was nearer than the berg itself.

The fantastic design of the Titanic's many-chambered hull failed to avert catastrophe because when the ship scraped along the underwater edge of the ice for about ten seconds, that was long enough for the ice to score a thin, deep tear along the hull exposing not just one water-tight compartment or even two (apparently the worst-case scenarios envisioned by the engineers who designed her) to a deadly inundation of frigid seawater, but five. The fact that there were five breached compartments overwhelmed the ship's ballast. When the water entered the first five compartments, the hydraulic doors - which were meant to be able to close automatically between compartments in the event of a breach of one or two of them - failed, allowing compartment after compartment to begin filling with water.  The ship began it's fatal list as the perfect storm of events that led to its horrific destiny was set in motion.

The disaster was further intensified by the outdated safety measures in place and the shortage of life boats on board. Those inadequate safety measures - and the gallant Captain's attempted response to that situation - helped establish a silly, false and pernicious (to women) myth about maritime history (often generalised to all historical disasters).  Some people (I'm looking at you, MRA's) point to the persistent myth that "women and children first!" has been the chivalrous cry during ocean disasters for centuries as evidence of an historical gender advantage resulting in preferential treatment for women at the expense of men.

I hate to puncture that particular heroic fantasy of resentful MRAs - wait, I don't hate to do it at all: I insist on setting the record straight! Although the Titanic story helped popularize that myth because an order to that effect was given by the chivalrous Captain E. J. Smith. When he realized the imminent disaster facing his passengers and crew, Captain Smith knew he was in the unenviable position of having to allot too few lifeboats to too many passengers. He made the choice to offer women and children places on lifeboats first and remaining places on boats would be given to men. This decision was then horribly misapplied by his crew who clearly did not understand what to do because it was not and never had been ocean-going protocol - the assertion that men have died for centuries for the sake of women on board sinking ships is a lie.

Mikael Elinder and Oscar Erixson of Uppsala University in Sweden published an exhaustive study of maritime records and studies of disaster survival to investigate whether women have, in fact, enjoyed a gender-based advantage during disasters due to the chivalry and sacrifice of men.

Women's lower status and oppressive social mores
dictating gender isolation and restrictive dress
ensured that women were (and still are) nearly always
grossly disadvantaged in emergencies.
Our results provide new insights about human behavior in life-and-death situations. 
By investigating a new and much larger sample of maritime disasters than has previously 
been done, we show that women have a substantially lower survival rate than men. That 
women fare worse than men has been documented also for natural disasters (Frankenberg et 
al., 2011; Ikeda, 1995; MacDonald, 2005; Neumayer and Plümper, 2007; Oxfam 
International, 2005). We also find that crew members have a higher survival rate than 
passengers and that only 7 out of 16 captains went down with their ship. Children appear to 
have the lowest survival rate. Moreover, we shed light on some common perceptions of how 
situational and cultural conditions affect the survival of women. Most notably, we find that it 
seems as if it is the policy of the captain, rather than the moral sentiments of men, that 
determines if women are given preferential treatment in shipwrecks. This suggests an 
important role for leaders in disasters. Preferences of leaders seem to have affected survival 
patterns also in the evacuations of civilians during the Balkan Wars (Carpenter, 2003).
Moreover, we find that the gender gap in survival rates has decreased since WWI. This 
supports previous findings that higher status of women in society improves their relative 
survival rates in disasters (Neumayer and Plümper, 2007). We also show that women fare 
worse, rather than better, in maritime disasters involving British ships. This contrasts with the 
notion of British men being more gallant than men of other nationalities. Finally, in contrast 
to previous studies, we find no association between duration of the disaster and the influence 
of social norms. Based on our analysis, it becomes evident that the sinking of the Titanic was 
exceptional in many ways and that what happened on the Titanic seems to have spurred 
misconceptions about human behavior in disasters. Every man for himself
Gender, Norms and Survival in Maritime Disasters, Mikael Elinder and Oscar Erixson, April 2012.

