Saturday, July 18, 2009

Anti-Catholicism at The New Yorker?

Too often in our culture, accusations of bigotry — of being anti-Catholic, anti-black, anti-gay, what have you — are themselves presented with so much hatred and venom that they raise the suspicion that the accuser himself is bigoted, harboring an unhealthy and disproportionate animus against his targets. Father James Martin of America magazine has done a blog post that provides an excellent example of how to raise the issue in a serious and charitable way. He discusses a New Yorker humor piece by Paul Rudnick:

Pondering a possible screenplay using nuns, Rudnick muses that they can be “dictatorial, sexually repressed and scary.” A grumpy elderly nun at a convent gift store looks like a “bat” or a “long fossilized chimp.” “‘I hate this!’ the chimp yipped,” he writes about the elderly woman. . . . Rudnick admits that the prioress of Regina Laudis, which he visits to do a full two days’ research, is “kind and helpful,” but most of the article depicts the nuns — scratch that, all nuns — as at best cartoonish, at worst absurd.

And he quite reasonably asks: It’s a humor piece, but come on. Does anyone think that any other religious group or class would be subjected to the same treatment? Can you imagine someone writing, for example, “Rabbis can be dictatorial, sexually repressed and scary”? How about comparing a Muslim woman to a “bat” or a “chimp”? . . . No way.

Martin is careful not to demonize Rudnick, which makes his conclusion all the more persuasive:

Mr. Rudnick is a talented and funny writer. His books and screenplays are usually delightful. I’m sure he’s a decent and caring guy, and I’m sure he meant no harm with his piece. But to mock, belittle and, let’s face it, reduce to less than human a class of people for a derisive laugh — no matter what your religious beliefs are or aren’t — should be named for what it is: bigotry.


The latest British injustice: How you could be acquitted and still face huge bill for costs

This makes the mere act of inititiating a prosecution a punishment for a crime of which you may be innocent. Costs will not be awarded in your favour if you use a private lawyer rather than a government one. And the government ones are so poorly paid that only the least competent ones would take on the work. And only the poor are eligible to use a government lawyer anyway. So this is yet another sly attack on the middle class by a hate-filled Leftist government

Plans to reform the legal aid system and cut almost £200 million from its budget have brought warnings of a two-tier justice system: one for the rich and another for the poor. For the first time, acquitted defendants in criminal trials will have to bear the bulk of their costs if they instruct someone other than a legal aid lawyer to defend them under the reforms. Defendants who are convicted in the Crown Court will be means-tested and forced to pay back some or all of their legal bills.

Details will be outlined next week of a new round of reforms to bring in fixed fees for legally aided family cases and “reverse auctions” for criminal legal aid contracts.

The measures, which have provoked fierce opposition from judges, lawyers and MPs, are part of an overhaul to save £193 million over three years from the £2 billion a year legal aid scheme. Some call it the biggest crisis in 60 years of legal aid.

Kim Hollis, QC, vice-chairwoman of equality and diversity on the Bar Council, said: “These proposed changes will set back the advances and benefits of access to justice brought by the legal aid scheme over decades. Overnight, a two-tier system will be created, whereby those who can afford to pay the best lawyers will be able to have their interests properly and fairly represented in court. But those who cannot will be left to the mercy of the spending cuts, the result of which is that high-quality advocates cannot afford to practise and are leaving in droves.”

Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, told The Times that he also wanted to cut the £127 million a year in legal aid that is spent on expert witnesses in court, including interpreters. The costs of such experts in criminal and civil trials are included in solicitors’ legal aid costs. Mr Straw said that family cases in particular had become much more complex and needed to be simplified. “Costs have shot up and this is now a very expensive system.”

Critics say that plans for fixed fees in family cases, to be outlined next week by the Legal Services Commmission, which runs legal aid, will hit vulnerable children and families. They claim the new rates will lead to barristers earning up to 30 per cent less and drive the most experienced out of legal aid work, causing delays in children and family cases.

