Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Pro-choice, not pro-death.

You know, you don't blog for a while and suddenly all the settings change and you're trying to work out how to post.  It's like starting a blog all over again.

But I digress.  After all, what could I have read that galvanised me into blogging again? 

An article that's been trending on my friends' list recently, namely an article by a group of "medical ethicists" from Oxford University.  In it, they suggest that newborn babies are still no different to foetuses and embryos as they lack real personhood.  Therefore, it should be permissible for a "partial-birth abortion" to take place. 

I'm sorry, but isn't that infanticide?

As a pro-choicer, I am all for a woman choosing abortion when a pregnancy threatens her life, health (physical, mental, emotional), wellbeing or the life or quality thereof of the foetus.  Yes, that includes if the pregnancy was unplanned and "inconvenient" to the woman, but that's a whole other argument over contraception education and choice.  If a woman goes through a pregnancy to term, that implies explicitly that she thought about keeping the child and is willing to go through it (or unwillingly, sometimes.  Again, different argument.).  But on the whole, preparations have been made and responsibilities have been accepted, whether those involve raising the child or having someone else raise them (family or the state).  That includes if the child is disabled.  However, medical ethicists Alberto Giublini and Francesca Minerva suggest that
The case for “after-birth abortion” draws a logical path from common pro-choice assumptions to infanticide. It challenges us, implicitly and explicitly, to explain why, if abortion is permissible, infanticide isn’t.
There is a massive difference between a foetus and a baby, even if some people on either side of the argument say otherwise.  A foetus is still in its cellular stages; it's still no different to a parasite or a tumour, as harsh as that sounds.  The mother still has a choice whether she wants to keep it as a child.  It's still a difficult choice for many, don't misinterpret that.  Abortion isn't easy for a lot of women, even if society implies it's just a form of contraception for "whores and sluts".  A foetus that can viably survive outside of the womb is a baby, and like all babies and children, is vulnerable and in need of protection.  To suggest killing them after birth is inhumane to me, even if they are unwanted by the parents.  As flawed as the system might be, adoptoion and foster care is still an option for those babies.  They shouldn't be killed because they're inconvenient.  If that was the argument, what's preventing us from killing "inconvenient children" and freeing up space in a crowded adoption system?  It's not as if a baby is safe at home either because they are still vulnerable to abuse and death at the hands of family if they decide they can't cope with raising the kid. 

Now, the ethicists and Journal of Medical Ethics say this isn't a new argument and they wanted to engage people in debate and thought.  I'd say they did a pretty good job and making me want to argue with someone as the very thought of "partial-birth abortion" sends chills down my spine.  After all, to suggest that there is no moral difference between abortion and killing a newborn is like saying there's no difference between selective breeding and ethic cleansing. 

I suppose what also really got me boiling is the language in some of the articles covering this topic.  Yes, it's a hot debate topic with a lot of twists and arguments.  There's also a lot of mudslinging on both sides, but I guess I focussed and took to heart the arguments that pro-choicers are pro-murderers.  A pro-choice person would not actively seek to kill a child once out of the womb.  At the very least, not a mentally and morally sane one.  To suggest partial or post birth abortion of an otherwise healthy, viable child is scary and abhorrent.


Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Starry Starry Night

It's been a while since my last update, but here's a quick little story that made me chuckle. 
Moviemaker James Cameron has re-edited a scene in Titanic showing stars sparkling in the night sky - after a leading astronomer told him the astral alignment was incorrect.
Cameron tells Culture magazine, "Oh, there is one shot that I fixed. It's because Neil deGrasse Tyson, who is one of the US' leading astronomers, sent me quite a snarky email saying that, at that time of year, in that position in the Atlantic in 1912, when Rose is lying on the piece of driftwood and staring up at the stars, that is not the star field she would have seen, and with my reputation as a perfectionist, I should have known that and I should have put the right star field in.
"So I said, 'All right, you son of a b**ch, send me the right stars for the exact time, 4.20am on April 15, 1912, and I'll put it in the movie.' So that's the one shot that has been changed."
 Not a lot of people would probably notice, but it's interesting and amusing all the same.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Militant secularisation - worse than militant theocracy.