The terrible loss of men's lives in the Titanic disaster was an exception to the rule in the history of disaster survival. The numbers might not even have been as terrible as they were had there actually been any sort of coherent tradition of "women and children first" in place because then the crew would not have misunderstood Captain Smith's meaning, allowing empty life boats to be put into the sea. Because they had clearly never heard of such a thing, they thought he meant no men were permitted to get into the lifeboats at all. The Titanic story actually confirms that the legend of male chivalry that it spawned is patently false because the crew of that ship clearly had no idea how to execute it whatsoever. The myth that women and children have always come first is yet another of the twisted revisions of history which some men - notably, the  subset of "men's rights activists" whose intense hatred of women is frightening and whose delusions of male persecution are flabbergasting in their total departure from reality - use as an argument against any movement toward equal rights for women in society.

Some writers have argued that the entire concept of putting women first in an emergency may be merely a means of promoting an idea of essential gender differences which may then be used to justify other inequalities that disfavour women.[14] According to Lucy Delap of Cambridge University, the British ruling class used the myth of male chivalry at sea to justify denying women the right to vote, as there was no reason for women to vote since men would always put the interests of women ahead of their own interests. women and children first, wikipedia.

Further support for the argument that the Titanic experience was never, in fact, the law of the sea or even a maritime tradition comes from the testimony of James McGann, a ship's fireman who survived the Titanic sinking. As their inevitable doom rapidly approached, Captain Smith released his crew from his earlier orders:

“He gave one look all around, his face firm and his lips hard set. He looked as if he was trying to keep back the tears, as he thought of the doomed ship. I felt mightily like crying as I looked at him.
“Suddenly he shouted: 'Well boys, you've done your duty and done it well. I ask no more of you. I release you. You know the rule of the sea. It's every man for himself now, and God bless you'. Titanic Wiki.

Anyway, back to the anniversary. Did you know that before the collision with the iceberg, the wireless operators on board the Titanic were so swamped with work sending out newfangled transAtlantic telegrams on behalf of exultant passengers - everyone wanted to try out this new technology! - that they literally ignored warnings about ice? When other ships in the area sent messages warning the Titanic that it was entering an ice field, one overwhelmed operator, Jack Phillips, replied, "Shut up! I am busy! I am working Cape Race!". The poor fellow's reputation suffered terribly after the disaster thanks to that harried message. I did not know about that until I heard it on NPR!

To commemorate the date, let's look at a brief video from my favorite place on earth (in case NiftyReaders had not already gathered that!) which gives another little tidbit of information about Cape Race and the Titanic story which many people did not know.

 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Hitchens on Free Speech




There was much to admire about Christopher Hitchens. His incredible facility with language, his rapier wit, his impressive intelligence. He was extremely well-read on a wide range of topics, but his passionate defense of free thought and free speech are perhaps his greatest legacies to humankind.

 I don't agree with everything Christopher Hitchens said and did (I think his vehement support of the invasion of Iraq combined with the sharply rightward tilt of his ideology in the last decade of his life were deserving of the criticism they received), and I find some of his remarks in this speech discomfiting, too. However, if one allows the full arc of the speech to be heard, the overarching message is of essential importance. The discomfort he evokes in his audience is necessary. With his trademark eloquence - and the inevitable poke in the eye for 'political correctness' - Hitchens makes a powerful argument for the urgent need to protect Free Speech.

Context: In November 2006, Christopher Hitchens was invited to speak at the University of Toronto's Hart House Debating Club to voice his opinion on the subject of the evening's debate: Be it resolved: Freedom of speech includes the freedom to hate.

In honor of Christopher Hitchens birthday: On free speech:

(It is better to watch and listen, but if you prefer to read, here is a transcript courtesy of how to play alone):


Fire, fire, fire, fire. Now you’ve heard it. Not shouted in a crowded theatre, admittedly, as I seem now to have shouted it in the Hogwarts dining hall. But the point is made. Everyone knows the fatuous verdict of the greatly over-praised Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who, when asked for an actual example of when it would be proper to limit speech or define it as an action, gave that of shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre.

It’s very often forgotten what he was doing in that case was sending to prison a group of Yiddish- speaking socialists, whose literature was printed in a language most Americans couldn’t read, opposing Mr. Wilson’s participation in the First World War, and the dragging of the United States into that sanguinary conflict, which the Yiddish-speaking socialists had fled from Russia to escape. In fact, it could be just as plausibly argued that the Yiddish-speaking socialists who were jailed by the excellent and over-praised Judge Oliver Wendell Holmes were the real fire-fighters, were the ones shouting fire when there really was a fire in a very crowded theatre indeed.

