Tarek’s goodbye to Taslima

Tarek Fatah thinks highly of my friend Taslima Nasreen.

On my way to Delhi’s Indira Gandhi airport Sunday night for a flight back to Canada, I made a detour to pay my respects to someone I consider the bravest woman alive today — exiled Bangladeshi author, Taslima Nasreen.

I think many people consider her that, and rightly so.

Despite the security, this woman of steel, who has braved both physical and verbal assaults over her last 20 years in exile, sounds despondent.

She tells me, “The jihadi death squads of Bangladesh, who have killed three secular writers in three months, have now added my name to their list.” [Read more…]

“Your brother’s engaged and we need your dowry money to pay for his wedding.”

Another Mighty Girl.

18-year-old Sonita Alizadeh never expected her love of rap music to change her life. When the Afghan-born singer was 14 years old, she was devastated to learn that her parents were arranging a marriage for her. In response, she wrote and recorded a powerful song called “Brides for Sale.” Not only did it change her parents’ minds, but the attention her music video generated has led to new opportunities and given her the chance to speak out on behalf of girls forced into child marriages around the world.

Sonita fled Afghanistan with her family to Tehran, Iran when she was eight years old. She discovered a non-profit organization that offered programs for undocumented Afghan kids; there she learned karate, photography, and had her first lessons in singing and rapping. Her lyrical ability quickly caught people’s attention, and she started working with an Iranian director who helped her polish her style and make her first music videos. She had high hopes for pursuing her interest in music until one day her mother told her: ‘You have to return to Afghanistan with me. There’s a man there who wants to marry you. Your brother’s engaged and we need your dowry money to pay for his wedding.” [Read more…]

Ten minutes’ grace

Of course. Obama got a shiny new POTUS Twitter account, and he tweeted a tweet to see if it worked. Ten minutes later, the Twitter scummerati were calling him “nigger.” Of course they were.

Here at [New Civil Rights Movement], announcing the news about 45 minutes later, we joked, “Someone’s going to have to break it to him that he doesn’t get to keep the account when he leaves office…”

But back on Twitter, it took conservatives all of ten minutes to start engaging in despicable acts, by calling President Obama “nigger.”

[Read more…]

Guest post: I can tell a story about a concerned, caring Earl

Originally a comment by A Masked Avenger on Guest post: Narrative in literature is about explaining something

Narrative is a particularly engaging form of explaining.

Engaging… and dangerous. I can tell a story about how a woman saves herself from an attacker in the park by shooting him with her concealed weapon, and influence readers to believe (a) that “normal” attacks against women are by strangers in parks, and (b) women would be safer if only they carried more guns.

Or I can tell a story about a concerned, caring Earl, who sticks by his servants despite their being arrested twice and charged (falsely, of course) with two different murders, and who spends himself to the brink of penury all for the welfare of his tenants. [Read more…]

It is obligatory for all women to wear high-heels

Annals of Gender Policing. Anna Merlan at Jezebel reports:

The Cannes Film Festival is reportedly not allowing women into screenings if they’re wearing flat shoes.

Into screenings. It would be bad enough if it were the Top Gala Codfish Ball, but it’s screenings. People go to screenings as part of their work, as well as for entertainment and enlightenment. The Cannes Film Festival is a professional event as well as social and festive and so on.

And then there’s the issue of what high heels are, which is a form of temporary and comparatively mild foot-binding. The bones aren’t actually broken as they are in footbinding (although high heels can easily cause broken bones in the feet and anywhere else, because they’re highly unstable – that’s the whole point of them), but they are pinched and bent. [Read more…]

Hussain Jawad

There was this human rights outrage in February

On the night of 16th February, the latest victim in Bahrain’s war on domestic dissent was arrested by masked policemen in Manama, the tiny Gulf Kingdom’s capital. The target on this occasion wasHussain Jawad, head of the European-Bahraini Organisation for Human Rights (EBOHR), who is well-known for his condemnation of abuses committed by the regime.

Jawad is at the time of writing being held in detention by the regime, and according to EBOHR (in a statement collected from Mr Jawad through his lawyer) has been subjected to torture, beatings and sexual abuse. These assaults are alleged to have taken place at Manama’s notorious Crime Investigation Directorate (CID) site.

The purpose of Jawad’s alleged mistreatment appears to have been to punish him for his rights advocacy and to silence a staunch critic of the government – if possible, by finding grounds to lock him up permanently.

The British government considers Bahrain to be on the Correct Path.