The commission intends to move ahead with controversial plans for “reverse auctions” of legal aid contracts for police station work. The contracts will go to bidders offering “best value”, with low bids a key factor. More than 6,000 solicitors have signed up to protest on Downing Street’s website. They say that the plans will be disastrous for legal aid, drive down standards and decimate the defence service. The Conservatives have promised to suspend the reforms if they win the general election.

In an attempt to defuse the row, Lord Bach, the Justice Minister, is expected to delay the timescale for testing the plans, The Times has learnt. “The timetable is not yet fixed,” he said. He robustly defended the reform package, which is aimed at achieving value for money within a tight budget and ensuring that legal aid helps as many people as possible. “Spending on legal aid in the last 20 years has increased from £835 million in today’s prices — an average annual real terms growth of about 5 per cent — one of the fastest-growing areas of public expenditure.”

He said he was determined that criminal legal aid should not squeeze the funds available for other kinds of help, and that was behind the drive to cut costs. Convicted defendants should pay towards their own costs if they could afford it, he said. Defendants who chose not to use legal aid and were acquitted should no longer be able to claim back all their costs. But for civil cases, eligibility limits had been increased by 5 per cent to “help those most in need”. He said: “Up to 750,000 extra people could become eligible for [legal aid] help and representation.”

The Government has also boosted funding for advice centres and other “not for profit” agencies, which now stood at £80 million compared with £24 million in 2001-02.

Carolyn Regan, chief executive of the Legal Services Commission, said: “Our aim is to ensure access to justice for a greater number of people through advice, help and representation in court, from high-quality practitioners or the not-for-profit sector.” Many more people were now being helped, she said. The total had doubled in five years to more than one million.


Obama shows he can do straight talk -- but not to Muslims

Why couldn't the US President talk tough in Cairo like he did to the Africans

SPEAKING in Ghana on Saturday, Barack Obama lectured Africans on local repression, corruption, brutality, good governance and accountability. The startling contrast to his June speech in Cairo was revealing.

Stroking Muslim and Arab nations has become the hallmark of the US President's foreign policy. In Egypt, he chose not to utter the words terrorism or genocide. In Egypt, there was nothing "brutal" he could conjure up, no "corruption" and no "repression". In Ghana, with a 70 per cent Christian population, he mentioned "good governance" seven times and added direct calls to "make change from the bottom up". He praised "people taking control of their destiny" and pressed "young people" to "hold your leaders accountable".

He made no such calls for action by the people of Arab states, despite the fact not a single Arab country is free, according to the latest Freedom House global survey. Before the Muslim world Obama donned the role of apologist-in-chief. Over and over again his examples of shortfalls in the protection of rights and freedoms were American: the "prison at Guantanamo Bay", "rules on charitable giving (that) have made it harder for Muslims to fulfil their religious obligation", impediments to the choice of Muslim women to shroud their bodies.

Christian Africa was to be treated to no such self-flagellation. In a rare tongue-lashing for Africans from any US president, he chastised: "It's easy to point fingers and to pin the blame of these problems on others. Yes, a colonial map that made little sense helped to breed conflict ... but the West is not responsible for the destruction of the Zimbabwean economy ... or wars in which children are enlisted as combatants ... tribalism and patronage and nepotism ... and ... corruption."

He might equally have said to the Arab and Muslim world: "It's easy to scapegoat Israel and blame your problems on the presence of Jews -- albeit on a fraction of 1 per cent of the territory inhabited by the Arab world -- but Israel is not responsible for poverty, illiteracy, torture, trafficking, slavery and oppression rampant across your countries." But he did not.

In Ghana he pointed to specific heroes who had exposed human rights abuse, singling out by name a courageous investigative reporter. In Egypt, though journalists and bloggers are routinely threatened, jailed and worse, no such brave soul came to mind.

In a Christian African nation he said: "If we are honest, for far too many Africans, conflict is a part of life, as constant as the sun. There are wars over land and wars over resources. And it is still far too easy for those without conscience to manipulate whole communities into fighting among faiths and tribes."

