Digital Cabinet

Polevaulter Donkeyman's rants, raves musings and flame wars

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Sexing up Sherlock Holmes

leave a comment »

Updated August 3, 2012

Due to the Copyright Act 1976 in the United States, a few of the later Sherlock Holmes stories are still under copyright. That has led the publishers to offer a slightly modified version. Changes include:

  • A Study in Scarlet — A Stud in Scarlet
  • Sherlock Holmes — Hemlock Bones
  • John Watson — Tom Hotson (Genius!!)
  • Baker Street — Laker Avenue

It also seems that due to the similarity in the names, trademark law will preclude the sale of this book in the US. Rest of the World, however, may breathe easy.

Update over

From Clandestine Classic’s Sherlock Holmes: A Study in Scarlet


When Dr John Watson takes rooms in Baker Street with amateur detective Sherlock Holmes, he has no idea that he is about to enter a shadowy world of criminality and violence. Nor does he anticipate falling in love with Holmes and having his sexual needs attended to in a way he had only previously dreamed about.


In the year 1878 I took my degree of Doctor of Medicine of the University of London, and proceeded to Netley to go through the course prescribed for surgeons in the army. It was a somewhat difficult time, being among so many men, with me being who and what I am. I suppose people may have guessed… I did not join in the rather ribald conversations regarding women, talking about their breasts and cunts as other men did, telling one and all I wished I had a buxom female to curl up to at night. It was a revelation, that time, learning perhaps what I should have been thinking about, what I should have wanted, and realising I wanted no part of it. Could not have any part of it. How could I explain that the softness of a woman did not appeal? That the swells on their chests were not something I wished to explore? That I preferred the flat planes belonging to a man, the smaller nipples that I longed to flick my tongue over? And their private parts… Those did not excite me either. I did not relish, as my fellow companions did, the thought of pushing my fingers inside a soft, wet slit. No, I found pleasure in the thought of grasping a cock, knowing exactly how it would feel having palmed my own every night. To bring another man to the brink, knowing he enjoyed my touch as much as I enjoyed touching him… That was what I wanted.

Would Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss please, please, commission a TV adaptation starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman?

Oh and one more thing, I hope Mrs. Hudson does not get involved in any hanky panky.


Written by Polevaulter Donkeyman

July 19, 2012 at 12:43

Rev. Giles Fraser, a Believer in Collective Guilt and Imperialism?

leave a comment »

Giles Fraser, ex-Canon Chancellor of St. Paul’s Cathedral penned an article on why the ban on circumcision in Germany[1] is an affront to Jews and Muslims.

In the article he makes a risible allegation:

The philosopher Emil Fackenheim, himself a survivor of Sachsenhausen concentration camp, famously added to the 613th commandments of the Hebrew scriptures with a new 614th commandment: thou must not grant Hitler posthumous victories. This new mitzvah insisted that to abandon one’s Jewish identity was to do Hitler’s work for him. Jews are commanded to survive as Jews by the martyrs of the Holocaust. My own family history – from Miriam Beckerman and Louis Friedeburg becoming Frasers (a name change to escape antisemitism) to their grandson becoming Rev Fraser (long story) to the uncircumcised Felix Fraser – can be read as a betrayal of that 614th commandment.

The above passage can be interpreted to mean that the loss of Jewish identity caused by the denial of circumcision is identical to the deliberate systematic extermination of all European Jews. While one may legitimately question the strength of a religious identity which depends so intimately on 30-40 sq. cms.[2] of skin, the more serious implication here is that Rev. Fraser believes that the denial of circumcision is equivalent to the Holocaust and it is sinister that it is a German court, of all places, that would symbolically re-create the Holocaust 70 years later. He even alludes to it in a later tweet

Collective Guilt

Rev. Fraser seems to be mighty keen to impute anti-semitic motivations to the court. He seems to believe that because Germany under Nazi rule systematically exterminated Jews, all Germans, even those who may not have been born during the Nazi era, bear some guilt for the Holocaust and thus should be extra-sensitive to Jewish concerns.

But Rev. Fraser should be extra careful of tarring all Germans with the collective guilt of the Holocaust. The notion of collective guilt has not been kind to Jews.[3] Jews were collectively blamed for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

When Pilate saw that he could not prevail, but rather that a tumult was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this just person. See ye to it.” Then answered all the people and said, “His blood be on us, and on our children!”

Matthew 27:24-25

It is this collective guilt, forced on the Jews, which contributed to the rise of European anti-semitism and ultimately to the Holocaust. As Martin Luther wrote[4] in On the Jews and Their Lies

[The Jews] grew wrathful, bitter, and hateful, and ranted against [Christ]; finally they contrived the plot to kill him. And that is what they did; they crucified him as ignominiously as possible. They gave free rein to their anger, so that even the Gentile Pilate noticed this and testified that they were condemning and killing him out of hatred and envy, innocently and without cause.

On the Jews and Their Lies was publicly exhibited in a glass case at the Nuremberg Rallies.[5]

The traditional Roman Catholic Good Friday Prayer for Jews goes like this:

Oremus et pro perfidis Judæis: ut Deus et Dominus noster auferat velamen de cordibus eorum; ut et ipsi agnoscant Jesum Christum, Dominum nostrum…

After WWII Pope Pius XII declared that perfidus in Latin meant unbelieving and not treacherous.

