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Saturday, December 30, 2006

If you haven't seen *The Ground Truth*, you haven't seen the whole truth

Quote of the month: "People are strange." -- my dentist, last week.

And I experienced an example of this strangeness a couple days ago while in a newsstand concession. While I was purchasing something I heard another person remarking to the manager how some people don't pray, and she responded that "some don't even believe in God." As I was leaving she added that when Judgment comes, "they'll say they didn't know. But they knew. They just didn't want to believe."

Now, I'm not much of one for personal confrontations, but I couldn't let such closed-minded idiocy pass. So as I left I said over my shoulder, "I think I'll shop somewhere else."

The other night I saw The Ground Truth, a documentary about the effects of the Iraq war on those who fight it. Very powerful. Don't see it if you have a weak stomach.

One of the military people interviewed was Stan Goff, now of Feral Scholar fame. It was interesting that he described his experience as having "shattered his world-view," and spoke of how difficult it is when that happens without being offered another world-view to replace it with. He was the only one to describe it in these terms, and it's probably not coincidence that he's now become doctrinaire in a different fashion. I suppose he spent so much of his life not questioning imperial ideology that, when he was forced to, he searched as briefly as possible for something else to take its place. And it's surely not coincidence that he titled his recent article in which he reconsiders Marxism "Doctrine" -- a military as well as a political term. (On the other hand, the fact he wrote it suggests that he may be gradually learning to be intellectually autonomous. One can always hope.)

This afternoon I'm visiting my friend Rey, who's developmentally disabled. He's rather reluctant to try new experiences, but I'll see if I can persuade him to visit his neighborhood library and post a comment here.

Upcoming:

Wednesday, the 3rd, is Georgina Spelvin's birthday.

A couple Cuddle Parties are coming up in the Philadelphia area. The following announcement describes these events and provides full particulars:

--- In cuddlenj@yahoogroups.com, "Edie Weinstein-Moser" wrote:
Two Opportunities to Cuddle the Afternoon Away!

Saturday, January 13, 2007 2-5:30pm shivaya yoga 66 Rittenhouse Place Ardmore, PA web: http://www.mainlineyoga.com/$25 pre-registered, $30 at the door
Sunday January 14, 2007 from 3:30-7:00 pm http://www.pebblehillchurch.org/ Pebble Hill Interfaith Community Edison-Furlong Road Doylestown, PA. This is a fundraiser for Pebble Hill. Love donation...please be generous!

NOTE: I am a Cuddle Party Facilitator in the Certification Process, so these are my 'training wheel' parties :)

Edie Weinstein-Moser-facilitator in training, as well as: speaker, social worker, therapist, reiki master, massage practitioner, interfaith minister, creative guide and consultant.

What is a Cuddle Party? A Cuddle Party is an innovative and unique workshop/social-event to give women and men better tools for setting powerful and graceful boundaries, building community, asking for what you want, and meeting people. It's…A place to connect with heart-centered, conscious people in a light-hearted, relaxing environment. A setting in which you're respected for the whole of who you are. A structured, safe space to learn about boundaries, intimacy and affection. A laboratory where you can experiment with what makes you feel comfortable, and what makes you feel good.Treat yourself by genuinely connecting with amazing men and women. Ask for exactly what you want without being afraid. Develop a deeper respect for yourself, your body, and your boundaries. Have fun sharing affectionate touch in an open-communication, no-expectation zone!Bring pj's or yoga clothes to change into. Please bring a blanket and pillow. Yummy snacks are included. One important piece of information: Cuddle Party workshops start and end on time. There is a component of the workshop called The Welcome Circle that sets the stage for the flow of the rest of the afternoon. Since part of the workshop is about communication and boundary setting, I am putting this out there now, so that all present will feel respected and there is no misunderstanding. Give yourself an empowering experience, one that you can be truly proud of!
http://www.cuddleparty.com/ Call Edie at 215-249-9190 or 215-738-8668 with any questions. http://www.liveinjoy.com/
--- End forwarded message ---

I've attended several of these and can confirm their benefits. And no, you don't have to be a flaky New Ager to attend -- just open to new experiences.

Last but not least: ALL OUT 27 JANUARY to demand that the new Congress act on its mandate and start the withdrawal from Iraq. For details on this national demonstration called by United for Peace and Justice, visit www.unitedforpeace.org.

Eric Hamell

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

And now to dig into some meat! (Er, figuratively speaking. Unless it's free-range of course.)