To the Arab and Muslim world he could have said: "Since the day of Israel's birth Arab and Muslim countries have made conflict with Israel a part of life, warring over land and manipulating whole communities into fighting in the name of Islam to render the area Judenrein."

Instead, he turned on the only democracy in the Middle East and said the presence of Jews on Arab-claimed territory -- settlements -- was an affront to be stopped. It didn't matter that agreements require ultimate ownership of this territory to be determined by negotiation or that apartheid Palestine is hardly a worthy pursuit.

From Ghana he chided Africans: "No person wants to live in a society where the rule of law gives way to the rule of brutality and bribery. That is not democracy, that is tyranny, even if occasionally you sprinkle an election in there. And now is the time for that style of governance to end."

For an Arab and Muslim audience he cooed: "America will defend itself, respectful of the sovereignty of nations and the rule of law. And we will do so in partnership with Muslim communities, which are also threatened."

Ghanaians will likely turn the other cheek, secure enough to take it and even be grateful for the spotlight. But Obama's double standard is not a victimless crime. The disparity between the scolding he gave in Ghana and the love-in he held in Cairo illuminates an incoherent and dangerous agenda.

In his lofty but empty rhetoric in Ghana, Obama promised "we must stand up to inhumanity in our midst", pledged "a commitment ... to sanction and stop" warmongers and embraced the Zimbabwe non-governmental organisation that "braved brutal repression to stand up for the principle that a person's vote is their sacred right".

These are devastating words for Iranians struggling valiantly to keep the hope of democracy alive but forced to bear witness to the contradiction. Betrayed, they have watched the Obama administration pledge to move forward on negotiations with illegally ensconced Iranian thugs, at the same time their victims are being rounded up, tortured and readied for show trials in advance of certain execution.

On Friday, Obama, and the rest of the G8 with his blessing, announced that thinking about more sanctions on Iran can wait until September. And then we can expect yet another round of UN Security Council dickering over minimalist responses to more Iranian stalling tactics, until an Iranian nuclear weapon is inevitable.

Though it is 2202 days since the UN's atomic energy agency first declared that Iran was violating the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, Obama pretends that legitimising those same nuclear-proliferating fascists makes it likelier the clock will stop ticking. Iranians standing up for their allegedly "sacred rights" know Obama has it exactly backwards. Speechifying about "our interconnected world" and "common interests" in Ghana was cold comfort to the voices of Muslim dissidents and Jewish victims deserted in the Obama wilderness.


Persistent Myths in Feminist Scholarship

Essentially impermeable to evidence

"Harder to kill than a vampire." That is what the sociologist Joel Best calls a bad statistic. But, as I have discovered over the years, among false statistics the hardest of all to slay are those promoted by feminist professors. Consider what happened recently when I sent an e-mail message to the Berkeley law professor Nancy K.D. Lemon pointing out that the highly praised textbook that she edited, Domestic Violence Law (second edition, Thomson/West, 2005), contained errors.

Her reply began: "I appreciate and share your concern for veracity in all of our scholarship. However, I would expect a colleague who is genuinely concerned about such matters to contact me directly and give me a chance to respond before launching a public attack on me and my work, and then contacting me after the fact."

I confess: I had indeed publicly criticized Lemon's book, in campus lectures and in a post on I had always thought that that was the usual practice of intellectual argument. Disagreement is aired, error corrected, truth affirmed. Indeed, I was moved to write to her because of the deep consternation of law students who had attended my lectures: If authoritative textbooks contain errors, how are students to know whether they are being educated or indoctrinated? Lemon's book has been in law-school classrooms for years.

One reason that feminist scholarship contains hard-to-kill falsehoods is that reasonable, evidence-backed criticism is regarded as a personal attack.

