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Just a quick note because in about five minutes I’m going to at least go through the motions and pretend to work. We all have our pet issues and as many people her know free speech has been one of mine since the late nineteen seventies. For most of my life it’s been an absurdly easy position for me since there have been comparatively few threats to free speech in the U.S. and many of those have come from non-governmental sources like radical feminists.

We occasionally hear calls from the radical left to limit speech they don’t like, however it has not made significant headway in the U.S. despite the Orwellian labeling of such speech as “hate speech.” However, in other countries that is not the case.

Can anyone in the United States even imagine working on a play and having the police come in and ask what you are doing? That is exactly what Omar El-Khairy, the writer of a play called Homeland claims:

El-Khairy said: “In a production meeting we were asked by NYT and stage management that the police wanted to look at the script, though we don’t know where that came from or who led that conversation.” (Source.)

The play apparently had an innovative form of staging in the hallways of a school. Audiences would walk through the corridors and witness conversations among the cast. According to the director Nadia Latif, “The whole point was that it was more of a kaleidoscopic exploration of the treatment of homegrown radicalisation and to explore the breadth of opinion that is out there, and that the young people find themselves subject to.”

Ironically, below that article, The Guardian suggested some other articles that might interest me including “Play in Uganda cancelled after regulators step in.”

Laws against speech are inherently always in support of the politically powerful and against the politically weak.

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This is just a quick post to share a bit of info I just came across and thought was interesting.

A while back Richard Dawkins stirred up a bit of controversy when he tweeted, “All the world’s Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though.” I originally tried to address that with a bit of humor.

I came across a bit of information, ooh, about five minutes ago, that reminded me of that little brouhaha.

No one, after 12 years of Chinese education, has any chance to receive a Nobel prize, even if he or she went to Harvard, Yale, Oxford or Cambridge for college…. Out of the one billion people who have been educated in Mainland China since 1949, there has been no Nobel prize winner…. This forcefully testifies [to] the power of education in destroying creativity on behalf of the [Chinese] society.

Diane Ravitch quoted Yong Zhao quoting Zheng Yefu in an article currently on the New York Review of Books website, “The Myth of Chinese Super Schools.”

Now, I’m off to visit the Musée de l’Institute du Monde Arab, entirely by coincidence, so I’ll have to leave the editorializing to you.

Apparently, The New Republic has teamed up with a British publication and they are now sharing material. The first article I’ve read is beyond being inauspicious. I take for granted that publications, especially those that deal with politics, will regularly publish things with which I disagree. However, the shoddiness of this article is beyond compare. It’s “The New Intolerance” by Cristina Odone, and it’s so awful that I don’t know where to start, except by picking up the phone and cancelling my subscription.

She starts with a dramatic statement.

“I couldn’t believe it. I was trying to discuss traditional marriage—and the state was trying to stop me.”

In my mind, I see her standing there, at a cocktail party. Little black dress, a glass of plonk in hand. A giggly, glowing, younger female friend sidles up to her. The friend holds out her left hand. There’s great big diamond ring on her finger. “Guess what!” she giggles. She seems so adorable and so happy.

Cristina puts a supportive arm around her friend. “Congratulations!” she cries.

No sooner have the words left her mouth than the door to the party is kicked in. Blam! The assembled party goers gasp in fear. “It’s Judge Dredd.”

I’m eager to read the rest of the story, how she was hauled before the courts and sentenced to hard labor for expressing her support. Um. Not quite.

Quickly, right after that first line that makes your heart race, she changes the subject. She says that she supports “traditional marriage.” She doesn’t bother to define that. Let’s call this undefined contract “Odone marriage” so I can get rid of the quotes. However, whatever Odone marriage may be, she is disingenuous when she says that her concern is to support it. There are many ways she could support it, but giving talks trying to prevent marriages between individuals of the same sex strikes me as an odd way to go about it. What she is doing is not supporting marriages of which she personally approves, but she is trying to prevent marriages of which she doesn’t personally approve. Not the same thing.

It turns out that “the state” wasn’t trying to stop her at all. Organizations who do not believe that the only marriages in the world should be Odone marriages did not care to host a conference. So, the first sentence is a lie. The state wasn’t trying to stop her, at all. Several organizations, which were not the state, did not want to be complicit in her efforts to stop marriages she doesn’t like. They would not let Christian Concern use their premises for a conference.