In a meeting with the Roman Catholic Bishop Wilhelm Berning of Osnabrück, on April 26, 1933, Hitler said:

I have been attacked because of my handling of the Jewish question. The Catholic Church considered the Jews pestilent for fifteen hundred years, put them in ghettos, etc., because it recognized the Jews for what they were. In the epoch of liberalism the danger was no longer recognized. I am moving back toward the time in which a fifteen-hundred-year-long tradition was implemented. I do not set race over religion, but I recognize the representatives of this race as pestilent for the state and for the Church, and perhaps I am thereby doing Christianity a great service by pushing them out of schools and public functions.

The Eastern Orthodox Church also refers to Jews as

the murderers of God, the lawless nation of the Jews[6]

Given what the notion of collective guilt has wrought on Rev. Fraser’s forefathers, one would expect him to be more circumspect in dishing out collective guilt to others.


Another point regarding this comparison of a ban on circumcision with a victory for Hitler. If the loss of Jewish identity due to a ban on circumcision is to be considered a victory for Hitler, what would one call the loss of tribal identity and traditions due to a ban on female genital mutilation among the Kikuyu as campaigned for by british missionaries? As Jomo Kenyatta, the first Prime Minister of independent Kenya said:

The real argument lies not in the defense of the general surgical operation or its details, but in the understanding of a very important fact in the tribal psychology of the Kikuyu—namely, that this operation is still regarded as the essence of an institution which has enormous educational, social, moral and religious implications, quite apart from the operation itself. For the present it is impossible for a member of the tribe to imagine an initiation without clitoridoctomy [sic]. Therefore the … abolition of the surgical element in this custom means … the abolition of the whole institution.[7]

Culture and tradition are about being a part of something wider than oneself … We are born into a network of relationships that provide us with a cultural background against which things come to make sense. “We” comes before “I”. We constitutes our horizon of significance.[8]

By Rev. Fraser’s logic the ban on female genital mutilation was thus an attack on the Kikuyu identity, an attack by the colonial administration and missionaries.[9] Thus any such continuing attack on female genital mutilation is a victory for imperialism. Thus the prohibition on female genital mutilation in the UK is a victory for the UK’s imperialist past. Is Rev. Fraser proud of the UK’s imperialist past? He sure does try to hide his support for imperialism behind feminist rhetoric

Male circumcision, in fundamentally the same way, is an act of physical abuse of defenceless male infants and the exhibition of the power of the priestly class but you will not hear Rev. Fraser say that.

Dear Rev. Fraser, given the UK’s imperialist history, especially in Kenya are you really happy for the British to ban what it is to be Kikuyu?[10]

P.S. If you haven’t, please read (including the footnote) the second paragraph from Mr. Kenyatta’s “statement” above.


[1] An issue on which I have blogged earlier

[2] Kigozi et. al. Foreskin surface area and HIV acquisition in Rakai, Uganda (size matters) AIDS. 2009 October 23; 23(16): 2209–2213 doi: 10.1097/QAD.0b013e328330eda8

[3] Of note: Rev Fraser’s father was jewish.

[4] On the Jews and Their Lies, Section VIII

[5] Noble, Graham. “Martin Luther and German anti-Semitism,” History Review (2002) No. 42:1-2.

[6] Metropolitan Kallistos and Mother Mary. The Lenten Triodion St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 2002, p. 589 (third stichos of the Beatitudes at Matins on Holy Friday)

[7] Mufaka, Kenneth. Scottish Missionaries and the Circumcision Controversy in Kenya, 1900–1960 International Review of Scottish Studies, vol 28, 2003.

[8] To be honest, these (this paragraph) are not Mr. Kenyatta’s words. They are Rev. Fraser’s (substitute “Culture and tradition are” with “Faith is” to get the original). But doesn’t what Rev. Fraser say, in the defence of male circumcision, eerily echo what Mr. Kenyatta said, in the defence of female genital mutilation, all those years ago?

[9] Thomas, Lynn M. ‘Ngaitana (I will circumcise myself)’: Lessons from Colonial Campaigns to Ban Excision in Meru, Kenya, in Shell-Duncan, Bettina and Hernlund, Ylva (eds). Female “Circumcision” in Africa. Lynne Rienner, 2000, p.

[10] Female Genital Cutting on UK Parliament Agenda

Written by Polevaulter Donkeyman

July 18, 2012 at 12:44

Bad Analogy

leave a comment »

The February 29, 2012 episode of the Moral Maze on BBC Radio 4 focused on the morality of sex-selective abortions. One of the panelists was Melanie Phillips and one of the guests selected to defend current abortion law over attempts to make it more restrictive to prevent sex-selective abortions was Kate Smurthwaite.

Smurthwaite drew an interesting analogy between denying a pregnant women an abortion and thus forcing her to carry a foetus until birth and forcing a person to donate an organ again their will to a recipient who will otherwise die without the donation.