There are some things you hear about that you need to do a double take with sometimes.  Take an article I read today, for example.  Lady Warsi, a British MP, has called for Christianity to be given a more central role in society and government after the latest furore over the removal of prayer sessions before council meetings.  She claims that British secularisation is "that at its core and in its instincts it is deeply intolerant. It demonstrates similar traits to totalitarian regimes – denying people the right to a religious identity because they were frightened of the concept of multiple identities."

It's not strange to hear a religious conservative stand against secularisation; at the most harmless level you can take it, they believe supporting religion is standing up for core nationalist values, that religion plays a massive part in creating the identity of a culture and society.   However, the danger with allowing religion into politics and parliament is that it's supporting one particular religion over another; religious favourtisism has never been a fair system in government and usually involves other religions being at a disadvantage at large.  Using a theocratic system I am familiar with, the Brunei government favours its Muslim citizens, allowing better benefits to them over their smaller Buddhist, Christian. Hindu and atheist citizens.  Their reasoning is that Brunei is a Muslim country, built on Muslim values.  It's by no means a fair system.  And that's in a country where a non-Muslim population is at a significantly small ratio that an uprising against that unfairness would probably take many years to overcome.  In England, where religious diversity is far more, well, diverse, favouring one religion over another would light a powder keg of dispute.  In fact, not unlike the powder keg that one Guy Fawkes had attempted. 

And it's not just favouring Christianity as a whole that Lady Warsi is advocating.  She's organising a delegation to the Vatican to argue that "Europe needs to be more confident in its Christianity".  Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't a trip to the Vatican itself an advocation for Catholicism being the preferred Christian denomination?  Historically, England turned Protestant under King Henry the Eighth in protest against Roman Catholicism.  Doesn't that imply that Protestant Christianity is far more important to English heritage than that of Catholic Christianity? 

Lady Warsi says she doesn't want a theocracy but that faith should play a bigger role in politics.  In what way?  It's fine if a person wants to practice their faith in private.  The problem secularists have with religion in politics and public office is that it interferes with maintaining government neutrality and fairness.  If faith was allowed to dictate what was moral, that risks pulling the country back several decades, if not centuries.  Religion as a whole has massive disdain for hot political topics such as equal rights for homosexuals and women as well as abortion and marriage, to name but a handful.  By allowing the religious right to advocate their faith in office, the worst case scenario would be to face having to fight for rights we already have. 

In the midst of this whole debate, there is one thing that strikes me as ironic.  Lady Warsi herself is a Muslim.  I wonder how her Muslim constituents must feel about her pushing for putting Christianity over her roots in Islam.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Fear and Understanding.

Phobia:  An extreme or irrational fear of, or aversion to something.

Last night, there was a programme on the BBC called The Magicians.  During the show, a magician swallowed a maggot and described its journey through his sinuses before making it pop out of his eye, with the camera close up so you see the whole eye plus maggot.

Cool trick aside, I didn't think it at the time.  You see, through the whole thing, I was getting more and more disgusted and agitated.  When the trick came to its final climax, I screamed and ran into the kitchen in tears.  Why the reaction?  Since I was a child, I have been terrified of maggots.  I remember the trigger; I was eating an outdoor meal with my family when a maggot came out of my food and crawled up my arm.  I didn't notice it until I felt it on my skin and when I realised, I freaked.  I didn't know what it was at the time - to my child mind, the only thing I associated with wriggling creatures was snakes (we lived in tropical climes).  When I screamed that there was a tiny snake on my arm, my mother took it upon herself to poke and tickle me, declaring she saw more on my body. 