The title, “One Man. One Woman. Making the Case for Marriage for the Good of Society”, could hardly have sounded more sober.

That it sounds sober to Odone hardly makes it so. It puts me in mind of a post about my own marriage I recently wrote.

Before we go further, we should take a look at the group who organized the conference, Christian Concern. They are not, as the name might indicate, a support group for Christians suffering from anxiety. Christian Concern was founded by evangelical activist and young earth creationist Andrea Minichiello Williams.

Christian Concern states, that as a result of society turning its back on Jesus the growth of ideas such as “secular liberal humanism, moral relativism and sexual licence” has led to “widespread family breakdown, immorality and social disintegration.” The organisation views the “fruit” of ideas that are alternative to Christianity as “rotten” and seeks to remedy the situation by engaging politically with a broad range of issues, including: abortion, adoption and fostering, bioethics, marriage, education, employment, end of life, equality, family, free speech, Islamism, religious freedom, the sex trade, social issues and issues relating to sexual orientation.

Ironically, considering that they currently think not being aided in the theocratic agenda is “intolerance,” Christian Concern opposed the Racial and Religious Hatred Act of 2006, which created “an offence in England and Wales of inciting hatred against a person on the grounds of their religion.”

The conference was finally held in “the basement of a hotel.” That makes it sound rather clandestine, but it also makes me curious to know their budget. I’ve only ever been to London once, but I distinctly recall that hotels in central London are quite expensive.

The Christian Concern had difficulty finding a venue to host its conference which did finally come off. Odone now feels that her “rights as a taxpayer, citizen and Christian had been trampled.” This melodramatic retelling of a rather mundane matter of a right-wing extremist group trying to find a venue for a conference, which they eventually found, is not her point. It’s only the introduction, a heavy-handed attempt to arouse the reader’s sympathy and emotions and to portray the writer as a persecuted, marginalized minority.

Well, I guess the wealthy and coddled are a minority, although I don’t know if I would call them persecuted an marginalized. She was born in Nairobi to a World Bank official. Her father was Italian and her mother was Swedish. She attended a private school in the United States and a boarding school in England. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be so marginalized. Poor dear.

Then, the article veers off the well-trod path of poor propaganda into the wilds if incoherence.

Only 50 years ago, liberals supported “alternative culture”; they manned the barricades in protest against the establishment position on war, race and feminism. Today, liberals abhor any alternative to their credo. No one should offer an opinion that runs against the grain on issues that liberals consider “set in stone”, such as sexuality or the sanctity of life.

Does she understand the word “liberal?” The New Republic is very much a liberal magazine, so I’m surprised that they would publish, or republish, an article with such a confused view of the term. Liberals did not support “alternative culture” out of some weird impulse to just be in opposition to the prevailing society.

Just a quick aside. Odone doesn’t mean the sanctity my life. I know what “sanctity of life” really means. It means I should have had a fist land in my face on a weekly basis because I was knocked up by an abusive man. She’s so concerned about great injustice of the “state” preventing her from speaking, but she probably wouldn’t flinch at the notion that my own life should have been a living hell because she thinks a three-week old embryo has more sanctity than an adult woman. An embryo that would have almost certainly turned into a child growing up in extreme poverty with two emotionally messed up parents both of whom had bad tempers. Forcing two people into a future they didn’t want is exactly where her support of one man/ one woman marriage ends.

She seems to miss the fact that liberalism a word that covers several strands of political thought with a similar origin in ideas about individual liberty. I am not familiar enough with liberalism in the UK to be able to speak about it intelligently, so I’ll limit myself to liberalism in the US, since her accusations would apply equally well to liberals here. The belief in the importance of individual liberty leads liberals to be highly supportive of civil rights. Odone may see the equality liberals seek as “superficial”, but I do not. The fight for equal rights is one of the core values for most liberals, although we may often disagree on the best means to that end.

In the early years of the western liberal state, self-governance was generally reserved for only men, usually men of a certain race and class, although the specifics of that varied by location. As the liberal project has progressed over the last two or three centuries, the categories of individuals included in this group of competent adults capable of self-governance has expanded to include women, people of color and individuals not owning property.