And who is to decide? Well, keep that question if you would — ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, I hope I may say comrades and friends — before your minds.

I exempt myself from the speaker’s kind offer of protection that was so generously proffered at the opening of this evening. Anyone who wants to say anything abusive about or to me is quite free to do so, and welcome in fact, at their own risk.

But before they do that they must have taken, as I’m sure we all should, a short refresher course in the classic texts on this matter. Which are John Milton’s  Areopagitica, (Areopagitica being the great hill of Athens for discussion and free expression). Thomas Paine’s introduction to The Age of Reason. And I would say John Stuart Mill’s essay On Liberty in which it is variously said — I’ll be very daring and summarize all three of these great gentlemen of the great tradition of, especially, English liberty, in one go: What they say is it’s not just the right of the person who speaks to be heard, it is the right of everyone in the audience to listen, and to hear. And every time you silence somebody you make yourself a prisoner of your own action because you deny yourself the right to hear something. In other words, your own right to hear and be exposed is as much involved in all these cases as is the right of the other to voice his or her view. Indeed as John Stuart Mill said, if all in society were agreed on the truth and beauty and value of one proposition, all except one person, it would be most important, in fact it would become even more important, that that one heretic be heard, because we would still benefit from his perhaps outrageous or appalling view.

In more modern times this has been put, I think, best by a personal heroine of mine, Rosa Luxembourg, who said freedom of speech is meaningless unless it means the freedom of the person who thinks differently. My great friend John O. Sullivan former editor of the National Review, and I think probably my most conservative and reactionary Catholic friend, once said — it’s a tiny thought experiment — if you hear the Pope saying he believes in God, you think, well, the Pope’s just doing his job again today. If you hear the Pope saying he’s begun to doubt the existence of God, you think he might be on to something.

Well, if everybody in North America is forced to attend, at school, training in sensitivity in Holocaust awareness and is taught to study the "final solution", about which nothing was actually done by this country, or by North America, or by the United Kingdom while it was going on, but let’s say as if in compensation for that everyone is made to swallow an official and unalterable story of it now, and it’s taught as the great moral exemplar, the moral equivalent of the morally lacking elements of the Second World War, a way of stilling our uneasy conscience about that combat.

If that’s the case with everybody, as it more or less is, and one person gets up and says, “You know, about this Holocaust, I’m not sure it even happened. In fact, I’m pretty certain it didn’t. Indeed, I begin to wonder if the only thing is that the Jews brought a little bit of violence on themselves.” That person doesn’t just have a right to speak, that person’s right to speak must be given extra protection. Because what he has to say must have taken him some effort to come up with, might contain a grain of historical truth, might in any case get people to think about why do they know what they already think they know. How do I know that I know this, except that I’ve always been taught this and never heard anything else?

It’s always worth establishing first principle. It’s always worth saying what would you do if you met a Flat Earth Society member? Come to think of it, how can I prove the earth is round? Am I sure about the theory of evolution? I know it’s supposed to be true. Here’s someone who says there’s no such thing; it’s all intelligent design. How sure am I of my own views? Don’t take refuge in the false security of consensus, and the feeling that whatever you think you’re bound to be OK, because you’re in the safely moral majority.

One of the proudest moments of my life, that’s to say, in the recent past, has been defending the British historian David Irving who is now in prison in Austria for nothing more than the potential of uttering an unwelcome thought, on Austrian soil. He didn’t actually say anything in Austria. He wasn’t even accused of saying anything. He was accused of perhaps planning to say something that violated an Austrian law that says only one version of the history of the Second World War may be taught in our brave little Tyrolean Republic. The republic that gave us Kurt Waldheim, as Secretary General of the United Nations, a man wanted in several countries for war crimes. The country that has Jorg Haider the leader of its own Fascist Party in the cabinet that sent David Irving to jail.

You know the two things that have made Austria famous and given it its reputation by any chance? Just while I’ve got you? I hope there are some Austrians here to be upset by it. A pity if not. But the two greatest achievements of Austria are to have convinced the world that Hitler was German and that Beethoven was Viennese. Now to this proud record they can add, they have the courage finally to face up to their past and lock up a British historian who has committed no crime except that of thought in writing. And that’s a scandal. I can’t find a seconder usually when I propose this but I don’t care. I don’t need a seconder. My own opinion is enough for me. And I claim the right to have it defended against any consensus, any majority, anywhere, any place, anytime. And anyone who disagrees with this can pick a number, get in line, and kiss my ass.

