Saturday, December 08, 2007

Sperm donor ordered to pay lesbian couple

A British firefighter who donated his sperm so a lesbian couple could have two babies is being forced to pay thousands of pounds in child support. Andy Bathie, 37, initially agreed to help Sharon and Terri Arnold after being assured he would not have to be involved in the upbringing of their young boy and girl or have any financial responsibility towards them. But the British government's Child Support Agency has begun docking his pay to force him to contribute to the children's upbringing because the lesbian couple have split up.

Mr Bathie has launched unprecedented court action in an attempt to ensure he cannot be recognised as a legal parent to the children. "These women wanted to be parents and take on all the responsibilities that brings," he told the Evening Standard newspaper. "I would never have agreed to this unless they had been living as a committed family. "And now I can't afford to have children with my own wife - it's crippling me financially."


Why we stay mute on Islamic sex apartheid

US Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton last week urged President George W. Bush to call on King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to drop all charges against a 19-year-old Saudi woman who had been gang-raped at knifepoint, then sentenced to 200 lashes after she ostensibly confessed to adultery. "As president I will once again make human rights an American priority around the world," Clinton said. The US State Department had earlier described the sentence as astonishing, while declining to call for the flogging to be stopped. Saudi Arabia is, after all, an ally in the troublesome Middle East.

An international outcry has persuaded the Saudi Justice Ministry to review the sentence. It's rare for such cases to attract such attention, and the only reason this one did was the bravery of the young woman and her lawyer in going public about the case. Good on Clinton. Good on the 35 German female lawyers who wrote an open letter to the Saudi king calling for the sentence to be dropped. Good on those participants at last week's Middle East peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland, who put pressure on the Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, until he announced a review of the case.

I would like to be able to say, good on the thousands of Western feminists who rallied across the world for the cause, except that they didn't. I would like to be able to say, good on Australia's own famous feminist, Germaine Greer, who spoke out passionately in defence of the young woman during a visit to Melbourne last week, except that she didn't.

I must be fair to Greer. The human rights of Saudi rape victims were not the subject of her Melbourne address last week. She was here to give the opening night lecture on a conference on Jane Austen and her topic was the relevance of Austen to the young women of today. I must also confess I was the spoiler of the evening, who during question time asked Greer if she saw any parallels between the concept of family honour in Austen's Pride and Prejudice and the concept of family honour in Middle Eastern societies today. I then asked why it was that Western feminists seemed so reluctant to speak out against things such as honour killings.

Greer: "It's very tricky. I am constantly being asked to go to Darfur to interview rape victims. I can talk to rape victims here. Why should I go to Darfur to talk to rapevictims?"

Questioner (me): "Because it's so much worse there."

Greer: "Who says it is?"

Questioner: "I do, because I've been there."

Greer: "Well, it is just very tricky to try to change another culture. We let down the victims of rape here. We haven't got it right in our own courts. What good would it do for me to go over there and try to tell them what to do? I am just part of decadent Western culture and they think we're all going to hell fast and maybe we are all going to hell fast. "But we do care. We do oppose these things. We are all wearing white ribbons this week, aren't we? A lot of good that will do." This to thunderous applause. She was speaking to an audience of English teachers, nearly all women.

I can hardly blame Greer for her impatience. Just because 40 years ago she wrote a book, does that mean she has to carry the flag for oppressed women for the rest of her life? Who could blame her if at this stage of her life she would prefer to discuss English literature? I certainly don't blame her for not wanting to go to Darfur.

Yet actor Mia Farrow, who is only a few years younger than Greer, has been to Darfur several times. She goes there because she knows that to listen to the stories of the victims of this ongoing genocide validates their suffering and because, unlike Greer, she is willing to use her celebrity status to raise awareness of the human rights abuses of other women and men.

Yes, some of the points Greer made are valid. If, in writing The Female Eunuch all those years ago, Greer was setting out to change a culture, rather than just expressing her anger at it, it was her own culture she was trying to change. Yes, it is "very tricky' to try to change another culture. Does that mean we should not try to?