I haven't been able to stand maggots since.  I had learnt about them not long after, but knowing they ate flesh did nothing for my fear.  Now I was even more convinced I didn't want them near me, despite reassurances that they were harmless and only ate rotting flesh.  That's the funny thing about developing a fear, I suppose.  No matter how much you rationalise it, no matter how much you think it's just a silly fear, when you are facing it, all reason flies out of your head. 

I guess I'm at a bit of an advantage with my fear.  Maggots aren't usually common to see around (here anyway - they were everywhere when I was growing up in Brunei), so sometimes I forget how scared I get around them until I see one.  There are times when I can take it better than others.  I enjoy crime dramas like CSI, so seeing a decaying body with a swarm of the creatures gets my hackles up, but not much more.  The difference with The Magicians I think is the fact it was a live studio audience at the time, combined with the extreme stunt.  But it was a stark reminder of how "not okay" I was with them.

In describing this to one of my best friends, she pointed something out to me with some irony.  I should be more understanding towards her and her phobia of spiders as a result.  It was a slap in the face, I have to admit.  I used to tease her about spiders and often cited my sadness and displeasure at her killing them when they were so easy to catch and release outside.  Using my own fear as her example, I realised how cruel I had been to her in suggesting she catches them and release them, because I wouldn't be able to do that with a maggot. 

It's strange how you get hit with a lesson you didn't realise you needed to learn.  I would still encourage her to face her fear, just as I would hope someone would support me if and when I have to see one again.  But maybe now I'd be a little more aware when I laugh when she screams at the sight of a house spider.  I know I don't appreciate being laughed at for screaming at a maggot.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Someone get this man a lesson in culture and sociology.

What do we have here?  A high ranking religious leader promoting bigotry?  When did this happen? 

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Setanmu, is telling people that whilst he's fine with homosexuals having a civil partnership, he thinks that they shouldn't get married and that is was not "the role of the government to alter social structures that had been in place for centuries".
"I don't think it is the role of the state to define what marriage is. It is set in tradition and history and you can't just [change it] overnight, no matter how powerful you are"
Hmmm.  What is the definition of marriage, I wonder...
Marriage (or wedlock) is a social union or legal contract between people that creates kinship. The definition of marriage varies according to different cultures, but is usually an institution in which interpersonal relationships, usually intimate and sexual, are acknowledged. (-Wikipedia)
That sounds pretty cut and dry to me as far as definitions go.  So what's the problem with allowing gay couples to be married?  Well, according to Dr Sentamu and many other religious people from other faiths who share his view, marriage is a sacred union as endorsed by their God.  And since according to his mind that God hates men sticking their dicks up other men's arses, or women having scissor sex, these people should not be allowed to have their long relationships made into marriage unions, and thus "endorsed by God".

(On the vein of opposition to gay men and lesbians, why are more people of extreme faith against the former?  Is it because penises are going into poop holes and not vaginas?  Is it because lesbians are stereotypically thought of as page three models and therefore it's hot?  Seriously, I am curious to know why gay men are more hated on than gay women.)

Dr Sentamu goes another step further and compares the government's interference on marriage values a dictatorship.
"We've seen dictators do it in different contexts, and I don't want to redefine very clear social structures that have been in existence for a long time and then overnight the state believes it could go in a particular way."
Well, let's examine history on social change where the government was involved.  How about one that should be close to the Archbishop's heart - slavery and equal rights for black people.  Once upon a time, black people were thought of as lower than anyone with pale skin.  They were hunted and shipped out of their home countries like cattle, sold like property, abused, unheard, ignored.  It was a massive joke to suggest to a white man to let his slaves go free, or to give them a basic wage, or even just to stop sticking his boot in their faces.  Then what happened?  White people grew a conscience.  White people started recognising that it was wrong to abuse someone because of the colour of their skin.  White people spoke up and fought back for the rights of their fellow humans, for the sake of human decency.  Obviously, they were resisted.  They were scoffed at or accused of being "black lovers" like it was a sin (which it was thought of at the time).  There were fights, battles, wars.  And the thing with fights and wars is that they build up in scale.  The government would HAVE to get involved.  The government would HAVE to listen to their people.