Now, I don’t know how many of you, don’t feel you’re grown up enough to decide for yourselves and need to be protected against David Irving’s edition of the Goebbels diaries for example, out of which I learned more about the third reich than I had from studying … and … combined, when I was at Oxford. But for those of you who do I recommend another short course of revision.

Go again and see not just the film and the play but also read the text of Robert Bolt’s wonderful play “A Man for All Seasons”, I am sure some of you must have seen it – where Sir Thomas More decides that he would rather die than lie or betray his faith. And one moment More is arguing with the particularly vicious witch-hunting prosecutor: a servant of the king and a hungry and ambitious man.

And More says: “You’d break the law to punish the devil, wouldn’t you?”

The prosecutor - the witch-hunter - says: “Break it?" he said, "I’d cut down every law in England if I could do that, if I could capture him”.

And More says,“Yes you would, wouldn’t you?” And then “When you would have cornered the devil and the devil would turn around to meet you, where would you run for protection, all the laws of England having been cut down and flattened? Who would protect you then?”

Bear in mind, ladies and gentlemen, that every time you violate – or propose to violate – the right to free speech of someone else, you in potentia you’re making a rod for your own back. Because (…), to whom do you award the right to decide which speech is harmful, or who is the harmful speaker? Or to determine in advance what are the harmful consequences going to be, that we know enough about in advance to prevent? To whom would you give this job? To whom are you going to award the task of being the censor?

Isn’t the famous old story that the man who has to read all the pornography, in order to decide what is fit to be passed and what isn’t, is the man most likely to become debauched?

Is there anyone you find eloquent enough to decide for you what you could read? You would give the job to decide for you? To relieve you from the responsibility of hearing what you might have to hear?

Does anyone have a nominee? Hands up?

You mean there is no one who is good enough to decide what I can read? I had no idea.. But there’s a law – or some piddling sub-section of a law – that says there must be such a person. Well, to hell with that law. It is inviting you to be liars and hypocrites and to deny what you evidently know already.

About this censorial instinct: we basically know already what we need to know, and we’ve known it for a long time, it comes from an old story from again a great Englishman (..) Dr. Samuel Johnson, the author of the first great dictionary of English language. When it was complete he was waited upon by various delegations of people to congratulate him, (..) also by a delegation of respectable ladies of London (…). "Dr Johnson," they said: “we are delighted to find that you’ve not included any indecent or obscene words in your dictionary.”

“Ladies," said Dr Johnson, “I can congratulate you on being able to look them up.”

Anyone who can understand that joke gets the point about censorship, especially prior restraint as it is known in the US for it is banned by the first amendment of the Constitution. It may not be determined in advance what words are apt or inapt. No one has the knowledge that would be required to make that call and – more to the point – one has to suspect the motives of those who do so. In particular those who are determined to be offended, those who will go through a treasure house of English language (..) in search of filthy words, to satisfy themselves, and some instinct about which I dare not speculate…

Now, I am absolutely convinced that the main source of hatred in the world is religion, and organized religion. Absolutely convinced. I am glad that you applaud, because that is a very great problem for those who oppose this motion (the motion to cut the law on hate speech). How are they going to ban religion? How are they going to stop the expression of religious loathing, hatred and bigotry?

I speak as someone who is a very regular target of this, and not just in rhetorical form. I have been the target of many death threats and I know several people (), who can’t go anywhere without a security detail because of the criticism they’ve made on one monotheism in particular. This is in the capital city of the United States. So I know what I’m talking about, and I also have to notice, that the sort of people who ring me up and say they know where my children go to school, what my home number is and where I live, and what they are going to do to them and to my wife, and to me, whom I have to take seriously because they already have done it to people I know, are just the people who are going to seek the protection of the hate speech law, if I say what I think about their religion, which I am now going to do.

Because I don’t have any ethnic bias, I have no grudge of that sort, I can rub along with pretty much anyone of any origin – as it were -, or sexual orientation, or language group – except people from Yorkshire of course, who are completely untakable – and I’m beginning to resent the confusion that is being imposed on us now between religious belief, blasphemy, ethnicity, profanity and what we might call “multicultural etiquette”.