Behind Greer's enthusiastically received comments is the dreary cultural relativism that pervades the thinking of so many of those once described as on the Left. We are no better than they are. We should not impose our values on them. We can criticise only our own. The problem with this mindset is that, with all its faults, Western culture is clearly, objectively, better. Unlike the women I met in the refugee camps on the Chad-Sudan border, who cannot leave the camps to get firewood without the fear of being raped, I could, after the Austen conference, walk home in the twilight through safe streets. No, we don't have it right here on rape yet by a long way, but we don't require four male witnesses to prove a rape, we don't sentence rape victims to a flogging, we don't put adulterers to death.

Muslim feminist groups such as Women Living Under Muslim Laws are raising their voices against the misogyny of sharia laws but, with some honourable exceptions, there is no rallying by Western liberals against the gender apartheid under which women in large parts of the Islamic world live, as there was against racial apartheid in South Africa.

Is it the fear that by speaking out they will become targets of Islamist threats too? I don't believe so. More likely it is, as Andrew Anthony described it in his recent book The Fallout, the new phenomenon of "Islamophobiaphobia": the great fear of being seen to be critical of Islam, of being seen to be racist, as if race had anything to do with it.

At its kindest, it is a fear of kicking the underdog. But there is a terrible confusion about who the underdog is. The underdogs are not the oil-rich sheiks, imposing their cruel laws on women. They are not even the upper-class women of Saudi Arabia (why should we fight for the right to drive a car when we have chauffers to take us everywhere?) The true victims, even in the most victimised countries, are poor women. Odd that so many old feminists think racism is worse than sexism.


Apologies All Around

Today's tendency to make amends for the crimes of history raises the question: where do we stop?

Imagine that you attend a dinner party where you get roaring drunk, insult all the guests, break your hostess's Tiffany lamp, throw up all over the bathroom, make crude sexual advances toward the family's teenage daughter (or son, depending), and, in backing out of the driveway, run over a bougainvillea and the cat. Imagine further that, sincerely contrite, you write a heartfelt apology - for breaking the lamp. Imagine further still that it's not you who pens the letter of apology, but, say, your great-grandchild; and not to your original hosts, long dead, but to their great-grandchildren, but still only for having broken the lamp.

Fifty years ago, New American Library published the Mentor Philosophers series, each with a title beginning The Age of . . . Belief, Ideology, Reason, and so on; the 20th-century selections bore the title The Age of Analysis. Had the series continued to the end of that century and into this, the volume should no doubt be The Age of Apology. Our postmodern ethos seems to hold that if anything can be proved to have happened, then surely someone needs to apologize for it.

We live amid a veritable tsunami of apology. The Catholic Church, which, of course, has much to apologize for, has, of late, offered mea culpas to Galileo, the Jews, the gypsies, Jan Hus, whom it burned at the stake in 1415, even to Constantinople (now Istanbul) for its sacking 800 years ago by the knights of the Fourth Crusade, an event for which the late John Paul II expressed "deep regret." No wonder that a group in England, claiming descent from the medieval Knights Templars, is asking the Vatican to apologize for the violent suppression of the order and for torturing to death its Grand Master Jacques de Molay in 1314, an apology timed to commemorate the 700th anniversary of that fell deed. In America, the National Council of Churches apologized to Native Americans for Europeans' discovering their continent and appropriating their land (but did not return any church's specific holdings to any specific tribe). The United Church of Canada followed suit, officially apologizing to Canada's native peoples for wrongs inflicted by the church; the native peoples, however, officially rejected the apology.