For some reason I was not too satisfied with the analogy so I decided to explore a bit more:

  • In Smurthwaite’s analogy the pregnant woman is equivalent to the donor
  • The foetus is equivalent to the intended recipient
  • We don’t force donors to the donate organs to recipients who need them so how can we force pregnant women to carry their foetus to term?
  • But there is a difference:
    1. The natural course of action (without any intervention) in the pregnant woman’s case is that the foetus will be born. The natural course of action (without any intervention) in the organ donation case is that the recipient will die.
    2. The foetus will live if not interfered with. The recipient will die if not interfered with.
    3. The pregnant woman has to affirmatively make the choice for abortion. The donor does not have to undertake any such affirmative action.

Therefore I find Smurthwaite’s analogy a little unsatisfying. But what if we switch the analogy and consider the pregnant woman and the organ recipient as equivalent?

  • According to Smurthwaite the women suffers physically and mentally if the abortion is not carried out. In the same way the recipient suffers physically (and mentally, surely) if the organ donation is not carried out.
  • If the donor is someone like Terri Schiavothen is it moral to harvest an organ from them? Is such a donor equivalent to a foetus?
    • Obviously an embryo with no neural development is not equivalent to the donor.
    • What about a 30 week old foetus?
      • It is viable ( > 95%[1])
      • It can, if not aborted, enjoy a life. Unlike the donor who is in a persistent vegetative state
  • If the health[2] of the pregnant woman can be privileged over that of the foetus, can the health of the recipient be privileged over that of the donor who is in a persistent vegetative state?

One important question of course is at what stage of the fetal development do we consider it a person? Reasonable people can disagree. For some[3] birth is the marker. Others choose a different time point.[4]

A Digression Regarding Mental Health

Regarding the effect on the mental health of the woman, in case abortion is not carried out, can such fears for mental health be extended beyond birth? As Giubilini and Minerva[5] point out:

Actual people’s well-being could be threatened by the new (even if healthy) child requiring energy, money and care which the family might happen to be in short supply of.

Giubilini and Minerva also tackle adoption as an alternative:

Why should we kill a healthy newborn when giving it up for adoption would not breach anyone’s right but possibly increase the happiness of people involved (adopters and adoptee)? … On this perspective, the interests of the actual people involved matter, and among these interests, we also need to consider the interests of the mother who might suffer psychological distress from giving her child up for adoption. Birthmothers are often reported to experience serious psychological problems due to the inability to elaborate their loss and to cope with their grief. It is true that grief and sense of loss may accompany both abortion and after-birth abortion as well as adoption, but we cannot assume that for the birthmother the latter is the least traumatic. For example, ‘those who grieve a death must accept the irreversibility of the loss, but natural mothers often dream that their child will return to them. This makes it difficult to accept the reality of the loss because they can never be quite sure whether or not it is irreversible’

If mental health is a suitable reason for abortion can it also be a suitable reason for an after-birth abortion?


Melanie Phillips raised the issue that Smurthwaite’s position is identical to supporting eugenics. In my opinion Smurthwaite has it right when she says:

Eugenics is where the government decides what characteristics it considers desirable in the next generation and then forces some women to have children (often with men they don’t want to have children with) and others not to. What I’m advocating is the opposite of that, where the government butts the hell out and lets women choose for themselves. Of course individuals selecting for themselves what genetic traits they’d like their kids to have is as old as the hills. That’s exactly what is going on (subconsciously or consciously) when a woman looks across a crowded bar at a guy and thinks “nice eyes”. She’s picking traits that she thinks might help her offspring. But of course then she also gets to know the guy and is highly likely to change her mind if she finds him stupid or unimaginative. Of course he’s doing the same to her, checking out her genes. And great news – science is getting much much better at helping us do this. Increasingly we can actively allow wannabe parents to select embryos to be implanted during IVF to avoid hereditary diseases where it may not be obvious in the bar whether the object of your desires is a carrier of the gene. In a few generations, at least in the west, this is likely to mean much lower incidence of things like sickle cell anaemia and Huntingdon’s disease. It would be unspeakably cruel not to allow that sort of progress to be used to prevent suffering. And if it became possible to select embryos for hair and eye colour too then firstly – that would be pre-implantation IVF embryo selection – not abortion.

The question though does arise, would Smurthwaite be OK with pre-implantation IVF diagnosis which screens for homosexuality (if possible) such that parents can reject embryos which show markers for homosexuality (and thus the probability of the embryo growing up into a homosexual man or woman is high)? Based on her answers to the question of sex selective abortions I am guessing she would be OK. I don’t think I will (just like for sex-selective abortions).

Some more final points:

  1. Re: Honour killing and abortion. Honour killing and abortion are not comparable because honour killing is a crime? That is circular reasoning. Once can reasonably say that honour killing is a crime and abortion is not because the two are not comparable.[6]
  2. Just because one believes an act is foolish and that one wouldn’t do it, does it automatically follow that that particular act should not be made illegal? I may find reckless or drunk driving foolish and I wouldn’t drive recklessly or drunk, but does it follow that they should be legal?
  3. Melanie Phillips needs to work harder to understand analogies. Nowhere in Smurthwaite’s analogy does it make any sort of equivalence between the donor organ and the foetus.

[1] Information for parents of preterm babies less than 30 weeks gestation, p. 4

[2] Physical and mental. However while indications of threats to the physical health of the pregnant women are objective, is the same level of objectivity present in the evaluation of the mental health?

[3] 44 minutes into the video

[4] At around 24 weeks of gestational age a prematurely born fetus/infant has a 50% chance of long-term survival outside its mother’s womb. Cite.

