How academia uses poverty, oppression, and pain for intellectual masturbation.

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How academia uses poverty, oppression, and pain for intellectual masturbation.

The politics of decolonization are not the same as the act of decolonizing. How rapidly phrases like “decolonize the mind/heart” or simply “decolonize” are being consumed in academic spaces is worrisome. My grandfather was a decolonizer. He is dead now, and if he was alive he would probably scratch his head if these academics explained  the concept to him.

I am concerned about how the term is beginning to evoke a practice of getting rid of colonial practices by those operating fully under those practices. Decolonization sounds and means different things to me, a woman of color, than to a white person. And why does this matter? Why does my skin itch when I hear the term in academic white spaces where POC remain tokens? Why does my throat become a prison of words that cannot be digested into complete sentences? Is it because in these “decolonizing” practices we are being colonized once again?

I am not granted the same humanity as a white scholar or as someone who acts like one. The performance of those granted this humanity who claim to be creating space for people of color needs to be challenged. They promote Affirmative action, for instance, in laughable ways. During hiring practices, we’re demanded to specify if we’re “aliens” or not. Does a white person experience the nasty bitterness that comes when POC sees that word? Or the other derogatory terminology I am forced to endure while continuing in the race to become America’s Next Top Academic? And these same white colleagues who do not know these experiences graciously line up to present at conferences about decolonizing methodology to show their allyship with POC.

The effects of networking are another one of the ways decolonizing in this field of Humanities shows itself to be a farce. As far as I understand history, Christopher Columbus was really great at networking. He tangled people like me in chains, making us believe that it was all in the name of knitting a web to connect us all under the spell of kumbaya.

Academic spaces are not precisely adorned by safety, nor are they where freedom of speech is truly welcome. Not all of us have the luxury to speak freely without getting penalized by being called radicals, too emotional, angry or even not scholarly enough. In true decolonization work, one burns down bridges at the risk of not getting hired. Stating that we are in the field of decolonizing studies is not enough. It is no surprise that even those engaged in decolonizing methods replicate and polish the master’s tools, because we are implicated in colonialism in this corporatized environment.

Such was the response of Mapuche leader Ñana Raquel to a group of Human Rights students from the United States visiting the Curarrehue, Araucanía Region, Chile in April 2015. Her anger motivated me to reflect upon how to re-think, question, undo, and re-read perspectives of how I am experiencing the Humanities and how I am politicizing my ongoing shifts in my rhyzomatic system. Do we do that when we engage in research? Ñana Raquel’s questions, righteous anger, and reaction forced me to reconsider multiple perspectives on what really defines a territory, something my grandfather carefully taught me when I learned how to read ants and bees.

As politicized thinkers, we must reflect on these experiences if we are to engage in bigger discussions about solidarity, resistance and territories in the Humanities. How do we engage in work as scholars in the service of northern canons, and, in so doing, can we really admit what took us there? Many of us, operating in homogeneous academic spaces (with some hints of liberal tendencies), conform when that question is bluntly asked.

As someone who was herself observed and studied under the microscopes by ‘gringos’ in the 1980s, when pedagogues came to ask us what life was like in a war zone in El Salvador, Raquel’s questions especially resonate with me. Both of us have been dispossessed and situated in North American canons that serve particular research agendas. In this sense, we share similar experiences of being ‘read’ according to certain historical criteria.

Raquel’s voice was impassioned. On that day, we had congregated in the Ruka of Riholi. Facing center and in a circle, we were paying attention to the silence of the elders. Raquel taught us a priceless lesson.  After questioning the processes used to realize research projects in Nepal and Jordan, Raquel’s passionate demand introduced a final punch. She showed us that while we may have the outward face of political consciousness, we continued to use an academic discipline to study ‘exotic’ behaviors and, in so doing, were in fact undermining, denigrating and denying lessons of what constitutes cultural exchange from their perspective.

From these interactions in the field emerge questions that go to the heart of the matter: How do we deal with issues of social compromise in the Humanities? In unlearning? In many cases, academic circles resemble circuses rather than centres of higher learning, wherein a culture of competition based on external pressures to do well motivates the relationship between teacher and student.

One of the tragic consequences of a traditional system of higher education is working with colleagues who claim to have expertise on the topic of social activism, but who have never experienced any form of intervention. I am referring here to those academics who have made careers out of the pain of others by consuming knowledge obtained in marginalized communities.This same practice of “speaking about which you know little (or nothing)” is transmitted, whether acknowledged or not, to the students who we, as teachers and mentors, are preparing to undertake research studies about decolonizing.

Linda Smith speaks about the disdain she has for the word “research,” seeing it as one of the dirtiest words in the English language. I couldn’t agree more with her. When we sit down each semester to write a guide to “unlearning’,” or rather a syllabus, we must reflect upon how we can include content that will help to transmit a pre-defined discipline in the Humanities with current social realities.

How can we create a space where a student can freely speak his/her mind without fear of receiving a bad grade?

Today, anything and everything is allowed if a postcolonial/decolonizing seal of approval accompanies it, even if it is devoid of any political urgency. These tendencies appear to be ornamental at best, and we must challenge the basis of those attempts. We can’t keep criticizing the neoliberal system while continuing to retain superficial visions of solidarity without striving for a more in-depth understanding. These are acts for which we pat ourselves on the back, but in the end just open up space for future consumers of prestige.

The corridors of the hallways in the institution where I currently work embodies this faux-solidarity in posters about conferences, colloquiums, and trips in the Global South or about the Global South that cost an arm and a leg. As long as you have money to pay for your airfare, hotel, meals and transportation, you too could add two lines in the CV and speak about the new social movement and their radical strategies to dismantle the system. You too can participate in academic dialogues about poverty and labor rights as you pass by an undocumented cleaner who will make your bed while you go to the main conference room to talk about her struggles.

We must do a better job at unpacking the intellectual masturbation we get out of poverty, horror, oppression, and pain–the essentials that stimulate us to have the orgasm. The “release” comes in the forms of discussions, proposing questions, writing grant proposals, etc. Then we move onto other forms of entertainment. Neoliberalism has turned everything into a product or experience. We must scrutinize the logic of power that is behind our syllabi, and our research work. We must listen to the silences, that which is not written, and pay attention to the internal dynamics of communities and how we label their experiences if we are truly committed to the work of decolonizing.

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Understanding transhumanism.

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Understanding transhumanism.

I first read Ray Kurzweil’s book, The Age of Spiritual Machines, in 2006, a few years after I dropped out of Bible school and stopped believing in God. I was living alone in Chicago’s southern industrial sector and working nights as a cocktail waitress. I was not well. Beyond the people I worked with, I spoke to almost no one. I clocked out at three each morning, went to after-hours bars, and came home on the first train of the morning, my head pressed against the window so as to avoid the spectre of my reflection appearing and disappearing in the blackened glass.

At Bible school, I had studied a branch of theology that divided all of history into successive stages by which God revealed his truth. We were told we were living in the “Dispensation of Grace”, the penultimate era, which precedes that glorious culmination, the “Millennial Kingdom”, when the clouds part and Christ returns and life is altered beyond comprehension. But I no longer believed in this future. More than the death of God, I was mourning the dissolution of this narrative, which envisioned all of history as an arc bending towards a moment of final redemption. It was a loss that had fractured even my experience of time. My hours had become non-hours. Days seemed to unravel and circle back on themselves.