Recently Anthony Kennerson, on his blog The Smackdog Chronicles http://redgarterclubwebsite.com/SmackChron_Blog/index.php, critiqued an article by antiporn feminist Stephanie Cleveland. Now I'd like to take my own crack at the multifarious flaws in this piece.

"A few weeks ago, I attended a Take Back the Night rally on campus....But there was one issue nobody seemed willing to talk about. No one said a word about pornography."

It doesn't occur to her that, rather than not being "willing" to talk about it, it might just be that the speakers didn't view the issue the way she does. But that couldn't be: she possesses the Single Truth. How could any thinking person see it differently?

"No one mentioned that over two thirds of them [porn workers] have lived through childhood sex abuse."

Antiporn feminists are notoriously loose with their facts, but let's suppose for the sake of argument that this is true. What follows from it? First, that apparently a third of sex workers aren't survivors of such abuse. How does that fit into her picture? Second, not only is correlation not causation, but causation isn't symmetric. That is, "A causes B" is not the same as "B causes A." If surviving sexual abuse does sometimes lead to taking up sex work, it hardly follows that sex work results in more abuse. After all, presumably a disproportionate number of those attending Take Back the Night rallies are survivors of abuse or assault. Does it follow that their participation is a continuation of their abuse? Cleveland, to the contrary, presumably would argue that this is a way of overcoming those experiences. Well, guess what -- some sex workers say the same thing about their work.

"Nobody talked about how the average prostitute is raped eight times a day."

I think we can safely assume she's talking about consensual acts here, and not forced sex. She's simply creating "rape" by ideological definition, and hoping to make it stick by throwing in the "eight times a day." Kinsey's group found that what people labeled "pornography" was reliably predicted by whatever elicited a physiological reaction they dubbed "visceral clutch." The strategy we see here is to bypass our critical faculties by pairing the idea of prostitution with the VC many of us may experience at the thought of having sex with eight different men in a day. (In the terms of classical conditioning, that is: seriatim sex = original stimulus, visceral clutch = response, prostitution = conditioned stimulus.)

"[A]nd no one dared [sic] question whether or not there were similarities between the descriptions often given by porn stars of how filming a scene feels ('It's like I'm outside of myself, like I'm watching what's happening to me') and the dissociation frequently experienced by rape victims."

She overlooks here that people also report out-of-body experiences that are not at all unpleasant. Just to mention one extreme example, OOB is a classic feature of near death experiences, which are usually described as beatific.

"While everybody acknowledged that we live in a culture where men often feel they have the right to take sex by force,"

I don't know how true that is. I've heard it, but I've also seen how misleadingly some studies can be reported. Often the language used in describing results to the public is quite different from that of the questions posed to the respondents.

"[N]o one seemed willing to admit [sic] that most men also feel they have the right to buy it,"

With the seller's consent, that is. Again she's implicitly assuming that other people share her ideology, when she has no reason to. If you don't start from the assumption that sex should be treated differently from other services, then the right to buy it is a nonissue, not something you're willing or unwilling to "admit" to.

"freely availing themselves of the forces perpetrated by capitalism."

And here she simply makes an unproven assumption about why prostitution exists -- a very dubious assumption when prostitution not only antedates capitalism, but by some accounts patriarchy as well (viz., the reportedly matriarchal origins of "sacred prostitution"). And again it singles out sex work for no apparent reason, when the very same argument could be made about all sorts of other services.

"[A]s an anti-pornography feminist, I oppose the selling of women for sex,"

Leaving aside the routine verbal objectification of women who actually have agency, she's saying here, "As an anti-pornography feminist, I oppose pornography in the name of feminism." Did she really need to waste keystrokes on a tautology?

"I oppose the businesses of pornography and prostitution because both hurt me, and both hurt other women."

Another unproven assertion.

"As a woman, I would like to be treated as an equal human being. I would like equal treatment for all women, but I don't see how we can reach that goal as long as some of us are being bought and sold as fuck objects."

Again the verbal objectification, conflating sex work with slavery. That has of course been the central strategy of porn-haters of all stripes for the past couple years.

"I am not a closet-conservative,"

No, you're an open sexual conservative.

"but am strongly pro-choice,"

Not when it comes to sex work obviously.