Lemon's Domestic Violence Law is organized as a conventional law-school casebook — a collection of judicial opinions, statutes, and articles selected, edited, and commented upon by the author. The first selection, written by Cheryl Ward Smith (no institutional affiliation is given), offers students a historical perspective on domestic-violence law. According to Ward:

"The history of women's abuse began over 2,700 years ago in the year 753 BC. It was during the reign of Romulus of Rome that wife abuse was accepted and condoned under the Laws of Chastisement. ... The laws permitted a man to beat his wife with a rod or switch so long as its circumference was no greater than the girth of the base of the man's right thumb. The law became commonly know as 'The Rule of Thumb.' These laws established a tradition which was perpetuated in English Common Law in most of Europe."

Where to begin? How about with the fact that Romulus of Rome never existed. He is a figure in Roman mythology — the son of Mars, nursed by a wolf. Problem 2: The phrase "rule of thumb" did not originate with any law about wife beating, nor has anyone ever been able to locate any such law. It is now widely regarded as a myth, even among feminist professors.

A few pages later, in a selection by Joan Zorza, a domestic-violence expert, students read, "The March of Dimes found that women battered during pregnancy have more than twice the rate of miscarriages and give birth to more babies with more defects than women who may suffer from any immunizable illness or disease." Not true. When I recently read Zorza's assertion to Richard P. Leavitt, director of science information at the March of Dimes, he replied, "That is a total error on the part of the author. There was no such study." The myth started in the early 1990s, he explained, and resurfaces every few years.

Zorza also informs readers that "between 20 and 35 percent of women seeking medical care in emergency rooms in America are there because of domestic violence." Studies by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Bureau of Justice Statistics, an agency of the U.S. Department of Justice, indicate that the figure is closer to 1 percent.

Few students would guess that the Lemon book is anything less than reliable. The University of California at Berkeley's online faculty profile of Lemon hails it as the "premiere" text of the genre. It is part of a leading casebook series, published by Thomson/West, whose board of academic advisers, prominently listed next to the title page, includes many eminent law professors.

I mentioned these problems in my message to Lemon. She replied: "I have looked into your assertions and requested documentation from Joan Zorza regarding the March of Dimes study and the statistics on battered women in emergency rooms. She provided both of these promptly."

If that's the case, Zorza and Lemon might share their documentation with Leavitt, of the March of Dimes, who is emphatic that it does not exist. They might also contact the Centers for Disease Control statistician Janey Hsiao, who wrote to me that "among ED [Emergency Department] visits made by females, the percent of having physical abuse by spouse or partner is 0.02 percent in 2003 and 0.01 percent in 2005."

Here is what Lemon says about Cheryl Ward Smith's essay on Romulus and the rule of thumb: "I made a few minor editorial changes in the Smith piece so that it is more accurate. However, overall it appeared to be correct." A few minor editorial changes? Students deserve better. So do women victimized by violence.

Feminist misinformation is pervasive. In their eye-opening book, Professing Feminism: Education and Indoctrination in Women's Studies (Lexington Books, 2003), the professors Daphne Patai and Noretta Koertge describe the "sea of propaganda" that overwhelms the contemporary feminist classroom. The formidable Christine Rosen (formerly Stolba), in her 2002 report on the five leading women's-studies textbooks, found them rife with falsehoods, half-truths, and "deliberately misleading sisterly sophistries." Are there serious scholars in women's studies? Yes, of course. Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, an anthropologist at the University of California at Davis; Janet Zollinger Giele, a sociologist at Brandeis; and Anne Mellor, a literary scholar at UCLA, to name just three, are models of academic excellence and integrity. But they are the exception. Lemon's book typifies the departmental mind-set.

Consider The Penguin Atlas of Women in the World (2008), by the feminist scholar Joni Seager, chair of the Hunter College geography department. Now in its fourth edition, Seager's atlas was named "reference book of the year" by the American Library Association when it was published. "Nobody should be without this book," says the feminist icon Gloria Steinem. "A wealth of fascinating information," enthuses The Washington Post. Fascinating, maybe. But the information is misleading and, at least in one instance, flat-out false.