The Kurzweil book belonged to a bartender at the jazz club where I worked. He lent it to me a couple of weeks after I’d seen him reading it and asked him – more out of boredom than genuine curiosity – what it was about. I read the first pages on the train home from work, in the grey and ghostly hours before dawn.

“The 21st century will be different,” Kurzweil wrote. “The human species, along with the computational technology it created, will be able to solve age-old problems … and will be in a position to change the nature of mortality in a postbiological future.”

Like the theologians at my Bible school, Kurzweil, who is now a director of engineering at Google and a leading proponent of a philosophy called transhumanism, had his own historical narrative. He divided all of evolution into successive epochs. We were living in the fifth epoch, when human intelligence begins to merge with technology. Soon we would reach the “Singularity”, the point at which we would be transformed into what Kurzweil called “Spiritual Machines”. We would transfer or “resurrect” our minds onto supercomputers, allowing us to live forever. Our bodies would become incorruptible, immune to disease and decay, and we would acquire knowledge by uploading it to our brains. Nanotechnology would allow us to remake Earth into a terrestrial paradise, and then we would migrate to space, terraforming other planets. Our powers, in short, would be limitless.

It’s difficult to account for the totemic power I ascribed to the book. I carried it with me everywhere, tucked in the recesses of my backpack, though I was paranoid about being seen with it in public. It seemed to me a work of alchemy or a secret gospel. It is strange, in retrospect, that I was not more sceptical of these promises. I’d grown up in the kind of millenarian sect of Christianity where pastors were always throwing out new dates for the Rapture. But Kurzweil’s prophecies seemed different because they were bolstered by science. Moore’s law held that computer processing power doubled every two years, meaning that technology was developing at an exponential rate. Thirty years ago, a computer chip contained 3,500 transistors. Today it has more than 1bn. By 2045, Kurzweil predicted, the technology would be inside our bodies. At that moment, the arc of progress would curve into a vertical line.


Many transhumanists such as Kurzweil contend that they are carrying on the legacy of the Enlightenment – that theirs is a philosophy grounded in reason and empiricism, even if they do lapse occasionally into metaphysical language about “transcendence” and “eternal life”. As I read more about the movement, I learned that most transhumanists are atheists who, if they engage at all with monotheistic faith, defer to the familiar antagonisms between science and religion. “The greatest threat to humanity’s continuing evolution,” writes the transhumanist Simon Young, “is theistic opposition to Superbiology in the name of a belief system based on blind faith in the absence of evidence.”

Yet although few transhumanists would likely admit it, their theories about the future are a secular outgrowth of Christian eschatology. The word transhuman first appeared not in a work of science or technology but in Henry Francis Carey’s 1814 translation of Dante’s Paradiso, the final book of the Divine Comedy. Dante has completed his journey through paradise and is ascending into the spheres of heaven when his human flesh is suddenly transformed. He is vague about the nature of his new body. “Words may not tell of that transhuman change,” he writes.

Dante, in this passage, is dramatising the resurrection, the moment when, according to Christian prophecies, the dead will rise from their graves and the living will be granted immortal flesh. The vast majority of Christians throughout the ages have believed that these prophecies would happen supernaturally – God would bring them about, when the time came. But since the medieval period, there has also persisted a tradition of Christians who believed that humanity could enact the resurrection through science and technology. The first efforts of this sort were taken up by alchemists. Roger Bacon, a 13th-century friar who is often considered the first western scientist, tried to develop an elixir of life that would mimic the effects of the resurrection as described in Paul’s epistles.

The Enlightenment failed to eradicate projects of this sort. If anything, modern science provided more varied and creative ways for Christians to envision these prophecies. In the late 19th century, a Russian Orthodox ascetic named Nikolai Fedorov was inspired by Darwinism to argue that humans could direct their own evolution to bring about the resurrection. Up to this point, natural selection had been a random phenomenon, but now, thanks to technology, humans could intervene in this process. Calling on biblical prophecies, he wrote: “This day will be divine, awesome, but not miraculous, for resurrection will be a task not of miracle but of knowledge and common labour.”

This theory was carried into the 20th century by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a French Jesuit priest and palaeontologist who, like Fedorov, believed that evolution would lead to the Kingdom of God. In 1949, Teilhard proposed that in the future all machines would be linked to a vast global network that would allow human minds to merge. Over time, this unification of consciousness would lead to an intelligence explosion – the “Omega Point” – enabling humanity to “break through the material framework of Time and Space” and merge seamlessly with the divine. The Omega Point is an obvious precursor to Kurzweil’s Singularity, but in Teilhard’s mind, it was how the biblical resurrection would take place. Christ was guiding evolution toward a state of glorification so that humanity could finally merge with God in eternal perfection.

Transhumanists have acknowledged Teilhard and Fedorov as forerunners of their movement, but the religious context of their ideas is rarely mentioned. Most histories of the movement attribute the first use of the term transhumanism to Julian Huxley, the British eugenicist and close friend of Teilhard’s who, in the 1950s, expanded on many of the priest’s ideas in his own writings – with one key exception. Huxley, a secular humanist, believed that Teilhard’s visions need not be grounded in any larger religious narrative. In 1951, he gave a lecture that proposed a non-religious version of the priest’s ideas. “Such a broad philosophy,” he wrote, “might perhaps be called, not Humanism, because that has certain unsatisfactory connotations, but Transhumanism. It is the idea of humanity attempting to overcome its limitations and to arrive at fuller fruition.”

The contemporary iteration of the movement arose in San Francisco in the late 1980s among a band of tech-industry people with a libertarian streak. They initially called themselves Extropians and communicated through newsletters and at annual conferences. Kurzweil was one of the first major thinkers to bring these ideas into the mainstream and legitimise them for a wider audience. His ascent in 2012 to a director of engineering position at Google, heralded, for many, a symbolic merger between transhumanist philosophy and the clout of major technological enterprise.

Transhumanists today wield enormous power in Silicon Valley – entrepreneurs such as Elon Musk and Peter Thiel identify as believers – where they have founded thinktanks such as the Singularity University and the Future of Humanity Institute. The ideas proposed by the pioneers of the movement are no longer abstract theoretical musings but are being embedded into emerging technologies at organisations such as Google, Apple, Tesla and SpaceX.

Losing faith in God in the 21st century is an anachronistic experience. You end up contending with the kinds of things the west dealt with more than a hundred years ago: materialism, the end of history, the death of the soul. When I think back on that period of my life, what I recall most viscerally is an unnamable sense of dread. There were days I woke in a panic, certain that I’d lost some essential part of myself in the fume of a blackout, and would work my fingers across my nose, my lips, my eyebrows, and my ears until I assured myself that everything was intact. My body had become strange to me; it seemed insubstantial. I went out of my way to avoid subway grates because I believed I could slip through them. One morning, on the train home from work, I became convinced that my flesh was melting into the seat.