The current lieutenant governor of Illinois, Pat Quinn, personally presented the leaders of the Mormon church with a copy of his state legislature's House Resolution 793, expressing "official regret" for the 1844 murder of Joseph Smith and the expulsion of his followers, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The language asking for "pardon and forgiveness" was toned down when certain lawmakers protested that they could not ask for forgiveness for acts that they had not personally committed - a retrograde notion, apparently, of individual responsibility. Tony Blair, as British prime minister, apologized to the Irish for his nation's insensitivity to the plight of the victims of the Potato Famine in the 1840s. A hundred years after the event, the U.S. Congress offered a formal apology to the Hawaiians for the overthrow of their monarchy in 1893. The French parlement unanimously adopted a law stating that "the trans-Atlantic and Indian Ocean slave trade, perpetuated from the 15th century against Africans, Amerindians, Malagasies and Indians, constitutes a crime against humanity": the centuries of slavery before the 15th and the slavery of other peoples do not, apparently, constitute such a crime, at least in France.

In 2005 the U.S. Senate formally apologized for something that it had not done: make lynching a federal crime. Such a record of inaction, claimed one of the resolution's sponsors, constituted a "stain on the United States Senate." True enough, no doubt, but one of how many? Imagine if the United States or any other government began apologizing not only for sins of commission but for those of omission: an infinite regress of culpability.

My favorite apology so far, however, appeared in a brief Reuters account. "Villagers of the tiny settlement of Nubutautau [Fiji] wept as they apologized to the descendants of a British missionary killed and eaten by their ancestors 136 years ago," the news agency reported. "The villagers and the relatives of the missionary, the Rev. Thomas Baker, were taking part in a complex ritual intended to lift a curse the locals say has caused an extended run of bad luck." A cow was slaughtered and kisses given to the 11 relatives of the missionary by the village chief, Ratu Filimoni Nawawabalavu, "a descendant of the chief who cooked the missionary." No word on whether the curse lifted.

I would never denigrate any civilized response of anyone for harm he may have done or misbehavior he may have engaged in. But apologies offered by people to their contemporaries for actions taken long before any of them were born strike me as vacuous and more than a little exhibitionistic. The events and practices eliciting apology are, in varying degrees, horrific, of course, but history is filled with others equally horrifying. Why should the pope apologize for the sacking of Constantinople but not for, say, the massacre of all the inhabitants of Jerusalem - Muslims, Jews, and even Eastern Christians - in 1009, when the city fell to the forces of the First Crusade?

If the pope apologizes for the treatment of Galileo, what of the much crueler fate of Giordano Bruno or Cecco d'Ascoli, encyclopedist, scientist, and poet, burned at the stake in Florence in 1327, the fire fueled with the pages of his own books? Why should the French parlement stop with declaring post-15th-century slavery "a crime against humanity" but leave un-indicted the slavery that built the pyramids and the Parthenon and most of the other great edifices of antiquity? Or the slavery that supplied the manpower that propelled papal galleys around the Mediterranean throughout the Middle Ages and several centuries thereafter?

Are not the million or more Europeans and Americans who, in the 17th and 18th centuries, were kidnapped and enslaved by the Barbary States of North Africa due an apology, too - from, say, Muammar al-Qaddafi or the king of Morocco? If the U.S. Congress starts apologizing to the Hawaiians for a treacherous regime change, what of the endless string of broken treaties with the Seminoles and the Cherokees and . . . well, with almost any tribe that managed to survive long enough for there to be a U.S. Congress to betray it? History, that is, offers so much to apologize for that the question is not where to start but where to stop. We could save time, energy, and the risk of invidious specificity by just apologizing for history itself....

Another recent news item, this from Agence France-Presse, dateline Cairo: "A court ordered 96 tenant farmers to pay back rent for the years 1923 to 1936 after finding for the landlord in a 69-year-old suit that lawyers said marked a new record even for Egypt's slow-moving justice system." The judgment, for $64, went against the farmers, all now dead, who had withheld payment in a rent strike, but "the court ruled that the law still required the original tenants' grandchildren to pay. An appeal remains possible."

