WTF Friday, 2/19/2016

Your weekly dose of horrible:

This just in from the internet’s foremost supplier of lady-bummers, Jina Moore: Women in a German refugee camp are accusing nine security guards of not only failing to provide security, but actively sneaking men into the camp to rape them.

In only slightly lighter news, humans once again demonstrated that we should not have been left in charge of a planet when a bunch of us took a baby dolphin out of the ocean and passed it around taking selfies until it died.

And finally, Maine’s idiot governor thinks asylum seekers are his state’s “biggest problem“. (Note: Despite the efforts of Governor LePage, Maine is one of a small number of states that provided welfare to asylum applicants, making it an attractive destination. But we’re still not talking about very many people; a 2014 article reported that at the time, there were 587 applicants in Maine awaiting their asylum interviews. And, because there’s a good chance that Governor LePage doesn’t know the difference between asylum seekers and refugees, it’s worth noting as well that Maine welcomed a grand total of 388 refugees in 2014.) Anyway. Why are they such a problem, you might ask? Well, apparently, they’re bringing in the “ziki fly”. (Additional note: that is not a thing.)

 

Speaking Out of School

I’ve spent a lot of time these last few days talking with other academics about this NYT article by philosopher Carol Hay. Titled “Girlfriend, Mother, Professor?”, it decries the extra emotional work female faculty do as a consequence of students’ difficulty figuring out how to process women as professors and authority figures.

Many of these conversations went something like “Man, she’s strangely approving of the ancient Greek sex-with-boys approach to pedagogy, huh?” But the others suggested that Hay’s argument rings broadly true. There’s the YikYak problem. There’s the teaching evaluation disparity. And then there’s the Kleenex box Hay mentions, which many female academics keep on hand for the inevitable midterm tears.

Hay is correct that female faculty often bear the burden of providing emotional support to students. And that it’s a no-win situation. Falling behind on your research agenda due to time spent performing emotional labor results in penalties at tenure time. Declining to play the role of nurturer leads to punishment in your course evaluations.

But that’s not the whole story.

This isn’t simply a gender issue. Minority faculty members perform tremendous amounts of emotional work. For any student whose natural life cycle is not likely to include a phase as an middle-aged white man with elbow patches, seeing someone who looks like you in the professoriate is valuable. Developing a relationship with them is even more valuable. Faculty who come from under-represented communities know this. And even though they also know that being a role model and a support system for students will eat into their research productivity and may hurt their chances for tenure, many of them do it anyway. Because it’s important to them.

Here’s the thing, though. It’s ostensibly important to the schools, too. Almost every university and college in the U.S. has a publicly stated goal of increasing diversity in their student body. The emotional labor that female and minority (and particularly female minority) faculty perform is critical to this mission. It’s a rare 19 year old who doesn’t occasionally need a sympathetic adult ear. But for college kids who are the first of their family to go to college, who are working two jobs to stay there, or who are facing racism, sexism, or homophobia from fellow students, this need is even greater.

Emotional support from faculty can make the difference of keeping these students in school and ensuring that they succeed. But universities don’t seem to value this work, compounding the already higher rate of tenure denials among women and minorities. Which again, only makes the academy a whiter, more male place.

So maybe these schools aren’t that serious about being a welcoming environment for everyone, after all. If they were truly committed to diversity, they wouldn’t have policies that penalize labor that is disproportionately performed by female and minority faculty, and which disproportionately benefits female and minority students.

 

WTF Friday, 1/22/2016

We have a lot to get through today, guys.

In addition to all their other great inventions/discoveries, North Korea announced that it has developed hangover-free alcohol. I’ll say this for them, they’ve got their research priorities right.

Tanzanian president John Magufuli believes, for some reason, that a nation-wide ban on miniskirts will be an effective means of combating the spread of HIV/AIDS.  (Update: The Tanzanian government has said that although “H.E. President Magufuli and his government are strong proponents of decent dressing”, reports of a mini-skirt ban were false. H/T: Felix Reimer.)

El Salvador’s government has asked its female citizens to please refrain from reproducing for the next two years to avoid birth defects caused by the Zika virus. (Note that there is no implication that El Salvador’s men might have a role to play in achieving a national pregnancy rate of zero.)

Oh, and apparently Sri Lanka has decided that a good use of police resources, and reasonable thing for a democracy to do, is to embark upon a nation-wide “crackdown on suspected lesbians“. Ugh.

And finally, if you missed this yesterday: discriminatory rules on blood and bone marrow donations from gay men are making it harder to save lives, for absolutely no good reason.

A Matter of Life and Death

Chances are, you recently saw this plea for a bone marrow match for a young woman named Lara Casalotti.

