According to Daily Kos, recently re-elected US president, Barack Obama, is the target of more than 30 potential death threats every day. No other US president has gotten this amount of death threats, ever. The Secret Service apparently finds the level of death threats against him ‘overwhelming’. Which is not surprising considering that since he took office in January 2009, ‘the rates of threats against the president increased by 400%.’
Not every topic is worthy of debate. In fact some are downright dangerous.
On Mondays’ Q&A program, Anglican archbishop Peter Jensen repeatedly called for having a national discussion on the supposed lower life expectancy of homosexuals.
This issue already made headlines last week when the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL)’s Jim Wallace claimed homosexuality was a bigger health risk than smoking.
Whilst Jensen distanced himself from the inflammatory nature of Wallace’s comments, he agreed with the basic premise that homosexuality is itself dangerous. Jensen was careful to claim that his intention wasn’t to demonise gay people, but to start a much needed conversation.
Although he put forward his case in a seemingly polite and sincere manner, what Jensen is actually proposing has the potential to be extremely damaging to the LGBTI community.
The claims that gays have a lower life expectancy, which have been repeated ad nauseam by various anti-gay groups in the United States, stem from a 1997 Canadian study which found the life expectancy for gay and bi-sexual men in Vancouver was up to twenty years lower than other men.
However, as Crikey pointed out, the data for this study was collated at the height of the AIDS epidemic in the late 1980s and early 1990s, well before effective treatments that significantly prolong the life of HIV positive patients. This means that the study’s conclusions are not a reliable signifier of the current life expectancy for gay and bisexual men.
This has been pointed by the study’s authors. So incensed were they at the way their research was twisted ‘to suggest that gay and bisexual men live an unhealthy lifestyle that is destructive to themselves and to others’, that they released a statement way back in 2001 to set the record straight:
The aim of our research was never to spread more homophobia…In our paper, we demonstrated that in a major Canadian centre, life expectancy at age 20 years for gay and bisexual men is 8 to 21 years less than for all men…if we were to repeat this analysis today the life expectancy of gay and bisexual men would be greatly improved…As we have previously reported there has been a threefold decrease in mortality in Vancouver as well as in other parts of British Columbia.
The fact remains that gays are at a higher than average risk of suicide, but as was pointed out by the other Q&A panellists, this is almost universally considered to be a result of homophobia rather than any intrinsic aspect of being gay.
Jensen’s words are dangerous because they are attempting to start a debate where none actually exists. Publically announcing that homosexuality is inherently destructive when there is no scientific basis for such a claim places an already marginalised community at even greater risk of discrimination.
It is also an excellent way to try and shut down the gay marriage debate. How can gay marriage be acceptable when simply being gay is likely to kill you?
Stirring up these sorts of non-debates is a favoured tactic of groups who oppose what the scientific community already accepts.
Climate change, for instance, is accepted by 97% of scientists as a real phenomenon caused, at least partly, by human activities. And yet, despite this scientific consensus, climate change sceptics continue to inflame the ‘debate’ by insisting the science is ‘still out.’
Almost invariably, when the issue is discussed, what we actually see is not scientists debating but lay sceptics refuting the science, many of whom stand to personally profit by delaying the implementation of climate change policies.
If we are still arguing about whether climate change is even real, then we don’t actually have to do anything about it.
The same goes for evolution. It is commonly accepted by scientists that there is more evidence establishing the theory of evolution than that of gravity. Gravity. And yet, religious commentators in the US insist it is ‘only a theory’. By completely misrepresenting the concept of scientific theories, they decry the teaching of evolution in schools and insist on children being exposed to the ‘other side’, i.e. creationism, as if the two were equally legitimate. Consequently, many American children grow up thinking that religious mythology has scientific credibility and is a viable alternative to evolution. .
For the record, in the United States (the country which has a higher degree of belief in creationism than any other), a 1991 Gallup poll found that out of 480, 000 scientists working in life and earth sciences, only 700 were creationists. That’s just .015%.