During the course of the twentieth century, many liberals have focused on the liberty of previously marginalized groups beyond the bare bones of the franchise. The ability of women to control their reproduction, and therefore control their lives, is one. The freedom for consenting adults to enter into a marriage contract is another.

I believe that religious liberty is mean­ingless if religious subcultures do not have the right to practise and preach according to their beliefs. These views – for example, on abortion, adoption, divorce, marriage, promiscuity and euthanasia – may be unfashionable. They certainly will strike many liberal-minded outsiders as harsh, impractical, outmoded, and irrelevant.

By this point in time, I believe we all know that the people who make this complaint are not speaking the truth. They do not want simply the right to speak. The want the right to force others to behave according to their own ideas. There is no sanctity of life, only domination over others. They do not want to bear a child they didn’t want to conceive themselves. They want others to do so. They don’t want to be put up for adoption themselves. They want others to be so. They don’t want to remain in a loveless marriage themselves. They want others to do so.

Yes, you are harsh. The life to which you would have seen me condemned would have been a living nightmare. You are not merely outmoded. You are cruel, callous, sadistic and sick.

So why force the closure of a Catholic adoption agency that for almost 150 years has placed some of society’s most vulnerable children with loving parents?

As someone who was adopted, I object to being treated as a pawn in this manner. Don’t care for me as a fertilized egg if you won’t care for me as an adult. Catholics oppose contraception.

Finally, Odone gets to her real point. She sides with the people who would like to overturn the Enlightenment. Will somebody please tell me, what kind of horrid ultra-conservative rag is The New Statesman?

Churches were every­where – one for every 200 inhabitants in the High Middle Ages – and oversaw every stage of life: “hatch, match and despatch”.

Yes, we all know how famously wonderful the Middle Ages were. I mean, how the fuck do I even argue about a point so absurd? How the fuck does The New Republic publish this tripe? Can I have a job? Really.

The Founding Fathers crossed an ocean to be free to practise their faith.

This is simply wrong. Generally, the Founding Fathers are considered to be the people who signed the Declaration of Independence and worked on the Constitution. The people who “crossed an ocean” were other people. Many came here in the pursuit of profit. Many poor people came here as indentured servants. Those who came over here for their faith tried to found a theocracy. We generally don’t consider them Founding Fathers. I have roots that go back to the Massachusetts Bay Colony on one side and to Jamestown on another. Don’t try to tell me about my history.

Church attendance has slumped to less than 30 per cent. Only in two Greek Orthodox countries, Cyprus and Greece, does the overwhelming majority of the population attend services regularly (98 per cent and 96 per cent respectively). Europeans may walk in the shadow of church spires but biblical literacy is so unusual today that a recent survey found that, of 900 representative respondents, 60 per cent couldn’t name anything about the parable of the Good Samaritan, while only 5 per cent of people could name all the Ten Commandments.

So? There are lots of things Europeans no longer do. Bull Baiting. Pogroms. Witch Burnings. Debtor’s Prisons. I bet you don’t thatch roofs as much as you used to or heat your homes with peat fires.

She then goes onto extol the attitudes towards religion in the U.S. There is so much that is a problem with those two short paragraphs I’d need to write another post the length of this already long one in order to talk about it. Please pardon me if I skip it.

Next up (Sorry for the rough segue, but she changes focus yet again.):

Can the decline in the social and intellectual standing of faith be checked, or even reversed? Yes. Ironically, believers can learn from those who have come to see themselves as their biggest enemy: gays.

Think of how successful gay rights activists have been, in both Europe and America. Twenty-five years ago, Britain’s first “gay pride” march took place in London. It was a muted affair, remembers the campaigner Ivan Massow, which “struggled to fill half of Kennington Park and a disco tent”.

Perhaps, but the first gay pride parade in New York followed Stonewall, which was anything but a muted affair. Gay pride started with people fighting back for their lives. If Odone doesn’t know anything about the history of the contemporary gay rights movement, maybe she shouldn’t use it as a model.

She then goes on in a way that I can only imaging that she’s hallucinating.

