For the children

If patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels, that implies that there are others; god is a common one, since no one can gainsay you if you claim that an invisible inaudible superbeing told you what to do. But the very worst, the most contemptible, the most cowardly hiding place for rascals and swindlers and liars is ducking down behind the backs of children.

David Cameron, the UK Prime Minister, has announced sweeping new censorship rules applied by default to the internet in the UK. I had no idea you people on the other side of the pond were electing such sanctimonious prigs. But he dredged out all the familiar pretexts and buzz words for imposing “family-friendly filters” on everyone. (Warning to everyone: when a politician uses the word “family”, they always mean their version of family, which is usually white, middle-class or better, and patriarchal. A single black woman raising three kids, or a pair of homosexual men with a child, or a whole clan of an extended family raising sons, daughters, nephews and nieces under one roof do not count as “family”, but are instead aberrations that must be remolded into a conventional form.)

He said: “I want to talk about the internet, the impact it is having on the innocence of our children, how online pornography is corroding childhood.

“And how, in the darkest corners of the internet, there are things going on that are a direct danger to our children, and that must be stamped out.

“I’m not making this speech because I want to moralise or scaremonger, but because I feel profoundly as a politician, and as a father, that the time for action has come. This is, quite simply, about how we protect our children and their innocence.”

You are a moralizing scaremonger, you ass.

I am so tired of hearing “innocence” touted as a virtue; it’s always used as a synonym for ignorance. These people treat experiences and novelty and adventure as “corroding childhood”, when that’s what childhood is — exposure to a great big complicated world where everything is new and the unusual is to be savored and the forbidden is begging to be exposed. Every kid’s goal is to be “corrupted”…that is, to become an adult and to have exciting new opportunities. Some of that involves sex. If you really want to skew children’s views of the sexual world, bring them up with the idea that it’s a filthy, dangerous horror that needs to be walled away from curious minds.

I’m sure Cameron remembers growing up in a world without the internet; I know I do. Does he remember buddies smuggling pages torn out of Playboy so school, and everyone huddling over them at recess? How about the myths about sex kids told each other on street corners? Reading National Geographic for the photos that showed exotic women with bare breasts? We weren’t innocent then, and we were struggling frantically to lose what little innocence we had.

With my kids, who grew up with the internet, we were totally open: they all got hand-me-down computers from me as soon as they were old enough to type, and one year I gave my oldest boy the present of a big spool of CAT-5 and connectors and a crimping tool, and he wired up all the household computers so everyone could get the internet in their bedrooms (this was before wi-fi was commonplace). We had no restrictions on their access, and we also respected their privacy; we didn’t snoop, we didn’t ask, we didn’t monitor, we didn’t control. I suspect they all ran across porn intentionally or accidentally, yet somehow, they all grew up to be decent, moral, sensible human beings.

Yet, when these bluenoses decide to protect children from “direct danger”, they go after the internet. Hey, how about doing something about the fact that one in six children lives in poverty, or that thousands of London children are malnourished, or that 5% have been victims of child sexual abuse? Or how about the fact that American drone strikes are causing horrific civilian casualties, killing children as well as terrorists? Those are stories that really corrode childhood, that demolish innocence and trust.

But maybe that’s the next step. After you’ve established that you can censor breasts and penises from the internet, it’s an easy transition to eliminating stories about priests raping children (that’s pornographic, after all), and then cutting out those embarrassing stories about starving children with neglect, and then government policies that lead to the murder of children? Why, horrors, we can’t let the kiddies know about those! It’ll give them nightmares!

If you’re really serious about protecting children, the formula is to foster their creativity, encourage them to be independent, teach them to explore and learn, and also provide them with security so they have a refuge they can voluntarily enter when they need to. Children brought up in a dark box learn to live in a dark box. Children brought up in the light learn to illuminate the world.