Lara is only 24 years old and has acute myeloid leukemia. She desperately needs a stem cell transplant. But because she is of mixed ethnic background (Thai-Chinese and Italian), it’s hard to find a match.

Her family has launched a concerted push to find a donor for Lara, and to improve the diversity of bone marrow registries worldwide. It’s gone viral, even earning a tweet from the Reigning Queen of the Internet, J.K. Rowling.

People all over the world have signed up for their national registries in the hopes of saving Lara’s life. But some of them have been turned away.

Gay men are still restricted in their ability to donate blood products and bone marrow. In both Australia and New Zealand, any man who has had sex with another man in the previous 12 months may not donate blood or bone marrow. In the U.S.the U.K., and Canada gay men can donate bone marrow, but are still prohibited from giving blood if they are sexually active. The U.S. recently (last month, in fact) shifted from a lifetime ban to a 12 month deferment, a change the U.K. made in 2011. Canada, which currently requires 5 years of abstinence (!), will likely follow suit soon.

These regulations are discriminatory and unnecessary. They categorize all sex between men as inherently risky, on par with intravenous drug use. And they don’t just harm the dignity of gay men. Earlier this week, a friend of a friend tried, and failed, to register as a bone marrow donor in Australia. He’s a gay man, of mixed Chinese and Italian heritage, who thought he might be a match for Lara.

So please, if you can, register to be a donor. And if you live in Australia or New Zealand, tell your government to revise its bone marrow donation rules. The fate of someone like Lara, a young person who should have her whole life ahead of her, may hang in the balance.

‘Tis the Season

Who else felt super bummed last night watching the Republican candidates compete over who could be the biggest dick to refugees and war-affected civilians?

A number of people have asked me what they can do to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem (and again, the problem is opportunistic and ill-informed bigotry). If, like them, you’re looking to direct your end-of-year charitable giving towards the refugee crisis, consider the following organizations:

Syrian American Medical Society – SAMS is on the ground delivering medical services to people displaced by the conflict, both within Syria and throughout the region. They also report on the situation and lobby for humanitarian aid. Donate here.

Civilians in Conflict – CIVIC operates in conflict zones around the world, talking to civilians in order to tailor their advocacy to what those affected by war actually want and need. (Weirdly, this is kind of an unusual approach.) They’ve been working in Syria since 2012. Donate here.

International Rescue Committee – The IRC are first responders and advocates for civilians affected by conflict and natural disasters. In the U.S., they play a large role in the refugee resettlement process, and, in fact, were recently sued over it by Texas. Donate here.

If you’re interested in working directly with refugees (from Syria and elsewhere), the IRC has offices all over the country where you can pitch in. Or check out Refugee Council USA’s list of other ways to help.

Finally, if you’re looking to get a bit more meta with your donations, check out AidGrade’s new funding call.  (Note: I am on their board.) AidGrade’s mission is figuring out when development aid actually works by performing rigorous meta-analyses of aid interventions. Your tax deductible donation will go towards integrating machine learning into the process, making it faster, more precise, and more futuristic than ever before.

WTF Friday, 12/11/2015

Remember that time we lived in a “post-racial” America?

Me neither.

Because this week a sitting U.S. Supreme Court Justice suggested that black students belong at “less advanced” schools where the classes won’t be “too fast for them”. (!)

Justice Scalia’s comment was directed to counsel for the University of Texas during oral arguments about the school’s affirmative action policy. The lawyer, more than earning his paycheck by refraining from lighting the Justice on fire, pointed out that (1) the students granted diversity spots in fact outperform minority students admitted through the normal, race-blind procedures, and (2) it might not be such a great idea to “set up a system in which not only are minorities going to separate schools, they’re going to inferior schools”.

Also this week, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination proposed that we hang a big “No Muslims Allowed” sign on America’s front door. A shocking number of Americans appear to be on board with this plan. And, predictably, some have decided to show their support with hate crimes.

It’s all basically the worst, so let’s just sit quietly and watch this gif of Trump getting pecked by a bald eagle.

via GIPHY

WTF Friday, 10/30/2015

You know how most flagrant violators of human rights try to cover up their abuses? Well, not this guy. Rodrigo Duterte, mayor of the city of Davao in the Philippines, is happy to take responsibility, on camera, for the extrajudicial killings of more than 700 people. He says he’s got no regrets about his use of vigilante death squads to crack down on crime. Brace yourself to hear more about him, because he may be running for president. (h/t Julien. Thanks, Julien!)

Speaking of people running for president against all reason, Rwanda’s Parliament just voted to allow Paul Kagame to seek a third term. And then three more after that. But once 2034 rolls around, he’s definitely got to move on.