At the time, I would have insisted that my rituals of self-abuse – drinking, pills, the impulse to put my body in danger in ways I now know were deliberate – were merely efforts to escape; that I was contending, however clumsily, with the overwhelming despair at the absence of God. But at least one piece of that despair came from the knowledge that my body was no longer a sacred vessel; that it was not a temple of the holy spirit, formed in the image of God and intended to carry me into eternity; that my body was matter, and any harm I did to it was only aiding the unstoppable process of entropy for which it was destined.

To confront this reality after believing otherwise is to experience perhaps the deepest sense of loss we are capable of as humans. It’s not just about coming to terms with the fact that you will die. It has something to do with suspecting that there is no difference between your human flesh and the plastic seat of the train. It has to do with the inability to watch your reflection appear and vanish in a window without coming to believe you are identical to it.

What makes the transhumanist movement so seductive is that it promises to restore, through science, the transcendent hopes that science itself has obliterated. Transhumanists do not believe in the existence of a soul, but they are not strict materialists, either. Kurzweil claims he is a “patternist”, characterising consciousness as the result of biological processes, “a pattern of matter and energy that persists over time”. These patterns, which contain what we tend to think of as our identity, are currently running on physical hardware – the body – that will one day give out. But they can, at least in theory, be transferred onto supercomputers, robotic surrogates or human clones. A pattern, transhumanists would insist, is not the same as a soul. But it’s not difficult to see how it satisfies the same longing. At the very least, a pattern suggests that there is some essential core of our being that will survive and perhaps transcend the inevitable degradation of flesh.

Of course, mind uploading has spurred all kinds of philosophical anxieties. If the pattern of your consciousness is transferred onto a computer, is the pattern “you” or a simulation of your mind? One camp of transhumanists have argued that true resurrection can happen only if it is bodily resurrection. They tend to favour cryonics and bionics, which promise to resurrect the entire body or else supplement the living form with technologies to indefinitely extend life.

It is perhaps not coincidental that an ideology that grew out of Christian eschatology would come to inherit its philosophical problems. The question of whether the resurrection would be corporeal or merely spiritual was an obsessive point of debate among early Christians. One faction, which included the Gnostic sects, argued that only the soul would survive death; another insisted that the resurrection was not a true resurrection unless it revived the body.

Transhumanists, in their eagerness to preempt charges of dualism, tend to sound an awful lot like these early church fathers. Eric Steinhart, a “digitalist” philosopher at William Paterson University, is among the transhumanists who insist the resurrection must be physical. “Uploading does not aim to leave the flesh behind,” he writes, “on the contrary, it aims at the intensification of the flesh.” The irony is that transhumanists are arguing these questions as though they were the first to consider them. Their discussions give no indication that these debates belong to a theological tradition that stretches back to the earliest centuries of the Common Era.

While the effects of my deconversion were often felt physically, the root causes were mostly cerebral. My doubts began in earnest during my second year at Bible school, after I read The Brothers Karamazov and entertained, for the first time, the problem of how evil could exist in a world created by a benevolent God. In our weekly dormitory prayer groups, my classmates would assure me that all Christians struggled with these questions, but the stakes in my case were higher because I was planning to become a missionary after graduation. I nodded deferentially as my friends supplied the familiar apologetics, but afterward, in the silence of my dorm room, I imagined myself evangelising a citizen of some remote country and crumbling at the moment she pointed out those theological contradictions I myself could not abide or explain.

I knew other people who had left the church, and was amazed at how effortlessly they had seemed to cast off their former beliefs. Perhaps I clung to the faith because, despite my doubts, I found – and still find – the fundamental promises of Christianity beautiful, particularly the notion that human existence ultimately resolves into harmony. What I could not reconcile was the idea that an omnipotent and benevolent God could allow for so much suffering.

Transhumanism offered a vision of redemption without the thorny problems of divine justice. It was an evolutionary approach to eschatology, one in which humanity took it upon itself to bring about the final glorification of the body and could not be blamed if the path to redemption was messy or inefficient. Within months of encountering Kurzweil, I became totally immersed in transhumanist philosophy. By this point, it was early December and the days had grown dark. The city was besieged by a series of early winter storms, and snow piled up on the windowsills, silencing the noise outside. I increasingly spent my afternoons at the public library, researching things like nanotechnology and brain-computer interfaces.

Once, after following link after link, I came across a paper called “Are You Living in a Computer Simulation?” It was written by the Oxford philosopher and transhumanist Nick Bostrom, who used mathematical probability to argue that it’s “likely” that we currently reside in a Matrix-like simulation of the past created by our posthuman descendants. Most of the paper consisted of esoteric calculations, but I became rapt when Bostrom started talking about the potential for an afterlife. If we are essentially software, he noted, then after we die we might be “resurrected” in another simulation. Or we could be “promoted” by the programmers and brought to life in base reality. The theory was totally naturalistic – all of it was possible without any appeals to the supernatural – but it was essentially an argument for intelligent design. “In some ways,” Bostrom conceded, “the posthumans running a simulation are like gods in relation to the people inhabiting the simulation”.

One afternoon, deep in the bowels of an online forum, I discovered a link to a cache of “simulation theology” – articles written by fans of Bostrom’s theory. According to the “Argument for Virtuous Engineers”, it was reasonable to assume that our creators were benevolent because the capacity to build sophisticated technologies required “long-term stability” and “rational purposefulness”. These qualities could not be cultivated without social harmony, and social harmony could be achieved only by virtuous beings. The articles were written by software engineers, programmers and the occasional philosopher.

The deeper I got into the articles, the more unhinged my thinking became. One day, it occurred to me: perhaps God was the designer and Christ his digital avatar, and the incarnation his way of entering the simulation to share tips about our collective survival as a species. Or maybe the creation of our world was a competition, a kind of video game in which each participating programmer invented one of the world religions, sent down his own prophet-avatar and received points for every new convert.

By this point I’d passed beyond idle speculation. A new, more pernicious thought had come to dominate my mind: transhumanist ideas were not merely similar to theological concepts but could in fact be the events described in the Bible. It was only a short time before my obsession reached its culmination. I got out my old study Bible and began to scan the prophetic literature for signs of the cybernetic revolution. I began to wonder whether I could pray to beings outside the simulation. I had initially been drawn to transhumanism because it was grounded in science. In the end, I became consumed with the kind of referential mania and blind longing that animates all religious belief.


I’ve since had to distance myself from prolonged meditation on these topics. People who once believed, I have been told, are prone to recidivism. Over the past decade, as transhumanism has become the premise of Hollywood blockbusters and a passable topic of small talk among people under 40, I’ve had to excuse myself from conversations, knowing that any mention of simulation theory or the noosphere can send me spiralling down that techno-theological rabbit hole.

Last spring, a friend of mine from Bible school, a fellow apostate, sent me an email with the title “robot evangelism”. “I seem to recall you being into this stuff,” he said. There was a link to an episode of The Daily Show that had aired a year ago. The video was a satirical report by the correspondent Jordan Klepper called “Future Christ”, in which a Florida pastor, Christopher Benek, argued that in the future, AI could be evangelised just like humans. The interview had been heavily edited, and it wasn’t really clear what Benek believed, except that robots might one day be capable of spiritual life, an idea that failed to strike me as intrinsically absurd.