As history has proven in the Western world, slavery was abolished but not without the backing of the governments.  Not without the changing of laws that allowed the atrocity to happen.  Yes, it took a very long time.  Even now, race crimes are not uncommon, but they are just that now - crimes.  You cannot deny a black person's basic rights to welfare, work, relationships, marriage based on the colour of their skin.  And that extends to other races as well.

How is that fight any different to now?  People are fighting in this day and age to help another disadvantaged group; the LGBT community.  They are still people, they are still humans.  You wouldn't know them to be any different to another straight person unless they told you.  And yet people still think it's okay to deny them the same rights a straight person enjoys, that it's okay to sneer at them, to abuse them, to kill them because they love the wrong gender.  The government has to get involved now because the public WANTS them to. 

The problem Dr Sentamu has with the government getting involved is that he knows the public domain is supportive of gay marriage. Hopefully in March, when the government has had their consultation regarding gay marriage, Dr Sentamu and the people who agree with this homophobic bigotry will see that social change can and will happen at a government level, but not because the Prime Minister is a dictator, but because the British public have voted for equal rights instead of religious privilage and bigotry. 

(Sourced from The Guardian)

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Tentacles for charity!

So, hands up who's into a little kinky erotica?

Oceana, a charity dedicated to saving the world's oceans, is looking for submissions for their latest anthology.  A collection of short stories devoted to that popular Japanese trope, tentacle porn.
Tentacle sex celebrates helplessness in the face of ravenous, remorseless, undeniable lust. I want to see stories with characters, settings, and plots. People change. The world is revealed. Things happen. They don't have to be deep, but they have to be there.

Stories set in any time period, setting, or sub-genre are fine. Any flavor of speculative fiction is fair game, and if you can figure out a way to do it with a contemporary setting, I'm good with that too!
Stories should be between 2,500 and 7,500 words.  Exceptions will be made for outstanding stories.

If you're still curious and want to know more (or even sneakily submit a story, you can check out the site.

I would comment more, but I think I said enough already.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

I'd call them animals, but that'd be an insult to animals.

I used to think I'd like to visit Egypt one day.  Then something like this pops up and I rethink any future travel plans. 
“My roommates and I fell to the ground when they attacked us. The people pulled my pants off even as I yelled and tried to fight,” she continued.

She said that after the men pulled their pants off, they continued to grab and grobe the woman’s bodies. “It is disgusting. They put fingers up my ass,” she revealed.  Luckily, the women were somehow pulled from the violence by a man and a woman and taken to safety. She said she doesn’t recall exactly how she was saved from the violent attack.
What the bloody fuck?  

What kind of mental processes must go through the minds of these men when they decide it's perfectly okay to strip and sexually molest women in the middle of a public square without warning?  It's depraved and sickening and it goes without saying, absolutely wrong.  The world is watching the country after the people rose up to remove a corrupt power from their government, but it seems that corruption runs far deeper than in just the upper echleons of politics.  It's running rampant in the streets, amongst the people and poisoning the society itself.  It must be, if this is what's happening in the general population after the revolution.

Thankfully, people in Tahrir are speaking out and speaking against these assaults, calling for people to be exposed and brought to face their crimes.

Activists called the attacks on women completely “unacceptable” and must be exposed no matter what. They demanded an end to all violence toward women.
“What happened in Tahrir today has no justification and must be fully exposed even if it taints Tahrir!” wrote EgyptSecularist on Twitter.