And finally, another heartbreaker from the internet’s foremost supplier of Upsetting News About Ladies; Jina Moore reports that Germany has no system in place to deal with domestic violence in the refugee camps. Jina herself called several shelters to try to secure a spot for a woman in urgent need of protection from her abusive husband. Some incorrectly informed her that refugees were not eligible for shelter space (in fact, German law guarantees them access). Others told her to try calling back later – not a great option in a life-threatening situation.

 

 

#HumanityFail

More than 300 Rohingya refugees are missing somewhere in the Andaman sea. Their boat was last seen on Saturday, May 16th when the Thai navy towed it away from Thailand towards Indonesia. It had previously been batted back and forth across the maritime border between Malaysia and Thailand; with neither country’s government willing to let the refugees land.

They are part of a mass exodus of Burmese Rohingya, fleeing ethnic violence and political repression aboard rickety wooden boats. But a recent crackdown by regional authorities has upped the risk to the smugglers who pilot the boats, leading them to abandon the refugees at sea. Thousands of people are now stranded, floating somewhere in the waters of Southeast Asia with rapidly dwindling food and water supplies.

None of Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia are parties to the 1951 Refugee Convention, which would obligate them to protect refugees on their territory. (Not that the obligation necessarily prevents governments from pushing boats full of desperate refugees out of their waters. Ahem, Australia.) They’ve also all already taken in hundreds of Rohingya, and apparently feel that they’ve done enough.

Amid high level regional talks about how to handle the crisis, the Philippine government announced today that it was willing to help. It may already be too late for the people aboard the missing boat.

WTF Friday, 2/20/2015

A few weeks ago, I wondered how 3,172 year old dictator Robert Mugabe would celebrate his birthday (actually, his 91st) this year.

The answer turns out to be: by gorging on Zimbabwe’s precious wildlife. The big day is tomorrow, and the menu reportedly includes ELEPHANT MEAT. This man is leaving no box unchecked in his quest for super-villain status.

I’m at #ISA2015, so that’s all I’ve got for today, but here is a giraffe standing perfectly still to avoid being spotted and eaten by Robert Mugabe.

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(Photo credit: me, 2010.)

“Author Perumal Murugan is dead.”

The conflict between respect for faith and freedom of expression has been a hot topic in the aftermath of the Paris terror attacks. But somehow the story of Tamil writer Perumal Murugan hasn’t made much of an impression outside of India.

Screen shot 2015-01-28 at 2.51.31 PM

Earlier this month, Murugan announced on his Facebook page that he was killing off his identity as a writer and asked publishers to stop selling copies of his work. He had been hounded by hardline Hindu groups over his 2010 novel, Mathorubhagan. The book (translated into English as One Part Woman in 2013) tells the story of an early 20th century couple from the Gounder caste community in the town of Thiruchengode. Childless and desperate to conceive, they turn to a temple festival at which extra-marital sex is permitted in the hope that the wife will become pregnant with a “god’s child”.

Although its initial release was met with critical acclaim, there were objections that the book insulted Hinduism in its portrayal of the licentious temple festival (which oral histories suggest was an actual custom). Then the local Gounder community in Thiruchengode got on board, complaining that Murugan made them look bad. In late 2014, their protests escalated into book burnings, calls for Murugan’s arrest, and a bandh (a strike… ish) in the area.

I asked political scientist and friend-of-the-blog Pavi Suryanarayan to link this episode into the broader politics of speech policing in India.

She explained that India’s constitutional guarantee of free speech has been repeatedly amended to incorporate so-called “reasonable restrictions” to protect religious feelings. But, although there have been high profile cases of the state banning books under this logic (Rushdie’s Satanic Verses for one), recently it’s been happening without the state’s involvement. In the case of Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus, for instance, “the publishing house voluntarily took the book off the shelves to avoid being taken to court by Hindu groups”.

Similarly, the silencing of Murugan was driven by non-state actors; even though he offered to change the book’s setting to a fictional town, the protesters refused to stand down. Pavi warned that this may be a sign of a things to come in Modi’s India:

“The strategy of book burning and protests has taken on more credibility amongst Hindu right-wing groups after the success of the Doniger case. With a BJP government in power, with [Hindu nationalist NGO] RSS shakhas (units) growing at faster rates than ever before, and with right-wing parties keen to make forays into new electoral territories such as Tamil Nadu, book banning seem like a tactic that will have good payoffs in rallying potential Hindu voters.”

Speech policing is always a divisive political issue. And as long as we’re all thinking about it this month anyway, we should probably pay more attention to how it’s handled in the world’s largest and most diverse democracy.