As was revealed in January, Bahrain is to host a British Naval base; in announcing this move, Foreign Secretary Phil Hammond cited “significant reform” in Bahrain as a sign that Bahrain was “travelling in the right direction.”

Prominent dissident Maryam Al-Khawaja told me that she viewed such statements as virtual “PR” for the regime, decrying the timing of Hammond’s assertion, which took place at a moment “when the crackdown is much worse.”

Asma Darwish, Hussain Jawad’s wife, expressed similar sentiments. When I asked her for a response to Britain’s presentation of the situation in her country, she said: “I invite Hammond to my house to see what is really happening in Bahrain.”

The US Navy parks the Fifth Fleet in Bahrain.

At any rate, Elham Manea just told us Jawad has been released.

Really good toys

Kate Clancy has some thoughts on boys with toys. She got angry listening to that NPR segment.

Kulkarni: “Many scientists are I think, secretly, are what I call ‘boys with toys.’”

Palca: “Boys with toys.”

Kulkarni: “And I think there’s nothing wrong with that, except—“

Palca: “Boys with toys.”

Kulkarni: “—you’re not supposed to say that.”

In the style that now seems to be the norm on NPR, Palca’s voice interrupts Kulkarni’s. When he repeats Kulkarni’s phrase, his delivery is both amused and authoritative, with emphasis on both the words boys and toys. An opportunity to engage Kulkarni on what may have been a misstep becomes instead a reinforcement, by Palca, of gender norm expectations. [Read more…]

Guest post: Narrative in literature is about explaining something

Originally a comment by latsot on And full as much heart.

I can’t decide whether the idea that narrative is necessary for empathy is depressing or encouraging. Over the years I learned, when writing grant proposals, first to tell a story about the technology I’m pretending I’m going to build and then later to tell a story about how the people reviewing the proposal will use that technology. Often, it’s a story about how they’ll write their own grant proposals based on the proposed technology, whether it ever exists or not. That’s one of the reasons computer science isn’t really science.

This approach has been spectacularly successful and, as I said, I can’t decide whether that’s good or bad. But persuading people to support a cause – even to the extent of spending enormous sums of money on it – is often seriously helped out by narrative. By literature. By spinning a yarn. By telling a tale with the reader as the protagonist, as the hero. Or even as the villain; I’m talking about computer science, after all.

That should surprise nobody. But in my experience, that narrative sticks and will make the people who bought into it more inclined to support future projects, regardless of the success or otherwise of the previous ones.

It wouldn’t surprise me much if those of us who did a lot of our earlier socialising via literature had a more well-established and fundamental sense of empathy than some others, even if (though?) we’re shit at actually interacting with real people. Narrative in literature is about explaining something. Someone’s feelings, their motives, their intentions. Sometimes it’s about explaining those things about someone who isn’t a party to the discussion. Sometimes it’s an argument about a third party’s feelings or motives, sometimes speculative.

Either way, it’s an artificial construct designed to help tell a story and I have a nagging suspicion that something about that abstraction can help tune natural inclinations toward empathy.

Or perhaps people who read a lot of books are just awesome, I don’t know.

Girls with toys

Default male strikes again.

NPR ran an interview with astronomer and Cal Tech professor Shrinivas Kulkarni yesterday, and overall it’s relatively mild. But less than two minutes in, Kulkarni manages to say something dumb: “Many scientists, I think, secretly are what I call ‘boys with toys’.” It’s one of those quotes that makes you cringe and roll your eyes simultaneously. Even NPR’s Joe Palca cautiously repeats the phrase back to Kulkarni. Twice. “Boys with toys,” he muses, “Boys with toys.”

But with his ill-advised, off-the-cuff remark, Kulkarni touches on a big problem: defaulting to a certain gender (usually male)

Gotta stop you for a second there. When it’s a default it’s always male. That’s sort of the point.

Although it can work the same way but with women in the sentence, that’s true – in sentences that assume women will be the ones to make the coffee, for instance. Ok, carry on. [Read more…]

In the wake of a number of cases of serious harm caused by herbal medicines

Among Charles Windsor’s letters to governments released the other day were those about “herbal remedies.” Charles Windsor, with no scientific training, feels qualified and entitled to influence public policy on medical issues.

Tony Blair agreed to postpone implementation of new EU rules restricting the sales of herbal medicines in the UK after lobbying by the Prince of Wales in February 2005, letters published on Wednesday reveal.

The then-prime minister told the prince, who had given him “sensible and constructive” contacts in the herbal medicines world, that he would be “consulting with your colleagues and others” on the best way to bring about changes to the planned implementation of the EU directive on herbal medicines. [Read more…]