However, some people close to the assaulted women don't seem to agree with these sentiments.  Heather, the young woman who came forward with the story of her assault above, was told by people not to share her story as it would "taint the image of the revolution".  I say, good for her and fuck her naysayers.  It has tainted the image of the revolution, but this is a good kind of taint.  If the mobs are made to at least face up to the nature of their crimes and see that the international stage won't allow this kind of behaviour, maybe it could steer them towards a more civilised movement.  However, this optimism is a little strained - the numbers and ingrained mentality involved is exceedingly great.  It will take so much more work and so many more women to come forward and shame the men who assault them, and for the population against this abuse to support them.

Though with the statistics involved, it's going to be a long fight.

According to studies conducted by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Right (ECWR) in 2008, 98 percent of foreign women and 83 percent of Egyptian women surveyed had experienced sexual harassment in Egypt.
Meanwhile, 62 percent of Egyptian men confessed to harassing women and 53 percent of Egyptian men faulted women for “bringing it on.”
Bringing it on?  I'd like to meet each of those men and bring it on.

Preferably with a sledgehammer.

(Article found on Butterflies and Wheels)

Friday, 13 January 2012

Oh you sick bastards.

Some times you learn something new and disturbing, you wonder if it's some horrible sick joke or troll.  Maybe a piece of propaganda.  Then you research a little deeper and you start fearing for humanity that little bit more.

Now, it's not new news to learn about Muhammad and his infamous marriage to Aisha, a girl aged six.  When I was younger, I had already been fed a few lines about their marriage.  One, that she was thirteen at the time of consumation and two, that it was appropriate for the time, both in a societal and welfare context.  Since then, I obviously had both illusions shattered, especially when placed in contemporary context.  Many Muslims exonerate Muhammad for marrying Aisha at six and having sex with her at nine years old, some using it as a divine example to follow.  Many moderate Muslims don't follow that, thankfully, but a sizable number of literal extremists and perverts have taken those teachings to heart, and to my despair, to the extreme.
‘A man can have sexual pleasure from a child as young as a baby. However, he should not penetrate vaginally, but sodomising the child is acceptable. If a man does penetrate and damage the child then, he should be responsible for her subsistence all her life. This girl will not count as one of his four permanent wives and the man will not be eligible to marry the girl’s sister… It is better for a girl to marry at such a time when she would begin menstruation at her husband’s house, rather than her father’s home. Any father marrying his daughter so young will have a permanent place in heaven.’
That was quoted from Ayatollah Khomeini, a high ranking scholar of Islam, from his book ‘Tahrir al Wasilah’.  I apologise for my language and imagery, but what the bloody fuck?  There is so much wrong in that paragraph right there!  Raping babies is bad enough, but he tries to make it okay by saying it's fine if the man only sticks it up her pooper!  Where's the logic or humanity in that?  Incidentally, this did raise a flag in my head - why is it okay to sodomise a baby when two adult consensual men are put to death?  And never mind the permanent damage done to the child.  The only punishment a man receives is that he's not allowed to go on to marry that baby or her sister and has to take care of the victim for the rest of her life.  And not only that, but fathers are encouraged to allow their daughters to marry as young as possible and not taint his house with her first spot of menstrual blood so that HE gets the place in heaven. 

Why is this important now?  It's not like it's widely practiced, right? 

A recent census in Hormozgan in Iran had found there were five marriages of girls under the age of 10 in the province.  24,506 girls and 5, 519 boys have been married off whilst under fourteen years old.  This is too high a number in one province of Iran alone.  Nayereh Akhavan of the Islamic Assembly and it's Judicial Commission has basically trivialised these statistics by saying that most children have reached sexual and intellectual puberty by the age of ten, so it's okay!  And besides, it'd contradict Sharia law and paint Muhammed as fallible as a prophet.  They can't have that, so child marriages can't be banned.

The next video is of Doctor Ahmad Al-Mu'bi, a Saudi Marriage Officiant.