It is quite common these days for people now to use the expression – for example – “anti-islamic racism”, as if an attack on a religion is an attack on an ethnic group. The word islamophobia in fact is beginning to acquire the opprobrium that was once reserved for racial prejudice. This is a subtle and very nasty insinuation that needs to be met, head on.

Who said “what if Falwell hates fags? What if people act upon that?" The Bible says you have to hate fags. If Falwell says he is saying it because the Bible says so, he is right. Yes, it might make people go out and use violence. What are you going to do about that? You’re up against a group of people who will say ‘you put your hands on our Bible and we’ll call the hate speech police’.  Now what are you going to do when you’ve dug that trap for yourselves?

Eh, somebody said that the antisemitism and Kristallnacht in Germany was the result of ten years of Jew-bating. Ten years?! You must be joking, it is the result of 2000 years of Christianity, based on one verse of one chapter of St. John’s gospel, which led to a pogrom after every Easter sermon every year for hundreds of years. Because it claimed that the Jews demanded the blood of Christ be on the heads of themselves and all their children to the remotest generation. That is the warrant and license for – and incitement to anti-Jewish pogroms. What are you going to do about that?

Where is your piddling subsection now?!? Does it say St. John’s gospel must be censored?

Do I – who have read Freud and know what the future of an illusion really is and know that religious belief is ineradicable as long as we remain this stupid, poorly-evolved mammalian species – think that some (Canadian) law is going to solve this problem?

Please…

No our problem is this: our prefrontal lobes are too small. And our adrenaline glands are too big. And our thumb/finger opposition isn’t all what it might be. And we’re afraid of the dark, and we’re afraid to die and we believe in the truths of holy books that are so stupid and so fabricated that a child can – and all children do, as you can tell by their questions – actually see through them. And I think it should be – religion – treated with ridicule, and hatred and contempt. And I claim that right.

Now, let’s not dance around, not all monotheisms are exactly the same – at the moment. They’re all based on the same illusion, they’re all plagiarisms of each other, but there is one in particular that at the moment is proposing a serious menace not just to freedom of speech and freedom of expression, but to quite a lot of other freedoms too. And this is the religion that exhibits the horrible trio of self-hatred, self-righteousness and self-pity. I am talking about militant Islam.

Globally it is a gigantic power. It controls an enormous amount of oil wealth, several countries and states with an enormous fortune it’s pumping the ideology of Wahhabism and Salafism around the world, poisoning societies where it goes, ruining the minds of children, stultifying the young in its madrasas, training people in violence, making its culture death, suicide and murder. That’s what it does globally, it’s quite strong.

In our society it poses as a cringing minority, who’s faith you might offend, who deserves all the protection that a small and vulnerable group might need.

Now, it makes quite large claims for itself, doesn’t it? It says it’s the final revelation. It says that god spoke to one illiterate businessman – in the Arabian peninsula – three times through an archangel, and the resulting material – as you can see as you read it – is largely plagiarized from the old and the new testament. (...) It has to be accepted as the final revelation and as the final and unalterable one and those who do not accept this revelation are fit to be treated as cattle infidels, potential chattel, slaves and victims.

Well I tell you what, I don’t think Mohammad ever heard those voices. I don’t believe it. And the likelihood that I am right – as opposed to the likelihood that a businessman who couldn’t read, had bits of the old and the new testament re-dictated to him by an archangel, I think puts me much more near the position of being objectively correct.

But who is the one under threat? The person who promulgates this and says I’d better listen because if I don’t I’m in danger, or me who says “no, I think this is so silly you can even publish a cartoon about it”?

And up go the placards and the yells and the howls and the screams – this is in London, this is in Toronto and this is in New York, it is right in our midst now – “Behead those who cartoon Islam”.

Do they get arrested for hate speech? No.

Might I get in trouble for what I just said about the prophet Mohammad? Yes, I might.

Where are your priorities ladies and gentlemen?

You’re giving away what is most precious in your own society, and you’re giving it away without a fight and you’re even praising the people who want to deny you the right to resist it. Shame on you while you do this. Make the best use of the time you’ve got left. This is really serious.