"Most of the men I speak to about pornography agree with me on these issues. They identify themselves as liberal and feel that the subordination of human beings is wrong. They believe that massive corporations do not have the right to exploit people in the name of global capitalism—unless, of course, those corporations are part of the porn industry."

And this is sheer invention. The issues of sex work as an occupation versus exploitation of sex workers by capital are clearly separable, the same as in any other industry.

"The porn industry is the epitome of capitalist greed."

Why the "epitome," she doesn't say. Nor is "greed" much of an analytical category. As a structuralist and historical materialist, I don't regard capitalism as a system based on "greed," but on a particular set of social relations, maintained by political institutions. Blaming "greed" is most typical of liberal would-be reformers of capitalism, not radicals trying to overthrow it.

"It is a 'service' industry, ninety percent of which markets women to men."

This is true of prostitution, but plainly not of the porn industry, which manufactures a product. Whether this really affects the argument I don't know, but it does demonstrate how sloppy her thinking is.

"[M]ost of the liberal men I know staunchly defend their right to use pornography despite their supposed commitment to social justice. They defend pornography despite that the fact that in the most popular pornography women's humiliation is glorified."

Quite a leap here! If men (or women or trannies) defend their right to use porn, isn't it the kind of porn they use that matters, not the kind that's allegedly "most popular"?

"We are depicted as enjoying rape,"

This is the area where I might have the most qualms. I don't know whether belief in the "rape myth" is really as common as some claim, but it is still found not infrequently in porn, if I'm not mistaken. Though I can't be certain that such portrayals really promote that belief, I'm concerned enough that I think I would avoid buying such material, or making it.

"being fucked by strangers,"

So now casual sex is inherently degrading, hmm? But apparently only for women.

"and performing oral sex on large groups of men until they cover our faces with semen."

I can personally aver that the first part of that fantasy does appeal to me as a bi man. The second doesn't, but I suspect she'd think no better of what I'd actually prefer (if not for the health concerns), which would be swallowing it all. If I want this as a man, who is she to presume that no women want it?

"Many of these women might choose not to be fucked on film, contrary to popular belief, if they were not physically or mentally coerced."

"Might"? Sure, just about anything "might" be. That's one of the weasel words of a crank, like von Daniken's numerous "What if"s and "Could it be"s.

"But a lot can happen to a woman, if her boundaries are broken down early; and if she is poor enough to lack other options."

Here we see the technique of implying something as fact without actually demonstrating it. Notice also the presumption that only Cleveland's kind of boundaries are healthy ones. She overlooks that we have no boundaries when we're born; so if those of some adults are different from hers, this may simply mean that they formed differently in the first place, not that they formed the same and were later broken down.

"A lot can happen in a culture that still teaches us sex is the most valuable thing we have to give."

Here she's blaming the culture for "teaching" something that she presumes to be false, so that she can again argue that sex work is pathological. But a look at the evidence suggests that this isn't a cultural "teaching" but an economic truth. Sex workers are paid better than women with similar backgrounds employed in other areas. Sex work is therefore typically a rational choice, not a mark of pathology.

"More importantly, pornography fuses men's orgasms with women's dehumanization."

Again, unproven.

"At best, it connects male sexual pleasure with the belief men have the right to buy sexual access to women."

A nonissue if one hasn't prejudged that women don't have the right to sell it.

"[A]t worst, it lets men jerk off to images of physical violence against us."

And even with respect to that sort of pornography, there's no consistent evidence about what its effects might be. The general worthlessness of laboratory studies in this respect is demonstrated convincingly here: http://www.sfu.ca/~palys/court.htm. The name of the author, Dr. Ted Palys, actually appeared in the bibliography of an antiporn anthology I read last year; I guess the work cited was one he wrote before becoming disillusioned with that methodology. Ironically, seeing it there was what prompted me to finally read this article, which I'd bookmarked some time earlier, and which destroyed the provisional credence I'd previously given such studies.

"Thus, pornography is about offering women sexual 'choices' just as long as we don't choose something other than a cold hard fuck."

First, this ignores that some porn decidedly doesn't fit that description. But more fundamentally, it's just a rhetorical trick, like the "Feminists for Life" saying, "Abortion is about offering women reproductive 'choices' just as long as we don't choose something other than killing our babies." No single concrete thing can offer you all choices; for instance, porn doesn't offer you the option of being a virgin either. What offers women choice, when it's consistent, is the abstraction feminism.

"For defenders of pornography, filmed violence against women is 'natural,' and cannot constitute sexual abuse."