Practising Christians, Jews and Muslims should also step forward into the limelight, dismantling prejudices that they must be suspect, lonely, losers. Believers should present themselves as ordinary people, men and women who worry about the price of the weekly shop and the size of the monthly mortgage. They should not appear to be religious zealots or gay-bashers or rabid pro-lifers. They should reassure critics that religious people are not a race apart – but just happen to cherish a set of ideals that sometimes places them at odds with the rest.

Notice the use of the word “appear.” They may be gay-bashers or rabid pro-lifers, but they should lie and dissemble. They should hide their true goals.

Let outsiders see the faithful as a vulnerable group persecuted by right-on and politically correct fanatics who don’t believe in free speech. Let them see believers pushed to the margins of society, in need of protection to survive. Banned, misrepresented, excluded – and all because of their religion? Even the most hardbitten secularist and the most intolerant liberal should be offended by the kind of censorship people of faith are facing today. If believers can awaken a sense of justice in those around them, they may have taken a first important step in reclaiming the west as an area where God is welcome.

Notice the clumsy attempt at propaganda. People who believe that freedom of conscience is best protected by a secular state are turned into “hardbitten secularists.” I would be greatly offended by that kind of censorship if it was happening. When someone says, “I am a Christian,” and the police come along and bash his head with a billy club, when the churches are raided and Christian must meet in secret, when they are in need of a Christian “out” campaign, then I will see them as persecuted. Until then, this hand wringing is laughable.

Communities will no longer be able to rely on the selfless devotion of evangelists and missionaries who happily shoulder the burden of looking after the unwanted, the aged, the poor.

Oooh, I’m shaking in my boots. The amount that religious organizations contribute to aid for the poor is a drop in the bucket compared to government programs. I’m far more worried by conservative who want to dismantle government programs than by religious people taking their ball and going home. Besides that, I’m not even sure what she’s talking about. Does she mean if religious people don’t get their way in the political sphere they won’t help out the hungry. Not very, ahem, Christian, I’d say. Or does she mean if the individuals who would have been nominally Christian in a world in which people are forced to profess belief whether they believe or not would give significantly more to a church than they would to charities without a religious affiliation? (Don’t forget, most money given to religious organizations, although technically charitable donations, do not go to aid to the poor.)

Religion has long been synonymous with authority. This was no bad thing when, for millennia, traditional hierarchies were respected for ensuring that the few at the top protected, organised, and even ensured the livelihood of, the many at the bottom.

Is Downtown Abbey rotting your brains over there?

Bloodthirsty authoritarians from Hitler to Pol Pot drove a tank through this vision: they turned authority into authoritarianism.

Right. Because until Hitler everything was hunky-dory. Everyone knew their place. The rich took care of the poor and the poor… aw… fuck it. This is just too crazy. Anyway, I’m just getting too worn out now.

(Note to self: Nothing this crazy woman can do can hurt you. She’s totally impotent. This has no real effect on your life. It’s okay. Deep breath. Calm down. She can’t make you go to her church. She can’t make you believe in her god. She can’t even stop you from having sex. Oh, right. Marriage. I forgot. That’s what this whole smoke screen was about in the first place. She can hurt people. She can impose her views on them.)

The whole thing is just hideous. Just hideous. I’m really upset that a magazine I support has chosen to lend their weight to this garbage.

Earlier in this post I put in a link to a video about the Stonewall Uprising. If you don’t know much about the incident, I really recommend watching the video: The American Experience: The Stonewall Uprising. It’s inspiring.

By now, everyone must have heard the big news coming out of the UK. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, has announced a nation wide filter to block pornography. Internet service providers in the UK already offer optional pornography filters. For the new nation wide filter the default setting will be to have the filter on. Customers will have to choose to opt out. I’ve read about half a dozen general articles on the topic as well as another half a dozen narrower articles about specific aspects and, outside of the “default-on” requirement, I am confused about what it being proposed. Child pornography, which was already illegal in the UK, will continue to be illegal, however the police will be given new, unspecified, powers to pursue it. Images of simulated rape, which was previously illegal to create, will now also be illegal to possess. Furthermore, wi-fi in public places will be required to have a porn filter in use.

As an adult woman going on fifty, I don’t feel that I should spend my life relegated to the children’s section of the library because lax parents don’t know how to protect their children.

