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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My Strangest Story of Sexual Harassment

The #MeToo movement has been a significant topic of discussion also here in Europe, but my first knowledge of it was through Facebook with a variety of my female and male friends simply posting “Me Too. If all people who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me too” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”

I thought it was kind of broad, as I don’t think I can name a single woman I know who has not been sexually harassed. I soon learned that the movement was far bigger than a simple hashtag, and it made me reflect back on the variety of incidents of sexual harassment that I experienced in my life, and how I reacted to them.

I realized that minor to moderate sexual harassment was something that I just assumed is part of life, and I’m sure I have forgotten about most incidents that I experienced. I have never encountered it in the workplace with regards to a person with power over me, which is how the discussion and the Me Too movement really got started, but obviously that is not the only form of harassment that exists.

However, my most recent encounter with it did leave an impression, not because of any particular feeling of violation, but because it was the only time in my life that I really did not know how to react, and I don’t even know if I can classify it as sexual harassment. In fact, it was only after the Me Too movement that I even thought of bringing up this story in this context, as up until now I had filed it under the Story of My Life category. I would like to tell you about it, because I am curious to know what you would have done in my place, and whether you think this qualifies as sexual harassment.

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Tough Questions: It’s Shitty, But Is It Sexual Assault?

While scrolling through my news feed, I came across an article in the Austin Daily Globe that caught my eye for its transphobic wording. The caption under the thumbnail read “A woman who blindfolded herself during sex with her ‘boyfriend’ was shocked to learn that it wasn’t a man at all”.

Aaaarrrrgghhhh. It? Really? I clicked on it, expecting to read and rail against some transphobic garbage about a trans-man waiting a while before revealing his gender identity to his girlfriend.

Instead, I proceeded to read a story that was so bizarre, I made sure to check that it was reported by several other news outlets before talking about it here.

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Tough Questions: Protecting the Elderly, or Violation of Privacy?

Many of you who are following the discussions about police brutality in the United States are aware of the call for mandatory body cams on police officers. While this alone will probably do little to counter the apparently abysmal quality of police training, which leads so many officers to commit murder with little to no provocation whatsoever, it is generally agreed that body cams would be a good idea, at least to obtain unbiased evidence of exactly what happened during an altercation which results in someone being severely injured or killed. While policemen are on duty and in public they have no expectation of privacy, and thus body cams would not violate their rights in this regard.

However, recent news out of Australia is bringing up the question of surveillance in a different, and potentially far more complicated context. It involves surveillance in elderly homes, where patients are at particular risk of abuse as they are often too frail to fight back, or are unable to communicate what is being done to them to people outside of the facility.

A woman, suspicious of how her father was being treated in his nursing home in Adelaide, installed a hidden camera in his room, and caught this on tape. I warn you, the video contains abuse of an elderly man.


The nurse is, quite clearly, attempting to smother the man in his bed. The statistics mentioned in the video are also startling, claiming that 1 in 20 elderly people in Australia are victims of abuse. This is definitely a problem that needs to be addressed in the country.

However, the proposed solution of mandatory CCTV cameras in nursing homes brings with it far more concerns regarding privacy than any discussion relating to police body cams. In this particular scenario, I’m sure that the woman who managed to record this was very glad she did so, and I expect that the nurse in question was fired and arrested for her behavior. However, the privacy concerns around keeping elderly people in nursing homes under constant surveillance are troubling.

First of all, who would be monitoring these CCTV feeds? If the answer is security personnel within the nursing home itself, it is very likely that cases of abuse will be found and go unreported. Secondly, while the nurses and staff are simply employees who can go home at the end of their shifts, the residents live there. That is their home, and CCTV cameras would be monitoring them in their homes 24/7, which would surely qualify as a violation of privacy. Who wants to spend their last years on this Earth being recorded and monitored every minute of every day, like a rat in a behavioral experiment? Not to mention the fact that those cameras would be picking up medical visits, sponge baths, and a whole lot of other activities that most people would rather not be watched by complete strangers.