I don’t ♥ Texas

Texas legislators are doing it again, abusing the law to force-feed religious ideology on the public and specifically, to opress women. They’re pushing a ridiculous new law, following a lead set by North Dakota (seriously, if you’re looking for model legislation, don’t look to North Dakota).

On Thursday, three Texas Republicans filed a measure that would criminalize abortion services after a fetal heartbeat can be detected — which typically occurs around six weeks of pregnancy, before many women even know they’re pregnant.

I ask, what’s so special about a heart beat? I have killed cats in the lab by slicing out the bulk of their brain, and their hearts still beat. I have seen the beating hearts of monkeys, goats, dogs, cats, rabbits, rats, mice, grasshoppers, fish, daphnia, cockroaches — I’ve held the larger ones in my hand and felt them throb. You can take them apart, dissociate the cells, and put them in a dish, and they still beat.

They’re wonderful and beautiful, but no more so than any muscle, or any cell for that matter. A myocardial twitch is not the magic marker for ensoulment that you’re looking for, it’s simply a mechanical property of certain kinds of cells, a consequence of an entirely natural appearance of specific ion channels on the cell membrane and an orderly array of molecules in the cytoplasm. This is an arbitrary, emotional decision based entirely on folk wisdom that the heart is the center of life.

But you might just as well pick any arbitrary differentiation decision. Hey, stupid Texans, did you know that gastrulation is probably the most important embryonic decision in development? Maybe you should start testing for the expression of Brachyury in the embryo before allowing an abortion. That would let you set the cutoff point for an abortion at two weeks after fertilization! (I probably shouldn’t give them ideas, should I…)

But lets make no mistake and assume they’re looking for scientific, legitimate reasons to limit abortion. They really want to ban it altogether with no consideration for evidence or reality, for that matter, and in particular they don’t give a damn about the women they’re forcing their tribal wisdom upon.

So-called “heartbeat” bills are so radical that they divide the anti-choice community. In addition to criminalizing the vast majority of abortions, they also mandate invasive ultrasound procedures for women seeking abortions. In order to detect a fetal heartbeat so early in a pregnancy, doctors typically have to use a transvaginal probe.

That’s the bottom line: it’s Texas conservatives exercising their god-given right to decide what gets put into women’s vaginas.

Department of Completely Unqualified Politicians Given Responsibilities for Which They Are Ill-Equipped

The UK Health Secretary, the man in charge of the National Health Service, is a fellow named Jeremy Hunt. He believes in homeopathy. Here is an excerpt from a letter he wrote to a constituent, defending homeopathy.

I understand that it is your view that homeopathy is not effective, and therefore that people should not be encouraged to use it as a treatment. However I am afraid that I have to disagree with you on this issue. Homeopathic care is enormously valued by thousands of people and in an NHS that the Government repeatedly tells us is "patient-led" it ought to be available where a doctor and patient believe that a homeopathic treatment may be of benefit to the patient.

Santa Claus is enormously valued by millions of young people, so I guess we ought to start subsidizing him. I believe that a vacation in the Bahamas would be of benefit to my heart condition, therefore my insurance ought to pay for it.

Notice that his response to an argument that the evidence shows that homeopathy doesn’t work is to rely on the subjective claim that people “value” or “believe” in this quackery. Belief should not be enough — it should not be prioritized over empirical evidence.

Oh, well, schadenfreude to the rescue. Ha ha you Brits, maybe your health care will be as sucky as ours soon enough.

Now the fun begins

Yesterday’s Supreme Court decision on the Defense of Marriage Act has the right wing in full meltdown mode. Ed is documenting the reaction, Salon has a roundup, and Futile Democracy has some charming tweets. I have a very favorite, though: it’s from someone calling themselves @FreedomWarrior.

Here’s the good news: Massive population losses will be suffered decade by decade in the Gay States!

So, how does that work?

If DOMA had been upheld, would we right now be compelling gay people to go out and have children?

Now that DOMA has been ruled unconstitutional, are all the straight people in the “Gay States” deciding to not have children?