Again, she cites no evidence for her claim, other than the unverifiable "most men and women I know who use porn."

"The underlying assumption is, deep down, some women just like to be hurt."

And the underlying assumption here, by implication, is that no women like to be hurt. Which view fits the facts?

"What does that say about women's status, or men's view of us in general?"

Let's turn that question around. Since some pornography depicts men as wanting to be hurt, what does that say about men's status? Does it demonstrate that we're the oppressed sex? It must, by Stephanie Cleveland's reasoning -- the same reasoning by which she came to the conclusion that women are the oppressed sex. Since both conclusions can't be true simultaneously -- while the factual premises of each are undeniable -- we must conclude by reductio ad absurdum that the reasoning is invalid.

"Those who critique pornography are told never to think about what the woman being fucked might be feeling. We are told not to consider whether or not her 'free choice' hurts women exposed to pornography or women as a group."

More invention.

"Most women in the sex industry are poorer, have had less educational opportunities, and fewer alternatives, than the men and women who defend pornography."

If so, this is equally true in relation to those who critique pornography. Proving exactly nothing in either case.

"Yet, as a feminist, if I show concern for these women prostituted through pornography, I am usually accused of denying them agency."

I find that hard to believe. I don't think "showing concern" is what invites that accusation, it's what you do to "show concern" -- like trying to restrict women's choices in the name of protecting them from their own (presumed) bad judgment.

"While liberal men and women agree that the poor are entitled to help and compassion from their governments, for some reason, they act as though women being sold through pornography and prostitution don't deserve help to leave."

Oh, really? Insofar as you presume they're doing it because they're poor, doesn't government help for the poor automatically accomplish that? And insofar as you presume that they're doing it because of a mental problem, wouldn't universal health care -- which the "liberal men and women" of whom you speak presumably favor -- also automatically accomplish that? What other kind of help do you have in mind? Career counseling and retraining? Even conservative DLC Democrats support those things.

"I am an anti-feminist, they tell me, if I dare to suggest that all women deserve better than being turned into spittoons for men's semen."

No, you're an antifeminist if, under cover of such rhetoric, you attack women's choice -- again, just like the Feminists for Life who do so under slogans like "Women deserve better than abortion."

"I am the one making women into victims, and not the men who use them."

Yes, because you're trying to take away their choice, and those men aren't. If, in fact, they'd choose something else under different economic circumstances, then the political rulers maintaining the present circumstances can be held to blame -- but not individuals making consensual decisions within the context of those circumstances.

"Women in pornography should be unionized and well-vetted, its defenders repeat, but never, ever encouraged to leave."

Another invention. The problem people have with you is, I suspect, that rather than encourage women to leave sex work, you want to coerce them into leaving by destroying their ability to make a living in it -- whether through direct state suppression, as your co-thinkers have done in Sweden, or other means such as shaming liberal men into thinking it's sexist to patronize them.

"It has also been suggested to me by liberal men and some women, that rather than attack pornography, I should work towards putting control of the industry in women's hands. The people who suggest this seem not to have noticed patriarchy is still pretty firmly in place."

Quite the contrary -- if they didn't know that, they wouldn't be suggesting attacking patriarchy within the industry, would they?

"One male reviewer's comments on 'feminist' pornographer Candida Royalle's website seem pretty telling: 'Not too much for my wife, but still arousing. I am not sure if it would be great to sit down to alone. I might want something a little less "lovable."' Sadly, women, like men, can abuse other people, and women, like men, can be pimps. This is why the idea of a woman-run pornography industry is not only improbable, but awful. In that case, the industry would still be based on injustice—on selling people for sex—the only difference being, women would be the pimps as well as the victims."

Her she blatantly disregards what she just cited, insisting that women's porn would be no different from men's, immediately after providing a quote suggesting that it is!

"The speech of those raped by porn users should be allowed to matter."

"Allowed to matter" -- ooh, slick rhetoric. What she's saying is that if she doesn't get her way in the public policy debate, it means that her most appealing witnesses haven't been "allowed to matter." Emotional manipulation at its most audacious.

Reminds me of the convolution in Diana Russell's introduction to the same anthology I mentioned earlier, where she complained that women's events were routinely insisting that if antiporn groups were allowed a table, then women on the other side also had to be. She said, "This seems to be the feminist equivalent of 'shut up.'" I recall that my jaw gaped when I read that. Could anyone but a True Believer buy the argument that unless you're given a captive audience who aren't allowed to hear an opposing viewpoint, you're being "silenced"? Incredible.