[5] After-birth abortion: why should the baby live? J Med Ethics, 2012

[6] One involves killing a human teen/adult and the other may involve the termination of an embryo (though the later stages provide a more difficult situation to rationalise).

Written by Polevaulter Donkeyman

July 17, 2012 at 12:15

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , ,

Bad policy begets bad policy

leave a comment »

An interesting post by Tim Harford on how the UK govt can boost house building and thereby stimulate the UK economy.

The chief obstacle to house building, according to Tim, is the planning system

The chief obstacle to house building in the UK is the planning system, which, 65 years ago, did away with the idea that if you owned land, you could build on it, and replaced it with a system where planning permission was required. Permission to build houses is severely rationed, and such rationing can be seen clearly in the gap between the value of agricultural land without planning permission (a few thousand pounds a hectare) and the value of such land once permission has been granted (a few million).


There are vested interests in keeping the planning system as it is:

  1. Parties who have already obtained planning permission (and who may have already built house on it) do not want more permits granted since the increased supply would lower the value of their assets. These parties are primarily also existing voters.
  2. The gain from obtaining planning permission is only enjoyed by the party who owns the land. Therefore other parties have no incentive to make the planning process easier, since they are not sharing in the gain.

Tim Harford points to work which attempts to get around this:

Tim Leunig, chief economist at CentreForum, a think-tank, has proposed a two-part system of land auctions to get around this problem. Local authorities would buy land at auction, grant planning permission on it and then sell the land on to developers — with some strings attached, if they so choose. The profits would be enormous, and enjoyed by existing residents in the form of lower taxes or better public services.


Off the top of my head:

  1. What is the guarantee that the profits made by the local authority will be used to fund general welfare programs benefiting everybody within the jurisdiction of the local authority equally? What is the guarantee that such profits will not be siphoned off to benefit local authority employees directly in the form of higher benefits which may become unsustainablein a less salubrious economic climate?
  2. Leunig’s proposal is essentially the 100%expropriation (taxation) of the increase in the value of the land due to the better use. One may argue that the increase in the value of the land enjoyed by the owner is primarily (solely?) because of the restrictions placed by the local authority. Therefore it does not belong to the owner in the first place. In other words bad policy (planning permission system and the rationing of permits) begets bad policy (100% taxation).
  3. As for the first auction, how seriously is competitive bidding envisaged, when the competitors to the local authority are at the mercies of the local authority for the granting of the planning permission? The first auction will have only one bidder, the local authority. Not really an auction then.

The solution in my opinion is:

  1. Let the local authority publicly draw up a set of guidelines and criteria, the fulfillment of which, will lead to automatic issue of the planning permission without discretion on part of the local authority. This criteria used could be the same as in the Leunig proposal where the local authority grants planning permission on land it sells to developers after buying it in a ‘rigged’ auction from the land owner (Interestingly Leunig and Harford are silent on the guidelines, if any, the local authority follows to grant planning permission on the land it buys)..
  2. Let the local authority impose a land value tax on the land or some sort of transaction tax on the transaction between the seller of the land and the buyer.

Of course my solution does not really address the vested interests of existing developers and house owners (and who are existing voters), the value of whose property will decrease with the increase in the supply of land. But the vested interest problem does not go away in the Leunig proposal. What is stopping the local authority from giving only a pittance to the land owner in the first auction, an amount so low that it does not meet the reserve price? And as I detailed above, who is going to bid against the local authority in the first auction?

Is the solution for this the breakup of the planning system at the parliamentary level? Or are there enough voters in the local authority level who can come together and force their local authorities to not ration planning permits?

Written by Polevaulter Donkeyman

July 16, 2012 at 18:37

Mr. Brigstocke, what’s wrong with free movement of capital and labour?

leave a comment »

Marcus Brigstocke on The Now Show of June 29, 2012 in a rant titled “Thank You and Goodbye!” (around the 20’40” mark)

…I’ve had it with bankers, multimillionaires and businesspeople and the rest announcing their imminent departure from the UK every time they are held to account by those of us who pay our taxes and vote. They are like teenagers who’ve had a row with their parents. <In an angry teen’s voice ranting> So for those threatening to leave when they are asked to pay their share of living here … GO. <Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive> Yes and once you’ve gone we will survive very happily. In fact I will happily drive any of you to the ferry terminal and push you off it. Here’s a thought, just so we don’t have to keep coming back to this tiresome discussion, its a simple honest decent proposal: <drumroll> Everyone has to live where their money is. See — easy! Now off you go …

If everyone has to live where their money is, what about people who have invested money in different places? Say they live in Manchester and have invested in a business in London? What if they live in Hull and their pensions are invested in e.g. BP? Mr. Brigstocke’s solution is simple enough.

Around the 25’30” mark:

I only wish that low income workers were able to hold the government to ransom by threatening to leave the country when they’re challenged. Just to wake up one day to a country where the only people at work spend their days moving fictional sums of money from one screen to another in the hope that the sums get bigger and they get a bonus. And somewhere in the distance as the streets lie unswept, unpoliced, shops shut, hospitals empty, schools boarded up, they hear “Goodbye Goodbye…<Some song which I cannot identify>

What is left unanswered is that if the current low income workers in the UK follow on their threat and leave, why would low income workers from other countries, whose income is vastly smaller,[1] not emigrate to the UK and sweep the streets, police the streets, open the shops, staff the hospitals and school?