I Googled Benek. He had studied to be a pastor at Princeton Theological Seminary, one of the most prestigious in the country. He described himself in his bio as a “techno-theologian, futurist, ethicist, Christian Transhumanist, public speaker and writer”. He also chaired the board of something called the Christian Transhumanism Association. I followed a link to the organisation’s website, which included that peculiar quote from Dante: “Words cannot tell of that transhuman change.”

All this seemed unlikely. Was it possible there were now Christian Transhumanists? Actual believers who thought the Kingdom of God would come about through the Singularity? I had thought I was alone in drawing these parallels between transhumanism and biblical prophecy, but the convergences seemed to have gained legitimacy from the pulpit. How long would it be before everyone noticed the symmetry of these two ideologies – before Kurzweil began quoting the Gospel of John and Bostrom was read alongside the minor prophets?

A few months later, I met with Benek at a cafe across the street from his church in Fort Lauderdale. In my email to him, I’d presented my curiosity as journalistic, unable to admit – even to myself – what lay behind my desire to meet.

He arrived in the same navy blazer he had worn for The Daily Show interview and appeared nervous. The Daily Show had been a disaster, he told me. He had spoken with them for an hour about the finer points of his theology, but the interview had been cut down to his two-minute spiel on robots – something he insisted he wasn’t even interested in, it was just a thought experiment he had been goaded into. “It’s not like I spend my days speculating on how to evangelise robots,” he said.

I explained that I wanted to know whether transhumanist ideas were compatible with Christian eschatology. Was it possible that technology would be the avenue by which humanity achieved the resurrection and immortality? I worried that the question sounded a little deranged, but Benek appeared suddenly energised. It turned out he was writing a dissertation on precisely this subject.

“Technology has a role in the process of redemption,” he said. Christians today assume the prophecies about bodily perfection and eternal life are going to be realised in heaven. But the disciples understood those prophecies as referring to things that were going to take place here on Earth. Jesus had spoken of the Kingdom of God as a terrestrial domain, albeit one in which the imperfections of earthly existence were done away with. This idea, he assured me, was not unorthodox; it was just old.

I asked Benek about humility. Wasn’t it all about the fallen nature of the flesh and our tragic limitations as humans?

“Sure,” he said. He paused a moment, as though debating whether to say more. Finally, he leaned in and rested his elbows on the table, his demeanour markedly pastoral, and began speaking about the transfiguration and the nature of Christ. Jesus, he reminded me, was both fully human and fully God. What was interesting, he said, was that science had actually verified the potential for matter to have two distinct natures. Superposition, a principle in quantum theory, suggests that an object can be in two places at one time. A photon could be a particle, and it could also be a wave. It could have two natures. “When Jesus tells us that if we have faith nothing will be impossible for us, I think he means that literally.”

By this point, I had stopped taking notes. It was late afternoon, and the cafe was washed in amber light. Perhaps I was a little dehydrated, but Benek’s ideas began to make perfect sense. This was, after all, the promise implicit in the incarnation: that the body could be both human and divine, that the human form could walk on water. “Very truly I tell you,” Christ had said to his disciples, “whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these.” His earliest followers had taken this promise literally. Perhaps these prophecies had pointed to the future achievements of humanity all along, our ability to harness technology to become transhuman. Christ had spoken mostly in parables – no doubt for good reason. If a superior being had indeed come to Earth to prophesy the future to 1st-century humans, he would not have wasted time trying to explain modern computing or sketching the trajectory of Moore’s law on a scrap of papyrus. He would have said, “You will have a new body,” and “All things will be changed beyond recognition,” and “On Earth as it is in heaven.” Perhaps only now that technologies were emerging to make such prophecies a reality could we begin to understand what Christ meant about the fate of our species.

I could sense my reason becoming loosened by the lure of these familiar conspiracies. Somewhere, in the pit of my stomach, it was amassing: the fevered, elemental hope that the tumult of the world was authored and intentional, that our profound confusion would one day click into clarity and the broken body would be restored. Part of me was still helpless against the pull of these ideas.

It was late. The cafe had emptied and a barista was sweeping near our table. As we stood to go, I felt that our conversation was unresolved. I suppose I’d been hoping that Benek would hand me some portal back to the faith, one paved by the certitude of modern science. But if anything had become clear to me, it was my own desperation, my willingness to spring at this largely speculative ideology that offered a vestige of that first religious promise. I had disavowed Christianity, and yet I had spent the past 10 years hopelessly trying to re-create its visions by dreaming about our postbiological future – a modern pantomime of redemption. What else could lie behind this impulse but the ghost of that first hope?

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Mixed-Race America Is Not Enough to Save The Country.

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Mixed-Race America Is Not Enough to Save The Country.

Americans like to fantasize that a mixed-race future will free them from the clutches of racism.

But this illusion is incompatible with an America in which the presidential election was won by the candidate who ran a “Make America Great Again” campaign, which many critics have pointed out was widely heard as a call to “Make America White Again.”

If the election results are a vindication for those championing the politics of President Trump, the demographic trends point in the opposite direction. Today, the United States’ mixed-race population is growing three times faster than the general population, and optimism about the impact that mixed-race people can have on a racially-divided country abounds.

What Biracial People Know,” a recent op-ed in The New York Times, argues that the growing multiracial population may act as a “vaccine” to the bigotry that buoyed Trump’s campaign, granting America “immunity” to the longstanding politics of exclusion shaped by racism.

But this hope that a mixed-race future will result in a paradise of interracial and ethnically-ambiguous babies is misleading. It presents racism as passive — a vestigial reflex that will fade with the presence of interracial offspring, rather than as an active system that can change with time. A 2015 study by Pew Research Center concluded that mixed-race Americans describe experiences of discrimination in the form of slurs, poor customer service, and police encounters. These figures were highest among people of black-white and black-Native American descent.

In their personal lives, mixed-race people may feel pressure to identify with one group or the other. They may have their sense of identity or belonging dismissed by the groups to which they belong, or by the dominant society.

Diana Sanchez, an associate professor in psychology at Rutgers University and a scholar of multiracial identity and experiences, says mixed-race individuals may face subtle forms of aggression in their daily interactions. “People have trouble putting multiracial people in a box … and have opinions about how they should be racially categorized,” she explained. In such instances, mixed-race people may not seamlessly blend in with others’ perceptions, but rather be told that they do not belong to a group, or that they must choose only one, contrary to their personal identity. For some, this disconnect between their sense of self and how the world identifies them can be difficult to navigate.

But when it comes to systemic barriers, experts point out that instances of racial discrimination for mixed-race people may not be very different from the experiences of people who identify as belonging to a single race. Tanya Hernandez, professor of law at Fordham University and the author of the forthcoming book Multiracials and Civil Rights, points out that in legal cases covering a wide-range of contexts, including education, employment, public accommodations, and criminal justice, “people who identify as mixed-race … describe … strikingly binary, black/white or White/non-white forms of discrimination.” Hernandez adds that many mixed-race people find themselves discriminated against, not explicitly because of their mixed-ness, but because of their belonging to a non-white group. She explained that in most of these cases, “the individual…is lumped together in stark contrast to whites, so it’s a white/non-white racial hierarchy.”

The fact that mixed-race people who present as non-white face discrimination because of their proximity to a non-white group reinforces the idea of racial discrimination emphasizing categorization with one group, rather than hybridity. As Sanchez notes, regardless of personal identity, “a lot of research points [out that] mixed-race people tend to be perceived along the lines of their minority identity.”