"They should also count more than the voices of a small, elite group of women willing to dignify pornography professionally.... They don't have to live through being assaulted by a father who uses porn, or being pushed into performing sex acts by a boyfriend who saw them in his favorite gangbang flick."

And how would you know what those women have or haven't gone through?

"This tiny group of women pornographers gets to stand behind the camera, producing about one percent of the industry's porn, their privileged role provided for them, temporarily, by pro-porn men."

Insofar as we're talking about independent producers, the pro-porn men you're referring to must be the consumers.

"The men, of course, are only too happy to support them and pay lip service to their idea of 'feminist erotica,' all the while continuing to film women fucked inside out, penetrated by two men at a time, raped, used, and sold as commodity."

But the consumers you mentioned above have nothing to do with that. So you're simply wrong.

"Some women may enjoy pornography, but many more have been brutalized because of it."

Another undocumented assertion.

"Why women should have to reclaim an industry men came up with in the first place?"

Huh? So you're saying that any industry invented by men -- say, shipbuilding -- is one that women shouldn't try to win equality within. Sounds pretty defeatist for an allegedly "radical" feminist.

"Why should we try to make 'lovable' porn, instead of creating our own ideas about sex that don't involve industry at all?"

Whence your presumption that if an idea about sex involves industry, it can't be "our own"? Royalle's ideas involve industry, but they're clearly her own, inasmuch as most men recognize her product as something different. And ain't she a woman?

"The enormous range of touch, emotion and sensuality that encompasses women's sexuality, or any kind of authentically human sexuality, isn't even hinted at. The problem is—those aspects of sex can't be captured by pornography; they can't be commercially boxed and marketed."

This could be said about any aspect of mass culture, such as films, music, etc. Socialists respond to this capitalist conformism by advocating media democracy, not abolishing the film or recording industry. Consistent socialists do likewise for the "adult" industry.

"Some of us would like to experience sex that is not commercial, but human; we are 'pro-sex,' to the point of wanting sex as human beings. What happens to us, if as women, Hartley's pornographic version of sex doesn't make us feel better?"

To paraphrase a familiar pro-choice slogan, "If you don't like pornos don't get one!"

"As Andrea Dworkin wrote, 'Girls want so much, not knowing they want the impossible: to move in a real world of action and accomplishment; to be someone individual and unique; to act on one's own feelings, appetites, and ambitions.'"

We see here that Dworkin openly told girls that their most fundamental human desires are unattainable, and that therefore they're doomed to an existence of if-only frustration. Sadly, people like Stephanie Cleveland show she was all too successful at convincing many of them.

Eric Hamell

Saturday, December 23, 2006

A Few Pleasant Observations

And now for some of those little lighter things I mentioned before...

Finessing language
When NPR's Morning Edition recently reported Uri Geller's birthday, they described him as a "psychic illusionist." Nice move -- it deflates his pretentions while sounding like a compliment. Kind of makes it hard for him to complain.

Discouraging pathology
The Italian fashion industry has adopted a new regulation prohibiting underweight models.
(http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6657709)

Encouraging health
The WIC program has adopted new rules to steer recipients toward healthier foods.
(http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6663379)

Now back to the bad news ...

Since I wrote the above, this in: US deaths in Iraq have now surpassed those on 9/11/01(http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/16356321/). And that's not counting all the Iraqi deaths. Since we've now "bombed them back," I guess that means there'll be no more terrorism ever again. Yippee! George Bush is a saint! (For the irony-impaired, the preceding was an example of bitter sarcasm.)

Women oppressed in the Middle East
You say you heard that already? OK, but here's a reminder that no religion has a lock on misogyny. Here's a story from the Israeli paper Ha'aretz
http://haaretz.com/hasen/pages/ShArt.jhtml?itemNo=801449&contrassID=19:

Woman beaten on Jerusalem bus for refusing to move to rear seat
By Daphna Berman

A woman who reported a vicious attack by an ad-hoc "modesty patrol" on a Jerusalem bus last month is now lining up support for her case and may be included in a petition to the High Court of Justice over the legality of sex-segregated buses.

Miriam Shear says she was traveling to pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City early on November 24 when a group of ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) men attacked her for refusing to move to the back of the Egged No. 2 bus. She is now in touch with several legal advocacy and women's organizations, and at the same time, waiting for the police to
apprehend her attackers.