A sketch of a naked woman lying on her back.

One of the reasons I don’t call myself a “sex-positive feminist” is that many of the people who use that term appear to me to be less concerned than they should be about a person not being exposed to pornography at moments when they do not want to be. They deny any potential downside to pornography. Although I almost always actively oppose restrictions on pornographic content, denying that there can be any negative side to it strikes me as wishful thinking. If what we read and view didn’t shape our perspective on the world, many artists and writers would stop tomorrow.

However, government imposed filters will tend to support the status quo and anyone seeking to question it will run afoul of the censors. For this reason, I have always felt that feminists in particular should not support bans on pornography. In an article about the new content filter, The Telegraph mentioned that unnamed “children’s watchdogs” speculate that “boys’ attitudes to women and girls were in danger of being shaped by their easy access to pornography online.” I would like to humbly suggest that boys’ attitudes to  women and girls is being currently shaped by everything from advertizing, to movies, to novels, and perhaps nothing shapes their attitudes towards women as much as the interaction of their very own parents. Would the government like to censor the behavior of children’s parents at home? Furthermore, would difficult access to pornography tell them something significantly different from easy access.

Then we still haven’t answered the question of “what is pornography?” Will Courbet be filtered? (I was going to do my own sketch of that painting, but WordPress does not permit close-ups of genitalia.)

Maybe next, the government of the UK will work on the meaning of life and get back to us.

While poking around news from the UK, I couldn’t help noticing in a sidebar some woman was called “brilliant” for producing a boy. I hope the filter isn’t going to block some basic information about how babies are made because apparently Britons need a little more information about how that works.

As an American I’m a little bit concerned by the statement:

A joint British and American “task force” will be created to tackle obscene websites, while Google and other search engine providers will be required to draw up a “blacklist” of the most depraved and illegal search terms, the Prime Minister will announce.

It would be very nice to know exactly what our own government is doing in this regard.

A close up of a gnarled bit of exposed wood on a tree where the bark has been damaged.Well, well, well. I was reminded this week that I’ve become lazy and dropped the ball on my freedom of speech project by several news items. The first was, at least to me, a real shocker. Reminding us that the K in UK stands for Kingdom, the Queen of England has issued a royal charter that has severely curtailed her subjects’ freedom of expression. To me, this is a mind-boggeling outrage. The ostensible reason for this seizure of power is the phone hacking scandal which, it is important to remember, was not revealed by the police or other authorities, but by competing newspapers. Clearly, the phone hacking scandal is nothing more than an excuse and a pretty poor one at that. To have your liberties taken away by a Queen issuing a decree. . . .  Really, I just don’t know what to say. When are you getting rid of that medieval remnant?

I consider myself a liberal, a progressive, someone who’s moderately left of center and all that, so I don’t think I need to tell anyone what I think of Rupert Murdoch. However, principles are principles. The hacking scandal should have landed the creep in jail with criminal charges. The current decree doesn’t seem to address the real problem.

Interestingly, back in Murdoch’s birth country, new media regulations have already come and gone.

A rather different situation emerged recently in Canada.

One subject that I intend to eventually take up, and one of the main reasons I’m moving slowly over the historical development of the freedom of speech and trying to wrap my head around the principles involved, is the question of laws against hate speech. Here in the U.S., we have few laws of this sort. However, they represent a growing body of laws around the world and we’ve been hearing more calls for similar laws to be passed here.

I grew up in a world in which people on the left tended to be more enthusiastic supporters of freedom of speech than people on the right. Recently these roles have been reversed, yet I have not changed my own beliefs on the subject, a situation which puts me at odds with many people with whom I am otherwise political allies.

In the province of Quebec, a young man Matthieu Bonin, who sees himself as an internet humorist and comedian (with a maudit bel accent), was charged with the crime of hate speech (in French) for saying, in a context which appeared to not be serious, that he hoped that someone would shoot up the National Assembly, Quebec’s provincial legislative body. The charges were dropped, because, if I understand correctly, members of the National Assembly are not an identifiable group warranting protection. This case has within it all sorts of interesting implications that I think it might be worth examining at length later despite the fact that the charges were dropped. (ht Leonid Sirota at Double Aspect)