First off, marriage is only two things apparently - the contract and the consumation.  What he is basically advocating is the marriage of children because there is no minimal age of consent - as long as the father gives his permission for his daughter to marry, it's all fine and dandy.  That'd be okay if it weren't for the fact some fathers would give up his daughters so willingly.  What I find poignant is that he doesn't give an age limit as such, but brings up that culture, environment and local laws have a lot to do with age of sexual activity.  Note I said activity, not CONSENT.  I won't go into age limits because that's a whole other kettle of fish (but maybe a topic I will touch on another day), but the bare bones of sex is that it should be between consenting, preferably properly informed people.  Personally, I don't think a thirteen year old is old enough for sex but then again, what do I know.  I wasn't ready for heavy petting, never mind sex, until I was nineteen.  But that was my own personal experience.  What's even more worrying is more the age gaps between these so called married couples, often a child and an adult man. 

The next video is brief but features a woman speaking about the topic of thighing a child, and I agree with her sentiment tremendously. 

It is sexual abuse, it is in violation of a child's rights, and it's outrageous that Sharia allows this practice to happen.  What I also love is that the guy obviously doesn't like this being laid out to him.  Power to the lady for having the cajones to speak up about this. 

(Thanks to Maryam Namazie for this)

Monday, 2 January 2012

Prevention is better than a cure

Except when what's being prevented is some real education.

I was mooching over in the news websites of my birth country and came across this little nugget

EFFORTS to prevent HIV/AIDS must continue even if the number of people suffering from the disease in the Sultanate is low.
This was stressed in the weekly sermon yesterday by Imams at mosques throughout Brunei.

Okay, I resist the urge to prejudge.  After all, just because this advice is coming from the religious leaders of a predominantly Muslim country, it doesn't mean that they can't offer some words of wisdom.  They do mention that making the public aware of the disease and proper medical facilities and practice should be in place to help lower instances of AIDS and HIV infection.  The sermon also mentions to people that unsafe sex was a factor in spreading the disease and anyone who thought they were at risk should be tested.

Brilliant!  What more could the sermon also tell their congregation?  Perhaps some basic level education on how to practice safe sex, or on drug use?  PAH. 

Muslims need to stop themselves and their families from committing sins such as premarital sex.
"It is our responsibility as a Muslim, a parent, a guardian, a neighbour and a friend to give advice and reprimand if we ever catch our children, family members or friends committing an action that is against the religion," the sermon stated, adding that individuals should not be ashamed to do so.
"Remember that the act of not caring is one of the factors why sinful acts such as fornication and misuse of drugs continue to happen, without realising that these factors are the causes of AIDS."
What sort of advice is this to give?  Sex outside of marriage is bad and causes AIDS?  It's against their brand of religion and thus you shouldn't do it?  What about offering real advice, like education about safe, consensual sex or about drug use and safety?  Education is not about condoning the behaviour, but keeping the individual safe from harm and yet some people are so willfully ignorant of that fact.  That last paragraph also had a nice little bit of blame laced through it.  If a friend or family member is aware of someone close to them being "immoral", then they are as much to blame if they fail to warn them of the folly of their ways. 

Parents are told to be clever yet firm in handling their children in this matter, but how are the parents supposed to do this with so little information themselves?  They aren't taught anything about safe sex, or about birth control or condoms or the dangers of things like sharing needles.  Most of these parents only have their Imams and scriptures to go back on for advice, which are woefully lacking in facts.  Some children might be lucky enough to have enlightened parents who might be able to offer advice that the rest of us take for granted, but I'm not so optimistic about that.  Instead, abstinence is taught, but that in itself doesn't work.  Just because you're a Muslim who follows doctrine doesn't mean you're going to be able to shut down your sexual urges until your wedding night.  I mean, bloody hell, but I have known some pretty damned horny Bruneians, not just of my generation but of the older generation as well! 

Brunei always prided itself on being modern yet upholding traditions, on being leaders in the Second World when it comes to development and society.  But news like this makes me shake my head and remember that the country's population still has a ways to go.

But you know, let's not end on a downer.  Happy New Year, everyone!