But what happens to those who aren’t easily categorized?

While not all mixed-race people are considered racially ambiguous, and not everyone perceived as racially ambiguous is of mixed parentage, there is evidence that the inability to categorize people as one race or the other may itself present new forms of bias. Sanchez’s research suggests that white people from less-diverse neighborhoods have more difficulty processing the faces of mixed-race individuals, and that this may result in bias. White people with less exposure to non-whites “have more discomfort trying to make decisions about mixed-race people…and that has consequences for their beliefs around those groups,” she notes.

The upshot, according to Sanchez, is that “the more [people] are exposed to racially-ambiguous individuals, the more likely they are to see race as a social construct, not a biological one.” That realization, that race is a social fiction, “would be a step in the right direction … in terms of trying to reduce racial prejudice and social inequalities,” she says. If people are willing to accept that race is a human fabrication, they may also be more willing to shift their attitudes and perceptions about other groups.

Still, Hernandez, whose work often compares discrimination in the United States to parts of Latin America, is not particularly optimistic. She points out that the myth of racial mixture leading to societal harmony has long been a feature of many Latin American countries. She illustrates the point with the popular notion that Brazil has eluded racism through racial mixture, or the idea that Venezuela is a “café con leche” society in which everyone is racially mixed and free of prejudice. In these cases, Hernandez reiterated that the mere existence of multiracial communities “has not undermined the continuing racial hierarchy, in which the darker you are, the worse you are thought of … White supremacy is alive and well in Latin America.”

Acknowledging that mixed-race people may experience discrimination and that institutional racism, along with individual prejudice, can take forms that target mixed-race people, is central to developing policies that address the dynamic face of racism and the effects it has on our communities. But realizing that a mixed-race society can also uphold racism is crucial to a nuanced understanding of the challenge of recognizing and overcoming racism and bias.

Ultimately, the narrative that imagines mixed-race people as a panacea for racism is a flawed one that reinforces ideas around the very existence of race. Instead, we might want to refocus our conversation around how the collective fiction of race is weaponized to limit access to equality and justice for some groups and not others, then maybe we’re onto something.

Source : https://n.pr/2MotSmk

 

Psychic dies after stabbing himself to prove he’s immortal.

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Psychic dies after stabbing himself to prove he’s immortal.

Apsychic medium has died after stabbing himself while attempting to prove he was immortal, according to reports.

Theprit Palee, 25, was performing a traditional folk dance called Fon Pee Mot in front of spectators in the city of Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, when the incident occurred.

As part of the dance practiced by people in the north to honour the ghosts of their ancestors, Palee was meant to show he cannot die by pressing the sword into his chest and having it break.

However, the act went drastically wrong and he plunged the sword into his chest after it failed to snap, reported Sanook.

Resident Noom Udorn said the 25-year-old had performed the act many times without incident. He commented: “This is a tradition that happens every year. The sword normally breaks but this time it went inside him.

“The medium has been respected for many years. People love him. He is one of people’s favourites.”

Emergency services were called to the scene, but Palee was later pronounced dead.

Deputy Police Inspector Chaiwat Phan said: “We were informed that a man armed with a knife had stabbed himself. We are coordinating with the hospital while an autopsy is performed.

“There were people at the scene helping Mr Palee but he died later in hospital. He had a stab wound to the chest.”

Source : https://bit.ly/2IsxCk8

 

Calibri, how a Microsoft typset could bring down the Pakistani government.

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Calibri, how a Microsoft typset could bring down the Pakistani government.

When Maryam Nawaz Sharif, the daughter of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, was named in the 2016 Panama Papers leak the country’s highest court began an investigation into the 43-year-old.

Sharif’s children were linked to offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands which were then used to purchase expensive property in London, and the Pakistan federal investigation agency believed the properties were bought with laundered money. Opposition figures has accused Sharif of failing to explain how he became so wealthy.

Pakistan’s Federal Investigations Agency, the country’s equivalent of the FBI, discovered that Sharif’s daughter Maryam was the sole shareholder of one of two British Virgin Island companies which had invested in high-end London property, described by the agency as “ill-gotten wealth earned through corrupt practices.”

Now, a Microsoft font called Calibri could be the key to unlocking whether or not Maryam Nawaz was involved. A report stated that she had disclosed her ties to the British Virgin Island’s firm in 2006 in a statement written in Calibri font. But Microsoft only made the font publicly available in 2007, leading to speculation that the documents could have been forged.

The internet has dubbed the scandal “Fontgate” and it has already resulted in online encyclopedia Wikipedia locking its article on Calibri for editing. The first line of the post says: “Calibri is a humanist sans-serif typeface family designed by Lucas de Groot in 2004 and reached the general public on January 30, 2007.”

A spokesperson for Lucas’ company, Lucas Fonts, told Dawn Newspaper: “As far as I know, the first public beta versions of Calibri were published in 2006. We do not know the exact date for this public release date [but] it is [still] extremely unlikely that somebody would copy fonts from a beta environment to use in official documents.”

Calibri replaced Times New Roman as Word’s default typeface in 2007 and replaced Arial in Excel, Outlook, and Powerpoint. Calibri became the default font in Office for Mac 2016. Its designer, de Groot,described it as having a “warm and soft character.”

The font was designed to work with Microsoft’s ClearType system, which is an application used to make text easier to read on LCD monitors. Cambria, Candara, Consolas, Constantia, and Corbel, are part of the same font family.

Wikipedia is well known for not imposing restrictions on the editing process, and while it is possible to lock articles to avoid anonymous editing this usually reserved for controversial topics. But on July 12 Wikipedia administrators voted to lock the article on Calibri after the joint investigation team report was released.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been in the spotlight for some time over the allegations, which have prompted calls from opposition parties for him to step down. Opposition leader Imran Khan has argued that Sharif had “lost all moral authority” but Sharif says his family’s wealth was acquired legally.

Source : https://bit.ly/2tPFbf4

 

Rabbi admits to stealing millions from special-needs school.

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Rabbi admits to stealing millions from special-needs school.

A Queens rabbi has pleaded guilty to embezzling $5 million from his taxpayer-funded Queens preschool — money intended for Orthodox Jewish special-needs students ages 3 to 5.

Rabbi Samuel Hiller, the former assistant director of Island Child Development Center in Far Rockaway, is expected to be sentenced to one to three years prison after Thursday’s guilty plea to first-degree grand larceny, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said.

Under the terms of his plea, Hiller, 59, will forfeit $1 million in seized assets and must pay $1 million more by the time he is sentenced June 15, Brown said. If he fails to make the deadline, he’ll be sentenced instead to two to six years. Hiller will also agree to pay an additional $3 million at a later date, Brown said.

Hiller used the embezzled funds — stolen between 2005 and 2012 — to prop up several for-profit summer camps he ran. He also used $30,000 to revamp the plumbing in his Elvira Avenue home in Far Rockaway, prosecutors said.

“Stealing from the public is bad enough, but exploiting small children to pay your plumber and support your for-profit camps, is reprehensible,” noted state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli in a statement Friday.