Likewise, Jim Wallace’s inflammatory words and Peter Jensen’s softly spoken reiteration could spell a dangerous new era in the homophobic agenda to deny gays marriage and civil rights. Their attempts to stir up debate when none actually exists is a smokescreen designed to cast further negativity on homosexuality and derail that community’s ongoing fight to end discrimination against them.
Don’t be too taken in by Peter Jensen’s politeness. He may speak softly, but he wields a mighty big stick.
Sorry Rene, turns out animals aren’t mindless machines after all. It comes as a surprise that it took so long but science has finally, officially declared that non-human animals are conscious beings. I talk about the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness over at the mighty Scavenger.
Here’s a taste:
[I]t comes as something of a surprise to learn of a declaration made last month at a conference of some of the world’s leading brain researchers. According to its website, the first annual Francis Crick Memorial Conference, “focussing on ‘Consciousness in Humans and Non-Human Animals”, aims to provide a purely data-driven perspective on the neural correlates of consciousness.”
The statement, known as The Cambridge Declaration of Consciousness, was signed by some of the world’s leading neuroscientists, including Diana Reiss and Christof Koch, in the presence of Stephen Hawking no less, and its conclusion has many in the science world talking:
“The weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Nonhuman animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.”
As this Psychology Today blogger notes, the idea that animals have some sort of thought process and are aware of their surroundings isn’t really news to many of us, which brings up two pertinent questions: 1) Why has it taken so long for science to officially recognise the consciousness of other species? And 2) What is the significance of this declaration?
Read the rest here.
So, there really isn’t much to say on this that hasn’t been said many times over, but I wanted to share what I think is the most astute commentary on the whole incident. From Ilyse Hogue at The Nation:
The Twittersphere went nuts yesterday after a video was posted of Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin expressing some jaw-dropping views on rape and abortion in an interview with local news:
“First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare,” Akin told KTVI-TV in an interview Sunday. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
The short-term consequences of such an incendiary remark are predictable: Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill will trumpet the remark to her own political advantage, donations will spike to her campaign and the party committees will offer the remark as one more proof point of the GOP’s war on women. But the impact of Akin’s effort to redefine the terms of this debate reaches beyond this one race. In the multidimensional chess that shapes public opinion, the game is less about individual elections and more about a sustained effort to mainstream radical ideas. In the case of denying women control over their lives, there’s evidence that the bad guys may be winning the long-game.
Akin was Paul Ryan’s co-sponsor on a House bill just last year banning the use of federal funds for abortion except in cases of “forcible rape.” This term seemed laughably redundant since all rape, by definition, is forced. But this redefinition of rape was deceptively sinister. Statutory rapists often use coercion but not physical force. If the measure had passed, a 13-year-old emotionally manipulated into having sex with an older friend or relative would no longer be able to use Medicaid to terminate a resulting pregnancy. Nor would her parents be able to use their tax-exempt health savings fund.
While the measure was defeated, conversation around it introduced skepticism about whether all rape is created equal and what distinctions should be recognized by law. Instead of making him politically toxic, Ryan’s support of the pioneering forcible rape measure likely made him a more attractive vice presidential candidate to a Romney campaign needing to energize the right-wing base.
And whether or not Akin loses this cycle, his comments have already escalated the stakes. In his world view, the rape victim’s body will be the ultimate judge of whether a crime has taken place. If she gets pregnant, by Akin’s standard, her reproductive organs consented to the pregnancy, so she must have consented to the sex. This bizarre standard of innocence is reminiscent of medieval Europe, where the men in authority held the similarly scientific view that women guilty of witchcraft floated in water while innocent women would drown. Being cleared of witchcraft was of course not much consolation to the drowned women, though they at least got to skip being burned at the stake.
Akin’s comments appear an awful lot like step one in the GOP’s favorite two-step tactic to redefine the world around us: first, more extreme figures voice opinions that would never fly from more politically palatable ones. The right-wing echo chamber picks up those opinions in the guise of news coverage. Then, the more politically acceptable candidates shift their rhetoric to acknowledge the newly accepted opinion as reality.