[1] The UK defines poverty as income less than 60% of the median household income. In 2007-08, this was calculated to be GBP 115 per week for single adults with no dependent children. Source. In 2004-05 a fifth to a quarter of India’s population, around 200 M – 300 M (compare to UK population of 62 M in 2010) lived on less than GBP 2 per week. Source

Written by Polevaulter Donkeyman

July 10, 2012 at 11:07

What’s wrong with Truck Nutz?

leave a comment »


  1. How does one define abundant in “Everybody’s work rewards them abundantly”?
  2. If one defines “abundant” as the amount that allows one “to live in comfort and provide for their family” then how does one define “comfort”?
    • An abode big enough such that each kid has their own room?
    • An income big enough that allows each kid to have their own gaming console?
    • An income big enough that guarantees vacations anywhere one wishes to take them?
    • An income big enough that one can afford to eat out n times a week?
    • An income big enough that allows one to buy the latest technology whenever one wants?
  3. Should a person have a right to more than the value added by his or her labour?
  4. All goals sound worthwhile
    • From each according to his ability, to each according to his work[1]
    • Work will make you free[2]
    • Zhi sheng yige haizi hao : It is good to have just one child[3]
  5. But difficult question is how (or even whether) to achieve (or strive for) that goal[4][5][6]
    • If one carefully reads the strip nowhere in the strip does the top-hatted person specify how one is to work towards making the goal of “abundant income” a reality
  6. What’s wrong with Truck Nutz?
    • Presumably people buy them because they get some benefit out of them, in this case a laugh (or a smile).
    • Is making people laugh and/or smile a less than worthy endeavour?
    • If the person on the right had invented the Zipper[7] or the Safety Razor[8] or the Tampon[9] or the Heart Lung Machine[10] or the Pill[11]would his argument be worth taking more seriously?
    • As Deirdre McCloskey pointed out

Give a woman some rice, and you save her for a day. That’s the simplest form of what Christians flatter themselves by calling “Christian charity.” Give a man some seed and you save him for a year. That’s the plan of investment in capital, tried for decades in foreign aid, without much success. But give a man and a woman the liberty to innovate, and persuade them to admire enterprise and to cultivate the bourgeois virtues, and you save them both for a long life of wide scope, and for successively wider lives for their children and their grandchildren, too. That’s the Bourgeois Deal, which paid off in the Age of Innovation.[12]

Lest one misunderstands I am, otherwise, a fan of Wondermark.



[1] 1936 Constitution of the USSR Art. 12

[2] List of Political Slogans

[3] Chinese Political Slogans

[4] Mass killings under Communist regimes

[5] Arbeit macht frei

[6] One-child policy

[7] Whitcomb L. Judson

[8] King C. Gillette

[9] Earle Haas

[10] John Heysham Gibbon

[11] Gregory Pincus and Min Chueh Chang

[12] McCloskey, D. N., Bourgeois Dignity, University Of Chicago Press, November 30, 2010.

Written by Polevaulter Donkeyman

July 9, 2012 at 16:22

What About Teh Wimminz??!!??

with one comment

In an earlier post I had referred to a ruling by a German court in Cologne outlawing religious circumcision of male children. This was the same ruling which led to Brendan O’Neill to write about how anti-circumcision rhetoric echoes anti-semitism.

In the linked article, the Guardian carries the reactions of religious groups who are predictably outraged. What is interesting though is the reaction of feminists:

Women’s rights groups and social policy makers also condemned the decision, but for the reason that it would have the effect of putting male and female circumcision on the same footing, when they were “in no way comparable”, said Katrin Altpeter, social minister in the state of Baden-Württemberg. Female circumcision she said, was a far more drastic act. It is already outlawed in Germany.

Competitive victimhood is sickening. No victim’s trauma is minimised by acknowledging that another person is a victim too. Altpeter’s rationale is similar to saying that a victim of rape is put on the same footing as a victim of larceny because both rape and larceny are felonies.

Can male circumcision be placed on an equal footing with female circumcision? Yes and no. This is because “female circumcision”[1] is an umbrella term covering a variety of practices. The WHO classifies these practices into 4 categories.

  1. Type II and Type III are more aptly described as gross mutilations of the female genitalia
  2. Type IV covers miscellaneous procedures, ranging from the relatively innocuous[2] e.g. pricking and piercing to more repulsive practices such as burning, scarring to cutting the vaginal wall[3]
  3. Type I is the partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or the prepuce . Type Ia is the removal of the clitoral hood or prepuce only. This Type Ia female circumcision is the exact analogue of male circumcision.

This male circumcision is identical to certain practices of female circumcision and is also not identical to other practices of female circumcision.

The next question to ask is what is the legal treatment of male circumcision and female circumcision?

