Tough Questions: On Banning Circumcision

Iceland is currently discussing a bill that would ban infant male circumcision and, if it succeeds, it will become the first country in the European Union to do so. I always knew that I would eventually comment on this most touchy of subjects, and in light of this current news I guess now is as good a time as any.

I am aware that for many people, this is not a “tough question” at all. Many have very strong opinions on the subject one way or another, whereas I find myself quite torn on the topic. I am also aware that, as someone who does not own a penis my opinions on the subject are somewhat less valid than someone who has more skin in the game, so to speak, but my current dilemma is mostly based on the science and the fact that both sides often exaggerate or twist it to fit their own notion.

Before we continue yes, I made a circumcision pun. I totally meant it. I apologize… kind of. Now let’s move on.

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Complaining for Getting Beaten Up? What a Nuisance

I have mentioned before that I am a TYT fan and member. Generally speaking, I watch TYT because it is refreshing to watch a news program that states actual facts, and then proceeds to voice their own progressive opinions. While I do not agree with them on every opinion they state on the show, the presence and separation of facts from opinions at least allows me to differentiate between the two and come to my own conclusions, regardless of whether or not they coincide with the hosts’.

I also watch TYT because they often cover stories of injustice that are not extensively covered by other media outlets, and often those stories are incredibly important to share because they highlight some deep flaws in the way the justice system is set up which need to be addressed, but will only be addressed if enough people know about them and make a stink about them.

Today, I want to share one such story that raised my hackles considerably, as it touches on a culture which I think everyone on this network despises. This video is about victim blaming in the extreme: a police-enforced victim blaming that almost cost a woman her life. It will also detail the domestic violence that this woman suffered, so be forewarned.


Do not be fooled by the thumbnail in this video (in fact, I have no idea why they went with that particular picture), the victim in this case was a black woman, which in part explains why she was treated so abysmally.

For those of you who cannot watch the video right now, here is the gist:

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The UK Starts to Push Back

Parental consent is a legal gray area, one that different countries tackle in different ways. How much legal authority can a parent have over their child’s life? Where do the wishes of a parent end and the rights of a child independently of their parent’s wishes begin?

Generally speaking, parental consent is supposed to end when harm begins. As straightforward as that sounds it is actually anything but, and different countries allow different levels of leeway before the courts step in and determine that a parent cannot make a certain decision for their child. For example many countries allow parents to decide to physically discipline their children while others, like Sweden, do not allow any form of corporal punishment. Some countries allow parents to refuse certain kinds of medical treatment on behalf of their children based on their personal or religious beliefs, while others do not.

A few days ago, a UK court set a legal precedent by ordering a mother to vaccinate her two sons after determining that her concerns were not reasonable.

We all know that certain children cannot be vaccinated for a variety of legitimate medical reasons. Children who are severely immunocompromised, for example, or children who have an allergy to a component of the vaccine. Her concerns were not based on a suspicion of any real medical diagnosis, however. She was refusing to vaccinate her children on the basis that they are vegan, toxin-free, and that their strong immune systems would inherently protect them against all those nasty diseases anyway.

I am so very, very glad that the judge came to this decision.

As happy as I am that these two boys will receive proper preventative care, it must be said that their father was a strong defender of their health in this case. He brought the case forward, he testified that she was over-protective, paranoid and mistrustful of conventional medicine, and he fought for their ability to be vaccinated from the beginning. With a parent on either side of this issue, I am sure that it was much easier for the courts to come to the right decision in this case. But what about children who have the misfortune of being born to two paranoid, overprotective and mistrustful parents? Who will stick up for their right to access to health care? While I love this step in the right direction, the battle for the protection of children’s health is far from over.

I understand that legal intervention into how a parent raises their children must be expanded with extreme caution. A country which nitpicks your parenting choices, or a state-imposed “correct” way to raise your kids is a country that no one wants to live in. However, it is also important to remember that children are people, not property. They may be too young to make certain decisions for themselves, but they are human beings nonetheless, and as such they should have certain rights and protections under the law. Personally, I think that access to lifesaving  health care should be one of those things that every person, regardless of their age, should have a legal right to.

I am curious to see how this story progresses, and if a test case involving both parents refusing to vaccinate their children will come up. Let’s see if the UK courts take a stand on behalf of all children.


What Do You Think About Identity Murder?

A recent horrifying case of partner violence in Italy has sparked a discussion about the law, and whether or not the destruction of someone’s identity should be recognized as another form of murder.

The case involves a woman by the name of Carla Caiazzo, a young woman who was stalked and brutally assaulted by her ex for having the audacity to leave him while she was pregnant with his child. Paolo Pietropaolo stalked his ex girlfriend and, upon discovering that she was seeing another man, cornered her and set her on fire in her car while she was 8 months pregnant with his child.