I’m definitely done with having children, but if I were of that age, I’d be more likely to want to bring children into a world where equality and justice were a little more common. And when we did have children, it was never as a matter of asserting our sexuality (or worse, my masculinity) — it was because we liked children and family. Do these people understand that family is not about sex?

I’m a little worried that maybe they don’t. Which would be creepy.

Obama says weasel words

Wasn’t it nice of Obama to say a few words about the environment yesterday?

President Barack Obama said Tuesday that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline project from Canada to Texas should only be approved if it doesn’t worsen carbon pollution.

The $7 billion pipeline has become a contentious issue, with Republicans touting the jobs it would create and demanding its approval and environmentalists urging the Obama administration to reject it, because it would carry carbon-intensive oil from Canadian tar sands to the Texas Gulf Coast.

"Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interests," Obama said in a speech on climate change at Georgetown University. "Our national interest would be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution."

So of course the Keystone XL pipeline will be immediately shut down, because of course building a leaky, fault-prone pipe full of toxic sludge across the country to further feed our appetite for burning carbon based fuel will exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.

You mean he hasn’t shut it down?

I’m betting he’s going to wait for some industry-funded committee to issue a piece of paper with a few token concessions, and then announce that his requirements have been met: “Why, yes, we’ve got this big dirty pipe gurgling petroleum into the nation’s fuel tank, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to burn it.”


Those are really good questions

Watching the Sunday news shows, which have become all Perfidious Snowden all the time, David Sirota asks some most excellent questions. These two in particular struck me as important:

9. Snowden’s decision to flee the United States has often been depicted as an act of treason unto itself. The idea is that whereas Daniel Ellsberg was a hero for blowing the whistle and remaining in the United States, Snowden is a coward for blowing the whistle and fleeing. Left largely unmentioned is the big change between the time of Ellsberg’s disclosures and today: this White House is waging an unprecedented campaign to criminalize whistleblowing; it sometimes tortures whistleblowers; and it claims the right to extra-judicially assassinate American citizens who criticize the government but haven’t even been formally charged for a single crime. In light of this, why have most media outlets not bothered to even ask whether Snowden’s location outside the United States is, unto itself, a response to these troubling changes in U.S. government policy?

10. And finally, perhaps the most damning question of all: Why are so many media outlets far more interested in the minute details of Edward Snowden’s life and location than in the potential crimes against millions of Americans that he exposed?

Yeah, that last one. On CNN, I saw some jerk standing in front of a map of the world spending 10 minutes tracing the route of Snowden’s flight from Hong Kong to Moscow, then going through likely countries he might end up in, and talking about the state of their extradition treaties to the US. Why? Are we going to marshal the citizenry to strap on their handguns and fly off to Iceland to patrol the airport?

The US media have become criminal colluders in oppression, instead of the watchdogs for citizen rights that they ought to be.

This Silverman guy seems to be saying a lot of the right things

He did an interview at Netroots Nation that was pretty darned good. Ophelia has already covered Silverman’s comments about feminism, but I also liked his general comments about secular politics.

I think we’re going to see a growth of atheism, it’s going to be an exponential growth. And driving that, of course, is going to be the young people. Approximately 30 percent of the under-30 crowd are non-religious. That’s a big market, that’s a big voting bloc. And as that 30 percent of the under-30 ages, and it becomes 30 percent of the under-40 market — assuming no growth — and 30 percent of the under-50 market in another 20 years, I think we’re going to see an inevitable shift from a “You have to be religious to get elected,” to a “Why are we even talking about God when we’re talking about politics.” And I think that’s the question we have to bring in. Why do we talk about God when we talk about politics?

Exactly. What possible relevance does religion and god have to politics? Politics is the art of working out what’s possible in our real world; the diverse delusions about what happens in a fantasy world full of dead people is incredibly unimportant to those concerns. Let the religious go to church and play “let’s pretend” all they want, but please leave the wishful thinking behind when it’s time to buckle down to real work.