This case could serve as an admonitory reminder of the wisdom of declaring a statute of limitations on historical crimes and misdemeanors, of limiting liability to the actual perpetrators, of not visiting the sins (or the back rents) of the fathers on the children and the children's children, down through the ages. Of course those who are literal victims of historical events deserve an official apology and a good deal more. For instance, from World War II: the Nisei interned in this country after Pearl Harbor; the slave laborers in Germany under the Nazis; and the so-called comfort women, perhaps as many as 200,000, mostly Korean, forced into prostitution by the Japanese. The interned Japanese Americans were, in fact, financially compensated: $20,000 for each of 82,250 claimants, for a total of $1.65 billion.

And some 56 years after the fall of the Third Reich, German businesses that had used slave labor then - 6,000 companies, including DaimlerChrysler, Bayer, Bertelsmann, Deutsche Bank - agreed to pay half of $4.5 billion in compensation, the other half footed by the government. Payments range from $2,000 to $7,000 per individual, depending on the duration and condition of their servitude. These attempts at reparation may seem too little and too late, since many of the victims are dead, and less than altruistically motivated; but they do represent actions by the (more or less) responsible parties to indemnify the specific individuals harmed, not gestural feints toward now-empty victim categories. (The Japanese have delayed any payments to the comfort women; one suspects they count on all of the women dying before they get around to it.)

Our mania for apology stems from a radical sort of "presentism": the belief, in practice, if not fully articulated, that the actions and actors of the past should be evaluated, and usually condemned, by present-day standards. In our relativistic age in which advanced opinion notoriously eschews universals and absolutes, the criteria obtaining at the moment in Cambridge and Chapel Hill, Ann Arbor and Palo Alto, Austin and Madison seem to have more than contingent status. The criteria appear perilously close to absolutes, the sort of absolutes obeisance to which allows moderately competent graduate students in sociology or culture studies to relish their moral superiority to almost any denizen of the benighted pre-Foucault past. One has only to listen to the incredulous-to-hostile laughter that, at academic conferences, greets the opinions of, say, Henry Adams or Thomas Carlyle on the mental capacities of women, or of Hegel or Hume on Africans, commonplace a century or two ago, to understand how relative our relativism really is.

Presentism wants not only to judge the past by the criteria of the present, but, in a complete failure of historical imagination, can't conceive of the criteria of the future being radically different from today's. A coercive dystopian future (as in the Republic of Gilead in Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, where women are re-relegated to the home and doctors who once performed abortions are hanged) can be imagined, for it's really the projection of the Old Testament past into a third Bush-Cheney term. Such images of the future tend, in fact, to be atavistic.

But can we imagine something unprecedented shaping our future? If the PETA imperative, for example, were to become our dominant ethos by, say, 2107, at which time no law-abiding soul would ingest animal parts or products or wear their skins and would recoil in horror at the thought that his ancestors had, what sort of apologies for history would then be forthcoming? To all the leashed canines run around in circles for the pleasure of dog lovers at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show or the thoroughbreds in the Kentucky Derby? To all the rats martyred in labs, victims of "science" - or, worse yet, "beauty"? To every pig rendered pork chops, to every mink become a coat? Will the roster of great villains of the past expand to include Colonel Sanders, Oscar Mayer, and Manolo Blahnik? Will dogcatchers become the 22nd century's version of the Gestapo, our zoos its gulag, remembered with shame? The Hartford Courant has abjectly apologized for publishing ads in the 18th and 19th centuries for the sale of slaves; in the next century will they apologize for having run ads for puppies for sale? ......

I do not, of course, disparage serious study of history, depressing as that often proves, nor do I deny the legitimacy of passing moral judgments on the past. The view that many of the actions that constitute history are evil does not mitigate the evil of any particular action, just as the plea of the politician on the take that "everyone does it" constitutes no defense in a court of law. A single cruel act in a vast sea of cruelty remains a cruel act. To say, then, that apologies for history are always pointless and usually fatuous does not mean that we should not remain keenly aware of the abuses of the past, particularly if this awareness can help prevent their recurrence..... But, please. No more apologies.

More here


Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


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