  1. The United States has banned all forms of female circumcision.[4]
    • The language of the statute indicates that even type Ia female circumcision is a criminal act. On the other hand, 55% or more of all newborn male infants are circumcised.[5]
  2. The United Kingdom has outlawed female circumcision.[6] The offence is punishable by imprisonment for a term not exceesing 14 years.[7]
    • The statutory language indicates that type Ia female circumcision is outlawed.[8] WHO data indicates that 11.7% of boys born in 1980-84 in the UK are circumcised.[9][10]
    • No criminal prosecutions have been initiated under the law but sanctiones have been levied by the Medical Council.[11]
  3. France, unlike the US and the UK does not have any specific statutes against female circumcision. Such acts are prosecuted under the general criminal law proscribing acts of violence.[12] There is no distinction between female and male circumcision, both possibly punishable for a maximum term of imprisonment of 20 years. Since 1979, 35 cases of female circumcision have been prosecuted.[13] I have been unable to find any case of male circumcision prosecuted. Given that there are an estimated 5-6 million Muslims in France[14], any sanction by the state would be protested vocally similar to the ban on face coverings..
  4. Belgium, like the UK and the US has specific statutes outlawing female circumcision.[15]
    • The language of the statute indicates that type Ia female circumcision is also outlawed.[16] Around 3% of the males in Belgium are circumcised.[17]
    • No criminal prosecutions have been initiated under the law.[18]
  5. Germany, like France relies on general criminal statutes to proscribe female circumcision. A Karlsruhe court ruled that parents have no right to subject their daughters to circumcision. However, unlike France, no criminal prosecutions have been initiated. [19] The German parliament is currently considering stiffer penalties for female circumcision.[20]

Further discussion on the legal aspects of female circumcision in Europe can be found here and here.

The purpose of the above survey of the legal rules pertaining to circumcision in the developed countries is to highlight the institutionalised gender discrimination which considers males children to be less worthy of protection than female children. While there is no disagreement that type II and III female circumcision should be outlawed, there is no answer to the question as to why type Ia female circumcision, an exact analogue to male circumcision, is treated differently to it. Is it fair to say that Katrin Altpeter is in favour of legal discrimination in the favour of female children and to the detriment of male children? Is Katrin Altpeter sexist?

Secondly, is Katrin Altpeter aware of carious degrees of a felony, with different aggravating factors, e.g. felony in the first degree, felony in the second degree, felony in the third degree and so on? Certain crimes are broadly similar but due to different aggravating factors are treated differently. Just because a felony of a lesser degree is recognised by the law, doesn’t mean that the felony of a higher degree is put on an equal footing with that of felony of the lesser degree. There is no diminishment of the gravity and seriousness of the felony of the higher degree. Just because male circumcision has been outlawed, doesn’t mean it will carry the same penalty as type II and III female circumcision (though I don’t see why type Ia female circumcision and male circumcision should not treated identically under the law). Her opposition is a kind of zero-sum competitive victimhood which escalates conflicts and impedes the resolution of social problems.

Inter-group competitive victimhood (CV) describes the efforts of members of groups involved in violent conflicts to establish that their group has suffered more than their adversarial group. Such efforts contribute to conflicts’ escalation and impede their peaceful resolution. CV stems from groups’ general tendency to compete with each other, along with the deep sense of victimization resulting from conflicts. The authors … contend that such competition serves various functions that contribute to the maintenance of conflicts. … they suggest that CV may reflect groups’ motivations to restore power or moral acceptance.[21] [22]

Thirdly female circumcision is widely practiced in Africa and among African immigrants in the developed nations. Justifications for female circumcision abound in African cultures. As Jomo Kenyatta, the first Prime Minister of independent Kenya said:

The real argument lies not in the defense of the general surgical operation or its details, but in the understanding of a very important fact in the tribal psychology of the Kikuyu—namely, that this operation is still regarded as the essence of an institution which has enormous educational, social, moral and religious implications, quite apart from the operation itself. For the present it is impossible for a member of the tribe to imagine an initiation without clitoridoctomy [sic]. Therefore the … abolition of the surgical element in this custom means … the abolition of the whole institution.[23]

Cultural defences of female circumcision are explicity not recognised as defence to a prosecution for female circumcision in France[24]. In the UK custom is no defence to a prosecution of female circumcision.[25] Deliberations in the Commons explicitly rejected use of culture or custom as a defence.

“Respect for other cultures does not mean that we should ignore practices that are so harmful, and that violate the most basic human rights”[26] “[R]espect for other cultures should not include condoning or ignoring practices that abuse and deny human rights. Personally, I believe that cultures are sacrosanct only if they are consistent with human rights.”[27]

Male circumcision is, on the other hand, practiced widely in North American, Europe, the Muslim world and in Muslim and Jewish communities all over the world. Male circumcision thus has the imprimatur of the Abrahamic religions.

Is Katrin Altpeter when saying that male and female circumcision “are in no way comparable” also saying that the culture of Africans is not as worthy of respect as that of people professing any one of the Abrahamic religions? That sounds a lot like racism and cultural imperialism.[28] [29]

So is Katrin Altpeter:

  • Sexist?
  • Racist?
  • a Cultural Imperialist?
  • Ignorant of how criminal law works?

Based on her opposition to the Cologne court’s decision I think she is all of the above. And she is also wrong for claiming that the court’s decision would have the effect of putting male and female circumcision on the same footing. Unfortunately for the people (men and Africans?) of Baden-Wuerttemberg she is also the Minister for Labour & Social Affair, Family, Women and Seniors. Aah, maybe that explains it, after all she is not the Minister for Men.