She managed to extinguish the flames, first on her abdomen in a desperate attempt to save the life of her baby, and then on the rest of her body. Amazingly they both survived, her baby was delivered prematurely in a local hospital, and she has had 21 surgeries and is scheduled for more to deal with her extensive injuries.

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Elephant in the Room Part III: Campus Police

We have heard many stories about how rape and sexual assault on college campuses go largely ignored, how campus police often victim blame or don’t follow up on investigations, or even how people found guilty of sexual assault are not adequately punished.

I have witnessed this kind of thing as well. After a good friend of mine was consistently harassed by a male classmate, along with many other women in the same class, they went to the University administrators and filed an official complaint. The problem was, the man doing the harassing was well connected, and was the son of rich and litigious parents. After an hour’s worth of grilling from a panel of administrators, who asked the women if they had yelled “no” and/or “stop it” to their abuser loudly and forcefully enough, they concluded that they did not adequately convey the message that his advances were unwanted, that his rape threats were not threatening enough, and that any further action or public discussion of the matter on their part could result in them being sued.

On this matter, the Center for Public Integrity states:

Students found “responsible” for sexual assaults on campus often face little or no punishment from school judicial systems, while their victims’ lives are frequently turned upside down, according to a year-long investigation by the Center for Public Integrity. Administrators believe the sanctions administered by the college judiciary system are a thoughtful way to hold abusive students accountable, but the Center’s probe has discovered that “responsible” findings rarely lead to tough punishments like expulsion — even in cases involving alleged repeat offenders.

The emphasis is mine, because that is the part that always gets to me, including in the case in which this happened to my friend. I couldn’t get around the giant elephant in the room that no one seemed to be addressing, nor did any of the victims think of this when I brought it up.

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Elephant in the Room Part II: And It Happens In Italy

and I am deeply disgusted with my country.

Many of you will be familiar by now with the story of Savita, who died of sepsis in Ireland when she was miscarrying and medical staff refused to cure her due to the fact that they could still detect a foetal heartbeat. Her death understandably sparked worldwide outrage and a national debate, centered around the fact that it is still, to this day, illegal to obtain an abortion in Ireland.

Despite also being a predominantly Catholic country, Italy legalized abortion back in the 1970s. For the first three months, a woman can seek an abortion for whichever reason, and she can get the procedure done in a state hospital. After three months, abortion is legal for medical reasons. While on its face the law provides Italian women with more reproductive rights than in Ireland, it is not true that Catholicism has not left its mark upon it.

Italian law allows for doctors to be obiettori di coscienza, or conscientious objectors. This means that no doctor in Italy is forced to perform abortions contrary to their religious or moral beliefs. While most Italian states require doctors to register as conscientious objectors, thereby making sure that there is at least one doctor per hospital who will perform abortions, this regulation is not very well enforced and women in more conservative parts of the country can find themselves falling through the cracks.

The results, of course, are predictable.

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The Elephant in the Room

The ALCU posted this article from Slate, and the headline immediately caught my attention. The title is Black, Male, and Disabled Children Bear the Brunt of Corporal Punishment in U.S. Public Schools.

I read the title several times and finally I opened the article, because I couldn’t quite believe what I was reading.

According to a recent data analysis from the Society for Research in Child Development, black children, boys, and students with disabilities are disproportionately subjected to corporal punishment, usually with a wooden paddle or a teacher’s hand.

Are you being serious right now?

Children as young as preschool students get struck, spanked, and otherwise physically punished for all manner of conduct violations in schools, sometimes for trivial transgressions like using a cell phone or failing to complete a homework assignment. Students with disabilities, who are over 50 percent more likely to experience corporal punishment than nondisabled students in two-thirds of Alabama school districts, are often physically disciplined for behaviors that are directly related to their disabilities. A 2009 report from Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union described cases of “students with Tourette syndrome being punished for exhibiting involuntary tics and students with autism being punished for repetitive behaviors such as rocking.”

Are you really being serious right now?

Can we just back up a minute? Everything I have just read is terrible. Absolutely horrible. But there is a giant elephant in the room that I feel the article is completely skating over.

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To Anyone Clinging To “A Few Bad Apples”

I am a fan and a member of TYT, but given my recent workload I had fallen behind on shows. Because of this I only heard this story today, even though TYT ran this story at the beginning of September. It might not be fresh news, but I still think it is a very important story that I want to share, because it is so indicative of what we have been talking about for so long about police brutality in the United States.


That cop deserved a medal for excellent police work. Instead, he was fired, because he correctly identified the situation he was in and didn’t shoot the man that was trying to commit suicide by cop. He basically did, in real life, what we see in countless movies and TV shows, ones that glorify police officers, and yet in the real world such reasonable action will get you fired.