In her first interview since the incident, Shear says that on the bus three weeks ago, she was slapped, kicked, punched and pushed by a group of men who demanded that she sit in the back of the bus with the other women. The bus driver, in response to a media inquiry, denied that
violence was used against her, but Shear's account has been substantiated by an unrelated eyewitness on the bus who confirmed that she sustained an unprovoked "severe beating."

Shear, an American-Israeli woman who currently lives in Canada, says that on a recent five-week vacation to Israel, she rode the bus daily to the Old City to pray at sunrise. Though not defined by Egged as a sex-segregated "mehadrin" bus, women usually sit in the back, while men
sit in the front, as a matter of custom.

"Every two or three days, someone would tell me to sit in the back, sometimes politely and sometimes not," she recalled this week in a telephone interview. "I was always polite and said 'No. This is not a synagogue. I am not going to sit in the back.'"

But Shear, a 50-year-old religious woman, says that on the morning of the 24th, a man got onto the bus and demanded her seat - even though there were a number of other seats available in the front of the bus. "I said, I'm not moving and he said, 'I'm not asking you, I'm telling
you.' Then he spat in my face and at that point, I was in high adrenaline mode and called him a son-of-a-bitch, which I am not proud of. Then I spat back. At that point, he pushed me down and people on the bus were screaming that I was crazy. Four men surrounded me and slapped
my face, punched me in the chest, pulled at my clothes, beat me, kicked me. My snood [hair covering] came off. I was fighting back and kicked one of the men in his privates. I will never forget the look on his face."

Shear says that when she bent down in the aisle to retrieve her hair covering, "one of the men kicked me in the face. Thank God he missed my eye. I got up and punched him. I said, 'I want my hair covering back' but he wouldn't give it to me, so I took his black hat and threw it in
the aisle."

'Stupid American'
Throughout the encounter, Shear says the bus driver "did nothing." The other passengers, she says, blamed her for not moving to the back of the bus and called her a "stupid American with no sechel [common sense.] People blamed me for not knowing my place and not going to the back of the bus where I belong."

According to Yehoshua Meyer, the eyewitness to the incident, Shear's account is entirely accurate. "I saw everything," he said. "Someone got on the bus and demanded that she go to the back, but she didn't agree. She was badly beaten and her whole body sustained hits and kicks. She tried to fight back and no one would help her. I tried to help, but someone was stopping me from getting up. My phone's battery was dead, so I couldn't call the police. I yelled for the bus driver to stop. He stopped once, but he didn't do anything. When we finally got to the
Kotel [Western Wall], she was beaten badly and I helped her go to the police."

Shear says that when she first started riding the No. 2 line, she did not even know that it was sometimes sex-segregated. She also says that sitting in the front is simply more comfortable. "I'm a 50-year-old woman and I don't like to sit in the back. I'm dressed appropriately
and I was on a public bus."

"It is very dangerous for a group of people to take control over a public entity and enforce their will without going through due process," she said. "Even if they [Haredim who want a segregated bus] are a majority - and I don't think they are - they have options available. They can petition Egged or hire their own private line. But as long as it's a public bus, I don't care if there are 500 people telling me where to sit. I can sit wherever I want and so can anyone else."

Meyer says that throughout the incident, the other passengers blamed Shear for not sitting in the back. "They'll probably claim that she attacked them first, but that's totally untrue. She was abused terribly, and I've never seen anything like it."

Word of Shear's story traveled quickly after she forwarded an e-mail detailing her experience. She has been contacted by a number of groups, including Shatil, the New Israel Fund's Empowerment and Training Center for Social Change; Kolech, a religious women's forum; the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), the legal advocacy arm of the local Reform movement; and the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA).

In the coming month, IRAC will be submitting a petition to the High Court of Justice against the Transportation Ministry over the issue of segregated Egged buses. IRAC attorney Orly Erez-Likhovski is in touch with Shear and is considering including her in the petition.

Although the No. 2 Jerusalem bus where the incident occurred is not actually defined as a mehadrin line, Erez-Likhovski says that Shear's story is further proof that the issue requires legal clarification.

About 30 Egged buses are designated as mehadrin, mostly on inter-city lines, but they are not marked to indicate this. "There's no way to identify a mehadrin bus, which in itself is a problem," she said. "Theoretically, a person can sit wherever they want, even on a mehadrin
line, but we're seeing that people are enforcing [the gender segregation] even on non-mehadrin lines and that's the part of the danger," she said.