Nor is it completely feasible to ask for the consent of those who would be recorded. Some people who live in nursing homes would be competent to give that consent, but many are not. Also, many of these nursing homes have shared rooms, and what if the residents have different opinions on whether or not they should be recorded? Also, why should someone have to choose between completely giving up their privacy and opening themselves up to potential abuse and neglect?

On the other hand, this apparently rampant elder abuse needs to be addressed. I cannot find it in me to fault that woman for secretly recording this footage when she began to suspect her father was being mistreated. Illegal or not, I probably would have done the same thing, because the instinct to protect the people we love will often outweigh our respect for the law in many circumstances, for many people. She clearly felt powerless to address her concerns, and recording him in secret was the only way she could think of to confront the situation.

There is no denying that there should be more accountability and transparency when it comes to the treatment of the elderly in nursing homes, but how does one address this without serious violations of privacy? Right now, I have no way to answer that question. The only thing I can say is, something needs to be done. It is time to give the elderly, as well as the disabled and the mentally ill a voice, to treat them with with respect as human beings, not as disposable burdens on society. It is this mentality towards these groups of people which makes them so vulnerable to abuse in the first place.


Tough Questions: On The Burqa Ban

Whether or not it is a good strategy to ban burqas is something that I have heard hotly debated, even amongst fervent SJWs. On the one hand, burqas are used as a tool of oppression of women, and are inconsistent with secular, western values. On the other hand, legally forcing women to uncover their faces when they are uncomfortable in doing so seems harsh, a western cultural imposition on women from other countries, and has led to a further marginalization of Muslim women in Europe. It can feel like further picking on an already very disenfranchised group of people. I also find myself torn between these two points of view, both of which, in my opinion, have some merit. However, I noticed that my position on the matter also wavers based on how, or why, burqa bans are passed and enforced. Often we talk about the French ban on burqas, but it is important to note that other countries also have these laws, though they came about for very different reasons.

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How Much Does Intent Matter?

This is a question that I struggle with a lot whenever I am confronted with the consequences of mass stupidity and ignorance. The people I have talked to over the years all have very different opinions on it, but now I want to put the question to you as well, in the hopes of starting a wider discussion. It is one of those things that will ultimately come down to opinion, and not everyone will agree. With that, let’s begin.

I think that we can all agree that intent, as in what we intend to do, is important to some extent and this is reflected in our laws. For example, take these three scenarios:

  1. A person meticulously plans, then executes a murder, and then tries to cover up their tracks in an attempt to evade the law.
  2. A person gets into a verbal altercation and punches someone in the face, who then trips, smacks their head against a stone floor, and dies.
  3. A person is driving along a dark road, turns a corner, hits a person walking along the side of the road in the dark and kills them. This person then pulls over and calls the police, distraught.

All three of these scenarios result in the death of an innocent person. In all three cases, the consequences of the person’s actions are the same. However, I think we can all agree that the punishment they should face should be very different, because intent matters. Person A intended to kill someone and get away with it. Person B intended to physically assault someone in the heat of an argument, but certainly never intended to kill them. Person C never intended to do any harm to anyone at all. In most countries the laws reflect that, despite the outcome being the same, the punishment for creating that outcome should be very different in these three scenarios.

Intent matters. But sometimes, when extreme ignorance is involved, we are forced to consider how much intent should really matter.

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Tough Questions: Will You Lie To Your Kids?

Note: I wrote about this before, but it has been heavily rewritten as I have thought about it further

The easy answer is no. While I do not have children at the moment, it is a distinct possibility in the future, and I have always thought that I want to be completely honest with my kids, if I ever have any.

I don’t think that this is a tough question when it comes to teenagers. I remember how my mother never told me anything about herself and her teenage years, and this created distance and mistrust between us. However, when it comes to small children, there are two lies that I was told as a child which I find myself wanting to perpetuate: Santa, and heaven.

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