Now, if you look anywhere you like, because we had implications of a rather driveling and sickly kind tonight about or sympathy, what about the poor fags, the poor Jews, the wretched women who can’t take the abuse and the slaves and their descendants and the tribes who didn’t make it, and their land of which all was forfeit… look anywhere you like in the world for slavery, for the subjection of women as chattel, for the burning and flogging of homosexuals, for ethnic cleansing, for anti-Semitism... 

...for all of this, look no further than a famous book that’s on every pulpit in this city, and in every synagogue and in every mosque.

And then just see whether you can square the fact that the force of the main source of hatred, is also the main caller for censorship. And when you’ve realized that you’re therefore this evening faced with a gigantic false antithesis, I hope that still won’t stop you from giving the motion before you the resounding endorsement it deserves. Thank you. Night night, stay cool.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Thorsday Tonic - Escaping Our Island Earth

Starry Night Over the Rhone, Vincent Van Gogh


There is way too much winter out there still!

For your Thorsday Tonic, let's escape this winter-weary planet and journey to the stars!

First, from the poetry corner:

Stars 

How countlessly they congregate
O'er our tumultuous snow,
Which flows in shapes as tall as trees
When wintry winds do blow!--

As if with keeness for our fate,
Our faltering few steps on
To white rest, and a place of rest
Invisible at dawn,--

And yet with neither love nor hate,
Those starts like somw snow-white
Minerva's snow-white marble eyes
Without the gift of sight.

-Robert Frost


And now for some Morgan Freeman/science/autotune awesomeness!

Quote for the Thorsday win:

"Because what man can imagine, man can do."




(from the talented MelodySheep, Morgan Freeman, Escaping Earth.)

*I hope Morgan Freeman meant "humankind" here but went with "man" for the staccato rhetorical impact  - but just to be clear, it's "humankind" in the NiftyUniverse!


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Wednesday Wonders - Good Morning Starshine!




A dollop of pure joy for your Wednesday morning. Turn it up, close your eyes and enjoy.

Good Morning Starshine

La la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la
La la la la la la la la la la la la la la la ................

Good mornin' starshine, the earth says hello
You twinkle above us
We twinkle below

Good mornin' starshine, You lead us along
My love and me as we sing
our early mornin' singin' song

Glibby gloop gloopy Nibby Nabby Noopy La La La Lo Lo
Sabba Sibby Sabba Nooby abba Nabba Le Le Lo Lo
Tooby ooby walla nooby abba nabba
Early mornin' singin' song

Good mornin' starshine            
There's love in your skies
reflecting the sunlight
in my lovers eyes

Good mornin' starshine, so happy to be
my love and me as we sing
our early mornin' singin' song

Glibby gloop gloopy Nibby Nabby Noopy La La La Lo Lo
Sabba sibby sabba nooby abba nabba Le Le Lo Lo
Tooby ooby walla Nooby abba nabba
Early mornin' singin' song

***musical interlude***

Can you hear me?
Singin' a song, hummin' a song, singin' a song
Lovin' a song, laughin' a song, singin' the song
Sing the song, song the sing
song song song sing, sing sing sing song

Song song song sing, sing sing sing song

Sing sing a song sing a song
yah, you can sing sing song sing a song
Sing sing a song, sing a song

Sing..........

(from the musical Hair)

Performed by Oliver 
Music - Galt MacDermot
Lyrics - James Rado and Gerome Ragni

Monday, April 8, 2013

Monday Music - Time After Time



Your Monday Music this morning is a classic Cyndi Lauper:

Time After Time

Lying in my bed I hear the clock tick,
And think of you
Caught up in circles confusion -
Is nothing new
Flashback - warm nights -
Almost left behind
Suitcases of memories,
Time after -

Sometimes you picture me -
I'm walking too far ahead
You're calling to me, I can't hear
What you've said -
Then you say - go slow -
I fall behind -
The second hand unwinds

[Chorus:]
If you're lost you can look - and you will find me
Time after time
If you fall I will catch you - I'll be waiting
Time after time

After my picture fades and darkness has
Turned to gray
Watching through windows - you're wondering
If I'm OK
Secrets stolen from deep inside
The drum beats out of time -

[Chorus:]
If you're lost...

You said go slow -
I fall behind
The second hand unwinds -

[Chorus:]
If you're lost...
...Time after time
Time after time
Time after time
Time after time


- Cyndi Lauper