I wanted to post this story because, I think, it goes to the heart of the “a few bad apples” debate. The current situation with overwhelming police brutality in the United States is usually summed up by two schools of thought: “It’s the training” or “It’s a few bad apples who make everyone else look bad”. At least, the two schools of thought amongst those who even admit that there is a problem in the first place.

This story, I think, puts the final nail in the coffin of rotten apples. It shows how cops who do the right thing are punished, while those who shoot first and never even bother to ask questions are protected and rewarded. It shows how deep the problem is, and how far we have to go to make a change.

It’s not a matter of weeding out the few bad apples, or dismissing them as unrepresentative of the police force as a whole. Solving this issue is going to take a profound change of the system, the training, and what is expected of police conduct. It’s an uphill battle, no one denies that, but acknowledging what the problem is has to be the first step.

Sweden With Another Good Idea

The gradual chipping away at our massive environmental problem continues with Sweden coming in with a great idea. They are now going to give tax breaks to people who actually fix things, rather than just throw them away.

The Swedish government is introducing tax breaks on repairs to everything from bicycles to washing machines so it will no longer make sense to throw out old or broken items and buy new ones.

Sweden’s ruling Social Democrat and Green party coalition is set to submit proposals to parliament on Tuesday to slash the VAT rate on repairs to bicycles, clothes and shoes from 25% to 12%.

It will also submit a proposal that would allow people to claim back from income tax half of the labour cost on repairs to appliances such as fridges, ovens, dishwashers and washing machines.

He hopes the tax break on appliances will spur the creation of a new home-repairs service industry, providing much-needed jobs for new immigrants who lack formal education.


For decades, Italy has had tax breaks for people who make artisinal things, in an effort to not lose the craftsmanship that made Italy famous for so long in the face of giant chain stores. But tax breaks for fixing things? That’s genius.

The constant throwing away of perfectly good things has always rubbed me the wrong way. If this law will actually put a dent in that, and create jobs? I am all for it, and I hope that other countries will do the same. After all, laws banning supermarkets from throwing away food, rather making them donate it has spread across many countries in Europe too, let’s hope this one does the same.

“Be Brave” Would Have Been More Accurate

The ACLU is, by definition, very invested in educating the American public as to their rights. To this end, they have released another informative video as to your First Amendment right to photograph or record video in public places, and that includes the police.


The video explains what to do in the face of a police officer who is unlawfully attempting to restrict your First Amendment right to photograph or record them in a public area, including being polite, informing them that you are aware that they are not allowed to see your recordings or force you to delete them, and asking if you can leave. The video ends with the common phrase: “know your rights”.

“Be incredibly brave” would have been a more accurate way to end that video. I understand their frustration, and the need for more people to stand up for their rights and not allow the police to walk all over them. If you politely comply with their request to see the pictures or video, and agree to delete it, you can’t then turn around and complain that they violated your rights, after all you also have the right to choose to show your pictures to whomever you want, and to delete them if you wish. However, I also understand the fear that many people, especially people of color, would feel in such a confrontation with police officers.

The stories of shootings, beatings and unlawful detainment of US citizens pile up every week. There are so many that I wouldn’t even know where to begin in linking them. The recent shooting of a man whose car broke down, even though his hands were clearly above his head, for instance. Or the shooting of a therapist trying to calm down an autistic patient of his, even though he had clearly identified himself, what he was doing there, and also had his hands above his head. And those cases were not even people defying unlawful orders given to them by police. So many people rightfully fear the mere presence of police officers, let alone calmly and politely contradicting their orders and informing them of their rights. Many would, quite literally, be risking their bodily integrity, and their lives.

I can’t fault the ACLU for releasing these kinds of videos, for the more people who are educated about their rights the better. However, I also can’t fault those who are too afraid to follow their advice on how to deal with police in such a situation. It is sad that it has come to this point, but unfortunately it has. While I am sure that the ACLU is fully aware of the current situation, the video still gives the impression that the violation of citizen rights by the police is simply due to a polite misunderstanding, rather than a disturbing and violent trend. I’m not going to give simplistic advice as to how to resolve this situation, because I have none to give. All I’m going to do is suggest a slight modification to the ACLU’s message.

Know your rights, but know also that you need to behave in the way that you feel most safe. If you are willing to stand up for your rights in the face of danger, here is how to do so in the safest, most lawful way possible. We applaud those who lead, and fight, and stand up for those rights that we hold so dear, and we are here to help you in that fight. Together, let’s try to put a stop to the corruption and violence, and we do that by being united in the defense of our rights.