One color-coded map illustrates how women are kept "in their place" by restrictions on their mobility, dress, and behavior. Somehow the United States comes out looking as bad in this respect as Somalia, Uganda, Yemen, Niger, and Libya. All are coded with the same shade of green to indicate places where "patriarchal assumptions" operate in "potent combination with fundamentalist religious interpretations." Seager's logic? She notes that in parts of Uganda, a man can claim an unmarried woman as his wife by raping her. The United States gets the same low rating on Seager's charts because, she notes, "State legislators enacted 301 anti-abortion measures between 1995 and 2001." Never mind that the Ugandan practice is barbaric, that U.S. abortion law is exceptionally liberal among the nations of the world, and that the activism and controversy surrounding the issue of abortion in the United States is a sign of a vigorous free democracy working out its disagreements.

On another map, the United States gets the same rating for domestic violence as Uganda and Haiti. Seager backs up that verdict with that erroneous and ubiquitous emergency-room factoid: "22 percent-35 percent of women who visit a hospital emergency room do so because of domestic violence."

The critical work of 21st-century feminism will be to help women in the developing world, especially in Muslim societies, in their struggle for basic rights. False depictions of the United States as an oppressive "patriarchy" are a ludicrous distraction. If American women are as oppressed as Ugandan women, then American feminists would be right to focus on their domestic travails and let the Ugandan women fend for themselves.

All books have mistakes, so why pick on the feminists? My complaint with feminist research is not so much that the authors make mistakes; it is that the mistakes are impervious to reasoned criticism. They do not get corrected. The authors are passionately committed to the proposition that American women are oppressed and under siege. The scholars seize and hold on for dear life to any piece of data that appears to corroborate their dire worldview. At the same time, any critic who attempts to correct the false assumptions is dismissed as a backlasher and an anti-feminist crank.

Why should it matter if a large number of professors think and say a lot of foolish and intemperate things? Here are three reasons to be concerned:

1) False assertions, hyperbole, and crying wolf undermine the credibility and effectiveness of feminism. The United States, and the world, would greatly benefit from an intellectually responsible, reality-based women's movement.

2) Over the years, the feminist fictions have made their way into public policy. They travel from the women's-studies textbooks to women's advocacy groups and then into news stories. Soon after, they are cited by concerned political leaders. President Obama recently issued an executive order establishing a White House Council on Women and Girls. As he explained, "The purpose of this council is to ensure that American women and girls are treated fairly in all matters of public policy." He and Congress are also poised to use the celebrated Title IX gender-equity law to counter discrimination not only in college athletics but also in college math and science programs, where, it is alleged, women face a "chilly climate." The president and members of Congress can cite decades of women's-studies scholarship that presents women as the have-nots of our society. Never mind that this is largely no longer true. Nearly every fact that could be marshaled to justify the formation of the White House Council on Women and Girls or the new focus of Title IX application was shaped by scholarly merchants of hype like Professors Lemon and Seager.

3) Finally, as a philosophy professor of almost 20 years, and as someone who respects rationality, objective scholarship, and intellectual integrity, I find it altogether unacceptable for distinguished university professors and prestigious publishers to disseminate falsehoods. It is offensive in itself, even without considering the harmful consequences. Obduracy in the face of reasonable criticism may be inevitable in some realms, such as partisan politics, but in academe it is an abuse of the privileges of professorship.

"Thug," "parasite," "dangerous," a "female impersonator" — those are some of the labels applied to me when I exposed specious feminist statistics in my 1994 book Who Stole Feminism? (Come to think of it, none of my critics contacted me directly with their concerns before launching their public attacks.) According to Susan Friedman, of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, "Sommers' diachronic discourse is easily unveiled as synchronic discourse in drag. ... She practices ... metonymic historiography." That one hurt! But my views, as well as my metonymic historiography, are always open to correction. So I'll continue to follow the work of the academic feminists — to criticize it when it is wrong, and to learn from it when it is right.



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 readers in China or for times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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