Note: The title of the post “What About Teh Wimminz??!!??” is used deliberately. It echoes the “What About Teh Menz” phrase.

“What About Teh Menz?” is a term often used in feminist circles, generally to refer to the sort of people who derail conversations about, say, rape culture to instead be about how women are not sleeping with nice guys and prefer bad boys. That is kind of shitty behavior!

Katrin Altpeter, similarly tried to derail the conversation about how male circumcision is bodily harm, to how female circumcision is being “diminished”[30] by putting it on the same footing as male circumcision. The title aptly describes Altpeter’s behaviour.

[1] The more widely used term is Female Genital Mutilation. However since the Guardian article uses “female circumcision” I will also use “female circumcision” in this post.

[2] Relative to Type II and Type III

[3] A practice known as gishiri cutting

[4] “[W]hoever knowingly circumcises … the whole or any part … of the … clitoris of another person who has not attained the age of 18 years shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both.18 USC § 116(a)

[5] Trends in In-Hospital Newborn Male Circumcision — United States, 1999–2010

[6] A person is guilty of an offence if he … mutilates the whole or any part of a girl’s … clitoris. Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003, 2003 c. 31

[7] Id. § 5

[8] Removal of the prepuce is a mutilation of a partof the clitoris.

[9] Male circumcision: global trends and determinants of prevalence, safety and acceptability, page 12.

[10] These statistics do not specify how many circumcisions were done for non-medical reasons and at what age.

[11] Leye, E and Deblonde, J A comparative analysis of the different legal approaches towards female genital mutilation in the 15 EU Member States, and the respective judicial outcomes in Belgium, France, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom ICRH Publications N° 8, page 36.

[12] Articles 222-9 and 222-10 of the Penal Code of France.

[13] Poldermans, S Combating Female Genital Mutilation in Europe. Unfortunately there is no breakdown of the cases based on the WHO classification for female circumcision.

[14] 8-10% of the population according to the US State Department

[15] “Anyone who undertakes, facilitates or promotes any form of mutilation of the genitalia of a person of the female sex, with or without her consent, will be punished by a term of imprisonment of three to five years.” Art. 409 of the Code of Criminal Law of Belgium.

[16] Removal of the clitoral prepuce is a form of mutilation of the female genitalia.

[17] Global circumcision rates. The statistic does not specify how many of the circumcised males were minor when circumcised.

[18] Supra note 11, at 37

[19] Supra note 11, at 16

[20] Genital mutilation and German law

[21] Noor, M, Shnabel, N, Halabi, S and Nadler, A When Suffering Begets Suffering: The Psychology of Competitive Victimhood Between Adversarial Groups in Violent Conflicts Pers Soc Psychol Rev doi:10.1177/1088868312440048

[22] Of course there is no violent conflict between sufferers of female circumcision and male circumcision but is there any doubt that Altpeter’s protestations derive from a worldview which sees females and males as adversaries, where any acknowledgement of that one group suffers comes necessarily at the expense of the other group?

[23] Mufaka, Kenneth. Scottish Missionaries and the Circumcision Controversy in Kenya, 1900–1960 International Review of Scottish Studies, vol 28, 2003.

[24] Supra note 13 at 42

[25] Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003, 2003 c. 31 § 1(5)

[26] Hansard Vol 401, Col 1190

[27] Hansard Vol 401, Col 1197

[28] To those who say that culture is not the same as religion, what is the difference? Both are derived from a set of beliefs and practices. Is one to be respected over the other because it is codified in a set of books and the other is passed down only by words and practice?

[29] To those who say I am making an argument based on cultural relativism: I am not saying that all varieties of female circumcision should be allowed because we need to respect African cultures. But what would you call someone who minimises a practice in one culture (e.g. an Abrahamic religion) while campaigning to curb an exactly analogous practice in another culture? Cultural imperialist does come to mind. I agree with what was said in the Commons that “[C]ultures are sacrosanct only if they are consistent with human rights.” If a particular culture respects human rights, it in my eyes is superior to any other culture which does not.

[30] Quotes mine. As has been shown above the problem of female circumcision has in no way been minimised by the Cologne court’s ruling.

Written by Polevaulter Donkeyman

July 4, 2012 at 20:56

Parental Freedom of Religion vs. the Child’s Physical Integrity

leave a comment »

I usually agree with Brendan O’Neill but once in a while I disagree with him. This is one of those times.

His contentions are:

  1. Banning male circumcision, carried out as part of religious ritual, is an attack on the freedom of religion and on parents’ rights to initiate their children into their religion.
  2. Corollary to the above is that parents have the right to physical and mental modification of the their offspring to conform to their religious beliefs.
  3. Description of male circumcision as child abuse is an anti-semitic trope centuries old.
  4. Parents imparting their religious beliefs is not abuse and labelling it so is a “cynical tactic”
  5. There is a slippery slope. Now parents are being prevented from circumcising their male children. In the future parents will be be prevented from imparting their religious beliefs to their children and will not be allowed to raise their children in their faith.
  6. This is also excessive interference in the family life by the state.