On a mehadrin bus, women enter and exit through the rear door, and the seats from the rear door back are generally considered the "women's section." A child is usually sent forward to pay the driver.

The official responses
In a response from Egged, the bus driver denied that Shear was physically attacked in any way.

"In a thorough inquiry that we conducted, we found that the bus driver does not confirm that any violence was used against the complainant," Egged spokesman Ron Ratner wrote.

"According to the driver, once he saw that there was a crowd gathering around her, he stopped the bus and went to check what was going on. He clarified to the passengers that the bus was not a mehadrin line and that all passengers on the line are permitted to sit wherever they want
on the bus. After making sure that the passengers returned to their seats, he continued driving."

The Egged response also noted that their drivers "are not able and are not authorized to supervise the behavior of the passengers in all situations."

Ministry of Transportation spokesperson Avner Ovadia said in response that the mehadrin lines are "the result of agreements reached between Egged and Haredi bodies" and are therefore unconnected to the ministry.

A spokesperson for the Jerusalem police said the case is still under investigation.


Upcoming in the Philly area...

Thursday the 28th, 7 pm at the Friends Center, 1501 Cherry Street, a screening of The Ground Truth, a documentary on how the Iraq war is affecting those who fight it. This will be followed by a discussion with some Iraq veterans. The event is free and is presented by Delaware Valley Veterans for America and Iraq Veterans Against the War.

On New Year's Day will be Death Bi Chocolate, BiUnity of Philadelphia's annual coffeehouse/fundraiser. I'll be singing and bringing some of my special Aztec-inspired cocoa (non-alcoholic variety). For more info visit www.biunity.org.

Friday, December 22, 2006

And Now for a Little More Substance

HAVE A HAPPY SOLSTICE
&
A MERRY NEWTONMAS*!

First, we have some serious matters to attend to.

This in from Feral Scholar at http://stangoff.com/?p=434

The Feminist Movement of Nicaragua issued this plea entitled Stop Sandinista Betrayal! Campaign to stop Sandinistas and Chuch Right wingers voting to pass a law to disallow therapeutic abortion.

In Nicaragua, Catholic Church hierarchy, together with the FSLN and other right wing parties are voting on a law to penalize therapeutic abortion. The present law allowing for therapeutic abortion (since 1891) cites as justified causes: a pregnant woman's life, serious damage to the fetus or embryo and pregnancies due to rape. The President of the republic Enrique Bolaños has sent a document to the National Assembly asking members to vote on the bill without it going through normal procedures in the Justice Commission, but discussing it only in the plenary session. This means the proposal could be approved in only48 hours. If therapeutic abortion is made a crime this means that a large numberof women and girls who have been raped or are victims of sexual abuse in the family will be forced to carry their pregnancies further and givebirth, it will condemn to die women who have life-threatening pregnancies, force us to give birth to children with serious birth defects without necessarily having the adequate conditions (emotional, economic, or family environment) to attend to their need as they should be. WE ARE ASKING FOR YOUR URGENT ACTION IN ORDER TO STOP THIS VIOLATION OF WOMEN AND GIRLS' BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS, ESPECIALLY THE RIGHT TO LIFE. Michèle Najlis
Director Department of Theology
Ecumenical Centre Antonio Valdivieso
Member of the Feminist Movement of Nicaragua

Although the bill has now been passed, protests at the Nicaraguan embassy or consulate in your area, calls, etc. may help prevent its implementation or effect its repeal.

And here's something threatening blogging itself, as quoted by polybi on Nina Hartley's Sex Forums (http://www.nina.com/vboard/showthread.php?t=4888):