It was DiNapoli’s office that uncovered the embezzlement scheme, in which three of the rabbi’s colleagues were also charged.

The comptroller’s office had notified Hiller’s child development center in 2012 that it would be conducting a routine audit. But when auditors arrived that July, they were told that the then-executive director, Ira Kurman, had left his position — and taken all of his books and records with him.

After an initial investigation, the comptroller’s office referred the case the the Queens DA’s Detective and Economic Crimes bureaus.

Kurman has already pleaded guilty to first-degree grand larceny, as has co-defendant Roy Hoffman, who had been hired by the pre-school to serve as its state-mandated independent auditor.

The case against the third co-defendant, Daniel Laniado, 44, of Brooklyn, a self-described “investor” in the school, is still pending.

Prosecutors say Laniado used some of the more than $1 million he pocketed to stock the shelves of his kosher supermarket in Borough Park, and to buy 7.5 carats in uncut diamonds.

Source : https://nyp.st/2lwLuRw

Designing School Restrooms for Increased Comfort, Safety and Gender-Inclusivity.

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How to Design School Restrooms for Increased Comfort, Safety and Gender-Inclusivity

“Gang style” bathrooms, in which rows of stalls are installed opposite rows of wash basins and designated only for males or for females, have been de rigueur in educational facilities for the last hundred years. They involve predictable plumbing, mechanical exhaust, and fixture costs. Short doors and divider walls allow for the passive monitoring of behavior.

Relinquishing this traditional bathroom model is daunting, since individual toilet rooms can significantly increase costs through additional plumbing, ductwork, ventilation, partitions, doors and hardware. These designs many times require additional space, trigger further ADA compliance, and invalidate some USGBC LEED points. Moreover, school districts typically have limited budgets, established facilities, and deep-rooted social practices.

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Which is why the initiative shown by Grant High School in the Portland Public School District has been so extraordinary. In 2013, the school had 10 students who openly identified as transgender. To help combat the real possibility that they would drop out due to a perceived lack of safety, administrators designated four student bathrooms and two staff bathrooms—each individual rooms with a toilet, sink and mirror—as gender-inclusive. The bathrooms were immediately popular with all students at Grant HS, transgender or not, who enjoyed the privacy afforded by these enclosed facilities.

With a major renovation of the 1920s-era school on the horizon, the District realized that providing equitable toilet facilities for all 1700 students would be essential.

Architecture firm Mahlum’s design solution for Grant HS centered around replacing all existing “gang-style” bathrooms with individual toilet rooms with full doors opening to a shared space for wash basins and drinking fountains. Urinals will not be installed. Two entrance and exit points eliminate the feeling of going into a “dead-end” room, increasing safety and security. Signed with a simple pictorial representation of a toilet, not the ubiquitous “his” (pants), “hers” (skirt), or “their” (both), the toilet room is open for use by all. When the renovation is complete in 2019, Grant HS will become the first in the District—and one of the few in the nation—to house one hundred percent inclusive bathrooms.

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For the new Northwood Elementary School in the Mercer Island School District, the same architectural team also abandoned gang style bathrooms, instead placing individual toilet rooms in many places on each floor. This solution boosts program flexibility and reduces time lost to toilet transitions. Since the District intends to keep the bathrooms unlocked and available to all students, the solution maximizes restroom equity, which is especially helpful for young students just learning to navigate social customs and keen to fit in with their peers.

Higher education institutions may more easily implement equitable bathroom designs because users are older, more diverse, and tend toward open-mindedness. For a new residence hall currently under construction at University of Oregon, Mahlum held student listening sessions, which revealed a strong desire for gender-inclusive living units with private bathrooms, as well as visibly inclusive public restrooms at the ground level and in common areas. However, residence facilities are still typically grouped by gender per floor or per community, and although suite-style bathrooms serving smaller clusters of students potentially mitigate gender-segregated restrooms, they can cost more. Like school districts, college and university administrators fear that enhanced design solutions will escalate costs, consume space, and drive up room rates.

The desire to create more equitable restroom design can also be stymied by building codes that have not yet caught up to changing opinions. Local jurisdictions have limited legal authority to enact code changes, so they usually have no other recourse but to uphold strict compliance. As society calls for more equitable bathroom design, the design and construction industry must demand large-scale code changes to allow “alternate paths” that comply with the intent of code and, moreover, serve the public good.

While the transgender movement may be currently illuminating the issue, toilet privacy affects a much broader group, including families with young children, adult caregivers, and people that are mobility-challenged or have health issues. Enhancing equity through privacy is a basic human right that primary, secondary and higher education institutions can uphold through thoughtful design solutions. By rethinking bathroom design in retrofits or new facilities, what was once an afterthought for architects can become a way to not just promote self-esteem, health and well-being, but improve safety and security.

As architects struggle with understanding what communities need and how to meet and overcome antiquated code regulations, we must quickly find a design vocabulary, inclusive of iconography and code guidelines, to reflect best practices. And most of all, we must place equity and human dignity at the center of these conversations.

JoAnn Hindmarsh Wilcox AIA LEED AP, Associate Principal is the Design Lead for the education studio at Mahlum. JoAnn crafts nationally recognized buildings that prioritize student learning and support student life, rooted in a multi-platform, collaborative engagement process.

Kurt Haapala AIA LEED AP, Partner, is an industry leader in the planning and design of student life and housing facilities, and has helped build Mahlum’s higher education housing studio into a nationally recognized practice.

Source : https://bit.ly/2ItW4BH

 

Recycling innovator faces prison for trying to extend computers’ lives

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Electronics-recycling innovator faces prison for trying to extend computers’ lives

Eric Lundgren is obsessed with recycling electronics.

He built an electric car out of recycled parts that far outdistanced a Tesla in a test. He launched what he thinks is the first “electronic hybrid recycling” facility in the United States, which turns discarded cellphones and other electronics into functional devices, slowing the stream of harmful chemicals and metals into landfills and the environment. His Chatsworth company processes more than 41 million pounds of e-waste each year and counts IBM, Motorola and Sprint among its clients.

But an idea Lundgren had to prolong the life of personal computers could land him in prison.

Prosecutors said the 33-year-old ripped off Microsoft Corp. by manufacturing 28,000 counterfeit discs with the company’s Windows operating system on them. He was convicted of conspiracy and copyright infringement, which brought a 15-month prison sentence and a $50,000 fine.

In a rare move though, a federal appeals court has granted an emergency stay of the sentence, giving Lundgren another chance to make his argument that the whole thing was a misunderstanding. Lundgren does not deny that he made the discs or that he hoped to sell them. But he says this was no profit-making scheme. By his account, he just wanted to make it easier to extend the usefulness of secondhand computers — keeping more of them out of the trash.

The case centers on “restore discs,” which can be used only on computers that already have the licensed Windows software and can be downloaded free from the computer’s manufacturer, in this case Dell. The discs are routinely provided to buyers of new computers to enable them to reinstall their operating systems if the computers’ hardware fails or must be wiped clean. But they often are lost by the time used computers find their way to a refurbisher.

Lundgren said he thought electronics companies wanted the reuse of computers to be difficult so that people would buy new ones. “I started learning what planned obsolescence was,” he said, “and I realized companies make laptops that only lasted as long as the insurance would last. It infuriated me. That’s not what a healthy society should have.”