Do go over and read the whole thing. It’s phenomenal.
A couple of years ago, I came across an online news article discussing a study that had found that Egyptian Muslims actually eat and drink more during Ramadan than any other time of year. I have been trying to find that article to share here with no luck, but this piece covers similar ground.
Now, I haven’t fasted in more than 15 years, but much of my family still does. Occasionally, the whole extended family will get together for Iftar, the nightly breaking of the fast. Once a modest affair (the early Muslims broke their fast with a couple of dates and a prayer), has turned into a veritable feast. Dessert consumption also goes through the roof at this time of year. Visit any Lebanese sweet shop in Sydney about one hour before sundown and you’ll know what I mean.
I always thought it ironic that a religious practice meant to encourage reflection, sacrifice and frugality has been so thoroughly distorted. Is there really anything to be gained from depriving oneself during the day, only to gorge like there’s no tomorrow the minute the sun disappears over the horizon?
So we all know how feminists love to hate PETA, right? For years PETA has been ignoring the pleas from the feminist blogosphere to quite sexualising women in order to push their animal liberation message. Feminist writers often complain that PETA sacrifices women in order to promote animal rights. But what if that’s only the half of it? This is an excerpt of my latest piece, which was published on Daily Life yesterday. Just as an aside, I’ve been keen to write for these guys for months and was super excited to get the opportunity:
A 2010 campaign saw long-time supporter Pamela Anderson dressed in a bikini, her body depicted as a butcher’s meat chart complete with labels such as ‘breast’, ‘rump’ and so on. The caption read, ‘All animals have the same parts. Have a heart: go vegetarian.’
Yes, it’s true. All animals do have the same (or at least extremely similar parts). This is the reason that I myself am a vegan, because animals, like humans, experience emotions, thoughts and pain and don’t deserve to suffer. Quite simply, I just don’t think we humans have any more right to treat animals as objects than men have the right to treat women as objects.
However, what PETA seems to be forgetting is that we live in a world where women themselves are still largely regarded as inferior. PETA’s approach is doomed to failure because it fails to acknowledge that inequality still exists between humans.
This willingness to objectify women, even as they attempt to convince the rest of humanity to stop treating animals as objects, has long attracted the ire of feminists who accuse PETA of placing the rights of animals above the rights of women.
But that’s only the half of it. PETA’s approach to animal advocacy has the unintended consequence of undermining, not only women, but also the animals they are trying to save because it ignores the history and nature of women’s oppression.
You can read the whole thing here.
Well into its second week, the Daniel Tosh rape joke controversy shows little sign of abating. Though every conceivable opinion on the topic appears to have been given in the US, it hasn’t featured as heavily here. Naturally, I decided to step in and fill that void. This was published in Eureka Street today:
Last week, US comedian Daniel Tosh sparked a furore when, warming up his audience for a ‘hilarious’ rape joke, he was heckled by a woman yelling, ‘rape is never funny’. Tosh’s response is a subject of contention. The woman claims he said, ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if five guys raped this woman, like, right now?’ However, the club’s owner says Tosh scoffed, ‘Looks like this girl’s been raped by five guys.’
Either way, the response cuts to the heart of what is fair game for comic fodder. Some feminists say it is never funny to joke about rape because, statistically speaking, there are bound to be rape survivors in every comedian’s audience. Other writers and comedians came to Tosh’s defence, crying censorship.
Taking to Twitter to defend himself, Tosh wrote, ‘there are awful things in the world but you can still make jokes about them #deadbabies’. In this he is correct. Comedians can serve a higher purpose than simply making us laugh. My favourite comedian, Bill Hicks, used comedy as a medium for exposing society’s worst ills. Hicks aimed to enlighten as well as entertain as he told what he perceived as the truth.
But what is the ‘truth’ about rape, and can we ever laugh at it? A friend of mine, Zach Rhinier, works as a stand-up comedian in New York City. When I asked him if it is ever okay to joke about rape, his response echoed that of many feminists, ‘Only if it mocks the rapist, but not a victim.’
Read the rest here