Senator Proposes Mandatory "Obscenity" Reporting for Blogs, Mailing Lists, and Beyond
by Darklady
WASHINGTON, DC -- Webmasters and web denizens who thought things got confusing and paranoid after the government strengthened and began enforcing its 2257 regulations may look back on those days with fondness if Sen. John McCain (AZ-R) gets his way. Legislation drafted and presented by McCain would require that commercial websites, as well as personal blogs, mailing lists, and more, conform to federal obscenity reporting guidelines or face fines of up to $300,000. Fear of such a possible development was likely behind the massive policy changes that community building websites such as Tribe.net underwent earlier in 2006 and, given some of the bill's requirements, such fear may not have been misplaced. McCain's proposal, emotionally named the "Stop the Online Exploitation of Our Children Act," affects, among other things, any internet presence that offers user profiles by forcing them to delete pages belonging to sex offenders, apparently with no consideration given to what their offense was or whether they have served their time. According to McCain during a speech on the Senate floor, these changes are necessary because "technology has contributed to the greater distribution and availability, and, some believe, desire for child pornography. " No mention was made about those offenders whose crimes involved adults or mutually consensual, but illegal, activity. Additionally, the proposed law mandates that any form of suspected "obscenity" or child pornography be reported to National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, with that information being forwarded to the appropriate legal authorities. Webmasters would be required to retain any "information relating to the facts or circumstances" for a minimum of six
months. Those who report suspected criminal activity would be immune from civil or criminal liability under the proposed law, so long as they followed the specified procedures precisely. Internet Service Providers are already required by law to report suspected child porn or obscenity, but McCain increases penalties and expands regulation to not only commercial web presences but to individual bloggers or those who provide bulletin board discussion areas and user forums on their websites. The Electronic Freedom Foundation was quick to condemn the proposal, with attorney Kevin Bankston stating that he was "concerned that there is a slipper slope here," according to News.com. "Once you start creating categories of industries that must report suspicious or criminal behavior, when does it stop?" he asked. While the answer to Bankston's question is unknown, what is known is that McCain's proposal would mandate reports from any content hosting service, any website with a message board, any social-networking site, any email service, any instant-messaging service, any chat room, any domain name registration service, any internet search service, any electronic communication service, and any image or video-sharing service. An anonymous McCain aid stated that any site or service that "you'd have to join up or become a member of to use" regardless of free or pay status would fall under the proposed law's jurisdiction. This includes, but certainly is not restricted to, so-called "social-networking" sites such as MySpace, LiveJournal, Friendster, as well as other membership sites including Amazon.com, Slashdot.com, Gamespot.com, CNET.com, MP3.com, and any other site that allows public profiles. Although some, including Kate Dean of the U.S. Internet Service Provider Association says that the organizations membership appreciates McCain's work to make reporting procedures more clear, others believe that the involvement of private individuals will make things more complex, in part because what constitutes child pornography is not entirely certain. The recent indictment of Alabaman photographer Jeff Pierson on child pornography charges, for instance, indicates that nudity is not required for an image of a minor to be deemed pornographic. Pierson's work features clothed underage models deemed "provocative" by prosecutors -- but taken with parental consent. The bill would also create a federal registry containing "any email address, instant-message address, or other similar internet identifier" possessed by anyone convicted of a sex crime. Those who refuse to provide the government with this information would face penalties of up to a decade in prison. The information would then be used, presumably, by membership sites forced to purge themselves of anything "associated" with that person. Regardless of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' recent political grandstanding on the topic, studies have shown that the online solicitation of minors has dropped during the past five years, even while social-networking sites have increased. Because of this, Bankston insists that "This constitutionally dubious proposal is being made apparently mostly based on fear or political considerations, rather than on the facts." Such concerns do not appear to be of interest to Congress, however, given that the Deleting Online Predators Act, another fuzzily worded bill that appears to target social-networking sites without actually defining its terms, was approved this past summer by the U.S. House of Representatives in a 410 - 15 vote. McCain, who scored 31 points out of a 100 point total in a News.com election guide concerning technologically friendly legislation, will be in good company during the coming year. Gonzales and the FBI intent to continue to push for mandatory ISP data retention and Sen. Chuck Schumer (NY-D) plans to join McCain by jointly introducing anti-sex offender and social-networking legislation in January.

Well, I'd intended to add some lighter observations here, but I've run out of time, so I'll have to get to back to you with those later. Again, happy holidays!

Eric Hamell

*25 December is Isaac Newton's birthday.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Welcome to Gondwanaland!

And you thought you couldn't visit it, just because it disappeared millions of years ago. Oh, ye of little imagination! Just go to http://stripey7.blogspot.com and you're there!

I invite everyone -- especially those of you to whom I'm sending this as an email -- to introduce yourselves here by posting a comment. We're a big, empty continent -- we need immigrants!

A couple notes to start things off:

Fannish tongue-twister of the week -- Slack-jawed, Dax saw a jackdaw.

The biology/politics dialectic: what is it?

Yours in prehistoric exploration,
Eric