He thought that producing and selling restore discs to computer refurbishers — saving them the hassle of downloading the software and burning new discs — would encourage more secondhand sales. In his view, the new owners were entitled to the software, and this just made it easier.

The government, and Microsoft, did not see it that way. Federal prosecutors in Florida obtained a 21-count indictment against Lundgren and his business partner, and Microsoft filed a letter seeking $420,000 in restitution for lost sales. Lundgren claims that the assistant U.S. attorney on the case told him, “Microsoft wants your head on a platter and I’m going to give it to them.”

The U.S. attorney’s office in Miami and Microsoft declined to comment. Senior U.S. District Judge Daniel T.K. Hurley observed that none of the discs Lundgren made were actually sold and declined to order him to pay restitution. Hurley imposed a 15-month sentence that was less than half of that called for by federal sentencing guidelines, which indicated 36 to 47 months.

In court, the judge made it clear that this was a tough case.

“This case is especially difficult,” Hurley told Lundgren at his sentencing last May, “because of who you are today and in terms of who you have become.” The judge received evidence of Lundgren’s recycling company, IT Asset Partners; his projects to clean up e-waste in Ghana and China; and a 2016 initiative in which Lundgren’s company repaired and donated more than 14,000 cellphones and $100,000 to the Cell Phones for Soldiers organization to benefit U.S. soldiers deployed overseas.

Lundgren grew up in Lynden, Wash., where, as a 16-year-old, he became the town’s computer recycler after the local sheriff’s department heard about his talent for fixing or reusing computer parts. Some parts of a computer — for example, the Apple touch screen — are proprietary and cannot be recycled. But 95% of a computer, Lundgren said — such as the battery or the motor or the circuits — are generic and can be reused or repurposed. He has devoted much time to recovering discarded batteries, whether from cars or computers, and reusing them in wheelchairs, electronics and various vehicles.

At 19, Lundgren moved to Los Angeles and started his first electronics recycling company, and at 20 he landed his first big client: American Airlines, refurbishing and selling about 40,000 computers a year. The computers came with the original license or “certificate of authenticity” stickers and with product key numbers on the sticker, though their hard drives had been erased, so reinstalling Windows was legal, Lundgren said.

“If they brought in a computer without a certificate of authenticity,” Lundgren said of his customers, “then we’d part it out” and not refurbish and resell it. He added clients including Dell, Asus, Lenovo and Coca-Cola, handling their discarded computers.

Lundgren became intrigued with following the world’s e-waste stream and wound up moving to China. “I learned the back end of what happens when things are thrown away,” he said. He became more focused on reducing the ever-growing heaps of discarded plastics and glass that a “use it and toss it” society creates, eliminating the burning of electronic trash that pollutes the air and combating the leakage of computer-based chemicals that filter into the water.

While in China, Lundgren hit upon the idea of selling restore discs to computer refurbishers. The discs work if computers still have their license and product keys available, and the license transfers with the computer, no matter who owns it.

“Microsoft does not sell restore CDs,” Lundgren said. “Microsoft sells licenses” that enable their software to work, from $300 for a new operating system to $25 for a license for a refurbisher who wants to resell a computer that does not already have a licensed copy of Windows.

In 2013, federal authorities intercepted shipments of 28,000 restore discs that Lundgren had manufactured in China and sent to his sales partner in Florida. The discs had labels nearly identical to the discs provided by Dell for its computers and had the Windows and Dell logos. “If I had just written ‘Eric’s Restore Disc’ on there, it would have been fine,” Lundgren said.

As a result of violating the copyright of Windows and Dell, Lundgren pleaded guilty to two of the 21 counts against him. But he believed that because the discs had no retail value and were seized before they were sold, he would not receive any prison time. His sentence was based on the financial loss involved.

Microsoft attorney Bonnie MacNaughton wrote to Hurley, the judge, describing the case as one of “software piracy,” costing the computer industry billions of dollars annually, and saying that prosecution was important “to deter others from engaging in the illicit global trade in decoupled product activation keys” — meaning the sale or trade of the license stickers applied to the originally licensed computer. Microsoft calculated that Lundgren’s 28,000 restore discs could have been sold to refurbishers for $20 each, and that 75% of that total was Microsoft’s average profit, so it demanded restitution of $420,000.

As their expert witness at the sentencing, prosecutors called a Microsoft program manager from Ireland to explain to the judge how the discs worked and their value. Jonathan McGloin testified that Microsoft licensed Windows to computer manufacturers such as Dell and also licensed them to make restore or recovery discs to be included with the new computers. McGloin also testified that Microsoft charges computer refurbishers about $25 for a new license and copy of the software but didn’t differentiate that from what was done by Lundgren, who was not making a new copy of the software and intended his restore discs only for computers that were already licensed.

“In essence, I got in the way of Microsoft’s profits, so they pushed this into federal court on false pretense,” Lundgren said. He said McGloin “testified that a free restore CD was worth the same price as a new Windows operating system with a license. … This was false and inaccurate testimony provided by Microsoft in an attempt to set a precedent that will scare away future recyclers and refurbishers from reusing computers without first paying Microsoft again for another license. … Anyone successfully extending the life cycle of computers or diverting these computers from landfills for reuse in society is essentially standing in the way of Microsoft’s profits.”

Lundgren called his own expert witness, Glenn Weadock, an author of numerous software books who testified for the government in a major antitrust case against Microsoft that was resolved in 2001. Weadock was asked, “In your opinion, without a code, either product key or COA [certificate of authenticity], what is the value of these reinstallation discs?”

“Zero or near zero,” Weadock said.

Why would anybody pay for one? Lundgren’s lawyer asked.

“There is a convenience factor associated with them,” Weadock said.

Still, Hurley decided that Lundgren’s 28,000 restore discs had a value of $700,000, and that qualified Lundgren for a 15-month term along with a $50,000 fine. He denied Lundgren’s request to remain free pending his appeal, but the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals granted the request as Lundgren was about to surrender for imprisonment.

“I thought it was freeware,” Lundgren said of the restore discs. “If it’s free, then I’m just going to duplicate the free repair tool and give it away, and that’ll be fine,” he thought. “The value’s in the license. They didn’t understand that.”

His appeal is pending before the 11th Circuit.

Source : https://lat.ms/2oaZ4et

U.N. Elects Saudi Arabia to Women’s Rights Commission

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U.N. Elects Saudi Arabia to Women’s Rights Commission

The Geneva-based human rights group UN Watch condemned the U.N.’s election of Saudi Arabia, “the world’s most misogynistic regime,” to a 2018-2022 term on its Commission on the Status of Women, the U.N. agency “exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women.”

“Electing Saudi Arabia to protect women’s rights is like making an arsonist into the town fire chief,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch. “It’s absurd — and morally reprehensible.”

“This is a black day for women’s rights, and for all human rights,” said Neuer. Interview: Why Saudis Joined Women’s Rights Body

“Saudi discrimination against women is gross and systematic in law and in practice. Every Saudi woman,” said Neuer, “must have a male guardian who makes all critical decisions on her behalf, controlling a woman’s life from her birth until death. Saudi Arabia bans women from driving cars. Why did the U.N. choose the world’s leading oppressor of women to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women?”