Against this I argue:

  1. Circumcision is a permanent body modification of the male child without its consent. Male children (by definition) are incapable of consent. Violating the physical integrity of any person without consent is abuse.[1]
  2. Not every religious practice deserves respect. Sati was sanctioned in certain strains of Hinduism. I would be interested to note what O’Neill thinks of banning Sati as a prohibition on the free exercise of religion.[2]
  3. Christian Scientists believe in praying over modern medicine as a means of treatment. This has led to preventable deaths in children. Commonwealth v. Twitchell was a famous case where the Christian Scientist parents were prosecuted for the death of their child who was treated only according to Christian Science tenets. While the parents were convicted, on appeal their sentence was overturned on grounds of religious freedom.
    • Even if the practice is carried out by a community which was historically persecuted, that should have no bearing on whether such practice should continue.
      • The right thing can be done for the wrong reasons; the right thing can be done for the right reasons.
      • The current court decision does not single out any particular class of people for prosecution unlike the anti-circumcision posturing of the Middle Ages
  4. O’Neill has been framed the debate as freedom of religion vs. the State. What if parents want their son circumcised to prevent masturbation? Would he support their right to do so? If he answered no, would he change his answer if the parents have a religious objection to masturbation? (And if he answered yes to the penultimate question does he believe that parents have the right to control all manifestations of their child’s sexuality? I can imagine parents not wanting their child to engage in sexual intercourse until the child has achieved a certain level of maturity.)

I am sympathetic to O’Neill’s argument that this is a slippery slope. One needs to articulate a limiting principle which would prevent state interference in the freedom of religion while balancing the interests of the child.

  • Firstly a distinction has to be made between physical transformation/modification and a mental transformation (via education in religious beliefs). One has to recognise that while physical transformation is irreversible, mental transformation is not irreversible. People brought up in religious households can turn their back on their religion of birth. They can covert into other religions and even give up on religion altogether.
  • Therefore unlike banning circumcision, banning religious education is an overreach because such education is reversible, children on turning older can change their minds regarding religion. This is not the case with circumcision.
  • There is thus a limiting principle which can limit the state’s interference with the right of the parent to raise his/her child in the way the parents best sees fit.

I agree with O’Neill that the imparting of religious education to children cannot be classified as child abuse. If it can be so then can imparting one’s politics to one’s children be far behind? Will parents who tell their children which politician to admire and how they should vote when they grow up be considered as child abusers? Let the parents impart whatever education they want. Children will grow up and make up their minds on their own. They may even change it.

Finally O’Neill refers to the Waco Siege as an example of where charges of child abuse can lead to significant harm. But that doesn’t mean all allegations of child abuse are false. And in the case of Waco the deaths were not due to allegations of child abuse but due to bad tactics and impatience shown by the FBI. The moral of Waco is not that allegations of child abuse should not be taken seriously (otherwise one could end up with Jerry Sandusky) but that situations like Waco need to be handled with more patience and care. In fact all allegations of child abuse must be treated with care (see here, here and here). And finally incidents of circumcision are not alleged. The male child can be readily verified to be sans foreskin.

[1] Unless as a means of penal punishment?

[2] Some will say that I am conflating culture with religion, but in my defence what I am attacking is parental practice based on faith, whether informed by religion or by culture.

Written by Polevaulter Donkeyman

June 30, 2012 at 23:26

Thanks, Grauniad

with one comment

In article on a German Court outlawing religious circumcision of male children:

Holm Putzke, a professor of penology – the study of the punishment of crime – from the University of Passau, told the German news agency DPA that the ruling would set a legal precedent and would act as a warning.

Thank you Grauniad. Without your clarification I would have thought penology as the study of penises.

Written by Polevaulter Donkeyman

June 30, 2012 at 01:13

Posted in Uncategorized

And the Winner is …

leave a comment »

#BigSister with a plurality of 11 votes. Not the result @quizderek was hoping for. Other results: @ipoonampandey = 8 @kamaalrkhan = 8, @sardesairajdeep = 7, @sagarikaghose = 5, @quizderek = 4 etc.

Full list can be seen here. (Storify seems not to be able to export stories of more than 38 elements to blogs)

  1. quizderek
    No football so pure time pass…of all the well-known people you follow on Twitter,who tweets the most self praise? #justasking
  2. prithwi3001
    @bhupendrachaube @quizderek if the question is modified, who praises his/her party leader the most, the answer is pretty clear..isn’t it?
  3. Rajat_Sharma_
    @quizderek U do retweet a lot of good things tweeted about u and Didi. On my timeline answer wd be Mr O Brien. :)
  4. smathur21
    @quizderek got to be you,praising Didi and TMC all the time. Nothing wrong…spokespersons are paid to blow their own trumpet.
  5. sumanta48
    You..”@quizderek: No football so pure time pass…of all the well-known people you follow on Twitter,who tweets the most self praise?
  6. versatilebaba
    @quizderek – u and Shashi Tharoor do a lot of self praising . Rest on top is the idiotic girl @iPoonampandey
  7. Sharanyashetty6
    @quizderek rajdeep sardesai hands down he and his praise abt himself (via praisin his channel)
  8. shilpakalhan1
    @quizderek naam le kutte.. u r talking abt @sardesairajdeep didi ka bhai.. tu kisi kaam ka naahii
  9. prithwi3001
    @quizderek poonam pandey..not sure if you would know her..self proclaimed celebrity..stripper actually!

Written by Polevaulter Donkeyman

June 26, 2012 at 03:45

Posted in Storify, Uncategorized

Tagged with