Saudi women feel betrayed by the UN. “I wish I could find the words to express how I feel right know. I’m ‘saudi’ and this feels like betrayal,” tweeted a self-described Saudi woman pursuing a doctorate in international human rights law in Australia.

“Today the UN sent a message that women’s rights can be sold out for petro-dollars and politics,” said Neuer, “and it let down millions of female victims worldwide who look to the world body for protection.”

The fundamentalist monarchy is now one of 45 countries that, according to the U.N., will play an instrumental role in “promoting women’s rights, documenting the reality of women’s lives throughout the world, and shaping global standards on gender equality and the empowerment of women.”

Saudi Arabia was elected by a secret ballot last week of the U.N.’s 54-nation Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Usually ECOSOC rubber-stamps nominations arranged behind closed doors by regional groups, however this time the U.S. forced an election, to China’s chagrin.

Source : https://bit.ly/2pq5Pfm

‘Corporations Are People’ Is Built on an Incredible 19th-Century Lie

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Corporations Are People’ Is Built on an Incredible 19th-Century Lie

Somewhat unintuitively, American corporations today enjoy many of the same rights as American citizens. Both, for instance, are entitled to the freedom of speech and the freedom of religion. How exactly did corporations come to be understood as “people” bestowed with the most fundamental constitutional rights? The answer can be found in a bizarre—even farcical—series of lawsuits over 130 years ago involving a lawyer who lied to the Supreme Court, an ethically challenged justice, and one of the most powerful corporations of the day.

That corporation was the Southern Pacific Railroad Company, owned by the robber baron Leland Stanford. In 1881, after California lawmakers imposed a special tax on railroad property, Southern Pacific pushed back, making the bold argument that the law was an act of unconstitutional discrimination under the Fourteenth Amendment. Adopted after the Civil War to protect the rights of the freed slaves, that amendment guarantees to every “person” the “equal protection of the laws.” Stanford’s railroad argued that it was a person too, reasoning that just as the Constitution prohibited discrimination on the basis of racial identity, so did it bar discrimination against Southern Pacific on the basis of its corporate identity.

The head lawyer representing Southern Pacific was a man named Roscoe Conkling. A leader of the Republican Party for more than a decade, Conkling had even been nominated to the Supreme Court twice. He begged off both times, the second time after the Senate had confirmed him. (He remains the last person to turn down a Supreme Court seat after winning confirmation). More than most lawyers, Conkling was seen by the justices as a peer.

It was a trust Conkling would betray. As he spoke before the Court on Southern Pacific’s behalf, Conkling recounted an astonishing tale. In the 1860s, when he was a young congressman, Conkling had served on the drafting committee that was responsible for writing the Fourteenth Amendment. Then the last member of the committee still living, Conkling told the justices that the drafters had changed the wording of the amendment, replacing “citizens” with “persons” in order to cover corporations too. Laws referring to “persons,” he said, have “by long and constant acceptance … been held to embrace artificial persons as well as natural persons.” Conkling buttressed his account with a surprising piece of evidence: a musty old journal he claimed was a previously unpublished record of the deliberations of the drafting committee.

Years later, historians would discover that Conkling’s journal was real but his story was a fraud. The journal was in fact a record of the congressional committee’s deliberations but, upon close examination, it offered no evidence that the drafters intended to protect corporations. It showed, in fact, that the language of the equal-protection clause was never changed from “citizen” to “person.” So far as anyone can tell, the rights of corporations were not raised in the public debates over the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment or in any of the states’ ratifying conventions. And, prior to Conkling’s appearance on behalf of Southern Pacific, no member of the drafting committee had ever suggested that corporations were covered.

There’s reason to suspect Conkling’s deception was uncovered back in his time too. The justices held onto the case for three years without ever issuing a decision, until Southern Pacific unexpectedly settled the case. Then, shortly after, another case from Southern Pacific reached the Supreme Court, raising the exact same legal question. The company had the same team of lawyers, with the exception of Conkling. Tellingly, Southern Pacific’s lawyers omitted any mention of Conkling’s drafting history or his journal. Had those lawyers believed Conkling, it would have been malpractice to leave out his story.

When the Court issued its decision on this second case, the justices expressly declined to decide if corporations were people. The dispute could be, and was, resolved on other grounds, prompting an angry rebuke from one justice, Stephen J. Field, who castigated his colleagues for failing to address “the important constitutional questions involved.” “At the present day, nearly all great enterprises are conducted by corporations,” he wrote, and they deserved to know if they had equal rights too.

Rumored to carry a gun with him at all times, the colorful Field was the only sitting justice ever arrested—and the charge was murder. He was innocent, but nonetheless guilty of serious ethical violations in the Southern Pacific cases, at least by modern standards: A confidant of Leland Stanford, Field had advised the company on which lawyers to hire for this very series of cases and thus should have recused himself from them. He refused to—and, even worse, while the first case was pending, covertly shared internal memoranda of the justices with Southern Pacific’s legal team.

The rules of judicial ethics were not well developed in the Gilded Age, however, and the self-assured Field, who feared the forces of socialism, did not hesitate to weigh in. Taxing the property of railroads differently, he said, was like allowing deductions for property “owned by white men or by old men, and not deducted if owned by black men or young men.”

So, with Field on the Court, still more twists were yet to come. The Supreme Court’s opinions are officially published in volumes edited by an administrator called the reporter of decisions. By tradition, the reporter writes up a summary of the Court’s opinion and includes it at the beginning of the opinion. The reporter in the 1880s was J.C. Bancroft Davis, whose wildly inaccurate summary of the Southern Pacific case said that the Court had ruled that “corporations are persons within … the Fourteenth Amendment.” Whether his summary was an error or something more nefarious—Davis had once been the president of the Newburgh and New York Railway Company—will likely never be known.

Field nonetheless saw Davis’s erroneous summary as an opportunity. A few years later, in an opinion in an unrelated case, Field wrote that “corporations are persons within the meaning” of the Fourteenth Amendment. “It was so held in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad,” explained Field, who knew very well that the Court had done no such thing.

His gambit worked. In the following years, the case would be cited over and over by courts across the nation, including the Supreme Court, for deciding that corporations had rights under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Indeed, the faux precedent in the Southern Pacific case would go on to be used by a Supreme Court that in the early 20th century became famous for striking down numerous economic regulations, including federal child-labor laws, zoning laws, and wage-and-hour laws. Meanwhile, in cases like the notorious Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), those same justices refused to read the Constitution as protecting the rights of African Americans, the real intended beneficiaries of the Fourteenth Amendment. Between 1868, when the amendment was ratified, and 1912, the Supreme Court would rule on 28 cases involving the rights of African Americans and an astonishing 312 cases on the rights of corporations.

The day back in 1882 when the Supreme Court first heard Roscoe Conkling’s argument, the New-York Daily Tribune featured a story on the case with a headline that would turn out to be prophetic: “Civil Rights of Corporations.” Indeed, in a feat of deceitful legal alchemy, Southern Pacific and its wily legal team had, with the help of an audacious Supreme Court justice, set up the Fourteenth Amendment to be more of a bulwark for the rights of businesses than the rights of minorities.

Source : https://bit.ly/2tw0XWw